For most of us shopping is a chore. The same cannot be said for antiquing. When you’re antiquing, you won’t see those brand names that are found in high streets, airports and shopping malls the world over. In fact it’s a breath of refreshing air to be in Provence with the added bonus of a French market, a daily and weekly delight, brimming with fresh local produce and handicrafts.
Markets? But those are just for food, I hear you cry. Although you will find a host of specialty foods, depending on the season, there are local farmers who offer honey, goat cheese, fruit and vegetables. But if you’re looking for a bargain or something that won’t be found in any of the high street shops, it’s the puce (flea markets), the brocante (second-hand goods) and the vide-greniers (literally, empty attics) which are the markets to seek out.
Some flea markets take place on a regular basis and the stallholders are mostly professional dealers, but the brocante and vide-greniers sales tend to be held only occasionally.
Vide-greniers normally attract private sellers who in the UK might attend a car boot sale or in the US would hold a yard sale. The large scale vide-greniers may attract hundreds of sellers and thousands of bargain hunters looking to find collectables or pick up a good deal, something that you won’t find at any retail outlet with an added bonus that it’s probably pre-loved and in search of a new home.
And when you arrive at one of these markets, you’ll discover that anything shabby chic has become the new black; nowadays, even top fashion houses are looking to combine shabby with chic.
The term shabby chic is a form of design where furniture or furnishings are chosen for their appearance of age and signs of wear and tear, or where new items are distressed to achieve the appearance of an antique. This style has become increasingly popular with those looking for a special piece of Provence to augment their homes and create interiors to replicate the typical French idyll in a cottagey appearance. And where better to find these treasures than at the local French antique markets.
The great news is, that if you’re in Provence, there’s one to be found every day of the week.
Weekly antique markets
Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. One of my favourites, this is held every Saturday morning across the Rhône from Avignon. Moderate in size, it’s held in the car park underneath the ancient fortress of Villeneuve. Between 80 and 100 vendors set up here, offering a wide range of items, many with a focus on Provence. Buyers who own shops in the nearby Isle-sur-la-Sorgue come here in search of a bargain. Provençal ceramics, pots, linens, agricultural tools and clocks … a great market where you might well make an interesting discovery, and at a reasonable price.
Carpentras (“Parking des Platanes”). Carpentras is approximately 30km north of Avignon. Late on a Sunday morning a delightful flea market unfolds along a lovely tree-lined parking area – Parking des Platanes. It starts around 10h and it’s the preferred meeting place for some of the more serious collectors: those who are happy to do their own digging. Here you often have to rummage through boxes and crates to find your treasure. Between 130 to 150 vendors set up and often they are selling their own belongings, which fall more into the category of “second-hand” than “collectable”. The variety in terms of wares and prices is huge, with an emphasis on the rustic and everyday, rather than on upmarket decorative objects. This is the perfect flea market for someone to dig around and hunt for something unusual and affordable, but it takes some work.
Aubagne. Antique market on the last Sunday of every month at the Marché de Gros, quartier de la Tourtelle.
Isle sur-la-Sorgue. Antique and flea market every Sunday all along the Avenue des Quatre Otages, in the village centre.
Nice Cours Saleya. There are about 200 vendors here until to mid-afternoon. Cours Saleya is just behind the Promenade des Anglais and it’s a great place to rummage. The market is mostly high quality, but treasure hunters can often find a special something. Many items have also found their way here from across the Italian border which makes for an interesting mélange and some vendors speak English, as well as Italian. Lots of silver, vintage clothing, posters, nautical and travel items and ceramics.
Tuesday & Thursday
Aix en Provence. In the mornings at Place de Verdun.
Pernes-les-Fontaines. Antique market in the morning in the car park at the centre of the village
Toulon. A brocante market at Place du Théâtre in the morning.