5 years, 10 months ago
Visit anywhere in France from mid-March onwards and you’ll see signs all over the place advertising local ‘Vide Grenier’. Literally translated as ‘Empty Attic’, these markets are usually held on Sundays, last all day and sell everything from seedlings to huge antique knife grinders, gorgeous 19th century bed linen to Lego, books, baskets and even car parts. Stalls are hired by the metre and it’s a bit of a free-for-all. But you can turn up some real finds if you look hard enough. If you’re thinking it sounds just like a French Car Boot Sale, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Vide Greniers are family events, everything stops for lunch at the Buvette, no one’s really expecting to make a fortune in sales – apart from a few omnipresent dealers. And Vide Grenier are part of an ancient European tradition that makes Car Boot Sales look like the callow newbies they really are.
Because there isn’t a town or city or village or hamlet in France that doesn’t have some kind of market at least once a week. From Nord Pas de Calais to the Côte d’Azur, getting out on the street and selling stuff is as big a part of French culture as déjeuner and indiscriminate overtaking. And if you want to see local life and the idiosyncratic differences that define France’s Régions and Départements, just visit a market, wander about and all will be revealed.
Take Nice for example. It’s colourful, prosperous, elegant, Mediterranean and unashamedly glamorous and every one of those qualities is reflected in its diverse, gorgeous and very individual style of markets (a monthly ‘Marché aux Cartes Postale Anciennes’ says it all really).
Cours Saleya in Vieux Nice, away from the Promenades and private beaches, is where you’ll find most of the city’s markets. This is the real Nice and although one or two of the markets do give a nod to the millions of tourists visiting every year, most of them are simply going about their business just as they’ve always done, so it’s up to you to make the effort.
Marché à la Brocante, Cours Saleya
You might not be up for taking home a 19th Century French Armoire as a souvenir, but the regular Monday Marché Brocante will definitely tempt you with endless smaller items, curios and collectables. Buyers from all over pitch up here to haggle on everything from furniture to antique quilts and kitchenalia. The atmosphere is lively and relentless. But happily Cours Saleya has plenty of cafes where you can rest up in the shade and get ready for the next round. Mondays 0730 – 1800 and 3rd Saturday every month.
Marché aux Fleurs, Cours Saleya
This has to be the city’s most famous market. The iconic stalls with their candy-striped awnings, buckets overflowing with fresh flowers and hundreds of plants and garden stuff are as much part of Nice’s landscape as the Negresco and the Promenade des Anglais. The smell is overpoweringly exotic and delicious, it’s all bustle and business and the florists really couldn’t be more helpful or free with local hints and tips. Even if you aren’t buying, you have to visit the Flower Market at least once it really is an unforgettable sight. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 0630-1800. Wednesday and Saturday 0630-1330. Sunday 0630 – midday. Closed Mondays and afternoons on public holidays.
Marché Artisinal Nocturne, Cours Saleya
Okay, this one really is for visitors. But that doesn’t make it any less lovely on a warm summer evening with the scent of the flower market still lingering in the air and even the locals getting in on the holiday spirit. This is the perfect place to pick up pretty local crafts, paintings, drawings, sculpture and even herbs and spices sold by the gram (a great reminder of the Mediterranean on a dull day back home). May to September, every evening 1800 – midnight.
Marché aux Cartes Postales Anciennes, Place du Palais de Justice
Earn your place on the fridge door with a vintage postcard (more meaningful than a ‘weather great WYWH’ text any day). From gorgeous Victorian Grand Tour landscapes to personal portraits, cute kid’s cards and poignant billet doux, this strange and strangely lovely market has them all. Some cards are rare and collectable, most are affordable, but they’re all delightful. 4th Saturday every month 0700 – 1900.
Marché aux Fruits, Légumes et Marée, Cours Saleya
Mediterranean fruit, vegetables and seafood are world famous but nothing prepares you for the experience of picking up your own fresh ingredients from a local Mediterranean market. If you cook, you’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from this amazing daily market. The colours and smells are evocative and wonderful and it’s impolite to turn down a ‘taste’ if it’s offered – impossible to resist anyway. Tuesday to Sunday 0600 – 1330. Closed Monday.
Marché aux Poissons, Place Saint Francois
It’s certainly not the biggest fish market on the Côte d’Azur, but what it lacks in size is more than made up for in variety, freshness and friendliness. If you’re buying for children, your fishmonger will de-bone with extra care if you just ask. Tuesday to Saturday 0600 – 1300. Closed Monday.
Marché aux Puces, Place Robilante
I couldn’t have a list of markets without at least one of the Flea variety on it. I don’t know whether it’s the weather or the Nicoises themselves but the city’s famous Flea Market is a very superior affair that still manages to throw up some excellent bargains and guarantees hours of pleasantly indulgent browsing. Tuesday to Saturday 1000 – 1800.
Marché aux Peintures et Artisans d’Art, Place du Palais du Justice
Once a month local artists, painters and artisans take to the streets to sell their work. This is a bit of an event so it’s always busy and very lively. And it’s not unusual to see the artists working in between selling – an experience in itself. 2nd Saturday every month 0700 – 1700 (winter), 0700 – 1900 (summer).
And if you aren’t shopped out, Nice has its fair share of summer Vide Grenier to tempt you too. Visit www.brocabrac.fr for info on every Brocante and Vide Grenier across France this summer. Or if you’re in France anyway, pop into a local TABAC and you’ll almost certainly find the ‘Brocante and Vide Grenier 2014 Guide’ for sale on the counter – look out for posters and road side signs everywhere too.