Some people are born brocante lovers, others wake up one morning in a room of Ikea perfection and realise it lacks a certain something.
That something is originality, personality and irreplaceable history. All of these things can be found in vintage and antique treasures, but where to find them?
You can go online but nothing beats snuffling through a market or brocante emporium finding treasures you didn’t know you wanted – or that amazing thing you never thought you would find.
Regular local brocante markets take place all over Normandy. We have a growing list of these professional and semi professional markets here.
All you need is a good set of brakes and a lookout. Then when the roughly painted sign ‘Brocante’ appears by the roadside you can come to a screeching halt, reverse dangerously back up the road and park precariously on a verge. These signs are brocante heaven. Our favourites are the ones that lead to an old barn piled high with everything from beautifully carved armoire (huge old French wardrobes) to piles of old pictures, knots of garden ironwork and boxes of dusty delights. A quick Bonjour to the owner and we are left to rootle around at our own speed.
Our least favourite are the very tidy vintage vendeurs who have attached a neat price tag to every carefully placed piece and when you pick something up you hear their sharp intake of breath. We have been followed around these generally overpriced places and do not return.
If your French is rusty, view these online gems in a Chrome browser and they will be automatically translated.
Brocabrac is brilliant. Lots of vide grenier (village sales, lots of tat but some treasures) foire à tout (village sale with flea market and fair) and brocante markets sorted by department and listed by date. They also have an invaluable red dot system – the more dots the more sellers so worth a drive. When you click on an event in the diary listing you can see all the information you need – number of exhibitors expected, whether they are just professional sellers or for anyone, the location, times, if refreshments are available. A bit of planning with Brocabrac and you can have a fantastic day visiting many sales.
Another online brocante marvel. Sort by Basse (lower) and Haute (upper) Normandy then flea market or garage sale. Also by date. Brocante mensuelle or ‘Monthly Flea’ will be the smaller (50 or so stalls) brocante and antique markets just for professional sellers so less tat to wade through than a vide grenier/foire à tout. Click on the event you like the look of to get times, location, number of sellers etc.
- Keep brocabrac and vide grenier info close at hand with this free App
Emmaüs second hand charity shops and warehouses
We love Emmaüs. Not just for the acres of carefully sorted second hand in their warehouses but for the excellent story behind the stores. The Emmaüs charity helps combat poverty, homelessness and supports the socially excluded. Originally set up by Abbé Pierre he named Emmaüs after the town where two disciples extended hospitality to Jesus just after his resurrection without recognizing him, so they are a sign of hope. Emmaüs workers help collect, repair, clean and sell at nearly 200 Emmaüs locations across France in aid of the charity. Don’t expect to bargain, prices are already very reasonable.
Emmaüs vary in size, those called Communauté ‘community’ rather than Comite d’Amis ‘committee of friends’ tend to be the biggest. Here you will find everything from doors, bicycles, plain and fancy furniture, cutlery, 70’s crockery, curious vases, clothes, the list is endless. You can set up home with very little cash at an Emmaüs and if you have an eye for the next-but-not-yet trend, Emmaüs is the place for you.
To find your local Emmaüs visit their website. At the top of the page choose Où acheter (were to buy), then at the next page Je souhaite acheter (I wish to buy) type in your local town and a list will appear.
Donations are always welcome.
Pages Jaunes (yellow pages)
Pages Jaunes are only for the patient and brave.
It should be so easy. Type in ‘brocante’, your local town and hey presto! A list of addresses. Great when you are new to the area as you will certainly get to travel around. But it is never that simple.
To explain here is a brief record of an actual day following businesses marked ‘brocante’ over a less than 20 miles radius.
First shop found, closed. Weeds in the car park suggest it has been closed for some time. Second shop tiny but open, nice English lady chatty and helpful, we found a couple of local postcards. Third address a modern house in the middle of a housing estate. No signs saying brocante, no sign of anyone. Fourth address after much twiddly turns again a house in an estate, this one with a van but no sign of anyone or anything. Next address, we found the exact road number, building has been knocked down. Next address, an Emmaus. Fantastic, open, just wish we had room for that €120 carved cupboard. Final address closed but looking through a gap in the gates loads of good stuff, worth a return visit.
This took a whole day.
If you are the sturdy sort willing to give Pages Jaunes brocante hunting a go we strongly suggest you have a satnav or similar – or there will be catastrophic disagreements with your map reader when they take you down the umpteenth murky single track road to nowhere… Bonne journée!
Worth a look and these second hand shops and warehouses can be huge. Find them via the Pages Jaunes (remember Pages Jaunes rules apply). Don’t be put off if the address is in the middle of an industrial estate, they are the biggest and best ones with a random mix of old and new furniture and smaller goods.
A final warning
That lovely blog post you found online from 2010 with marvellous pictures and addresses of brocante emporiums? Ignore it. Don’t go there. Just no. Every single one of those places has closed and the blogger left Normandy long ago to run a tea shop in Dorset. Only trust the most recent information you can find.
Last bit of advice
If your time in Normandy is limited, it’s best to do some online research before you arrive (remember if your French is limited view in a Chrome web browser for instant translation) and plan your mini tour carefully. It’s all too easy to end up lost after writing down poor directions or only half an address. We should know, we have done it all…
Let us know if you find any treasures.