Stale and unfinished baguettes sitting on top of the fridge? fifteen dollars.
Antidepressants needed to buy anything at our local market? fifty dollars.
Seeing my wife's eyes sparkle like never before by 1 per Euro oysters at 9am in Lourmarin Market? Heartbreakingly Priceless.
It was a beautiful trip: almond blossoms tingling the eyes against the sunset , infinity-fields of small yellow flowers deepening the bluest sky, artichokes that made both of us say hmm, ahh, then wow, asparagus in as many colors, shapes and size as they were served, and, unlike the ones in NYC, the comfort of local dogs not begging for your attention! This board deserves the credit for our experience; we cannot thank you all enough. Here's the link for the help that I had in planning for this trip: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/761669
Restaurants sampled roughly in order of liking: within a group, the order means less, as ambience and service were hard to tease out separate from food experiences.
La Ferme de la Huppe (Gordes)
La Bartavelle (Goult)
Auberge de la Loube (Buoux)
*Le Castelas (Sivergues)
Auberge du Presbytere (Saignon)
Auberge du Parc (Orgon)
Le Vieux Bistro (Cabrieres-d’Avignon)
La Treille Muscate (Moustier-Saint-Marie)
Le Provencial (Gordes)
La Bergerie (Maubec)
Lou Luberon (Rubion)
L'Oustau de la Mar (Cassis)
The top tier ones were extremely good that we returned for seconds to two places during this trip, middle group were great to very good, and only a few misses. The last group were ones outside of CH recs and accordingly mediocre with a few surprises; they were visited more less at random for small meals. Le Castela has an * because it is on its own league as many of you said. I will report on this and most places visited in near future in between making bags and bags of bread crumbs and chasing away my neighbor's dog (he is infatuated with my ankle).
To begin, the market report: Apt, Avignon, Roussillon, Cucuron, Bonnieux, Aix-en-Provence, Lourmarin, and L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
By far the biggest one was the Sunday market L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with many cooking stands serving ready to eat items than most, and just as large antique market (much bigger than Aix). It was very crowded though, nearly as NYC subway during rush hours really. A lot of interesting shops and art galleries complete with a gypsy w/ accordion. We felt a half day here really was not enough, and would love to return. A must visit if you are in this region, as suggested by many experienced CH’ers.
(Note: Some of ready to eats were rotisserie birds (and potatoes that are roasted with the dripping), couscous, ratatouille, snails, and paella. This was the last market on our list of visits, and could not pass up the opportunity to sample them: got little of all mentioned above, a slice of head cheese (pork) and cheese w/ pesto and pine nut, made two salads: tomato/mint/onion with olive oil/salt, and frisee salad with artichoke/garlic dressing. Added a bottle of a local rose (we really enjoyed and drank several bottles of Le Châtaignier Rosé domaine de la citadelle, in Menerbes) and all made a really really nice and memorable lunch. Whether it was worth canceling the reservation at Le Jardin du Quai only time will tell, and sooner the better (better be sooner my wife nudges…)
More enjoyable in a leisurely and “digestible” way for us was the Friday market in Lourmarin. Most memorable was the stand selling oysters labeled Pleine MER in three different sizes; the seller simply opened the oysters one at a time and served them to us after handing us half lemon each (and gave us an extra one after we told him how good they were). Medium sized, lightly crunchy/taut in the middle, cool(not cold) smoothness that made my wife's eyes sparkle (and me jealous), briny, and touch of sweet at the end, monsieur impeccably shucked them and had us in silence. Let me just say that we have had many raw oysters in reputable and not so reputable places, but this was the FRESHIEST tasting we ever had, period. We did not expect this from Lourmarin, so we felt very lucky to have met him that day, and told ourselves that on our next return, we will take a dozen to a nearby café and order a half bottle of white to start the day at the market. I think this was our best overall market experience.
Other markets were wonderful on their own ways: Bonnieux’s Friday market was very charming, spread along the curvy street on the lower part of the town, and small enough to enjoy both the market and the village all before lunch. Cucuron’s picturesque Tuesday market had very “local” feel, set up around the pool of water in the main square. Though Apt's market day is on Saturday, we found their antique market opened in an empty lot west of the town on Sunday ,and though much smaller than la-Sorgue, interesting and fun as well as cheaper. Avignon's Les Halles had the largest ready to eat items which we savored for lunch. If I were to leave out a market among the ones visited, it would be the one in Roussillon (Thursdays) as I recognized many of them in other markets, were much smaller (about 15 sellers), and there are other things to see there that were more interesting.
I think my experience from the market would have been more fun/meaningful/educational if I had better knowledge of the local products, and at least a conversational French. We will be working on both for next trip for sure. I should echo many people here that encounters with people at the market, restaurants, and near our home in Maubec was polite, accommodating, and proud (including the dogs!) despite our infantile-level french.