When I first moved here, I was really excited about spending my days ‘antiquing’ and on my first day in the village, my neighbours told me about a good antique fair an hour away, so I went there the following day.

The first thing to learn is the hierarchy of markets.  At the top of the pecking order are grande brocantes or brocante professionalle, which are proper antique fairs that are run by antique dealers.

Then there are the brocante/vide-greniers, which are a mix of antiques and car boot sale, where you can find some good quality items and a lot of rubbish.  At the bottom of the order are the standard vide-greniers, which are real car boot sales and the most common type of market.  Unfortunately, attending them can also be a very frustrating experience.  Going to a fair usually means getting up at 6:30am on a Sunday and driving up to an hour and a half, and vide-greniers are mostly filled with people selling old clothes, shoes and used toys.  Shopping at St Vincent de Paul or the Salvation Army look like high street shopping in comparison.

If you want to set up a home office, no need to look further than your local vide-grenier!

Or you can buy a single chicken (I don’t know if it’s a hatching one or a one-off dinner).

If you can sort the wheat from the chaff though, this is where the real bargains are to be found – usually because people have no idea what they’re selling and don’t know the value of it.  At one vide-grenier I bought two antique confit pots (below) for 35€ each, which would sell for around $350 back home.

It’s also easy to get ripped off if you don’t know what you’re doing.  Last week I went to a brocante professionalle and found a set of 12 fish plates, a platter and sauce jug, which the lady told me was from Limoges.  She showed me the marking on the back and I wasn’t convinced, but the set was only 25€ so I wasn’t too concerned.  When I returned home I googled the Limoges logos and couldn’t find one that matched, but I’ve decided that if I like something and it’s not expensive then I’m ok with it.

Each region in France has a L’agenda des Brocantes, which is the bible for brocantes and vide-greniers.  Every market is listed in date order so you can see what’s coming up in your area.  It did lead me astray once though and I drove 125kms only to find the brocante wasn’t on.  Luckily Chateau de Hauteford was up that way and I’d been meaning to go and visit it, so my trip wasn’t entirely wasted.

I’m looking forward to visiting the most famous antique market of all again – Les Puce (The Fleas) when I’m in Paris next months, as well as the bi-annual antique fair at Chatou, when Mum arrives.  After that, we have some time at my place before heading down to Provence and visiting L’isle sur la Sorgue, a village famous for its antique shops.  My pockets will probably be empty by the time I’ve finished visiting them.

Nina RichardsComment