By Anya Cooklin-Lofting
I can’t imagine a finer holiday than a few days in France, punctuating the languorous poolside hours with jaunts to the nearest antique market for a good rifle through rustic, storied bric-à-brac to take home. A vintage ashtray marked serendipitously with the initials of a good friend makes the perfect gift, or perhaps you find the dining chairs you’ve dreamed of for years; the cerise on the top of the renovation you never thought would feel complete. These treasure troves, which are common across Europe, are most popular in France. Antique-savvy tourists and local collectors are joined by interior designers from across the globe in search of the antique gem to give their homes a unique feel, laden with personality and history.
Such markets go by various names, such as brocantes, puces or, a personal favourite, vide-greniers, which, rather delightfully, translates to ‘emptying the attics.’ Luckily, you can find antiquing hotspots very nearby many of the favoured holiday destinations, from the charming churn of Paris to the sophisticated splendour of the South, giving visitors to Paris, Beaune, Lyon, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Marseille no excuse but to explore…
Paris: Les Puces de Saint-Ouen
The Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen is more than just a flea market; the network of 1,700 dealers manifests in a rambling series of warehouses, alleyways and stalls across any and all categories of antiques and vintage furniture and accessories. It is the largest second-hand market in the world, attracting over five million annual visitors, each of whom would struggle to see more than just a fraction of the ware in a single day. Within Le Puce de Saint-Ouen there are 14 distinct markets, and everyone has their own favourite. Highlights include the Marché Vernaison where dramatic courtyards conceal some of the most spectacular pieces for sale, and the Marché Dauphine, one of Saint-Ouen’s largest markets totalling 150 sellers in the iconic glasshouse-style structure.
Lyon: Les Puces du Canal de Lyon
Considered ‘second place’ to les Puces de Saint-Ouen, les Puces du Canal de Lyon is an indispensable part of France’s antiques and second-hand offering. Restaurants and cafes punctuate the stands belonging to some 400 merchants, attracting 500,000 visitors annually. Located in Villeurbanne on the Jonage Canal, les Puces du Canal de Lyon is just a 20-minute drive from the city centre, making it the perfect holiday outing as you enjoy the rest of the region. It holds the unofficial title of the capital of French gastronomy – an excuse to visit if I ever heard one.
Marseille: Les Puces de Marseille
At les Puces de Marseille, you can find all manner of bric-à-brac, produce and clothing, but its gallery of antique dealers is its finest and most alluring section. Around forty antique dealers can be found in the gallery all year round, closed only on Mondays, and joined by a further 120 dealers on weekends. Les Puces de Marseille are particularly well-located for the popular holiday destinations of Aix-en-Provence and Cassis, making the eclectic market the perfect, shaded spot to explore between a leisurely breakfast and apéro.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue: Le Village des Antiquaires de la Gare
The Provençal town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is renowned for its antique markets, and rightly so. L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is home to almost 300 permanent antique dealers, operating out of the beautiful buildings that line the canals. The whole town is dedicated to the arts and beautiful objet and some of its most beautiful homes have been converted into galleries. Twice annually, at Easter and on 15th of August, the city welcomes an influx of dealers that come to present their ware to collectors, interior designers and interested browsers in celebration of the country’s status as a mecca for antiques and unique finds.