A Bastille Day trip to the walled town of Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France, just an hour’s drive from Calais reveals extraordinary treasures at the annual 14th July antiques fair…
As we stormed through the city walls towards the bustling belly of Montreuil-no-longer-Sur-Mer our hearts simultaneously lifted and sank at the sight of a beautiful but deadly cobbled hill. The centre of town was out of bounds to cars so we parked up 100 yards down the road and joined the steady 6 o’clock trickle of people trudging up the incline, dragging behind them all manner of karts and trolleys; a pilgrimage to the antiquated.
This historic town is an idyllic setting for a brocante; famously the backdrop for the story of Les Miserables it feels more like a set from Chocolat, though even Johnny Depp smothered in chocolate would have a job distracting one’s attention from the wealth of amazing pieces strewn along the streets.
The first couple of hours were wonderfully quiet and then the throngs arrived from about 11am, and our lethargy with them. An emergency sit down later atop a hillock eating tarte aux pommes and we were restored, ready to dig deep for another blast around the streets. We made quick decisions. ‘Can we carry that? Is it pleasantly battered? Is it under €20? We’ll ‘ave it.’
Compared to some of the larger braderies such as Lille in September this is a tres petite brocante, but it has far more charm. The atmosphere is jovial and the French have a wonderfully relaxed attitude, clearly enjoying the day and even a proper sit down lunch behind their stalls while we sauntered by scanning their wares and the contents of their plates.
We had to stop ourselves getting carried away; it’s easy to add value to items because you have made a long journey to find them. A cupboard that one would screw one’s nose up at for a fiver ‘en Angleterre’ seems reasonable at four times the price when sitting on sun baked French cobbles.
Those that I spoke to, felt that the prices were equal to those at UK antique fairs, but these items have an added cachet, and therefore value, by being French.
A dealer who has been buying at French markets for years told me that he struggles to find good pieces now, “The markets are hit and miss from year to year. I returned from a Brocante not long ago having bought one solitary chair.”
If you go to Montreuil to furnish your own home then the prices are reasonable. If you are trying to make a living, unless you sell your wares straight out of your boutique on The King’s Road then you may struggle to see a huge profit…
By Lucy Naughton
The Montreuil-sur-Mer antiques fair is held every Bastille Day and attracts serious dealers from Paris, Belgium, Holland, Germany, UK and as far as Australia. It is also hugely popular with those who live close by and the stalls reflect the different style of buyer. Sellers are a mix of professional dealers and locals who set up in the road and sell off their family “heirlooms” as at a typical flea market in France.
The roads into the upper town are closed off for the day but parking is available in the streets below. If you want to buy a large item – just ask the stall holder to hang onto it until the streets are re-opened in the evening and collect then. Do try to bargain with the stall holders – they don’t mind!
There are plenty of restaurants, bars, brasseries where you can rest your weary feet, order something to drink and eat and watch the world go by – clutching their purchases!
The town is a place of enormous history and a great place to wander, for more information see: