French flea markets
Hopping around France for a bargain
The flea market has its origins in the marché aux puces, where the goods on offer were literally the kind of shabby items you could expect to find infested with fleas. But everyone loves a bargain, and most people can find some kind of unexpected esoteric item that tickles their fancy at a flea market.
Some 15,000 French flea markets and ‘vide-greniers’ (translated as ‘emptying the attics’) take place across the country on a regular basis, sometimes weekly. These markets are also known as ‘brocantes’ and a visit can be a surprise highlight of a trip to France.
Most visitors are looking for something, but more than likely aren’t quite sure what that ‘something’ is. That’s what makes French flea markets so deliciously and unpredictably fun!
The 7 Golden Rules: flea market tips
1. Good manners
Above all, be polite and always offer a cheery greeting before commencing the haggling. A little goodwill and a smiling demeanor will usually go a long way.
2. Try to use some French
Establish a little rapport and be careful to compliment the stock and the market in general. Crucially, be clear on the numbers and the figures that are being given – you don’t want to give the impression of being a time waster.
C’est combien? (How much is that?).
Qu’est ce que c’est votre dernier prix? (What is your best price?).
Je regrette, il est encore trop cher pour moi. (Sorry, it’s still too expensive for me).
Combien pour les deux? (How much for both?).
Quel âge a-t-il? (How old is it?).
Pouvez-vous baisser le prix? (Can you make a further reduction?).
Cent? Ça va? 100? OK?
3. Bring cash
As ever, cash will always help most negotiations.
4. Aim for a fair deal
Don’t start with a ludicrously low offer and insult the vendor. Expect to settle on a reduction around 20% from the initial price. Of course, that depends on the desirability of the item in question.
5. Keep in mind a price you’d be happy to pay
That means you’ll not be caught off guard or have to break off negotiations to withdraw and consider.
6. Arrive early
The early bird catches the worm, and most serious collectors and dealers will be hovering at this time. That said, later in the day vendors might be keener to shift stock by dropping prices.
7. Enjoy it!
Haggling over something that has caught your eye should be a fun holiday experience – not a fraught commercial deal making marathon. So enjoy it, and keep in mind the whole process will hopefully be part of the ‘do you remember when…’ story behind the item you have purchased.
Where to go
Inevitably Paris is a go-to destination for flea market connoisseurs, with a host of markets big and small. And most cities will have a flea market of some description. Rural markets can be very hit and miss, though they can equally be unexpected gold mines for the very same reason – an unprepossessing country market might be ignored by the cognoscenti but the few buyers who turn up could stumble across a hoard of delights.
Here are a few suggestions of flea markets scattered across France and well worth a visit.
Paris has a number of flea markets but the one near the Porte de Vanves metro stop in Paris is one of the best. It’s not an attractive part of town and certainly not on the tourist sight seeing route, but is all the more interesting for that. It’s a sprawling market which, just as importantly, has a broad and eclectic mix of stalls.
There are surprises to be had at every turn. On a busy weekend over 300 vendors set up and offer their wares until around 1pm. You’ll find well presented displays that entice you to step closer, as well as the more higgledy piggledy style of merchandising which also, frankly, pulls you in.
Mondays see Nice's sunny Cours Saleya (just behind the Promenade des Anglais) bustling with around 200 flea market vendors selling their wares. Goods on offer can be relatively high end, though the adjacent place Pierre Gauthier can be the source of a bargain if you scour the collections laid out on the ground.
It’s popular for collectables like silver, vintage clothing, posters and ceramics. You might come across an interesting toy or piece of jewellery too. Enjoy the buzz and the colour, listen to the jabbering going on in several languages and you’ll quickly become immersed.
Held on the last Saturday of the month, the Annecy flea market enjoys a wonderful setting in the old quarter of this picturesque town. Set on the edge of Lac d'Annecy, with mountains all around, you’ll always find plenty of local heritage items here. Savoyard milk jugs, wooden implements like butter moulds and cheese making tools, vintage skis, fishing gear and traditional cowbells.
Taking place in Villeurbanne, on the edge of Lyon, this is one of the biggest flea markets in France, attracting around 400 vendors each Sunday morning. Wares are mostly scattered over blankets and rickety tables (a few are in the market) – this is not fine presentation but it is a huge collection of mostly regional and rural items, with furniture, glassware and kitchenware thrown in. You may even come across wine making artefacts or chocolate moulds.
Not far from Alsace, Belfort's tempting mishmash of a flea market takes place on the first Sunday morning of each month, except January and February. Being in the Franche-Comté region, this is a great place for picking up old bowls and milk pitchers (often decorated by hand in the traditional style with flowers), sturdy stoneware jugs, ancient baking moulds and arts and crafts from Lorraine.
This is a large flea market held all day along the allées Jules Guesde, in central Toulouse. It’s pretty good quality merchandise with stalls set up under canopies and more care taken with presentation than is often the case elsewhere. Items can be pricey, but – to a degree – you get what you pay for.
You’ll encounter well informed vendors who will certainly know the value of what they are selling. Items of local note might include rugby memorabilia and Basque fabrics.
Held on Saturday mornings this market takes place across the river Rhone from Avignon. Around 100 stalls offer a wide range of items, many with a focus on Provence, including ceramics, bedspreads and linens and agricultural implements.
The Carpentras flea market is held on Sundays from 10am. Just north of Avignon, this attracts some avid collectors and dealers – anyone willing to plough through the goods on display in search of a bargain. Many vendors are simply selling their own household items so quality can be extremely variable. That said, treasured items can also be rooted out, hence the appeal to some dealers.
In the heart of the Loire valley, Orléans market offers a bewildering array of stalls, some scattered over blankets, with plenty of fishing paraphernalia and wine-related goods. You might pick up a nice crate of assorted kitchenware or some decent linens.
The first Wednesday of each month sees an all day flea market with a thoroughly Provençal flavour. You can generally find vintage clothing – including the traditional items like skirts and shawls – and also hand crafted haberdashery items like ribbon, lace and accessories. There’s often a range of Camargue trinkets and household items decorated with the famous black bulls.
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