Treasure hunting

If you’re looking for quirky pieces to style your home in France, the brocante is a great place to start, as Candice de Polnay discovers

During the summer months throughout France there are many opportunities for the beady-eyed bargain hunter to scoop a treasure. Events range from book sales to antiques and bric-a-brac fairs to plants and everything in between.

A pocket-sized book called L’Agenda des Brocantes is published every year, giving details, by date, of where the sale is taking place, the type of event, the number of stalls, and even the name of the indigenous people. For example, people from Angoul�me are called Angoumoisins. The book is a little gem for avid brocanteurs.

Sales may be on any day of the week but are more usually on a Saturday or Sunday. In the height of the holiday season there could well be barbecued food, beer and wine stalls, coffee, music, pony rides, carousels – all the fun of the fair, in fact!

If you’re really keen, get there at the crack of dawn and if it’s a big event, stay all day. You can have a fun day out for all the family without it costing the earth – unless you get carried away, of course!

These sales are often held in beautiful surroundings, near a church, outside or inside a salle des f�tes, or trailing around the streets of a small village – sometimes they go on for miles. It can be a delightful way of acquainting yourself with the region.

Food such as bread and cakes, local eggs, vegetables and fruit (melons in the Charente), flowers and plants are often available in abundance and unless the sale is very small, there is frequently something of a party atmosphere.

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Just as car boot sales in the UK have become more expensive over the past few years, so have prices risen in France. It is, of course, important to bargain but I have often found that sellers are not as flexible as they used to be when it comes to reducing prices, though it is worth a try.

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish a sale from a more traditional market where you will find livestock to buy, such as hens or geese. I have often seen caged birds such as budgerigars and canaries as well as more exotic breeds being haggled over.

There are many items for collectors too, so if your passion is for enamelled advertising signs from days gone by, old linen and lace or accoutrements from the everyday life of countryfolk, then you might be lucky.

Indeed, there is often a range of implements and tools formerly used for carpentry, blacksmithing, tilling the land or preparing and cooking food – a treasure trove of useful stuff if you’re studying the history of such things or just enjoy handling beautifully crafted items that have outlived their use. It can be fun dreaming up new ways of utilising such things too!

Before you rush off to a store to buy that new bed for visiting relatives, why not try a brocante first? I have frequently seen new beds and mattresses for sale at the tiniest event and although I couldn’t vouch for the quality, for occasional use they could be ideal.

If you are renovating a house in France, then the range of doorknobs and traditional lighting frequently seen could come in handy. Make sure you have a qualified electrician to fit items such as rise-and-fall lights, which look gorgeous but often have ancient fittings.

The rule of thumb is to rummage and to bargain. You could end up having a lovely day out without breaking the bank.

www.agendanationaldesbrocantes.com for more information on brocantes in your region