Exploring the Flea Markets of France: A Companion Guide for Visitors and Collectors
Whether you are a first-time visitor to France or a seasoned Francophile, general tourist or serious collector, this guide to the flea markets of France is an essential companion on your travels.
Sandy Price, a voracious flea marketer, has toured the French countryside to compile this exhaustive and comprehensive listing of flea markets. She has discovered exactly which markets-whether they are urban or rural, upscale or low-end-are the best for uncovering specific treasures from café au lait bowls and faïence pottery to antique clothes and linens to war memorabilia and farm tools.
Organized by region, markets are rated according to price range and quality of merchandise, scenic value, and nearby amenities. Far from being a dry catalog of lists and addresses, this guide provides colorful history and cultural information, invaluable collecting advice, travel tips, and restaurant recommendations that could only come from someone who has frequented the sometimes off-the-beaten paths to the flea markets of France.
Exploring the Flea Markets of France is an indispensable sourcebook for anyone looking for authentic French treasures to bring back home.
- More than 200 market listings
- Descriptions of more than 30 popular French collectibles
- A handy English-French glossary of key phrases you'll need to know to bargain successfully
- Important packing, shipping, and customs information
- 9 maps
About the Author
Sandy Price is a lawyer and flea market addict who has spent a number of years living in France and scouring the markets.
NOTE TO READERS
This book discusses the markets in terms of regions of France, to better assist you in your travels. While generally corresponding Io the delineations of these regions in other guidebooks, they are, likewise» somewhat subjective. As in other guidelmoks, the boundaries selected do not necessarily correspond to current political or administrative regions, historical regions, or even social and cultural divisions, but rather are defined with all of these factors in mind (or sometimes one as opposed to another). Also, in a couple of cases I have added a new, somewhat idiosyncratic, consideration, that of visiting the flea markets.
The extensive list of markets at the beginning of each of the regional chapters is included to give you as much information about the flea markets in France as possible. Of course, while the information provided in the lists has been checked, I cannot personally verify that it is accurate in every case; things change without warning, and it's always best to call ahead to check that the information provided is still accurate.
Since market limes listed in this book can only be approximate (since flea market vendors are not entirely predictable, nor are estimates by organizers always correct), try to leave yourself plenty of leeway to be sure to make it to the markets you want to see. Also, in this vein, the number of vendors listed is only an estimate, and will vary from season Io season and even week to week. The "Featured Items" section of each individual market profile lists the things I have seen in the market, and that I expect you will see as well; however, given the fluidity and unpredictability of the wares that appear in the markets, from visit to visit, there can be no guarantee that you will find the same things I did.
While phone numbers listed in this book are as current as possible, as are museum times, they are always subject to change. With regard to phone numbers, if you are calling from outside France, drop the first number, the 0.
All distances in this book are in kilometers, rather than miles, as France uses the metric system. However, temperatures are given in Fahrenheit as well as Celsius. Prices, of course, are in francs, in part because the value in dollars (American and Canadian) will vary wilh changes in the exchange rates. Euro prices are not given, since the Euro will not be used for general purchases until 2002, although prices may be posted in both francs and Euros long before then. (There are about 6.6 francs to the Euro.) Town and city populations are based on the town or city proper, not including the surrounding area.
While I have attempted in this book to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information possible regarding the flea markets, museums, cafes and restaurants, buses and rail travel, purchasing, shipping and mailing, customs, and so on, please be aware that this information is subject to change. Neither I nor the publisher can accept responsibility for omissions or errors contained in this book or for your experiences while traveling.
Three terms appear throughout this book and are not repeatedly defined or explained—brocante, la chine, and le chineur. Brocante is a slightly nebulous term that means collectible or used goods, whether decorative or utilitarian, of no enormous value or antiquity. La chine is the term the French use for the activity of scouring markets and looking for treasures, while a chineur is, essentially, a keen collector.
Visiting the flea markets of France is, above all, tremendous fun. If you like to collect, you will love doing it here; not only will you find some really interesting and beautiful things to bring home, you may also get a few great bargains.
Collecting aside, the markets are also just a great place for those who crave being part of a real scene when they travel—being among local people, doing what they're doing, and seeing how they live. The flea markets let you do just that.
PRACTICAL ADVICE ON VISITING THE FLEA MARKETS
One of the great features of the flea markets of France is their accessibility—both literally, in terms of getting there, and figuratively, in the sense of providing an easy and hassle-free experience. Compared to other activities that tourists engage in—which sometimes feel more like work than entertainment—visiting the markets is refreshingly simple; you set your own pace and you decide how you want to proceed.
This chapter gives you some tips to help make the experience as enjoyable as possible—on how to get there, when logo, how to double-check schedules, what to bring, how to protect against theft, how to communicate, how to decide what to buy- how to tell if something is fake, how to bargain, what facilities you'll find nearby, how to transport your purchases home, what cus¬toms regulations apply, and what else is available to read on the markets and French collectibles.
How to get there
In deciding which mode of transport to use in France—car or train—you will no doubt lake into account a number of considerations, apart from the flea markets. The most basic one is the general objective of your trip—that is, do you want to lour the French countryside, visiting lots of little towns and villages, or is it your aim to see the big towns and cities, scouring galleries and museums? In the first case, having a car is highly convenient and advantageous; in the second, train travel is well suited to your plans.
To the extent that visiting the flea markets figures in your decisionmaking, their typical location becomes relevant. Many of the markets are held in towns and cities that are easily accessible by train (on the French national train service, the SNCF), and often via the high-speed trains, called the TGV. Train service is extensive in this country, reaching surprisingly small communities (sometimes via SNCF-operated connecting bus service); it is also punctual and reliable, except during the occasional strike.
Most markets accessible by train are within a short 10-lo-15-minute walk from the station (and are also often located in the same part of town as other sites you'll want Io visit). If you are heading to the market from your hotel— and you are staying in the center—you can almost invariably get there, in this case as well, on foot or by public transit. (This is also the easiest way to gel around, in big cities at least, since finding a parking spot in the center of French cities is notoriously difficult and can also be quite expensive.)
Some markets are located outside town. This is most likely to be the case with junk markets or especially large ones, which crowded city center cannot easily accommodate. Even when public transport is available to get to these markets, service may be confusing and sporadic (especially on a Sunday morning when they are sometimes held). Other markets, located in small villages, may not be readily accessible by either train or bus; in such a case, you may have to take a taxi from a nearby town, if you do not have a car. (For trans¬portation tips specific to the region you will lie visiting, consult the relevant chapter, under the heading “Getting Around: How to Travel/Where to Go.”)
The bottom line is this: while you don't need a car to visit most of the flea markets, having one is sometimes desirable. Also, a car is convenient for visiting a large number of markets in a short lime (such as two, or even three, in one day, for example), since it will invariably be easier and faster than traveling by train. Finally, if you plan to buy a lot of collectibles, particularly bulky ones, a car is the way to go.
Cost considerations may, however, be an important factor. Renting a car in France is often not cheap (particularly with automatic transmission)— although, of course, more economic when shared among a few people—and gas is expensive (up to three limes what you pay in North America, for example). Moreover, the autoroutes, while fast and convenient, have tolls, which rapidly add up. Finally, many hotels (at least in the cities) charge a pretty hefty fee for overnight parking.
Train travel, on the other hand, is quite reasonable if you buy a rail pass before you leave for France. Passes often give you unlimited travel for the number of days you select (up to a set maximum), to be completed within a fixed time. (Conditions vary based on the different passes offered.) Such passes are very convenient; you select the days you want as you go, activating your pass for that day simply by filling in the date. Reservations are not necessary, except on the TGV (which will cost you a small supplement); on other trains, you simply jump on and travel as far as you want, in any direction, for the entire day. A first-class pass is a good idea; it’s not that much more expensive than a second-class one, and the seating is much more spacious and comfortable.
I recently spent a couple of weeks traveling on a rail pass to flea markets all over northern France, using Paris as my base and usually returning there each night. It was great; no train was ever more than a minute or two late, and I avoided the stress of driving in France (which, for North Americans, is sig¬nificant, since the French drive much faster than we do. While the speed limit on the autoroutes is usually 130 kilometers per hour, many drive at speeds far in excess of that).
Whether you go by train or car, plan your route ahead of lime. If you don't have a detailed city or town map, you can almost always pick one up at the tourist office when you arrive; you can sometimes even get one for the next stop on your itinerary, if it is in the vicinity. Ask the staff to mark out the route to the market, especially if it is located outside the center of town; you are not likely to find signs posted along the road to guide you to the site. If you are hoping to take public transit, you can also get information from the tourist office about bus routes and schedules.
When to go
What season of the year is preferable for visiting the markets? What time of day is best to arrive? While the answer to both questions varies according to the region and your objectives, there are some general tips.
As for the lime of year to come, two, sometimes conflicting, factors are the weather and crowds. From late spring to early fall, the weather is usually at its best (although it can be hot during this period, particularly in the south). This is also generally the height of the tourist season; the markets are at their liveliest then, but prices will tend to be somewhat higher and the crowds can be annoying. The winter, in most parts of France (except the Cote d'Azur and, to a lesser extent Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon), can be a bit grim— wet and raw (despite what anyone tells you to the contrary)—and should, in most regions, be avoided, unless bargain hunting is your primary interest. All in all, the mid to late spring and early Io mid fall are the best times to come —its not too hot; the markets, while not crowded, are still lively: and prices are less influenced by the tourists.
Weather factors other than heat and cold can also affect your market expe¬rience. At some markets, vendors carry on despite rain, although in somewhat reduced numbers, while rain will really drive sellers away at other markets. (It’s hard Io say what the attitude is likely to be in any individual case, except that vendors lend to be more hardy when the market is monthly, rather than…