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The best discoveries often take time to find which makes searching for them all the more fun (and frustrating too, but we soon forget that evanescent feeling when we lay our eyes upon the prize – it is absolutely worth it).
It was by pure accident that I wandered into the square of Vaison-la-Romaine on Sunday (last Sunday), my first full day in the village before beginning my cooking class with Patricia Wells. The copper gleamed in the Provence sun, and the cut glass shimmered.
My first brocante market.
What is brocante? Well, if you follow Sharon Santoni, you are quite knowledgeable on this topic, but even I, since I had never been to one, wasn’t quite sure. In essence, here in the states, we call them flea markets, but having been to flea markets in the states, there is a difference between French and American versions. To be fair however, there are steals, gems, junk and gorgeous antiques to be discovered at both.
Moseying about the square, as I shared on Instagram, I came upon this beautiful, patina (well loved and used) copper tea kettle (see below). The picture doesn’t offer proportions well, but it is a grand size. I knew I wanted it, but wasn’t sure of the price or if it was functional. I asked – 40 Euros. Functional? Yes. I peeked inside. It looked okay (perhaps a retinning down the road). I left and came back and haggled a bit to buy it for 35 Euros. I was hooked . . . on brocante. Now to find another suitcase to bring my treasures home. (See the after photo upon returning to the states and having it retained.)
My second brocante experience was grand. Why? It was recommended immediately by Patricia Wells herself whose home of Chanteduc demonstrates her and Walter’s talented eye for finding unique, yet functional dishes, decor and details for their home.
Where to go, I asked, as I shared with her I was heading near Gordes for my next leg of my trip. L’Isle Sur la Sorgue brocante market on Sundays (8-4, most artistans are fully set up by 9 – get there early). There was no hesitation in her voice. It was settled. I knew what my plans would be for Sunday morning.
And she was right AND she was there (to lend credibility to her recommendation). Let me explain.
I arrived early after a beautiful morning drive passing, vineyards, and sunflower and lavender fields along the country roads.
Arriving at 8 am, the booths were not all quite finished being set up. I wandered through the food booths picking up a few things for my new vacation home I was heading to. (There is a traditional food and produce market along with the brocante market each Sunday.)
However, I couldn’t initially find the brocante part of the market as it wasn’t within the food booths. I hopped in my car thinking maybe I had misunderstood. I began to drive out of town along the main street, and then I saw it, all of the brocante booths full of kitchenwares, furniture and weathered and improved-with-time items. And then I saw a familiar face – it was Patricia Wells! And that moment, I knew I had found the brocante she had recommended. I quickly parked my car again (it was half past nine), as the crowds were growing quickly (it is the largest market in the region on Sundays – a can’t miss).
~sunflowers and lavender seen along the way~
Visiting another country on your own you expect to not recognize anyone you know, and perhaps only barely speak your native language with those you run into. This experience was different as I ran into Walter and Patricia Wells discovering a treasure of their own and had a lovely chat of appreciation for many things before going on my way. To run into someone who knows your name, let alone it being Patricia Wells – was priceless and most memorable. She recommended a few booths she had come across offering beautiful white dishes (the oyster dish she specifically talked about – seen below), and so we went along our separate ways to enjoy the market and the rest of our summers.
My treasures were few, and not too large, but they are special.
Below you will see in the upper lefthand corner, French crystal knife rests. I explained in my IG Story video yesterday (see my French Trip 2018 highlights in IG). For each meal with Patricia, when we sat down for lunch, each setting had a knife rest. She had many different sets – I believe a different one for each meal, and since you do not see these in the states, I assumed they must be hard to find. But to my delight – not if you frequent brocante markets! I came across four different sets, and three of them at one particular vendor. The number in the sets vary, but they are treasures to find. Paying 35 Euros for my set of 9, there was another beautiful set for 120 Euros (too much for me). However, it is a small detail that is thoughtful and provides more ease to the dining experience as you do not have to worry about balancing your knife on your plate while you eat.
I also picked up these cloth napkins that while not extremely old sang the story of Provence to me. With a full set of 12 and a matching tablecloth, for 15 Euros, I was quite pleased. (The table setting and silverware are my current vacation rental’s – isn’t it all beautiful and full of great taste?).
Tips for making the most of your next excursion to a brocante market or flea market in the states:
1. Go early
Not only are you avoiding some of the crowds, but most importantly, you are able to see everything they have before it has been shopped for the best treasures. As well, if it is a warm day, the heat won’t impede your decision making as much (it was to be over 90 degrees yesterday, so yet another reason I wanted to go early.)
2. Do a walk-through, unless . . .
Similar to how I approach farmers markets, I walk through the entire market once giving myself time to contemplate what I truly need and to compare prices. However, if you find something that you know will be scooped up quickly and you are in love – haggle and bring it home on the first run-through.
3. Speaking of haggling – do it
Whether you are buying two or more items from the vendor or just the item your eyes are feasting upon, offer a much lower price. Each time I have haggled, I have paid less than the sticker price.
4. Be friendly
In France, as everyone reminds, always enter the shop, boutique or booth by saying “bonjour”. I think this is wise advice wherever we find ourselves in the world. Establishing an understanding of appreciation for their goods shows recognition and respect. They notice, and they especially notice when other shoppers have not taken the time to do this. The knife rests I purchased were immediately reduced for me without even haggling as other shoppers were only speaking English, did not say hello and were inquiring about the same knife rests. Sincerity of appreication and kindness pays off in the most unexpected ways.
5. Look for inspiration – you don’t have to buy everything you love
This one can be hard in the moment because each item is usually unique and not likely to be found elsewhere, but we truly do not need everything we love – at least not all at once. We want to savor what we truly know we could use well in our lives, and if we buy too much all at once, some items won’t be as loved as others (and, let’s be honest, we probably won’t be able to pack it all and bring it home if we’re flying).
Needless to say, I am certainly someone who will be looking forward to “brocanting” (I don’t believe that word actually exists, but I like it, so I will use and I know you know what I mean ;)) as I begin to finally turn my attention to my own home’s decor (even though it is a rental). From online opportunities found at Rabbit Hill Farm to garnering endless inspiration from Sharon Santoni and her French Country Home (she hosts Brocante tours as well if you are traveling to France!), wherever you live, enjoy the hunt, the outing and the people you meet along the way.