In the city of Lille in Northern France a very special flea market is held each year – the largest in Europe and it is called the Lille Braderie.
No one is absolutely sure how the Lille Braderie got its name. The earliest mention, in 1127, refers to it as the ‘Lille Fair’. Once a year, after Assumption, foreign merchants were allowed into the city and masters gave their servants unwanted items to sell. The word ‘brader’ means ‘to sell at a low price’ and even today the non-professional sellers are known as the ‘Bradeux’.
However, in 1446, Godin Maille and Pierre Tremart, two butchers living on the current Rue de la Grande Chaussée, were permitted to sell roast meat from the front of their house; in Flemish, the verb ‘to roast’ is ‘braden,’ so it is thought that the Braderie might have taken its name from this. After a temporary disappearance of chicken, due to a poultry disease in the area, mussels became the cheap ‘finger food’ alternative. Today restaurateurs encourage visitors to eat 500 tons of mussels and 30 tons of chips in an unofficial competition to see who can build the highest mountain of shells outside their restaurants.
The city becomes pedestrian heaven; seasoned bargain hunters come early and well prepared with comfortable footwear, a street map, plus wads of money. An eager two and a half million visitors will rummage their way through 100km of stalls run by 10,000 vendors.
A carnival atmosphere prevails as strangers smile at each other and make banter with the stall holders in thirty three hours of non–stop bargaining fun. This annual event takes place on the first weekend of every September starting always on the Saturday at 14.00 and ending on the Sunday 11.00 – and it runs right through the night!
Saturday kicks off at 9 am with a half marathon of about 5000 participants, followed by two smaller races; then at 2pm the Braderie is officially opened and the serious shopping begins. In rue Neuve, rue de Béthune, rue du Sec-Arembault, the high street shops are selling off their summer collection at discount prices. There are vendors of fine second-hand furniture, ornaments, crockery, etc. on the Façade de l’Esplanade and opposite the Champ de Mars near the Deûle canal; and professional antiques dealers, 300 stalls, trade on the Jean-Baptiste Lebas boulevard, the boulevard Louis XIV and the rues Debierre and du Réduit.
If a break is in order, try the Citadelle park, the nearby zoo, or the funfair with its 180 non-stop attractions running throughout Saturday night until 5am Sunday.
On Sunday morning in Wazemmes, the ambiance of the flea market joins with the vibrant market on the place de la Nouvelle Aventure; and along the boulevard Victor Hugo, a huge ‘car booty’ is run by the locals of Moulins; rues d’Arras, de Douai, de Cambrai and de Maubeuge. If bling’s not your thing, check out the elegant boutique stalls in the cobblestone streets of Old Lille; and finally, near the Opera House, displaying their flags, are antiques dealers from England, Ireland and Burgundy.
Check out the video of the Baderie de Lille for a flavour of the weekend!
Information about parking cars and caravans: public transport; hotel deals and reservations, contact Lille Tourist Office.