If your footsteps lead you to Rennes, make sure you stay there on a Saturday morning, so you can appreciate the atmosphere of an emblematic event in the city : the Marché des Lices. Each week, summer and winter, about 300 traders and craftsmen from all the region gather in the Place des Lices to sell their products. This huge open-air market is a 400-years old tradition, and it's now the second biggest market in France, with 10 000 visitors each week.
It's a central place, where the Rennais "have their habits", from 5am to 2pm : depending on the time you go there, you'll cross the way of early risers, who pick up their groceries before everybody, party animals, who grab a snack before going to bed, and a little later, friends having a good breakfast, families and students going for a walk or a coffee, political parties handing out leaflets, or elderly people meeting up and playing palet breton.
If you're looking for fresh and local products, then you're at the right place. Rennes is a city, which is surrounded by fields and farmlands, so a lot of growers and farmers come to sell their fruit and vegetables on the market. As the sea is also nearby, fishermen come from the northern and southern coasts and sell the freshest fish and seafood you can imagine. For specialities from all France, go inside one of the two beautiful pavillions from the XIXth century; you will find an impressive choice of cheese, meats, wines, pastries, teas and many other delicacies to taste and discover. Nothing is better than filling your bags with cheese and good bread, and later going to eat with friends, sitting on a café terrace. A typical breton “apéritif”: fresh oysters from Cancale accompanied with a glass of dry white wine, plus small toasts of bread and salted butter. A delight in summer! Wanna taste THE speciality of Rennes? Have a “galette-saucisse”, a grilled sausage wrapped in a buckwheat galette. Ask for it with mustard!
But the markets are most of all fascinating places to stroll and observe. You will certainly come across music bands or street performances, between the stalls or inside the pubs, where you have good chances to see a traditional Irish music jam. One of the most unique traditions of the market is what is called “La Criée Publique”. Here is how it works: during the week, mailboxes are permanently placed in three of the bars in the neighbourhood (Le Ty'Anna, Le Papier Timbré and La Cour), and everybody is free to write messages on a piece of paper and to put them inside: poems, stories, love letters, small ads, philosophical thoughts, anything is permitted. Then, each Saturday at 12h12, comedians come on the marketplace, near the big clock, and read those messages loud and publicly. They define this as a “socio-humorous-political act”, which replaces the newspapers and digital info feeds by a moment of sharing and free expression.
13h30: It's the end of the market, the traders begin to pack up. It's the moment when the gleaners show up: those who want go from one stand to another, looking for unsold and damaged goods they can take and save from the garbage. An association, called “Les Glaneurs Rennais” (you can recognize them easily with their red hat) gather all the products they can and organize a free distribution down the place des Lices. Don't hesitate and go for some vegetables to share! You can also help the gleaners, they are always looking for a hand and it's a good way to meet people – just what markets are made for!
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