Rooting and rummaging around a French brocante is one of the best ways to spend a weekend morning. Here are 7 flea markets you won’t want to miss…
The legendary braderie in the capital of Hauts-de-France is the granddaddy of them all. Rather than limited itself to a decorative town square or not-so-decorative car park, Europe’s largest flea market takes over the whole town centre on the first weekend of September, attracting more than two million bargain-hunters. The old town’s narrow cobbled streets are closed to traffic while almost every inch of pavement on streets and squares heave with everything from old TVs to chinaware, furniture of every description, books, paintings, vintage vinyl and pretty much everything in between. I once saw a stunning, bubble-shaped 1970s chrome and white space-age hi-fi unit. Sadly, in those novice days, I lacked the means to get it home. So popular is the braderie that the streets often become jammed with punters shuffling along, elbowing each other to get a glimpse of the wares, while wannabe Juliette Grécos strum away. Restaurateurs get into the spirit, too; with record quantities of moules-frites being consumed, they hold a competition to see which restaurant can build the highest tower of mussel shells. If you want to bag a bargain, get there as early as you can on the Saturday. Don’t try to bring your car or van anywhere near the town centre once the braderie is in full swing. You’ll have a nightmare retrieving it.
This expansive brocante is held every May Day in the shadow of the Loire Valley’s grandest château. With more than 500 sellers from all over France taking over the grounds and spilling out on to the village’s winding 16th-century lanes, this is a major event in the flea-market calendar. Nevertheless, you can still find some gems without breaking the bank. My favourite finds include a swirling, wrought-iron garden swing, a circular 1920s typewriter and gorgeous Cézanne-style landscapes. It is worth looking out for decorative faience tin-glazed chinaware, if you like that kind of thing. Sellers start setting up around 5am so it is worth heading out early if you want to nail that deal before anyone else.
Marché aux Puces, Annecy, Haute-Savoie
While the best bargains do not necessarily turn up in the most picturesque places, it never hurts to have a chocolate-box setting. And they don’t come much lovelier than Annecy in Haute-Savoie, nicknamed ‘the Venice of the Alps’ thanks to its combination of crystal-clear canals and pastel-coloured townhouses, all set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains and a gorgeous lake. On the last Saturday of the month, the Old Town hosts a wonderfully laid-back flea market with up to 200 sellers laying out their wares on trestle tables in the narrow arcaded streets. As well as the usual random selection of wares, you will find many local specialities including Savoyard ceramics and cheese-making gear, skiing kit as well as the occasional armoire, dolls and paintings, all amid tantalising wafts of Reblochon cheese and tartiflette from the food stalls. Prices are not rock bottom, due to the number of tourists who come mainly for the scenery, but nor are they as high as at larger, better-known markets. Opening hours are 8am to 6pm, so for the best deals get there early, or leave it late when sellers keen to get home are more amenable to a haggle.
Vide-Grenier, Époisses, Burgundy
The delightful village of Époisses, midway between Dijon and Auxerre, is best known for its round cheeses and 16th- and 17th-century buildings, so this is the kind of slightly off-the-beaten-track area that often has a great vide-grenier. There is usually one around here on a Sunday morning in early May, when the atmosphere is part mini flea market, part village fête. Antique dealers and locals sell everything from art nouveau lamps to embroidered tablecloths and gardenware while a local dignitary or two turns up to say a few words on a makeshift PA system. Things wind down around lunchtime, when there is a chance grab a fried andouillette sausage baguette and a glass of beer. Do check local listings here as these events move around like quicksilver and the venue for last week’s sale could be this week’s empty car park.
Held on an industrial patch of wasteland next to a canal on the outskirts of Lyon, this brocante may not win any prizes for its Instagram potential but is nonetheless one of France’s major flea markets with more than 400 sellers. Every Sunday morning, sellers arrive in the early hours to set up their pitches on makeshift trestle tables, on blankets on the ground or in a corrugated-roofed hangar. There is an amazing variety for sale, from rustic garden furniture, vintage leather luggage, books, Bakelite radios and Bergère chairs, to paintings, knick-knacks and old clothes, monogrammed tablecloths, wine-making gear and marble-topped bedside tables. With so many stalls, it can be dizzying, so unless you want to end up wandering in circles, you will need to be organised and methodical, working out your planned route on arrival. On the plus-side, there is secure parking in the main car park.
Grandes Foires à la Brocante et Antiquités, Pézenas, Hérault
The small town of Pézenas, between Montpellier and Béziers is a major name in the antiques trade, thanks to its unusually high concentration of antique dealers and superb flea market. Twice a year on the first Sunday in May and the second Sunday in October, more than 150 sellers fill pavements and roadsides in Pézenas with everything from iron garden furniture to Art Deco crystalware, cast-iron radiators, ornate rococo mirrors, vintage toile de jouy linens, paintings and the occasional Sèvres coffee set. Savour the sweet smell of fresh crêpes and candy floss, the sounds of the local organ-grinder but be prepared to hone your haggling skills as the tough-nut, puffer-jacketed dealers know how to drive a hard bargain.
After the Lille Braderie, this is probably France’s best-known brocante. About half an hour’s drive east of Avignon, this gorgeous Provençal town with its watermills and canals may be small but with more than 350 antiques and second-hand shops, it draws collectors and buyers from around the world. The biannual antiques fairs, over the Easter weekend and on 15 August, are major dates on the international antiques calendar. Less hectic is the weekly Sunday market held on the edge of the river bank on the Avenue des Quatre Otages. This combination of food market, flea market and antiques fair offers everything from silverware, Provençal pots and ceramics to Bergère suites, cameras and old boules sets. This, however, is a cut above some of France’s lesser-known flea markets and vide-greniers. Many professional sellers display their items with panache, tying decorative ribbons around neatly piled-up linens, and as you might expect, prices are similarly inflated. But it is still possible to unearth a rare treasure or just something you love. Vendors start setting up around 9am, but get there before that to snap up the best pieces and secure a parking space nearby.
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