Saturday, January 28, 2017

The delightful market of Dolceacqua - Italy

I think that we could all use a little comfort food right about now. Not enough to lull us to sleep, no, but just to a pleasant hum.

That was certainly what my hosts' intention was for my stay in Menton over Christmas, to soothe and delight. So when Madame J, who has trained at the Cordon Bleu (that is the tip of her culinary iceberg) and has won many a competition when it comes to marmalades or pickled veggies, said that she really wanted me to discover the market at Dolceacqua, my horse ears pricked and my inner radar pinged. 

Up and over the coast, the frontier passed then quickly forgotten and into Liguria, we parked and walked along the flowing Nervia River. The town's "sweet waters" namesake. The sun skipped, we bubbled along the banks, content to be on adventure on a winning morning.

J was already suspicious that the streets were so quiet and her pipping instincts were confirmed as we arrived to the market square. Many vendors had decided to stay home with their families on Boxing Day rather than be out selling their wares. And yet, as I know all too well after ten years of jogging through the Arles market, bigger is not always better. Everything was accessible, there were no lines or bumping baskets and what I could see...delighted me.

For instead of mountains of out of season (save in Morocco) melons, there were tables laid with homemade goods and delicacies. So many of them! Most were presided over by a no nonsense nonna who had made the tarts or the jam or pizza herself. An elderly gentleman seemed non-plussed that he had only a few pieces of wobbly mystery fruit and drapey stalks of leeks to sell. Nearly everything on offer was organic, with many sellers proudly displaying handmade signs of information detailing the wheres and hows (the why was evidently superfluous). 

This, to me, is what shopping at a market should be.

Although the border was still nearly in eyesight, we had passed into another world of Italian friendliness. I could and did talk to nearly everyone despite language barriers, something that took years of courage-gathering to do in Arles, in order to bypass the raised eyebrows or blatant "I don't see you, American person" glares of the market dwellers. And so I ended up buying an heirloom blueberry jelly, grown at high altitude, because a young man with astonishing green eyes convinced me (I think I would have bought anything from him, actually) that it was more interesting than the chartreuse pear medley I had been eyeing. 

But my favorite experience by far was with the wonderful woman, who constantly bit the smile between her lips, as she decided to give us a tasting of all the cheeses that she had on offer that tempted us. That would be ten. Ten different cheeses and my friends wisely bought six of them, each so different from the last even if the only due to few months date. I dream of those cheeses, still (yes, dietary guidelines were blurred for a day in Italy). And I am shuffling apologetic to keep making the comparison, but in ten years of shopping not only the Arles markets but many throughout la belle Provence, I have never, ever had anyone extend such generosity my way, let alone as a matter of course.

All was done with a light-heartedness that charmed me thoroughly. As the noon day bells rung, various producers would abandon their stands temporarily to buy a steaming plate of polenta ladled with ragù that was being sold for 4 Euros. Change was demanded between booths and a sense of camaraderie was as calmingly present as the Nervia flowing below. 

Purchases made and photographs angled, we traversed the winding cobbled streets to those that mysteriously dive below ground. Back up to the light, we passed under the protective stones of the 12th century fortress, across the medieval bridge to settle into our outdoor seats at a café. My face turned towards the sun, I sipped the amaro that my host had chosen for me, ice clinking against my teeth with a smile also bitten to not be overly obvious about a willing adoption of this wonderful life, Dolceacqua style.

To learn more about this gem of a town, please click here.

And if you are in need of a bit of beautiful music instead, then by all means, please click here. 

Thank you everyone for all of the heartfelt comments after my previous post. 

Ok, big breath. And have a wonderful rest of your weekend,


  1. I have very fond memories of that day and I think you captured it beautifully. The weather was perfect and there were just enough vendors to find everything we needed - or wanted! I don't remember Mr Green Eyes though. I'll be sure to let you know if he's there this Sunday.

  2. A week after the women's march (over 100,000 marched with us in Portland, Oregon), and after a week of calling my senators daily about one issue or another, this post is truly a gift. We all have to lift our heads and take in the beauty and deliciousness this world offers. We plan to head out later this morning for the big farmer's market in downtown Portland. We haven't been since before the holidays so I am eager to see what's on offer there. It may be a slimmer version of what we experienced in the fall, but I'll be there will be treasures to be found. Hoping my favorite crepe maker is there. If so, I will think of you while munching on my lunch. xo

  3. I adore farmers markets! You captured this one beautifully! It looks like such a beautiful sunny but chilly day-just perfect. Hey maybe it's time to consider Italy! You deserve to be surrounded with warm, friendly people!!

  4. these shots of Dolceacqua are among your very best. deserving of an exhibition. don’t know if you would want to do food photography, these are stunning.

  5. Oh Rocket .. you bring interior tears to the soul of this man .. missing Europe and waiting, not so patiently, to return. God Bless the Cheese Lady .. before I read your text, her photo captured me. Beautiful photos, excellent text, fantastic "comfort food" for our souls .. Merci .. Merci .. Merci

    Mahalo et Merci,

  6. Dearest Heather,
    I am so glad that you enjoyed this market. I am thinking of my experience at the market at Place Flagey near where I lived in Brussels, vs. the market in Carcassonne, where I am greeted by name and/or hugs and kisses at a couple of stalls now. In Brussels, my experience was like yours in Arles. It was wonderful--ALL THAT FOOD--yet it was impersonal. We wanted more. And then, we found more. Is that because of them, or is it because of us? I think of how unhappy I was in grade school, and then, like magic, it all changed in high school. New territory, new start. No vendor who remembers you only by the day you had a terrible headache and ignored his friendly pitch, which set him forever against you (even though you had no idea).
    I had no personal history with the maraîchers of Place Flagey (as far as I was aware), but they did give me the "I don't see you, American person" attitude. When I landed in Carcassonne--a much smaller, kinder pond than BXL--my French was far better. I had the confidence and vocabulary to chat and joke. Places are friendly or not, to an extent, it's true. After that it's up to us and our abilities to cope, which are constantly evolving. Little by little, we conquer the world.
    Anyway, I am happy you had a good time and that you got such lovely photos for us.

  7. I so love traveling with you Heather...and I did so to the tunes of Ane Brun. Perfect..thank you! xx

  8. Oh, ITALY!! We have loved everything about it when we have visited. And it's funny; I have only "opera Italian" and my friends assure me that my French, even though it is so far from being correct, is understandable. So why is it that I feel more welcome to speak "Italian" in Italy and I can barely get the words out in France when I am doing any shopping? And I hate Paris, but LOVE Rome. Maybe I am thinking of retiring in the wrong place? As usual, you've given me something to think about, along with gorgeous photos to drool over.

  9. Yes, this was a good day for a sumptuous, Italian getaway! (the news about did me in!). Thank you for taking us with you! I love all the colors and mouth watering cheeses; my favorite is of the lettuce next to the radishes/chili peppers! I'm so grateful for J and her kindness, and I'm glad that you had a cheese-filled, sunny Italian getaway as part of your Christmas celebration!

  10. Eating with my eyes...
    What a lovely experience! Thank you for sharing

  11. I've just eaten but this has made me hungry again. I love Italian food markets.

  12. Farmer's market always evoke hard work, dedication & love of the earth. The different cheeses look so appetizing.

    I like the photos.

  13. What a feast for the eyes and senses! Such a fun day you had with your dear friends! Thank you for taking us along! xx

  14. Very beautiful photos again Heather, thank you.

  15. Oh it all looks and sounds so heavenly! xx


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