For years my neighbours went on about “The BIG One”, the Lille Braderie, the biggest flea market in Europe with its 10,000 stalls full of bits and bobs, vintage, antiques, pre-loved pieces. Here in France going to flea markets at the weekend or on a national holiday, is a national hobby… but going to the braderie, well, that’s a whole new experience, this is not just any old flea market, this is an EVENT!
Tat or Treasure?
Rifling through someone else’s unwanted goods, haggling over a few centimes, walking up and down looking at rows of what is largely old tat – in my part of northern France, we all just can’t get enough of it. I’m including expats and second home owners in that “we” since I meet an unprecedented number of people that fall into that category, wandering around out of the way villages on a Sunday morning looking for an undiscovered treasure. The French are of course savvy at this game and can often spin a story of provenance that would make Jules Verne blush but hey – it’s all part of the show.
Lille Braderie Flea Market
All that neighbourly talk of “the BIG One” got me going and in the end I gave in and went to it to see for myself what all the fuss was about. The Lille Braderie is something else entirely. I’ve been to a fair few brocantes, braderies, vide greniers, marches aux puces (there are several names for flea markets) in my time but I have never been to anything quite like this before or since.
Behold, Barter and Buy
You can’t drive to Lille whilst this event is on as the roads are pedestrianised. 100km of roads are in fact given up to the 10,000 stall holders who lay out all manner of stuff for the 2 million or so punters who turn up to behold, barter and buy. Fortunately there are two stations in the centre just minutes away from each other, one serves international and high speed trains to Paris and all over France and one serves local stations.
The minute you come out of the station when the Lille Braderie is on – you step into another world. Packed streets, the sounds of millions of people chatting, the beautiful historic buildings as a backdrop, tables spilling out onto the pavements filled with weary shoppers take a break from browsing.
It’s not just a massive flea market – it’s a giant party that starts at 14h on the first Saturday in September and ends around lunchtime the next day. Without stopping. This flea market goes on through the night. Weary stall holders pin their eyes open and carry on and shoppers wander around with torches hoping to catch a tired stall holder at a weak moment and really get a bargain to brag about.
Monumental Mussel Mountains
Bars, cafés, brasseries, restaurants, estaminets (a Flemish style restaurant) do a roaring trade. This is a foodie Paradise this town but for the Lille Braderie the emphasis is on the local dish of moules et frites, mussels and chips to you and me. It’s a tradition at this incredible weekend for eateries to try to be the most popular seller of this ubiquitous dish, and they prove their worth by building mussel shell mountains outside their premises for all to admire.
Colourful, Carousing Crowds
If you don’t like crowds and noise – then you probably won’t enjoy this event. If you love a colourful, raucous, carousing happy crowd, street music, a festive atmosphere, flea markets and vintage – then you will absolutely think you’ve landed in Paradise when you get to Lille.
For a tranquil break head to the park in Lille, it’s not too crowded and there are some great restaurants alongside the canal, a really pretty part of the city that feels like you’re in the country.
Pick up a map from the tourist office that shows you the spread of the flea market as many of the stalls are sorted into sections. Take plenty of small Euro notes and change and be prepared to bargain for what you want – I find smiling sweetly, knowing how much I am prepared to pay and holding the amount out works wonders!
Have fun – this incredible event is as much about enjoying the atmosphere as it is about going home with a bargain!