Hi Frugalistas! I have an English friend who had been telling me about the Ventimiglia market just over the Italy border from France for as long as I’ve known her. Stories of Louis Vuitton handbags, Gucci wallets and other designer gear – all genuine, and for a fraction of the price. The Ventimiglia, Italy market in the 1970s and 1980s was known as the place where the big design houses brought their overstocked items to sell off. So when I was staying in Pigna my friend KB and I knew visiting the market in Ventimiglia was something we wanted to do. Even if the market had changed over the years, we knew an Italian food market with Italian delicacies (and maybe, just maybe, some designer bargains) was definitely a fun thing to do in Ventimiglia. (This post was updated in July 2019.)
About the Ventimiglia market
There are two parts to the Ventimiglia market. A permanent building on the street from the Ventimiglia train station towards the Ventimiglia beach is the Ventimiglia food market, home to meat & fish, fruit and vegetables, flowers, pastries and other Italian groceries. Then there is a temporary market down along the Ventimiglia beach front. The main Ventimiglia market day is Friday, when both the permanent and temporary markets are open.
Planning a visit to the Ventimiglia markets
We went to the market on the bus that runs through the Cinque Valli from Pigna. But because the market is so close to the train station, it’s easy to catch the train from any destination on the French or Italian Riviera via the Nice to San Remo train. The train from Nice to Ventimiglia takes around an hour and the train from San Remo to Ventimiglia about half that. The market is only a few minutes walk from the Ventimiglia station. You can of course, also drive – which does make it easier to take your spoils home. Unsure of the Ventimiglia market hours, we arrived quite early.
We decided to start our visit down by the beach. When we arrived at the permanent market some of the stalls were already starting to pack up for the day like many of the best Italian markets (it was just after 12 o’clock from memory), so I do think going to the permanent market first is a good idea, unless you want to do a lot of food shopping in Ventimiglia.
The temporary market is literally right at the beach, so on a sunny day it was lovely to leave the market for a while and enjoy the sparkling blue Mediterranean, and the views along the coast. In the distance we could even see snow on the mountains. The Ventimiglia old town also looked charming, and I would have loved to have had the time to head over the river for a little exploration. There were plenty of cafés lining the beach front for that morning expresso or cappuccino.
What can you buy at the Ventimiglia Friday market?
The temporary stalls are very similar to the market stalls you see in many markets in Italy and France. In fact many of the market stall holders were French. It’s fun to shop for French and Italian cheeses, sausages, and oils. Most stall holders offer small samples to taste. Because it was Italy, there’s also pasta – that multicoloured pasta you see in tourist areas, but which I’ve never seen in an Italian restaurant. It may be touristy, but it certainly does make a colourful display. There were also a few stallholders selling fruit and vegetables.
There are also cheap clothes and shoes, hardware, table clothes and tools. We saw some pretty scarves and pashminas at reasonable prices, and also some beautiful Italian cashmeres that definitely were not for sale at market prices. I picked up a pair of espadrilles for next Australian summer for EUR18.
Then of course, there are the leather goods…… ah yes, the leather goods. I think the best thing to say about the Ventimiglia market handbags is that they are not the goods my English friend remembers from her youth. There was a wide variety of quality and prices. I saw cheap Chinese-made bags at budget prices, and I also saw quality Italian made leather goods, at not so budget prices. The prices of the quality goods did seem quite reasonable, but I’m not sure how they compared to buying from a shop. There is a very smart looking shoe and bag shop back in the main part of town near the train station (at one of the main bus stops), so if you want to look for bags at the market, maybe get an idea of retail prices and quality before you head down to the market.
Now, what about the Louis Vuittons I hear you say? Well, yes, there were “Louis Vuitton” bags. There were also “Chanel” bags and even “Prada” bags. They were being sold off mats on the ground by African migrants. Just like in Venice and other Italian cities. They did look quite reasonable quality, and it did take a careful look to see that they were just not quite right.
KB was on the look out for French placemats for her dining table, and we did find one French stall holder who had some very nice, good quality French table linen. It was all pretty, muted colours rather than the bright Provencal style patterns you tend to see in the South of France. But unfortunately he didn’t have place mats.
If you love traditional Italian and French markets the permanent market is an absolute treasure. A riot and colours, smells and sounds, we really enjoyed our walk around it. And it wasn’t crowded – it seemed everyone was either in one of the cafés on the street or down at the temporary stalls.
Because the market appeared to getting ready to close, there were some bargains to be had. We decided that it all looked so good we would pass on a restaurant dinner that night and make ourselves dinner at home using some of the goodies in our townhouse welcome pack, and some market purchases. We picked up a couple of bright red tomatoes, a pear, some gorgeous smelling strawberries and even some tiny wild strawberries.
Of course, by this stage we were deserving of a little treat, so we snapped up some sfogliatelle pastries to eat while we waited for our bus home. Absolutely delicious.
Back at the townhouse that night we were treated to a memorable feast. Those tomatoes… oh, my. Definitely the best tomatoes I have ever eaten. The standard by which all other tomatoes will now be judged. Soft, juicy and tasty. They made the “tomatoes” I buy in my local supermarket at home seem like a completely different vegetable. And as always, the strawberries in Europe – juicy, sweet and just plain yum.
What I think of the Ventimiglia Italian market
I don’t know whether the Ventimiglia market is the best market on the Riviera, but if you are in the neighbourhood it is certainly a fun way to spend a Friday morning and is one of the fun things to do in Ventimiglia. The Ventimiglia shopping may have changed, and it may not have the je sais quoi atmosphere of the Cours Saleya market in Nice and I’m sure it must unbearably crowded in the summer, but with its winning location on the Ventimiglia beach and buzzy multicultural crowds I genuinely did enjoy my visit. If you are planning a trip to Italy, don’t discount Ventimiglia.
And then of course there were those tomatoes………
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