Monday, February 27, 2012

Ferney-Voltaire’s Marché

Produce purveyor at Ferney-Voltaire's Saturday market

Some merchants arrive by 5 AM to set up their stalls at Ferney-Voltaire’s Saturday market.  By 8:30, the marché is open for business.  The Ferney market is famous in this region, and because it borders Switzerland, it’s one of the more expensive ones in France.  Most of the vendors live hours away, but most of the customers live in the Ferney area or in the Geneva suburbs.  But shoppers from Lausanne will drive 40 kilometers to buy produce in the Ferney market at prices that they perceive to be less expensive than what they would pay in Swiss grocery stores.   

Although I buy more produce at Ferney’s less expensive supermarkets than at the marché, I go to the Saturday market because it’s a celebration.  The quiet town mutates into a retail festival, with one section of the main road devoted to the sale of food and the other section allocated to clothing.  Rectangular polychromatic  umbrellas transform the streets into narrower passageways where young parents push baby carriages, elderly couples walk arm in arm, middle-aged men and women fill backpacks, baskets, or shopping carts with food for the week, and children whine for chocolate or churros. 

Shoppers at the Ferney market

 Customers at a butcher's stall

Lining up at a cheese seller's truck

The Ferney market is a United Nations of shoppers.  This area is home not only to the French, but also to an international array of personnel employed at the various NGOs and UN agencies in Geneva as well as at CERN.  So milling about the marché, inspecting assorted fruit, vegetables, breads, cheeses, meats, pasta, olives, wine, flowers, clothing, tablecloths, fabrics, jewelry, books, and ready-to-eat food, are Africans, Chinese, Indians, Americans, Arabs and multilingual Europeans. But interacting with the vendors requires some knowledge of French.

Of course, there is appealing fresh produce

Cheeses from the region

Beaujolais wine, produced two hours from Ferney-Voltaire


Moroccan olives

French olives for tasting

Few of the merchants are actually farmers.  Most are produce purveyors who create colorful tableaux with overpriced fruits and vegetables.  Fishmongers drive more than four hours to Ferney and then they transform their long refrigerated trucks into extended display counters to sell fresh fish and seafood from the Mediterranean Sea.  Bakers retail baguettes and pain au levain as well as unusual loaves that can’t be found at local boulangeries (such as breads made with chestnut flour, or with figs, cranberries, or hazelnuts).  And cheese sellers often give miniscule tastes of raw milk cow, goat, and sheep cheeses that are produced in the region.  Then there are immigrants who market ready-made food, such as paella, schwarma, tagines, and fried plantains, and French natives who sell vin chaud (hot spiced wine) or choucroute (a dish of sauerkraut covered with anemic-looking sausages and thick slabs of pink ham riddled with fat).

The fishmonger's display

Specialty breads

North African food for sale


Grand Rue, the cobblestoned pedestrian street, is where weary shoppers sit in the sun at outdoor cafes and watch women contemplating the skirts, blouses, hats, stockings, soaps, and jewelry that are displayed along the other side of the road.

Taking a shopping break at a cafe on Grand Rue

Trendy tops

Sweatshirts printed with fictitious American college names

Lingerie stall

Winter hats

The marché, crowded, animated, carnivalesque, closes at 1:00.  Customers leave.  Merchants pack their trucks and head out to their next destination.  Cleaners remove the rubbish and sweep the streets.  By 2:30, Ferney-Voltaire returns to its tranquil, provincial, sleepy self.


  1. What great pictures. I'm so jealous that you're living in France!

    1. I'm jealous that I'm living in France too. I feel as if I'm not here, that someone else is representing me. And in just a few months (end of June) we'll be going back to Oakland. So how do I continue CERN Wife back in a place where I won't be a CERN Wife? Any suggestions out there?

  2. What other markets would be better to visit ?
    I love markets and am searching for more in France - I live in Geneva!

    Thanks! michelle

    1. Hi Michelle,
      If you've never been to the Ferney market, it's the best one in this area. On Sunday there is a market in Divonne, as well as one in Annecy. Those are the larger ones, and of course there are minuscule farmers' markets in Thoiry, Gex, and other towns, but that's only for vegetables.

  3. I'm a Canadian who used to live in the neighboring town of Prevessin-Moens. I really miss this market. People say that the Granville Island market in Vancouver, BC is great but they've never been to Ferney. I especially miss the Tomme from the cheese vendor. Thank you for the photos.

    1. Hi Alicia,
      I've been back in the US since July, and I, too, long for the cheeses, breads, clothes, produce, olives, herbs and spices, fish trucks, and the Tunisian, Ghanaian, Algerian, Moroccan, Chinese, and Spanish prepared foods found in the Ferney marche. Our daughter, who just finished her first year at UBC, says there's no comparison between the 2 markets. Granville Island's market is fun, but it's indoors, is open almost every day, and lacks the excitement, variety, and international flavors of the market in Ferney. But we'll be walking through Granville Island before we return to Ferney. C'est dommage...