You’ll come across flea markets and brocante fairs all over France. The French have all sorts of different brocante fairs: vide-greniers, dépôts-vente and braderies. Their brocante is our bric-a-brac and going to a flea market or brocante sale is part of a summer holiday. The only slight drawback? You’ll have to be pretty quick to pick up the kind of fabulous bargain you might have found in the past.
The French have discovered the attractions of those old tins, quaint farm implements and Art Nouveau china. Everything is here, including items you don’t even know exist. Browse stalls from antique and Art Deco to tin signs and breakfast bowls, from china to old books, jewellery to glassware.
But don’t worry; flea markets and brocante fairs are great fun and you can pick up the odd bargain. If you see something you fall in love with and it’s a bit more than you budgeted, well go for it anyway. You may never see such an item again.
Flea markets and brocante fairs are all-year round affairs but come high summer and they’re joined by vide-greniers (literally emptying the attics) when whole villages become one glorious rummage sale.
Paris Flea markets (Marchés aux Puces)
These Paris flea markets are world famous, and very crowded in high season (and pretty busy all year round). They take place at weekends, and the major ones are on the Boulevard Périphérique ring road.
The big daddy of them all is Saint Ouen, better known as the Clignancourt Flea Market or Puces de Clignancourt. Founded in the 19th century, it’s an enormous site. 14 distinct markets offer, well…everything from paintings and tapestries to antique musical instruments, from old photographs to vintage garments.
If you haven’t been there before, go to Rue des Rosiers where most of the markets are set up. Be prepared for crowds; this is the 4th large tourist attraction in France.
It’s open Sat, Sun 9am-6pm; Mon 11am-5pm.
Metro: Porte de Clignancourt (ligne 4) / Garibaldi (ligne 13)
Puces de Vanves
Puces de Vanves is less famous and smaller, occupying two streets. It’s easier to navigate but if you want the best and the bargains get there early, around 7.30am. There are plenty of places to pick up a coffee and croissant. Around 350 stalls set up in Avenue Marc Sangnier and Ave Georges Lafenestre, Paris 14.
It’s open Sat and Sun 7am-2pm.
Metro: Ligne 13 to Porte de Vanves
Puces de Montreuil
Puces de Montreuil is more of a flea market where 500 stalls are piled high with a mixture of objects and quality. It’s not as popular with tourists as the other flea market, so you might be able to find a bargain. Alongside antiques are second-hand clothes, and designer copies, hardware and the odd gems like posters and prints.
It’s open Saturday to Monday 7am-7.30pm.
Metro: Ligne 9 to Porte de Montreuil
Many small towns and villages hold vide greniers in the summer. Some are good; some not so good. But they’re always fun. They’re usually a mix of locals emptying their attics or barns, and professional brocante dealers. It’s easy to tell which is which – the dealers have large vans, renovated furniture, better items and the best spots. Families often have children selling their toys and parents getting rid of well…pretty much everything.
I’ve found many bargains (or what I think are bargains) in my local vide grenier at Paulhaguet in the Auvergne: bistrot glasses, a whole slew of lovely mismatched plates and crockery, and old kitchen equipment that given a quick clean and polish now takes pride of place in my house.
A week or two before, you’ll come across hand made signs on the roads around the villages announcing their vide greniers, which often come with very local festivals, and the odd rustic dance and fireworks. Or go to the local tourist office which will have information on the sales in your area.
The French flock to dépot-ventes, shops or warehouses where you can buy second-hand goods. They exist all over France; just look for the signs outside buildings. Many of them are commercial ventures, individually owned, but there are a couple of organizations that fall into the depot-ventes category with outlets throughout the country.
We came across an Emmaus store in Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne but there are Emmaus outlets all over France.
The international Emmaus Movement was founded by L’Abbé Pierre (1912-2007), a French catholic priest who was a member of the Resistance in World War II then became a politician. Emmaus helps the poor, the homeless and refugees. The shops collect donations and then sort, sometimes repair/renovate the items and sell them on.
The shops are run by volunteers and can be pretty chaotic. They can yield the odd treasure, but can also be depressingly full of junk. You just have to take a chance. Having said that, I’ve bought collections of cutlery for a couple of euros, a collectable small Pernod jug, and a chair that may be full of woodworm but which is very beautiful.
You’ll need to check with the local tourist office for locations of the Emmaus shops. The website advises you in French about your local store, but it’s not an easy site to navigate.
This is another organization with depots all over France. Again, you take pot luck. You have to sort through an awful lot of stuff and they take new items from bankrupt shops or stock as well.
My latest haul included a wooden cradle with basket, a set of butchers’ hooks which double as coat hooks and a wooden spice rack. I rejected a rather battered wooden statue of Serge Gainsbourg in his early years looking pretty disheveled and have regretted it ever since.
Check the nearest troc.com at the local tourist office or search online for your nearest. Their website is more geared up to buying/selling on line and not very helpful.
Annual Brocante Fairs
The Braderie de Lille is enormous, ranked as the largest in Europe. It takes place on the first weekend of September in the centre of Lille when 10,000 sellers fill the streets covering 100kms/62 miles.
The Braderie’s origins go back to 1127 when the original market was founded. In the middle ages servants of the rich were granted permission to sell their owner’s old clothes and objects. In 1523 the fair was given fixed dates: 2 days at the end of August/beginning of September.
Today between 2 and 3 million people descend on the city on the first Saturday and Sunday in September. It’s a 24-hour fair, as famous for the mussels and chips that are served at every restaurants (and the piles of mussel shells that fill the pavements) as the antiques. This year it’s planned to be on September 5th from 8am to September 6th at 6pm. Good luck!
The Rederie d’Amiens is another must-visit for brocantes fans. The city holds two major fairs: on the last weekend of April and in October. Over 80,000 people come to browse and buy from around 5,000 professional and 1,500 amateur sellers in the centre of the city. Latest date is October 4, 2020, 5am-6.30pm.
L’Isle sur la Sorgue
L’Isle sur la Sorgue in Provence also has two major fairs, at Easter and in August. The 2020 fair will sadly not take place, but make a note in your diary as it is planned for mid August 2021. But you don’t have to wait for the fairs; L’Isle sur la Sorgue is an antique dealers’ town, almost entirely given over to the past. More about the fair here.
Strasbourg’s Braderie is usually held in July; this year (2020) it’s been suspended but the authorities are hoping to hold it in September though no firm dates have yet been set.
More flea markets and Brocante
In Bordeaux, you’ll find a whole slew of brocante and homeware shops mostly in the Chartrons district along Rue Notre Dame.
Don’t miss Les Puces de Saint Michel, a flea market held every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday in La Place Saint Michel.
Looking for antiques in Normandy
Le Perche in lower Normandy is a lovely area and less well known to visitors. But if you’re an antiques lover you must visit the area. It’s full of brocante shops so there’s a good choice. You’ll have competition; it’s a favorite area for chic Parisians who are always on the lookout for chic old items.
A really useful source for antiques in Normandy and Pays de la Loire is this facebook group. Lots of information on where to buy, what people are stocking etc. It was started by Cider Barn Brocante in Le Housseau-Brétignolles in Mayenne. Read the story about the founder and her move to France and a new life here.
Bellême is full of antique shops and also holds an antiques and brocante fair each weekend. Check the shops at the tourist office.
Mortagne-au-Perche offers around 15 further antique shops; Nogent-le-Rotrou has around 12.
Take the D923 south west of Nogent-le-Rotrou for 6.5 kms/4.8 miles and you’ll come to La Brocante de Brigitte. It’s one of the roadside barns full of tempting items in the area.
If you’re doing a serious antique shopping expedition to Normandy, take the car! Check out how to get to Normandy here.
More about Normandy
As you travel around France you’ll come across many more flea markets and brocante fairs, not to mention local vide-greniers. Happy rummaging!
Here’s information on discount and outlet shopping, as well as annual sales in France.