France is a great place to pick up bargain vintage wares. If you can make the space in your suitcase, with a small amount of rummaging and a bit of haggling, you can come home with a truly chic holiday souvenir by visiting one of the hundreds of thousands of flea markets of France.
The best deals are to be found at the street markets – vide-greniers and brocantes. Brocantes are rather like highbrow car boot sales or flea markets. Traders spread their wares across pavements and sell everything from vintage buttons to antique furniture.
As well as the joy of shopping, many brocantes are a feast for the eyes, with flower sellers, mouth-watering food and vibrant vegetables all on display.
In recent years, brocantes have become very fashionable and vintage sellers have become wise to the fact that tourists flock to them looking for a bargain. Items don’t tend to be priced and haggling is expected. The French word ‘brocanteur’ means ‘broker’, so don’t be shy when it comes to battling for the price you want!
If you learn only one French phrase make it “C’est trop cher!” – “It’s too expensive!”. My experience is that the first price offered (to a non-French speaker, i.e. a suspected tourist) will be outrageously high. If your French, like mine, isn’t great, the best starting point is to offer a price slightly lower than you really want to pay. If for instance I want to buy a candlestick priced at 25 Euros, but I think it’s only worth 15 Euros, I would start the bargaining at “dix euros” (10 euros). Expect to receive much head shaking followed by an eventual counter offer closer to your goal of 15. It may take several offers, but as long as your desired price isn’t ridiculous, you’re likely to get there.
As well as brocantes you will also come across vide-greniers, which literally means “empty attic”. These days’ vide-greniers are where the best bargains are to be found. Like car boot sales, the idea is that members of the public sell items they no longer want.
Vide-greniers are still very popular as France has never really caught on to the idea of internet auction sites. These markets are much less frequent though, with most towns hosting one or two each year, usually in the spring or summer.
Where to go
Brocantes are popular throughout France and most towns will host them in varying sizes. One of the largest in Europe takes place in Lille, in Nord Pas de Calais, Northern France. The ‘Braderie’ as it is known, takes place in the first week of September and there are more than 10,000 stalls.
For something less overwhelming many of the larger towns host a brocante once a month. If you are planning to visit France and want to find a brocante or vide-greniers see the following article for some great advice: How to find Flea Markets in France
If you just want to be submerged in all things “French-antique” visit L’Isle Sur La Sorge in Provence. It is an exceptionally beautiful place known for its many antique shops. It also hosts a large brocante every Sunday. Its well worth a visit, even if you can’t afford the prices, it’s lovely to sip wine in one of the restaurants by the river and dream!
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