BY CHERYL ANDERSON
The French are passionate about many things. We well know their passion for their superior wines, cuisine, and fashion, but they are perhaps just as serious about their brocantes, vide-greniers, and braderies—a particular passion described by some as a national pastime (particularly during the summer and leading up to Christmas). These sorts of markets are not only a draw for local lovers of a bargain but for visiting tourists as well.
Brocantes are outdoor flea markets or shops, stemming from the word brocanter, to deal in secondhand goods whose origin could be obscure. Some of the items may have been collected from car-boot sales or vide-greniers by the owners of the brocante. The brocanteurs (junkman or antique dealer) tend to be professionals.
Vide-grenier, meaning empty attic or attic emptier, are usually smaller, much like our garage sale of bric-a-brac and inexpensive items. They can pop up anywhere but very often are found in small villages in rural areas during the summer months—private sellers purge their households and lofts participating in a vide-grenier.
Braderies are generally more like a summertime fair or large yard sale—you may see the word foire used instead of braderie. The items sold tend to be of better quality than the standard flea market. Villages sometimes organize braderies where there are food stands, live music, and street theatre. For visitors, they are a fun way to mingle with the people and get a feeling for the culture in a relaxed atmosphere.
Then there are the Marché aux puces, or flea walks. I’ve only seen this verbiage when referring to the flea markets in Paris. The term puces (flea) originated in Paris in the 19th century. Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris is the largest antiques and secondhand market in the world and the fourth most visited attraction in France. Consisting of warehouses, stands in alleyways, and small shops, the market is open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 AM to 6 PM and Mondays from 11 AM to 5 PM. Some of the shops may be closed August 1 to 15—the most common time for people in Europe to vacation.
The Cours Saleya market in Nice’s old town, dating back over 100 years, is a charming and very lively place in the summer. Matisse lived in the tall yellow house as you look away from Place Massena at the far end of the market. Old pictures show that it looks much like it did 100 years ago. Under shaded stalls, Tuesday to Saturday there are food displays, while on Sunday it turns into a flower market, and on Monday, a huge antiques market.
I have been to the Cour Saleya many times in the summer and fall, and it’s always a fun place to wander around, have a café or meal, and while there, to indulge in some of my favorite gelato, tomate-basilic, at Finocchio, 2 Place Rossetti—it’s not in the Cours Saleya, but close by.
Bastille Day, July 14, is often a good time to visit brocantes, braderies, vde-greniers, or Marché aux puces. The Antiquitier Brocante in Montreuil-sur-Mer Hauts de France on Bastille Day is more specialized, as it has very expensive antiques, but bargains are also to be found.
La Grande Braderie de Lille, le plus grande vide-grenier in Europe, is held on the first weekend in September with over 200 km of stall space, over 10,000 sellers, and hordes of people—two days of festivities with in a friendly atmosphere You may find, as the French would say, the pèrle rare (a hidden gem) and dine on delicious molues frites. There are professional vendors specializing in English antiques.
Of course, there are myriad ways in which to approach your plan for travel around France, it has so much to offer, but perhaps after looking at the sites listed below to help guide you, you could include a few vide-greniers, braderies or brocantes in your tour—these markets are all over France. You’ll come away having gotten a unique glimpse of France while fulfilling one of their true passions.
You may not need a carousel, few of us do, but when drinking a chilled white wine from glasses with slender green stems try to imagine their history when they were used during celebratory occasions or on a shaded terrace with sun and azure sky above.
Perhaps, once you’re home and sleeping on those marvelous antique linen sheets you bought from a dealer such as the ones set up on Fridays in Menton, or so many other towns, you’ll realize the wisdom of your purchase.
You’ll be ever so glad you stopped to poke around inside or outside a brocante or wander through a braderie or vide-grenier. Oh, the history and secrets kept buried in the warp and woof of those linens.
Lists almost 100 brocantes and their dates all over France with an excellent map showing the areas where they are located to guide you.
Brochure online. L’agenda des Brocantes is available in shops as well.
Gives a list of the best markets in France.