Les Halles at Place Pie in the old town of Avignon is a freshness paradise, both from the outside and the inside. On a Sunday morning, the streets of the old town are empty. But open the swinging doors to the market hall and you’re met with a cheerful bustle. Locals and tourists alike enjoy the sumptuous culinary offerings. People are happy to stand in line here for regional specialties from Provence and special bread creations. At the Cuisine Centr’Halles restaurant in the midst of all these opulent delicacies, chef Jonathan Chiri offers cooking classes. They always start with a market shopping.
The market hall dates back to the 70s. A sober functional building, the time-honored iron structure from the 19th century had to make way for it after 100 years of market tradition. Mobility was the trump card back then. To ensure that the market hall did not lose its importance and that customers continued to come to the city center, car drivers were kept firmly in mind and a market hall with an integrated parking garage was created for them. From today’s perspective, this was a fatal decision. Progressive, on the other hand, was the fact that the aging and unattractive hall was provided with a plant wall in 2006.
Botanist Patrick Blanc was commissioned to design the Mur Vegetale. He had already made a name for himself in Paris with the greening of the façade of the Musée des Arts Premiers on Quai Branly. With the greening of the north facade on an area of 30 by 11.50 meters, the city of Avignon entered new territory. The plants were not guided along the façade from the ground, but were attached directly to the façade thanks to an ingenious irrigation system that Patrick Blanc had spent years tinkering with. Twenty plants per square meter grow on the façade of Les Halles. With his invention of a wall-mounted system, the botanist Blanc founded the boom in vertical gardens, which are intended to make inner cities around the world more livable.
Tradition and freshness
In its early days, Avignon’s marketplace consisted of a multitude of small market women’s stalls. This was an early social project of the city, because the operators of these small stalls were widows who were able to make a living in this way. The days when marketplaces were the vital supply arteries of a city are over. The markets also had to reinvent themselves. Today, Avignon’s market halls are temples of pleasure, where freshness and quality of goods are the trump cards.
Here, producers from the region offer their best products for tasting. People come not only to shop, but also to linger. Restaurants and cafés have established themselves between the market stalls. There are communal areas with tables and chairs to eat your purchases right away or enjoy a glass of Côtes du Rhône. The indoor market is open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday except Monday, including Saturdays and Sundays. So there are plenty of opportunities not only to admire the green façade of Les Halles, but also to stroll through the aisles. At the latest at the stand of the Boulangerie Panissain everyone will be weak!
An American in Avignon
Jon Chiri has lived in Avignon for over 20 years. Before starting his own restaurant, Cuisine Centr’Halles, in Avignon’s indoor market, the American-born chef worked for six years at the Michelin-starred restaurant and luxury hotel La Mirande, nestled right against the walls of the Pope’s palace. Provençal cuisine, its flavors, the variety and freshness of regional products still inspire him today. He passes on this enthusiasm in his cooking workshops amidst the hustle and bustle of the market. Those who don’t want to cook for themselves can sit down at the tables around his market stall for lunch. For gourmets, however, the cooking class is an ideal opportunity to get to know Avignon and its culinary specialties better. Each cooking class, whether during the week or on the weekend, always begins with a visit to the market and the purchase of produce for lunch.
A pinch of Louisiana in Les Halles
Casual, humorous and with practical tips, Jon Chiri spices up his cooking class. He spent his first cooking years in Louisiana. From the Southern kitchen, a classic of Cajun cuisine accompanies him to this day. Gumbo is a rich, long-cooked stew with rice and shrimp. Jon Chiri’s signature gumbo is almost always on the menu. For fans of French cuisine who don’t speak French, and there are probably many of those in the world, Jon offers real value. That’s because his classes are held in English, if needed. The course is ideal for four people. It lasts about three hours, you can also do it yourself, and at the end there is a three-course meal with a good glass of Côtes du Rhône. More information about Cuisine Centr’Halles.
Culinary and culturally, Avignon has an incredible amount to offer. A visit to the Palace of the Popes is not to be missed. It is the cultural heavyweight of the city. But there are also little things to discover. When walking through the old town, it’s worth lifting your head and looking out for street art and theater windows at second floor level.
The on-site research was supported by Avignon Tourism.