By: Condor on 21/09/2011
Market Shopping in St Malo
Browse bric-a-brac, handicrafts, fresh produce and discover magical festive cheer at St Malo’s traditional street bazaars
Since medieval times St Malo has played host to regular markets, allowing Breton farmers to sell their harvested crops, local delicacies and fresh produce to locals and visitors alike. On St Malo’s bustling portside fishermen, cheese-makers and fruit-growers would ply their wares to the many seafarers, merchants and sailors that weighed anchor. Today, screeching sea-birds continue to herald the arrival of another boat laden with potential shoppers. In the Rocabey Market Hall (Mon, Tues & Sat) and cobblestone streets of the wall-ringed Intra Muros (Tues) vendors offer up gooey cheeses, fine wines, smoked meats, ciders, fish, nuts, olive oils and sweet-smelling flowers.
Similarly, in the pre-Christmas period, St Malo’s Esplanade des Frères Lamennais becomes a hive of shopping activity. Marking the start of Advent, an array of baubles, tinsel and fairy-lights engulf every building amidst life-size Christmas nativity scenes, fi r trees and giant holly wreaths. Stalls laden with marionettes, candles and applerich ciders sit amongst a mouth-watering aroma of sugar topped pastries, marzipan and chestnuts to the sound of brass band street musicians and tinkling sleigh-bells.
France’s Christmas market tradition reaches back to the Middle Ages when the pageantry and spirit of Yuletide were a welcome distraction from the cold dark winter nights. Villagers gathered together in anticipationof Christmas celebrations and so these festivities became a tradition in many French regions. At sundown, St Malo’s market takes on a fairytale magical splendour as lanterns flicker under a moon-filled snowflake sky. In a confetti-like flurry, traders, artisans and wood-carvers warm their hands around wood-burning stoves while gingerbread and Bûche de Noel (a log-shaped cake) vendors ply for trade around towering Christmas trees – a modern introduction – covered in tin whistles and candied Breton fruit.
In France, children leave their shoes by the fireplace on the Christmas Eve so that Pere Noel (Father Christmas) can fill them with sweets, fruit and gifts. Charming little clay figures called ‘santons’, still made from moulds passed down since the 17th century are placed with nativity characters on holly-trimmed window ledges and in the hearth. At St Malo’s Marche Noel,shoppers will find these traditional figurines in good supply. Sizzling sausages and mugs of cream-topped hot chocolate provide warming sustenance for market revellers.
Facing the castle’s granite-stone walls, St Malo’s Marche Noel may owe much to a generous frosting of synthetic snow but the Medieval dancing, falconry, dance and music is 100 per cent authentic traditional Breton. Shoppers seeking unique French gifts can delight in a festive atmosphere where the welcome is as warm as the aromatic jugs of spiced hot wine, crackling fires and sizzling seafood stalls.
Must-buys in St Malo markets
Woven and embroidered cloth and woollen goods (such as thick fishermen jumpers)
Brass and wood objects, puppets and dolls
Locally designed jewellery
Hand-painted ceramics and earthenware
Clams, mussels, scallops, lobster, crab and oysters
Crêpes (choose from sweet fillings and savoury Galettes)
Mouth-watering Breton Far (a fl an based on eggs and milk or rum or plum liqueur or Breton cider)
Moist slabs of Butter Cake (a delicacy made from salt-butter risen dough)
Local sausage (the famous award winning Guemene Andouille is delicious)
Cider, apple brandy and fruit wines
Sticky honey, fruit preserves and coarse pates
Chocolates, cream and gooey cheeses