by Shannon Connell

I sauntered through a sea of pink-centered stargazer lilies, lilac-colored hydrangeas and roses in every imaginable color. I drank in my colorful surroundings and the deep floral aroma that mingled with the warm, salty air. I couldn’t help but think that Marche aux Fleurs in Old Nice is a magical place. It’s as though I had been transported to another time, a time when a trip to the market was considered commonplace. But in today’s hectic world, there can be little time for such simple delights like a morning stroll through a beautiful flower market that’s more than a century old.

The famous French flower market in Cours Saleya is flanked by shops, restaurants and seashell-colored stucco buildings. It offers a blend of local farmers, fisherman, bakers and artisans, who display their fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, cheese, seafood and bread along with fresh spices and sweets beneath green and white striped awnings.

I was astounded by the sheer variety of different food available! I counted more than a dozen types of olives while my fiancé and I wandered about the market in search of the makings of a perfect picnic. We decided to sample some of the over sized green olives coated in olive oil and freshly chopped basil, followed by choice raspberries which were large and plump. We soon discovered that these were the most delicious we had ever tasted, oozing sweet, tart juice from their just ripe flesh.

We walked past a stand with seafood only hours old that had been harvested straight from the Mediterranean, only a stone’s throw away from the market. Then there was the butcher with his bountiful cuts of meat and the baker who sold us still warm focaccia bread drizzled with olive oil and topped with sun-dried tomatoes that were sweeter for having been kissed by an almost-Tuscan sun (The Italian border is only about an hour drive away from Nice).

After collecting a sampling of the market’s best, we climbed the steps to the Chateau, which was once the site of a cliff-side Roman fortress that guarded and protected the city from threats by sea. The grounds of the Chateau boasted waterfalls, crumbling castle ruins and an eerie graveyard. We set our sights on breathtaking views of the city and, Nice’s ocean-front boulevard, which stretches alongside the famous pebble-laden beaches of the French Riviera for miles. We enjoyed a romantic picnic with a picture perfect view overlooking the ocean and a nearby marina filled with dozens of tiny white docked boats.

Later that evening we returned to the market and were astonished to find that the stretch of flowers and produce stands from the morning had been replaced by booths featuring the work of local artists including painters, jewelry designers and glass makers. But of all the varying types of art displayed, I was most inspired by the paintings of Nice, especially those of the ocean and the market.

That’s when I realized that Marche aux Fleurs is a scene that Nicois artists have strived to capture for decades. Despite their skillful hands and bright palette of watercolors, the market carries a feeling that can’t be replicated on paper alone. It’s a type of energy that’s in the air, perpetuated by the proud farmers who are quick to offer their most prized harvests to market goers and by those who come each day just to sit and watch this familiar scene unfold before their eyes.

Marche aux Fleurs is rooted in old European tradition and has inspired excitement among travelers who are not only able to witness the atmosphere of this cultural interaction first hand, but also play a role in the daily ritual. Travelers will continue to do so for many years to come as Nice remains a well-known and loved haven for travelers.

Tips for Navigating Nice’s Flower Market:

  • The flower market is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer with the exception of Mondays, during which the market is converted into an antique sale. The market is also open during the winter, although hours end between 2 and 4 p.m. daily.
  • By mid-morning the market will become crowded. Arrive early if you’re hoping to avoid throngs of people vying for the freshest goods.
  • The market is extensive and you’ll find that multiple vendors may be selling the item you’re after. Walk the length of the market and take it all in before making a purchase so that you can find the best deal.
  • Most items at the market are sold by weight although flowers are one exception. Some tables have bowls for customers to place their selection in when they’re ready to make a purchase. If you’re buying multiple items from one vendor, be sure to keep these separate as these may have different prices.
  • While a basic understanding of French numbers is helpful to make transactions go more smoothly, it’s not a necessity. Many if not most of the market vendors can speak English and will switch from French if you politely greet them and ask, “Parlez vous anglais?” or “Do you speak English?” If all else fails, simply point to the item you’d like to purchase and, if possible and appropriate, add the desired quantity or volume to a bowl, which the vendor will then weigh on the scale. If you’re interesting in buying a set quantity of a flat-rate packaged item like a bouquet of flowers or a loaf of bread, then this step can be skipped altogether.
  • While haggling is appropriate in some European markets, I would advise against it in this case. In my experience I found that the prices of items at the market are quite reasonable and vendors may be offended if you ask to pay less than the price they’ve set.

About the Author: Shannon Connell lives in Charlotte, NC, and is a recent college graduate of the University
of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, making her a diehard UNC basketball fan by default. By day, she works
as a public relations and marketing specialist at Presbyterian Hospital. At night she loves to cook, blog, work towards her dreams of writing a novel and dabble in wedding planning (still a couple years away). To read about Shannon’s adventures in St. Lucia, click here .