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The Alan Rogers guide to French flea markets

Hopping around France for a bargain

Flea market treasure
Flea market treasure

The flea market originates 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 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’) regularly occur across the country, sometimes weekly. These markets are also known as ‘brocantes’, and a visit can be a surprise highlight of a trip to France.

The 7 Golden Rules: flea market tips

Pick up some jewels
Pick up some jewels

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!

1. Good manners

Above all, be polite and always offer a cheery greeting before commencing the haggling. A little goodwill and a smiling demeanour will usually go a long way.

2. Try to use some French

Establish a little rapport and be careful to complement the stock and the market in general. Crucially, be clear on the numbers and figures 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?
Old medicine bottles
Old medicine bottles

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 of 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.

Letterpress Printing Blocks
Letterpress Printing Blocks

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.

Old soda syphons
Old soda syphons

Best Flea Markets in France

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. However, they can equally be unexpected gold mines for the same reason – the cognoscenti might ignore an unprepossessing country market. Still, the few buyers who turn up could stumble across a hoard of delights.

Paris has several flea markets, but Marché aux puces, near the Porte de Vanves metro stop is one of the best. It’s not an attractive part of town and certainly not on the tourist sightseeing route, but it is all the more interesting for that. It’s a sprawling market that, just as importantly, has a broad and eclectic mix of stalls.

Paris
Paris flea market
Paris - Marché aux puces

Marche aux Puces - Paris

The term “Marché aux puces” literally translates to - you guessed it - “flea market”. The largest Paris flea market, located in St. Ouen, was established around 1870, earning its name because of the ostensibly flea-infested furniture and other wares sold at the market just outside the city’s northern fortifications. 

Years later, Pablo Picasso used the markets for walks of inspiration. More recently, Woody Allen’s popular film ‘Midnight in Paris’ sent its characters here searching for hidden treasures at bargain prices.

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 that pulls you in.

Things to See & Do

Located to the north of Paris towards Porte de Clignancourt, Marche aux Puces sits just a stone’s throw from Cimetiere de Saint-Ouen, one of Paris’ famous cemeteries, which has associations with Joan of Arc.

Elsewhere in the area, the Stade de France is a short Metro ride away and is the venue where the French national football and rugby teams play alongside many pop acts throughout the year.

Inside the market, you’ll find antique dealers, artists, and designers and plenty of restaurants and shops selling all sorts of trinkets. Marche aux Puces actually hosts 15 markets, creating a unique atmosphere. You’ll find a selection of furniture and high-end objects throughout the Dauphine market, while the Jules Valles market is a treasure trove of books, records, and posters.

Bars/Cafés

Paris is an incredibly diverse city, and around the flea market, there are a variety of places to eat and drink that samples cultures from across the planet. 

Au Petit Navire on the corner of Rue des Rosiers and Rue Paul Bert specialises in mussels, transporting customers from the middle of France to the ocean. 

Further down the road, you’ll find plenty of restaurants tucked between antique shops. Le Biron, next door to the Biron market, has the warmest of welcomes with mouth-watering daily specials and a menu full of French favourites.

Opening Times

Each market has different opening times, but you’ll generally find them open as follows:

  • Monday: 10am-5pm
  • Saturday: 9am-6pm
  • Sunday: 10am-6pm

Porte de Vanves - Paris

Porte de Vanves - Paris
Porte de Vanves - Paris

When it comes to Paris and flea markets, it’s a little difficult to know where to start. One which is a must-visit, however, is Porte de Vanves towards the very south of the city. Located near the Porte de Vanves Metro stop, every weekend, hundreds of people pile off to enjoy one of the largest flea markets in the city.

Taking place across the weekend, you’ll find ceramics, paintings, and vintage clothing alongside many other collectables across 300 stalls. One for the real bargain hunters, while it’s not the prettiest of Parisian areas, you can pick yourself up plenty and the friendly atmosphere more than makes up for it.

Things to See & Do

The market is on the very edge of the southern city limits, and generally, you’ll have to pick up the Metro from there to visit any of the French capital’s traditional sights. However, Parc Georges-Brassens is just a stone’s throw away and, during the summer months, is perfect for kicking back and relaxing.

A 10-minute ride back towards the city centre will find you at the Catacombs of Paris, one of the city’s most popular destinations and a must-visit for any holidaymaker. For many of the other attractions, you’ll have to cross the river, with the Louvre, Pompidou Centre, and Champs-Elysees all on the northern side.

Bars/Cafés

For fine food around the market, it’s recommended to head back in towards town. However, you will find Chez Papa around a 25-minute walk from the market, serving up South Western food at a really reasonable price.

You will find a hidden gem in the area in Au Timbre Poste, a few streets down on Rue Ernest Renan. Covered in old adverts dating back to the 20s and 30s, the pub may look a little off-putting to some, but it makes up for it in its food. Dishing up traditional French cuisine, including plenty of duck and steaks, it’s the ideal spot to sit down, grab a bite, and take a look over your new found bargains.

Opening Times

  • Saturday and Sunday: 7am-1pm.
Lille

Braderie de Lille - Lille

Braderie de Lille
Lille - Braderie de Lille

You have to be quick to catch this one, as it’s only around for one weekend of the year. Taking place on the first Sunday of September, the event dates back to the 12th century and is one of the largest markets in Europe.

Over 10,000 stalls are out in force, transforming the small town of Lille into a bustling city with millions flocking to pick up a bargain every year. Selling food, trinkets, and items from all over the world, it’s impossible not to find a special little something.

When it comes to that something special, however, tasting the market’s traditional moules frites – mussels with French fries to you and me – is a must-try. A visit to Braderie de Lille isn’t complete without them.

Things to See & Do

The market takes up much of the city, and there’s plenty of entertainment going on throughout. The main focus of the weekend is at the Place de la Republique outside the Palais des Beaux-Arts, a museum dedicated to modern art.

There is plenty to do in the city aside from picking up a few treats on the market; Lille is full of galleries, shops, and incredible dining. 

The Column of the Goddess is a wonderful sight on the popular Place Charles de Gaulle, where festivals are regularly held, and bars line the outside.

Bars/Cafés

Naturally, if you’re after food, it’d be a travesty if you didn’t try the moules frites in the market, but if that’s not filling enough, there are plenty of restaurants and bars in Lille to fill you up.

Bloempot, opened by French TV chef Florent Ladeyn, is one of the trendiest restaurants in the city and is towards the north of the city centre. It offers up the finest in Flemish foods with friendly service and a relaxing atmosphere.

Le Barbue d’Anvers, located by the Column of the Goddess, transports you back to the 16th century. Sitting in a small, picturesque courtyard, you can sample warm, delightful food alongside a drinks menu that is one of the best in the city.

Opening Times

  • First Saturday/Sunday of September - Saturday 2pm to Sunday 11pm.
Nice

Cours Saleya - Nice

Nice - Cours Saleya
Nice - Cours Saleya

Nice is one of the most beautiful cities in France, located on the southern coast, with the Mediterranean Sea kissing its glorious beaches. The seafront is one of the most picturesque parts of the city, and just behind that lies Cours Saleye, a market with just as much splendour.

Dating back to 1897, the market became the first wholesale cut flower market in the world and, to this day, still drags punters out to pick up the freshest and most colourful flowers. The wholesale section has since moved, but you’ll still find plenty of flowers amongst local produce, food stands and, each Monday, antiques which take over the market.

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.

Things to See & Do

Just one street separates the market and the beach, perfect for taking your locally-grown produce and snacking on by the sea. An ideal time to go is in June when during warm summer evenings, the market comes alive after hours selling crafts and trinkets; there’s no nicer walk to your evening meal.

Elsewhere, the market is within a short walk of the Palais de Justice, a popular spot with tourists, while the Fountaine du Soleil is also nearby.

Bars/Cafés

As you’d expect, you’ll find lots of nice places to eat and drink in Nice.

La Terrasse, just a 10-minute walk along the promenade, has stunning views across the coast and food to match. With mouth-watering steaks, it’s a real treat, while lighter bites, such as smoked salmon, are also highly praised.

A little closer to the market is La Table Alziari, a hidden gem at the top end of the old town. The tiny but warm restaurant is tucked up a little side street and is perfect for a quiet evening meal. The white bean and tuna salad is highly recommended, but you won’t find a bad dish on the menu.

Opening Times

  • Antiques Market:
    Monday 6am - 6pm
  • Regular Market:
    Tuesday to Saturday 6am - 5.30pm
    Sunday: 6.30am - 1.30pm
Dordogne

Les Eyzies - Dordogne

Les Eyzies - Dordogne
Les Eyzies - Dordogne

Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil is a small commune in the Dordogne, a region famed for its markets. Despite Les Eyzies having a population of fewer than 900, the town and market welcome up to a million visitors every year.

Taking place every Monday, the market has a host of fresh local produce and certainly brightens up the town with an array of colours. You’ll find vegetables, bread, and a range of specialist ingredients alongside crafts, clothes, books, and perhaps most interestingly, wine.

Things to See & Do

Although Les Eyzies and the region are famed for their markets, Les Eyzies is more renowned for the discovery of the Neanderthal, with several important archaeological sites in the area.

The Musee National de Prehistoire is built into the caves of Les Eyzies and was founded in 1918 by Denis Peyrony. You can discover the first traces of man and several incredible artefacts charting evolution. Prehistoric rock dwellings can also be found in the town, with cave art that really is awe-inspiring.

Bars/Cafés

Throughout the picturesque town of Les Eyzies, you’ll find several fabulous places to eat. Au coup de Silex opposite the museum, is a popular haunt for many visiting the town thanks to its friendly service and delicious dishes.

Duck is a favourite on offer, alongside a fantastic wine menu, and it’s comfortably the place to go for to be wined and dined in the area.

Au Vieux Moulin is another great option at the Hotel Le Moulin de la Beune, an old mill converted into a great place to stop, pick up a bite, and continue walking up the caves.

Opening Times

  • Every Monday
Toulouse

Allees Jules Guesde - Toulouse

Allees Jules Guesde - Toulouse
Allees Jules Guesde - Toulouse

On the first Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the month, the Allee Jules Guesde is transformed into one of the best flea markets in France. 

Not renowned as one of the cheapest markets in the world, you’re unlikely to get a bargain, but you will find one of the largest selections of antiques, ceramics, and linens. You’ll also find a large amount of rugby memorabilia, as the sport is huge in the city.

There’s plenty to rummage through down the long and bustling street as you make your way down to the Grand Rond and its marvellous fountains.

Things to See & Do

With the market in the very centre of Toulouse, there’s plenty to see and do around it. The Jardin des Plantes is perfect for a pleasant day, with plenty of grass for a picnic and enough pathways for a gentle stroll away from the city.

The Museum de Toulouse is also just off the Allees Jules Guesde, giving visitors an insight into the natural world. It houses a collection of more than 2.5 million items and is well worth a visit, particularly if you’re with a family.

Bars/Cafés

Toulouse is jam-packed with places to eat and drink and has many culinary delights within walking distance of the market. Restaurant Emile is around a 15-minute walk from the market, just off the Place St Georges and serves up authentic cassoulet and a whole host of fishes and meats.

Au Pere Louis, just a stone’s throw from there, is also well worth a visit. An authentic French wine bar, located on Rue des Tourneurs since 1889, offers simplistic but homely cuisine at reasonable prices and a wine list that many bars across the city envied.

Opening Times

  • First Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the month, except October.
Dordogne

Sarlat - Dordogne

Sarlat - Dordogne
Sarlat - Dordogne

Since the Middle Ages, the market of Sarlat has been a major part of life in the Dordogne region. The medieval town was developed around a large abbey, so naturally, it’s had a market selling fruit and veg ever since.

Today, you’ll also find a fantastic flea market selling all sorts of antiques and interesting objects. Taking place on Wednesdays and Saturdays, the market day brings the whole town out, and plenty of tourists too; out onto the historical streets, transporting you back to medieval Sarlat, with a contemporary twist of course.

The market is well known for its local cuisine with foie gras, cepe mushrooms, duck magret, and truffles all popular in the region.

Things to See & Do

At the heart of life in Sarlat lies the Cathedral, a beautiful monument with influences from Roman, Nordic, and Gothic architecture. The bell tower dates back to the 12th century and is one of the most inspiring structures in the Dordogne.

Around the town, there are lots of picturesque spots to sit and watch the world go by. Les Jardins d’Eau has three hectares of water gardens, with scenes that would be better suited to a Monet.

Exploring the lovely, historic town is simply the best thing you can do though. There are little quirks all over town, and the alleyways and ancient cloth houses are a far cry from any big city. It’s the perfect escape.

Bars/Cafés

The first stop for any foodie in Sarlat has to be the market. It’s renowned for its quality produce and perfect for lunch on a Wednesday and Saturday. Just outside Sarlat, however, lies La Ferme du Brusquand, a small duck farm with a big reputation. Surrounded by rolling hills, the terrace is a fantastic spot to enjoy the finest foie gras and several other duck dishes.

If you’re after something a little closer to the town centre, however, then' Adresse should probably be your first stop. Naturally, duck is heavy on the menu, although there are plenty of other options available, while the wine cellar has plenty of local offerings from nearby Bergerac and Bordeaux.

Opening Times

  • Wednesday and Saturday: 8.30am-1pm
  • Covered markets in the town are open every day (except Thursday) from 8.30am - 1pm and in the high season until 8pm.
Lyon

Villeurbanne - Lyon

Villeurbanne - Lyon
Villeurbanne - Lyon

Villeurbanne lies on the outskirts of Lyon, and every Sunday, thousands flock to the flea market to peruse the 400 vendors selling everything from garden accessories to glassware and paintings. Anything you could possibly want, this market has.

Prices vary but are generally reasonable, and you can quite comfortably pick up a bargain or two. Naturally, being outside Lyon, travel is an issue, but there’s plenty of transport out to Villeurbanne at regular intervals.

Things to See & Do

Close by to the market is the well-visited Gratte-Ciel, a housing complex made up of two Art Deco towers, often lauded as the best art deco structures in the country.

Back in Lyon, there are several sights well worth exploring. The Roman ruins near the Fourviere Basilica highlight the city’s ancient past, which can be explored further at the Gallo-Roman Museum on the site.

A place to sit back and relax after a hard morning’s shopping on the market isn’t hard to find either. Place Bellecour is one of the largest town squares in Europe and has plenty of space to sit as well as several restaurants and bars lining each side.

Bars/Cafés

Pointe De Reve is just a short walk from the market on the corner of Rue Georges Courteline and Avenue Roger Salengro. Offering up some fine French cuisine, it’s worth a journey to, particularly if you’re staying in the Villeurbanne region. 

Around the market there are also a number of places to grab a coffee and a sit down, while you really mustn’t rule out the flavoursome offerings the market has too.

Back in Lyon, there’s just about every type of cuisine imaginable. Canut et Les Gones offers a flea market style atmosphere, with the décor built up of many trips to Villeurbanne, but delivers food fit for royals. With authentic French food fused with Japanese cooking, the restaurant offers some interesting – and mouth-watering – dishes, which range from foie gras, to beef steak to sweetly spiced crab bisque.

Opening Times

  • Sunday: 6am-2pm
Best of the rest

Best of the rest

Annecy

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.

Belfort

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.

Avignon

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.

Carpentras flea market
Carpentras flea market

Carpentras

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 sell 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.

Orléans

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 decent linens.

Arles

The first Wednesday of each month sees an all-day flea market with a thoroughly Provençal flavour. You can generally find vintage clothing – including 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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