Julia Child found her large (The New York Times described it as “bird bath sized“) and much-used mortar and pestle at the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in the 1950s, and with the help of her husband Paul to carry it to their car, it remained a part of her batterie de cuisine through her years in their home in Cambridge.
Taking the time to explore France’s brocantes and vide–greniers is to go on a treasure hunt for our sanctuaries.
It is at Paris’ Marché Puces located in Paris’ 18th arrondissement that 2000-3000 vendors are open year-round Saturday-Monday – rain or shine. From marchés aux puces to salons d’antiquaires, the markets are one of the top five tourist attractions in Paris. But knowing how to navigate and where to go was something that took me time and the courage to visit.
Now that may sound silly, courage to visit a flea market!? What?! But it was due to my ignorance that for nearly 20 years, although I knew about Les Puces de Saint-Ouen and heard many people recommend and rave about the wares found there, I hesitated. Now mind you, this was before Uber and before Google Maps that helped you swiftly and easily figure out which Metro line and which route to take without looking like a tourist. (Since them I have written and published in my first book how to successfully navigate the Metro in large part so that I would not miss out on exploring destinations like the Marché aux Puces!).
I had intended on visiting five years ago, but my agenda did not enable it to happen, and at that point in my discoveries of France (my third trip to the city), I was just tickled to have mastered the Metro for the very interior heart of the city. Fast forward to last year, and I only spent four days in Paris, the rest in the country, and my suitcases (and additional suitcase purchased to hold all my extra purchases) was full. So I decided not to tempt myself further, and I am very glad that I waited until this summer to fully explore what I have been longing and most eager to explore for a very long time.
On my last full day in Paris this past July, the only must-do event on my itinerary was to visit the flea markets. And oh, what a wonderful time I had.
Staying on the right bank for the sole purpose of being closer to the markets, I hailed an Uber at about 9:30, and on a Sunday, the traffic was sparse and the trip was swift, arriving in about 10 minutes from the 11th arrondissement (cost – fewer than 10 Euros for the ride). Part of the reason I chose a cab was so that I could see the neighborhood and get a feel for where I would be walking back as I had planned on taking my time coming home. Interestingly enough, I did look into taking the Metro, but the line that would have taken me directly to the marchés was down for construction – Porte de Clignancourt on Line 4 (you will walk out of the metro station and be next to an overpass – walk under the overpass (see “M” in the lower right-hand corner of the map below), cross Rue Jean-Henri Fabre and make a slight left on Rue des Rosiers and you are there!
Having been advised to arrive at or just before 10 am (when the marché aux puces open on Saturday and Sunday; 11am on Monday), I heeded this recommendation so that I could get my bearings for the seven hectares of vendors and markets I wished to explore (see map below of all of the marchés seen in green).
As you can see there are many different buildings and locations of markets. I walked through a few before they opened, but shopped solely in Marché Vernaison (see map below). Since I spent more than two hours in this Marché and my hands were full and my budget nearly tapped, I vowed to return another time to visit the other Marchés.
Today, I’d like to share with you eleven helpful tips that worked for me as I have to say, this part of my trip, while so much of it was already truly wonderful, was one of my favorite parts of the trip to France this go-round. Let’s take a look!
1.Be resolute to visit and do so on Saturday or Sunday
With so many tools available to help travelers navigate transportation, which was what held me back when I was more naive and unsure of myself as a traveler years ago, pick a mode that works best for your comfort and budget and make the trip.
Don’t be deterred by the first tented vendors you will see at the entrance of the Marchés. These are not the Marchés but may take some travelers aback. Selling clothing and other items you might see at farmers markets sans food, walk through them. Then, using the map shared above, choose the marchés you would like to visit, as they are found in permanent structural buildings – some with covered walkways, others with open alleys as seen below at Marché Vernaison.
The Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen are opened Saturday through Monday, but on Monday, while the crowds are indeed far smaller, not all of the boutiques and artisans are open. So long as you know if your shop is open, Monday would be a lovely time to visit, but if it is your first time, it is my recommendation to visit on Saturday or Sunday.
2. Go early during the day
To not only avoid crowds, but also give yourself time to peruse what is open and then circle back around if you would like, I recommend going early. And for no other reason to have time to visit all the marchés available as the markets closet at 6pm on Saturday and Sunday and 5pm on Monday.
3. Don’t worry about having room in your luggage – they ship internationally!
While they haven’t always shipped internationally or made this available to shoppers, it is now available and easy to do. While I have not shipped anything yet, taking with me everything I have purchased, House Beautiful recently explained in detail how to utilize the shipping option. I have provided their quote below, but their entire post on shopping the marchés for serious shoppers is a resource to save (I have).
“There are a few companies on site at Paul Bert/Serpette, but one of the best-loved is Camard. Right when you arrive at the flea, beeline there to pick up a “carnet” (a little notebook of carbon-copy receipts) and stickers and tags with your official shipping number on them.“—House Beautiful, June 4, 2019
4. Remember your Bonjours when entering each shop
Each vendors shop may be small, but it is their boutique, their professional home, so be sure to be respectful and when seeing them, exchange bonjours.
5. Cash is absolutely fine, but most vendors do accept cards
6. Have an idea of what you are looking for, but be flexible
My list included copper cookware, knife rests and linens. It did not include tableware, dishes or teacups. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to bringing vintage French dishes into my home, but I don’t yet know what I want nor did I budget for shipping on this trip. So when I began walking down Allée 1 and stepped inside the shop seen below, I nearly changed my mind and purchased the Gien vintage plate set.
An additional vendor that tempted me with their plates and tableware was found on Allée 6, stand 92. She also sold linens for the home as well.
7. Be prepared to speak basic French
Knowing some French will benefit you if nothing else so you can engage and be respectful with the vendors regarding their goods. Many of them do speak English, but not all. As well, I encourage you to barter as well on the prices. While being respectful is important, don’t immediately pay the asking price. I talk a bit about this in a post I wrote last summer – 5 Tips for Shopping at Brocantes.
~read TSLL’s three-part series on “What I Have Learned in French Class So Far . . . “
8. Discover wonderful vintage linen sheets
Janine Giovannoni, stand 141, angle allée 3 et 7, is the vendor to visit in marché Vernaison if you are looking for beautiful vintage French linen sheets. While they will cost more than the sheets you may find in small brocantes around the country, they will be stunning and irreplaceable. I did not purchase any this trip, but look forward to returning and welcoming a few sheets home in the future.
With the opportunity to meet the owner of the shop, as some TSLL readers have shared as well, she is lovely and all the more reason to return.
~a post to read: French Linen: The Fields, The History, & Why It Is Truly Luxurious Fabric (August 2018)
9. Pick up the small, significant decor details at wonderful prices
10. Stock up on copper
As I have shared before, I am a fan of cooking with copper. From the copper tea kettle I found last summer at a brocante in Provence, to sauce pans found and gifted to me from a second-hand shop in Wallowa County, to purchasing new copper pans at E. Dehillerin, copper is my favorite metal to have in the kitchen for cooking for a long list of benefits. But admittedly, it can be an expensive. Yet another reason I love my excursions in France, and for each of my two most recent, I return home with copper in my suitcase and more money staying in my wallet.
This time around I did pop into E. Dehillerin and pick up a handled tatin pan, but then, guess what I found at the marché? A perfectly cared for tatin pan for only 20 euros. While it didn’t have handles, it was exactly what I was looking for, and I couldn’t help but bring it home as well (be sure to tune in to this upcoming season of The Simply Luxurious Kitchen to see them both in action and discover how to clean copper simply – September 7, 2019).
Funny enough, some of the copper found at the marchés is vintage from E. Dehillerin as the mixing bowl in the third images displays hanging on the wall on the left-hand side. Just another reason to shop at the marché aux puces – to save money on quality items.
11. Discover signature French decor
Having conversational pieces in our homes is a fun way to open the door to sharing your travel stories and learning about where your guests have traveled as well. Whether it is a French street sign or a brilliant over-sized pearl (see below), each time you see it in your home, it will remind you of that particular trip to Paris.
I do hope these tips have helped to encourage you to visit the largest flea market(s) in France. I am confident it will be a highlight of your trip, and your home decor will begin to blossom with unique finds that speak to your signature style.
Needless to say, I looked forward to returning the moment I decided to finally leave the marchés, as now I have a treasure trove destination to discover unique and original items to welcome into my everyday life. While it may take time, and I don’t know when my next trip back to France will be, there is no doubt that Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen will be on my itinerary.
~Read more TSLL French-Inspired posts
~Listen to French-Inspired episodes of The Simple Sophisticate podcast
TSLL’s 4th Annual French Week posts thus far . . .
SUNDAY August 11th
- Welcome to TSLL’s 4th Annual French Week!
- 7 French Candles I Love & A Giveaway! – giveaway
- Visiting Musée d’Orsay and Impressionist Berthe Morisot’s Exhibit
MONDAY August 12th
- NEW podcast episode – #257: An American Being Everyday French – My Interview with author & writer John von Sothen
- The World, Large & Small, Illustrated for Your Home, Kitchen and Life: A Modvin Paris Illustrated Giveaway – giveaway
- 5 New-in-2019 French Lifestyle Books I Have Enjoyed
TUESDAY August 13th