venez avec moi en Provence: Contes
You have never heard of Contes ? Ne vous en faites pas (don’t worry) most travelers to France have not. It is not a typical vacation destination point unless you are as obsessed with food markets and the people that grow the food (as I am). Contes is a small country village in the south of France, approximately a twenty minutes drive north of Nice. The tiny town is home to the usual quaint French village charm found throughout the south of France: the small country homes surrounded by olive trees and fields of lavender; the town center with the father and son butcher shop and the family-owned pâtisseries with neighbors chatting over a cup of coffee; the little town school, and les fêtes throughout the summer. One thing that makes Contes particularly special is its food cooperative. I learned of the cooperative from my close friend and her mother who themselves make the weekly pilgrimage to Contes.
Every Saturday morning in a one room building that looks like a barn there is the Contes cooperative . Contes residents and those living in surrounding areas bring their finest fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheeses, meats, preserves, and oils to sell. The cooperative is something everyone plans their week and day around because if you want a good selection, you have to go early.
The selection changes weekly depending upon what is grown. The array of fruits and vegetables displayed transform the barn-like room into one of color and aroma. The herbs are so fresh and plentiful that you can smell them outside the large cooperative door. The cheese is made by local farmers from the raw milk of their goats and cows. If you ask, they can tell you the name of the animal from which the milk came. Meat from animals that were recently slaughtered (but aged enough that the meat is no longer green), raised in the hills of Provence by local farmers who can tell you exactly what the animals ate when when they were butchered. Locals also proudly display their homemade items presented with French simplistic style: bottles of olive oil pressed from local trees; jars of tomato sauce made with the Provençales tomatoes; and confiture to slather on your morning baguette.
However, the cooperative is not merely a place to buy your vegetables but it is a way of life. This is a community event and there is a lot of pride and enthusiasm behind this “share day” because people are eager to show their treasures and see what others are growing or making. There is no English spoken and the room is abuzz with hushed les potins du marché (the market gossip) that centers more on the food, than the people: “Les saucisses ont été faites avec un aqneau qu’on vient juste d’abattre” (the sausages were made form a lamb that was just slaughtered) . . . “Marie a les meilleures pêches !” (Marie has the best peaches). I took advantage of the tips of which I was the unintended beneficiary ..the lamb was delicious and Marie’s peaches were the best I think I have ever tasted.
When we left, the aroma of the market goodies filled the car. No sooner had we left did my children buzz through the fresh berries which they found in the bag, changing my plans for our dessert that night. What was on our dinner menu that evening? With our friends that night we enjoyed gently braised summer zucchini with blossoms, grilled sausages, fresh chèvre with our salad, and apricot tart for dessert. Simple food, simply prepared. The aromas drew the children in from their game of hide and seek in the lavender fields to which they quickly returned as fast as they had materialized to take advantage of last of the country’s daylight (which thankfully lasts until 9 p.m.). We watched their heads bob above the walls of lavender and their happy screamed filled the air competing only with the horses and chickens also settling in for the night. Just another day in Provence…
Visitez Contes et mangez bien.
Je vous souhaite un bon appetit !
For information about Contes, you can visit their official site at