Going to the markets in France is a way to experience the culture of a region, town or village. It’s true of tiny hamlets and big cities including Paris. But in Paris – where to start? There are dozens of markets of several types, from food to flea markets but luckily there is a little book called Markets of Paris by Marjorie R Williams and Dixon Long that makes it easy for visitors to find and enjoy any sort of Paris market any day of the week.
Marjorie Williams says in her introduction “…this guide will take you into parts of the city where you may never have been and show you markets whose existence you might never have guessed”.
And I can personally endorse that claim as I followed the definitive guide book to the markets of Paris when I had an hour to spare in the area around the Arc de Triomphe. The market guide is laid out by arrondissement, the administrative districts of the city, which makes it very easy to use. It lists food markets, antiques, flea markets, book and flower, arts and crafts and specialist markets so you can quickly and easily find whatever floats your boat.
I wanted a food market, my goal was to find somewhere where everyday life went on for Parisians and I could get a taste of real Paris. I found it! Rue Poncelet says the book, is a “fine neighbourhood market” – perfect, just what I was looking for. This little market is like a tiny oasis so close to the hugely busy roads and the grand Arc de Triomphe; it is held from Tuesday to Saturday (10h-18h) and Sunday mornings, and it was buzzing. Old ladies filled their baskets with fresh veg, there was a queue at the Boulangerie, the smell of freshly baked bread and croissants wafted out of the door. A market trader sang out that he had grapes which arrived that morning from the south, juice and succulent, come and try them. A bakery, butcher, fishmonger, hardware store, this little road had everything that a Parisian needed.
The book is very easy to use, with good descriptions, great photos and a list of restaurants in each area at the back. It’s small too so it can fit in a handbag and go everywhere with you so that you can find a market of any kind you like when you want.
Marjorie William’s favourite flea market in Paris:
“I would suggest going to either the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen/Clignancourt, outside the 18th arrondissement, or the Marché aux Puces de Porte de Vanves in the 14th. It depends how ‘hard-core’ you are as a flea market shopper. Clignancourt is huge and a good choice for people who want to make a whole day of it and especially those interested in higher-end antiques (although Clignancourt has the whole gamut). But if you’re interested in a flea market that is smaller and easier to navigate (still with many good finds among the stalls), then Porte de Vanves is a better bet. Either way, my advice is to get to the flea market early in the morning and leave by 10 am so that you can squeeze in seeing an outdoor food market as well (they start closing around noon). There are many terrific ones to choose from on weekends”.
Marjorie says that buying a souvenir from the flea market, something vintage, pehaps elegant, an every day item that you can use at home even is a wonderful way to remember your visit. Her favourite item bought at the Porte de Vanves is a set of 12 cheese knives and forks with ebony handles. They were in their original velvet-lined box and “so shiny and unscratched that they looked like they’d never been used…Every single time that I pull out one of those slender pairs, I am transported back to Paris and to that morning in particular when my friends and I had so much fun shopping together at the flea market, laughing, pointing out items to each other, and relaxing at a café afterwards.”
And isn’t that what it’s all about? The fun of the find and then the memory that lasts forever with your Paris flea market souvenir!