Antiques, Bric-a-Brac and Hidden Treasures: Find Them All At Markets Across Europe
I have one motto that I swear by when it comes to shopping while traveling and that is "You Only Regret What You Don't Buy." It is an adage that I strictly adhere to and espouse to anyone who will listen. Nowhere is it more appropriate than when you visit the litany of flea and antique markets across Europe. If you see something special, don't say I'll come back to the stall as the likelihood of you finding the exact spot again and that the priceless object will still be there is remote at best.
Outdoor markets exist throughout Europe, some only during the warmer months but many others take place throughout the year so the fall sees the market season in full swing and a perfect time to plan your less expensive European vacation. If you are antiques obsessed then you may choose your European itinerary based purely on the best market options, but most people (myself included) tend to stumble across markets rather than plan to visit them.
In the big cities, like Rome, Paris, London and Brussels the main antique markets are like sprawling labyrinths of alleyways, lanes and aisles filled with everything from priceless archaeological artifacts to shabby late 20th century reproductions and everything in between. Most run weekly on Saturdays or Sundays while others are once a month or even annual major events. It would be impossible to even attempt to list all the markets worthy of a visit; in fact it is difficult to even limit it to a few examples in a handful of countries. Whereas I have only a few Western European options here, Eastern Europe opens up so many more opportunities to seek out a bargain or a special piece that will serve as a unique memento of your trip. If you plan to buy large pieces, remember you have to get them home somehow.
Often considered the antiques capital of Europe, France is a virtual goldmine of markets and some of the better examples are found in St-Emilion, Vienne, Orange, Avignon, Carpentas, Nantes, Vannes, Grasse, Nice, Lyon, Antibes, Biot, Annecy, Pernes Les Fontaines and Isle su la Sorgue.
For the true French antique connoisseur, it would be wise to purchase an antiques magazine that will provide listings of upcoming markets, fairs special events and seasonal sales. Most newsstands will sell magazines such as Aladin, Le Chineur, Chinambule, Antiquités Brocante, and La vie du Collectionneur. Even if the text is in French, you should be able to make out dates, locations and times. It can also be helpful to know some of the antique terminology. A high level antique fair is referred to as a salon, second-hand goods or bric-a-brac is Brocante, Tag Sales are Vide-Grenier and flea markets are Puces.
In Paris, the Puces de St Ouen at Clignancourt is regarded as the largest flea market in the world. Located in the north of the city, it is easily accessible by Metro to Porte de Clignancourt. Clignancourt attracts thousands of shoppers and budding antiques experts each Saturday, Sunday and Monday to forage amongst the thousands of stalls and small shops for hidden treasures.
On the second Saturday of the month throughout the year, the town of Brest in Brittany hosts a huge flea market, which is held in the streets around the covered market of Les Halles Saint-Louis. Bargain hunters can unearth the odd gem by rummaging through everything from 1950s records to 18th-century ceramics.
One of the oldest and largest street markets in northern France is held in Amiens, in the region of Picardy, about an hour's drive from Calais. The Amiens Réderie market fills the streets near the Beffroi monument in the city center with antiques, bric-a-brac and the contents of many a French provincial attic. With over 2,000 stallholders, you could easily spend an entire day browsing and scouting out bargains. The market is held twice annually, usually on the first Sunday of October (this year on Oct 2) and again in April.
Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are antique market days in beautiful Aix-en-Provence. The market in Fontaine Pascal features some fine French antiques and other collectables. In Nice, the main bric-a-brac market is held at Cours Saleya (close to the airport) with 200 plus stalls every Monday. In the Brittany towns of Quimper and Miniac Morvan the markets are on the first Saturday of month and in Rennes it is every Thursday morning. At Place du Marché (near Avignon), the market has around 100 stalls every Saturday morning from 6am to 2pm.
In London, a few names stand out and are synonymous with antiques. Portobello Road (Tube: Notting Hill Gate) is perhaps the most famous, but also the most touristy and pricey. The antiques and bric-a-brac market runs on Saturdays from 7:30am-6:30pm but there is also a general market open everyday except Sundays.
The Golborne Road market (Tube: Ladbroke Grove) is cheaper and less crowded, with some very attractive antiques and retro furniture. Golborne Road is located just off Ladbroke Grove at the Northern end of Portobello Road market. The market opening times are the same as Portobello Road. Golborne Road is slowly moving up-market, with a host of new shops and cafes and on Fridays and Saturdays, the market really comes alive with a busy second-hand and bric-a-brac section.
London's biggest antique market is in Bermondsey Square (Tube: Bermondsey or London Bridge). It operates on Friday mornings from 6am until 12 noon. This is London's premier and most serious weekly antiques market with over 500 traders. The quality of goods is high and the merchandise covers a variety of periods including Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian. Discover a vast array of collectables with all kinds of furniture, silver, china, glassware and ceramics. Bermondsey is also Britain's largest antiques district with knowledgeable international collectors, stores and galleries.
The Gran Balфn Market in Torino in the region of Piedmont, Italy, takes place on the second Sunday of each month starting at 8am. It is considered one of Italy's greatest antique and bric-a-brac markets, and it meanders through the streets around via Borgo Dora, north of Porta Palazzo. Two hundred plus antique dealers set up stalls and even more make up the Balфn flea market, which takes place in the same spot every Saturday. Via Borgo Dora is also home to a number of permanent antique shops with lower prices than you would find in the historic center of the city.
The antique market at Piazzola sul Brenta is less than half an hour from the city of Vicenza. Held on the last Sunday of the month, it is one of the largest in northern Italy and offers a wide selection of antique furniture, vases, tables, cameras, radios, record albums, prints, comics, jewelry, clocks, phonographs, glass ornaments, pottery and other interesting collectibles and antiques. It is also an excellent spot for bargain hunters and collectors in search of vintage collectible and authentic antiques. The vast assortment of antiques is spread out over the grounds of Villa Contarini located near the flea market in Camisano.
More of a flea market than formal antique market, the massive Porta Portese market in Rome is a memorable Sunday morning out and a great thing to do when most shops and attractions are closed. Located in the Trastevere area of Rome, the market literally stretches for miles ending at the Portese gate on the River Tiber. Alongside new wares, clothing and household goods, you may uncover some serious antique finds if you are willing to search. Furniture, paintings, books and even Renaissance maps are on offer.
Brussels is home to several outdoor marketplaces and probably a few bargains. The Place du Jeu de Balle is a colorful antique/flea market open daily from 7am to 1pm. Here you can find everything from vintage clothes to paintings, furniture to silverware.
The most famous of the Brussels markets (and considered one of the superior markets in Europe) is the antique market at Place du Grand Sablon, held each weekend (Saturday from 9am to 6pm and Sunday from 9am to 2pm). The market fills the historic square, the surrounding streets and laneways. In particular, its early 20th century furniture and objects are highly collectible including art deco and art nouveau pieces. Listings of other flea and antique markets to be found throughout Belgium are available at www.visitbelgium.com/markets.htm or for Belgium and Holland, visit www.antiek.com/fleamarkets.cfm.
The friendly folks at Zurko's Antique Tours (tel. 715/526-9769; www.zurkoantiquetours.com) run a range of diverse antique shopping inspired tours to Europe. With a minimum group number of four people, Bob Zurko can whisk you off to the best antique and flea markets in the UK, France or Italy. Prices are in the general range of $2,000 per person for a one-week tour and that price would include accommodation, daily breakfast, ground transportation and being escorted to the best antique markets for a unique treasure hunting expedition.
Unfortunately, you've just missed Heart of Europe's (tel. 215/991-9892; www.heartofeuropetours.com) special antique tour (it departed last week) but you may want to consider joining the next one (dates to be confirmed). The "Central European Antique Tour" highlights include visits to Nьrnberg, Franconia, Prague, the Bohemian Highlands, Saxony and Desden. Starting and ending in Frankfurt, the 12-day /11 night tour costs $3,650 per person and includes hotel accommodation, airport transfers, minibus ground transportation, escorted shopping visits to the best antique shops, markets and wholesalers and most importantly, container shipping for your purchases.
Old England Tours (www.oldenglandtours.com/) designs trips to the UK for serious antique shoppers and dealers. Their eight-day special tour to England is designed for the more serious and energetic buyer, providing an opportunity to purchase European antiques at competitive prices and have them transported quickly, safely and inexpensively back to the United States.
Its nine-day "Antique and Heritage Tour" is a two location tour, at a more leisurely pace, visiting some of the most beautiful areas of England and Wales, to purchase antiques and collectibles and have them transported back to the US at a reasonable cost. Packages include four-star accommodation, ground transportation, daily breakfasts and dinners plus 100 cubic feet of free shipping space per person, customs and broker fees plus all the packing materials required to get your goods home safely. Both tours depart on March 30, May 25, July 27th and October 5th in 2006. Prices on application.
Antique Tours (tel. + 32/3777-0881; www.antiquetours.biz) run by Belga Traders is a Belgium-based antique tours and buying company that will assist you in all facets of purchasing your antiques and getting them back to the US, whether it is for personal and professional purposes. They will arrange your hotels and transportation and will escort you around areas of Belgium and the Netherlands to the best markets and to meet with wholesalers and traders. Pricing works on a percentage of total purchases basis, usually 10% of purchase prices with a minimum spend of $1,300, or 5% for purchases of much higher amounts. Contact Belga Traders for details on individual itineraries and services.
If you are serious about your shopping itinerary and want to take in as many traditional antique and fleamarkets as possible, you may want to consider purchasing a guide like Rupert Thomas's Antique and Flea Markets of London and Paris or The Antique and Flea Markets of Italy by Marina Seveso and Oonagh Stransky.
By Charis Atlas Heelan
September 9, 2005