If France is the sun, then antique shoppers are the world. The Antiques Diva takes you on a tour of French flea-markets and antiques’ galleries.
France is the ideal place to start any antique shopping tour. Around the world, I find “European Antiques” and “French Antiques” used interchangeably. If France is the sun, then antique shoppers are the world. Our buying patterns revolve around French finery as if one of the Louis’ cast a spell to magnetically pull all future generations towards the treasures of La République!
Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen – Porte de Clignancourt
If you’re going to France, then what better place to start than the world-famous “Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen – Porte de Clignancourt.” As lovely as Paris is with the Tour Eiffel and the Haussmanian buildings, this market is located in the hairy armpit of the city. And, trust me, Paris isn’t wearing any deodorant. This isn’t a typical flea market filled with makeshift tents but rather a well-organised permanent structure housing EUR millions of inventory, complete with 13 districts, 2,000 vendors and seven miles of alleyways.
As this is Paris, the flea market also boasts an assortment of eateries such as the singing Chez Louisette or the gourmet Le Soleil. ‘Les Puce’ is only open three and a half days a week — Friday morning for the dealers and Saturday, Sunday and Monday for mere shopping mortals. On Mondays, half the vendors close early in the spirit of TGIM.
Perhaps the downside of the market is that ‘Les Puce’ is the fourth largest tourist attraction in France with 11 million visitors per year. For this reason, French friends advise “leave Clignancourt and their overpriced forgeries to the tourists.” Personally, I ignore these naysayers as I’ve found incredible purchases, once buying a chest of drawers that was later valued at four times the purchase price. I’ve found forgeries as well, but vendors, when asked directly if something is a reproduction, tend to confess.
Porte de Vanves
In Paris, I also peruse the 380 stalls set up Saturday and Sunday 7am – 1pm along the 14th arrondissement’s Avenue Marc Sangnier and Avenue Georges Lafenestre.
The Porte de Vanves Market has less panache than Clignancourt, but you’re more likely to find a bargain, especially during the last weekend in July when many of the vendors are departing for their working holidays as they select inventory while vacationing in France.
Carré Rive Gauche
While the flea markets in Paris have a special place in my heart, I love to browse the upscale galleries where I do more sight-seeing than shopping. Visiting galleries is like doing a wine tasting to educate the palate or touring a museum to educate the eye. The 120 galleries in the Carré Rive Gauche across the river from the Louvre in St-Germain-des-Prés literally have me licking the windows. I can barely contain my drool when I cross the Seine to Le Louvre des Antiquaires on the other side of the museum where you’re given the option to purchase the type of treasures found within the palatial walls. For more attainable prices, I head to Village Suisse, at 54, Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, in the shadow of the Tour Eiffel.
Depot Vente de Paris
Speaking of better prices, you must go to the ‘Depot Vente de Paris’ at 81 Rue de Lagny, in the 20th arrondissement. One day I found a 1950’s black mirror tea trolley for a mere EUR 15. The 14th arrondissement’s Depot Vente d’Alesia at 117 rue d’Alesia carries equally well-priced antique, vintage and used items coated with a layer of dust, making you believe you have found a buried treasure.
No antique shopping trip to France is complete without a trip to Provence to visit L’Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue, where the town appears to be a year-round, town-wide (incredibly chic) garage sale. If you’ve never heard of L’Isle, then you might as well lie down and begin kissing the ground I walk upon for this is among the best ‘brocanting’ in Europe. The flea market day is Sunday along the Avenue de 4 Otages, but even without the market you’ll find the loot literally pouring out of shops. Of course, all this shopping makes me hungry, so I stop at the Café de France with its wonderfully fresh Provencal cuisine.
Don’t think that L’Isle is the only antique shopping Provence offers. I could write a book pondering the best markets, but for the short list, a trip to this region is not complete without stopping in Villeneuve Les Avignon for their Saturday morning flea market in the Place du Marché.
My husband and I like to do this market in the morning and then drive to Chateau Neuf de Pape in the afternoon for some wine tasting! The “new city of Avignon” was built across the river from Avignon where their market is held Sunday mornings at the Place de Carmes.
All over the South, flea markets dot the landscape. In Nice, one of the “great flea markets of France,” is held Mondays from 9am – 6pm along the Cours Saleya and in the adjacent place Pierre Gautier in the old town. While in Toulouse, two regular flea markets are held – one on the first Friday-Sunday of the month at Allees J. Guesde and the other every Saturday and Sunday at Place St Sernin.
Braderie de Lille
While the South of France has an international allure that attracts jetsetters and ‘wannabees’, the north of France offers my favourite French find – the Braderie de Lille. The first weekend of September, Lille hosts what can only be described as a town-wide garage sale, with 8000 professional and residential vendors. This flea market is a pretext for a party as two million shoppers descend on the city enjoying free concerts, unheard of bargains and eating copious quantities of mussels and frites! While a trip to Lille rarely results in finding what you’re looking for, you have The Antiques Diva ™ guarantee that you won’t go home empty handed!
Brittany and Normandy
While in northern France, visit the rocky seaside and rolling green fields of Brittany and Normandy.
Though not what is considered a typical town of the region, the Renne flea-market is a good one. It takes place on Thursdays on the boulevard de la Liberté and the rue Jules Dimon. Rouen, of Joan of Arc fame, offers another all day Thursday flea market, which perhaps also lacks the ambiance one might expect of a brocante. Nevertheless it is chock-full of bargains laid out on the ground floor of a parking lot at Place des Emmurées.
To come outside and play, visit the flower-filled place St Marc for a Saturday and Sunday market. Last but not least, the most picturesque of the northern markets takes place in St Malo at the Quai Solidor. Held only on Tuesdays during the summer months, it is a small market with only a handful of vendors selling tea cups as they bask in the sun amidst the cry of seagulls and the Brittany breeze!