Going on holiday to France this summer? Instead of a more traditional holiday souvenir, why not visit a vide grenier, brocante or marche de puces for unique homewares that will add a little je ne sais quoi to your UK decor?
Here’s our guide to what to visit and what to look out for.
‘Vide greniers‘ are the equivalent of French car boot sales, but somehow they’re more glamorous! (Must be all that sunshine and atmosphere.) Many towns and villages hold one every year, and the ‘season’ runs from April to October.
They’re almost always held outside, with goods spread on trestle tables in the town square. ‘Vide grenier‘ literally means ’empty attic’, and you’ll always see lots of outgrown children’s toys and clothes on sale.
Go with plenty of time to browse, though, as you’ll very often find little treasures among the more prosaic offerings. Enamelware such as jugs, milk pots with lids and bowls are common, and can be bought for a few euros. They make lovely containers for cut flowers or unusual plant pots. Look out as well for vintage wash pots, which are designed to hung on the wall. They have a spout at the bottom, and were filled with warm water which then flowed from the spout for washing with. These don’t have much practical use these days, but they look lovely and make nice decorations hung on a garden wall.
You also have a good chance of finding lovely antique and vintage linens, often embellished with beautiful embroidery or handmade lace. These are often spotted with age, but you can often remove small marks by spreading them with lemon juice, letting it dry and then hand washing. You could also try a proprietary stain remover. If stains are too big to remove, you can still cut the linens up and give them a new lease of life as lavender bags, laundry bags, mats or shoe bags.
Also at a vide grenier you can expect artisan producers selling everything from goats’ cheese to baskets, along with street musicians and lots of atmosphere. Search for a vide grenier that coincides with your holidays at www.vide-greniers.org.
Marches de puces
Marches de puces are flea markets, and large towns and cities will often have a regular event once a month or so.
They’re often held under cover, and are home to professional sellers who perhaps don’t have a permanent shop, or do have a shop but are selling off surplus stock.
They’re a great place to lose a couple of hours wandering round, and sellers are usually happy to haggle.
Brocantes are junk shops, and you could find almost anything there! If you’re looking for furniture or larger items, then these are a better bet than markets.
Shops that sell antiquités and objets d’art are antique shops, and generally have much better quality stock than brocantes at much higher prices. If you’d like a set of pewter candlesticks or a genuine Louis XIV chair, then this is a good place to start.
TROCs are an interesting concept that we don’t really have an equivalent for in the UK. You can find them in most big towns and cities, and they describe themselves as ‘sales depots’.
If you have a table and set of six chairs to sell, you can take it along to your local TROC and they’ll sell it for you and take a commission. As the prices are set by the vendors and not by the TROC themselves, it’s not unusual to see two identical items marked at completely different prices!
They’re a great place to pick up larger pieces of furniture, often at bargain prices – but you do have the problem of getting it home again!