If you’re a fan of shabby chic décor then you’ve probably heard of the term brocante either in magazines or Pinterest photos. What you don’t hear very often in Anglophone circles is the term vide grenier. Antique markets in Provence are not all created equal…
A vide grenier is a French version of a car boot sale, flea market or a garage sale. Individual driveway-type sales do exist but they are uncommon. Here in Provence, villages will often have an annual sale. These sales are the best. Locals will drag their junk out onto the winding streets and often start drinking wine at a very early hour. It is ok, and expected, to haggle over 50 centimes. Many sellers attempt to make a living out of selling what would be described as more antique/vintage curiosities (brocante). Many vide greniers ban professionals from selling. It’s usually quite evident when they’re professional; their items are displayed with great care, their prices are already marked and generally a bit higher. Also, if you go to as many vide greniers as we do- you’ll start to know them by name!
Going to vide greniers is one of Robin and I’s favourite weekend activities. Robin is generally ready to leave at 8 am on Sunday mornings with his foot tapping thinking of all the great finds he may miss out on if I dawdle any longer. When we do get to whichever village it is, we generally sniff out the local bakery and then head to the stalls. You’ll know where the event is being held by the appearance of haphazardly parked cars.
A Poor Person’s Antique Market
It is true that vide greniers generally consist of other people’s junk; however, I don’t know about you but French junk has a novelty factor for me. I’m always attracted to the vintage French enamel kitchenware, rusted old tins and vintage postcards/magazines. Robin likes the old lamps as well as anything kitchen related. I must confess I’m not very good at rummaging- but vide greniers are a great place to find cheap clothes. The second-hand clothing is always immaculate and particularly useful if you have small children that grow fast!
As I mentioned above, the best events are the annual village vide greniers. These events are often organized by an association. The association also organizes food and drink; normally consisting of barbecued merguez sausages and 1,50 euro large plastic glasses of rosé. These annual vide greniers are the best for bargain hunting as these are normal people who basically just want to get rid of their stuff! There are other vide greniers in certain towns that happen every week such as Salon de Provence and Aix en Provence or every month such as Lambesc.
When I think of Brocantes, I think of Isle sur la Sorgue. As one can see from all the antique shops, Isle sur la Sorgue claims it’s place as antique capital of Provence. This is where you’ll find that special antique or quirky French oddity to take home. If you’re only in Provence for a short while, I would suggest visiting a Brocante as, although the prices are higher, the quality of items is significantly higher. It’s all about your budget! If you happen to be in Provence from the 13-16 of August- the most extensive brocante of all (500 merchants) is the international brocante in Isle sur la Sorgue. This year, the international brocante is from the 13-17 April 2017.
Words to know for Vide Greniers/Brocantes:
Chiner: This is the verb to literally ‘brocanter’ or seek out brocantes, flea markets etc. A “Chineur” is a bargain-hunter.
Fouiller: when you’re timidly looking at a box full of wonderful rusted objects from yesteryear in your typical anglo-Saxon way the seller will often say to you “allez-y fouiller!” which basically means ‘don’t be afraid to rummage!’
Marchander: to haggle. A seller will often ask you if you want to “marchander.”
Débarasser: to clear out/get rid of. I find it quite encouraging when you find someone who says that they are trying to get rid of their stuff. Their prices are quite good and if you’re lucky you’ll find someone with a stall full of items they’ve inherited or lost interest in and are trying to get rid of sooner rather than later.
Petit Prix: Low/budget price. If you’re interested in a few items you can ask the seller if he or she could give you a ‘petit prix’
Les Stands: The French use the English word ‘stand’ interestingly enough
*random tip (between 12 and 2 pm):
If you happen to arrive at a vide grenier at lunchtime (they usually go all day) don’t expect to find each seller at their stall. You’ll find yourself trying not to stare with salivating awe at the tables of food. Meals that have been cooking for hours at home appear with bottles of wine seemingly out of nowhere.
How to find out where they are:
The best thing to do is look out for the often yellow posters that go up about a couple weeks before vide greniers and brocantes. These are usually located at roundabouts or at the entrance or exit to a village.
The best website we’ve found, that has up to date information is:
Here you can find out if the event is a brocante or a vide grenier/marché aux puces as well as how many stalls will be at the market.
You can also look in La Journal Farandole, which comes out every month and is available at tourist offices. Events will often be in this publication rather than on the Internet.
What you’ll find at a:
Vide Dressing (bourse aux vêtements):
Clothes sale, often inside the local municipal center
Marché Linge Ancienne:
This is a market for antique linen, tablecloths, gloves, buttons, lace, and jewellery. You’ll often find materials for sewing and knitting here as well.
Foire à la Puériculture/ Vide Poussette:
Market selling everything related to bringing up children (clothes, toys, pushchairs etc)
also Braderie (clearance sale often clothes and children’s toys)
Vide Maison à domicile (garage sale):
An individual’s moving or cleaning out sale at their house
Second-hand items such as: clothes, books, CDs, cooking ware, electronic appliances, tools, postcards with some antiques thrown in.
Second-hand vintage or antique furniture, cutlery, books, postcards, cooking ware, tools, (often lovely old rusted farming tools), paintings, antique linens/tablecloths, baskets etc.
The brocanteurs supply for the demand, often following fashions. Right now there are a lot of retro items from 50’s inspired design due to the recent interest in that type of décor (as well as an odd interest in British and American paraphernalia).
Also, because not all furniture can, throughout time, have achieved the perfect patina pattern– brocanteurs re-paint unwanted furniture to achieve that ancienne/shabby chic look. The popular colour right now is gray. Twenty years ago, the chic colour was dark green. If you’re adventurous- I suggest you paint the furniture yourself rather than paying crazy prices for a piece of furniture that may or may not be made from quality wood.
*tip: if you see a sign for a Brocante that is in a salon, or inside in any way, then it will be most certainly only professionals and often quite expensive.
a mix of the two! These can be quite good because in the framework of a vide-grenier, brocanteurs can’t charge very high prices for their vintage items.
Check out our house renovation in Provence to see if you can spot some of our finds.