France is a great place to pick up bargain antiques, something just small enough to squeeze into your suitcase. The French have antique shops as we do, but they also have brocantes - street markets that are rather like highbrow car boot sales or flea markets. Traders spread their wares across pavements and sell everything from vintage buttons to French furniture.
In recent years brocantes have become very fashionable and antique sellers have wisened up to the fact that tourists flock to them looking for bargains. Items don't tend to be priced, so you have to ask and you'll find that the price offered will often be much higher to a visitor than to a native French speaker. Many brocantes now have more dealers selling than members of the public, and they will be harder to bargain with. You should always haggle though, as most dealers expect it and will rarely only accept the first price offered.
If you only learn one French phrase make it "C'est trop cher!" - "It's too expensive!" My experience is that the first price offered (to a non-French speaker, i.e. a suspected tourist) will be outrageously high. If your French, like mine, isn't great, the best starting point is to offer a price slightly lower than you really want to pay. If for instance I want to buy a candlestick priced at 25 Euros, but I think it's only worth 15, I would start the bargaining at "dix euros" - 10 euros. Expect to receive much head shaking followed by an eventual counter offer closer to your goal of 15. It may take several offers, but as long as your desired price isn't ridiculous, you're likely to get there.
As well as brocantes you will also come across vide-greniers, which literally means "empty attic". These days vide-greniers are where the best bargains are to be found. Like car boot sales, the idea is that members of the public sell items they no longer want. Vide-greniers are still popular as France has never really caught on to internet auction sites like Ebay. These markets are much less frequent though, with most towns hosting one once or maybe twice a year, usually in the Spring or Summer.
Where to go
Brocantes are popular throughout France and most towns will host ones of varying sizes. Probably one of the largest is in Lille, in Nord Pas de Calais, Northern France. The 'Braderie' as it is known, takes place in the first week of September and has 10,000+ stalls.
For something less overwhelming towns such as Arles, in Provence, host a brocante once a month. If you are planning to visit France and want to find a brocante or vide-greniers, the website http://www.info-brocantes.com is a great place to start.
If you just want to be submerged in all things "French-antique" visit L'Isle Sur La Sorge in Provence. It is an exceptionally beautiful place known for it's many antique shops. It also hosts a large brocante every Sunday. It's well worth a visit, even if you can't afford the prices, it's lovely just to sip wine in one of the restaurants by the river!
Ali Stokes is the owner of the UK based online boutique Dazzle Vintage Furniture. The website specialises in selling authentic French furniture and accessories which have been imported from France.
FACEBOOK: Dazzle Vintage Furniture