Every summer in each village all over France, makeshift tables unfold, burlap cloths are thrown down for carpets, and the locals come out to eat, drink, socialize, bargain, sell and sunbathe, as we scavengers show up by the thousands to hunt and peck.
It’s summertime … the smoke of saucisse grillée is wafting through the air, Johnny Hallyday is muzaking through the streets, noses are out sniffing for bargains … and scavengers stand ready to discover the deal of the day.
Think about it.
Acres of hardware, tools, junk, keepsakes, antiques — all thrown out for grabs. What we in America call a flea market, the French call a ‘vide grenier‘ — or ’empty the attic’.
Walk the lanes and aisles and slow down at each table to hold and have vintage glass, copper pots, lace and gloves — or artisanal tools and unusable ancient farm equipment. Everything has a price — but not infrequently, the French will throw it away.
Some things within this national pastime are the same; the food, the beer tent, the laid-back ambiance, the music; even the dust of a cow field gone dry … but what’s NOT the same? Each vide grenier holds new and unbelievable treasures; what you stumble upon as you wander up and down rows of tables and wares is guaranteed to speed your heart rate, if you’re a flea market junkie.
Do you get OFF on the hit, satisfaction and reward of finding antiquity you can carry home — a vintage wrought iron hanging lamp fixture you’ve not EVER seen the likes of before, and most likely won’t ever see again — unless you seize the moment?
Then this is for you. You could map out an entire trip to France just to scavenge the vide-greniers.
Heck, I completely furnished my home in France by diving into weekly jaunts, looking and finding light fixtures, furniture, copper, pots & pans, enamelware, vintage glass — and old linen. My home is full of old French charm.
The routine is in by 9 and out by noon when the market is jam packed, and the best has been had. Unless, of course, you’re seduced by the day of it. It’s easy to linger.
Arriving early gives first dibs. You can be sure it’s not just you and me — shop owners who sell flea market wares in the brocantes are always standing next to us early birds.
What’s a brocante? It’s a shop full of flea market finds marked up for shoppers. You’ll see signs entering every town for their brocantes — they are always full of treasures. Paying a small mark-up for their scavenging is a non-issue. But if you can slow it down and stay longer, you can go straight to the attic yourself.
Not even ten years ago, notices for the local vide-grenier were found in boulangerie or café windows, or posted on a stick on the side of the road. This is still the tradition; a neon hand scribbled or bold-printed sign announcing the upcoming event, date and location.
But now, you can actually look online for the region you are visiting, to see dates and locations of each village’s vide.
Imagine the thrill of the vide in Paris or Bordeaux … Or Chartres … Or Avignon — the sheer volume of treasures is quite the draw to the junkie.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of Light of France Tours.