Brocantes and braderies in France – a way of life and a national passion.
The flea markets, second hand markets and car boot sales are very popular in France especially in the summer and before Christmas, in fact, that’s an understatement – it seems to be the national pastime to spend weekends visiting the different types of second hand markets.
It isn’t just a weekend though, you can find various second hand markets going on during the week as well and Bastille Day (14 July) is always a popular day for a brocante, braderie, Vide Grenier or Marché au puces (there’s a full explanation of what they all mean below).
Also very popular in France are the second hand shops which you’ll find in the form of big warehouses or as smaller shops of second hand goods in every area – every day of the week – the Depôts Ventes and the Trocs.
The French are a nation of recyclers and guardians of things – they hate to throw something away if it can serve a useful or attractive purpose and this is what drives their love of second hand markets and shops as well as the love of a great bargain!
Going to a brocante or other second hand market gives you an opportunity to pick up some really wonderful or unusual items that you simply won’t see in the shops. You can often find food tents offering the usual burgers or hotdogs and chips, sometimes regional specialities but the happy atmosphere makes up for the lack of gourmet fare!
There are a couple of useful websites which you can use to search for a market:
There’s also a great little book you can get in supermarkets, book shops and tabacs which lists brocantes in your area or the area you’re visiting called L’agenda des Brocantes. You can order a copy on line at www.agendadesbrocantes.fr if you want to order ahead of a visit to a specific area but it’s cheaper to buy it in the shops.
You could also check at your local tourist office or just drive around the countryside looking for signs put up by organizers – “brocante dimanche 3 Juin Fressin” is the type of sign you’ll find. You don’t need much more information, brocantes are usually in the morning, and if they are afternoon or evening (soir) this detail will be included on the signs. As with all makets and fairs the best antiques go first, when the professionals are there.
The various types of flea markets of France pretty much break down as follows:
Brocante in France
Brocantes are markets with a vintage feel where you’ll find everything under the sun – as long as it’s second-hand, although having said that we’ve often seen stalls with new items such as clothes, and you’ll also often as not come across food stalls and strangely enough sweets stalls! You’ll find items of furniture, things for the kitchen, old books, games, music, hardware goods, art, tableware… Strange and sometimes wonderful items from glass soda siphons to wooden wine crates to stuffed chickens or pigs… it all depends on the brocante.
Some Brocantes are specialized – one of my favourites is the Antiquities Brocante every Bastille Day in Montreuil sur Mer – and although some stalls are a bit pricey I have never yet been and not found an absolute bargain that I’ve loved.
Braderie in France
A market or fair (sometimes the term foire is used instead of braderie) – and just like the brocante it means a sale to the public of used items. Generally speaking braderies are larger than brocantes but that seems to be the only difference that I can tell.
The best known is the Braderie de Lille a huge event which takes place the first weekend in September every year and with more than 200km of stall space theres not much chance you won’t find something you like.
Auctions (enchères) in France
Most rural auctions are held on a Saturday afternoon and are considered a bit of a day out for some! You can view items generally the day before or that morning. First time buyers are usually required to provide some form of identity and you can pay in cash or cheque (French bank only). In addition to the sum bid at the fall of the hammer, purchases at auction attract additional charges such as a buyer’s premium and VAT (TVA) – if you’re not sure about the charges or the procedures – go the viewing and make sure you speak to one of the auction house staff and get the details.
Use Page Jaunes to find a local one - www.pagesjaunes.fr
Useful Words and phrases
enchère = bid (aux enchères = at auction, enchérisseur = bidder)
commissaire-priseur = auctioneer
étude – auction firm
adjugé – sold
frais = premium
crieur (aboyeur) = bid-spotter
SVV = société de ventes volontaires (commercial auction house)
ventes courantes = uncatalogued sales
TTC = toutes taxes comprises (tax included, ref. to 19.6% VAT charged on buyer’s premium
Depôts Vente in France
These are shops and warehouses where second hand goods are sold – some of them are huge, our local one has two floors of space with a total of about 10000 sqm – and sells everything from brand new water beds to ancient weapons! www.pagesjaunes.com will help you locate stores near you.
Trocs in France
More shops and warehouses where second hand goods are sold. Locate one near you on www.pagesjaunes.com. Some of these can be quiet specialised, there’s one at Berck Sur Mer which sells military surplus – from the US, UK and France of varying ages – it’s a real boys own store!
Déballages in France
“Unpacking” in English, another market similar to a brocante, though we rarely see a market labelled as such.
Marché au puces (Flea market) in France
Flea markets are markets in a public place, and where a person buys or sells goods though generally we find the local marché au puces tend to have a bigger focus on garments. Even though we are in a rural area, second hand high end clothes, shoes and accessories are not uncommon and somehow French laundry care is of such a high quality that many items look brand new. If you’re into vintage clothing then a marché au puces may be the ideal hunting ground for something chic and special.
Vide Grenier (loft clearance) in France
These tend to be smaller scale and more amateur markets with predominantly private sellers. We at TheGoodLifeFrance have bought many a great bargain at a vide grenier, and you’ll often meet the locals there.
More information on brocantes in France
How to find a brocante or flea market in France near you