Better than the Paris Flea Markets

No trip to Paris is complete without a “balade” through the flea markets, or the Marchés des Puces as they call them. But I have to say we’ve been pretty underwhelmed so far. Finally, last weekend, we figured out the Paris flea market secret.

We’ve made several trips out to the famous Marché des Puces in Saint Ouen, which is a labyrinthine village comprising dozens of flea markets, restaurants, and now a hotel: The MOB Hotel

The hotel has a great interior courtyard garden for lunch (or a game of ping pong) a cool concept store and amazing Philippe Starck designed indoor-outdoor restaurant. It’s a unique place to stay if you come through Paris and ridiculously inexpensive. But while we’ve been out to the flea market quite a few times we always seem to leave empty handed (or worse, short an iPhone that was lifted from my purse by a pickpocket last time). The stalls at St. Ouen seem so fusty and dusty with owners who are either absent or just disinterested. They chat with their friends, drink wine all day and treat it more as a lifestyle than a business. The prices seem grossly inflated to us too, unless you are buying architectural pieces, like an entire zinc bar or massive doors and mirrors. Those magical little French household objets that you might tuck into your suitcase just aren’t there.

We have finally figured out where the good finds are: the “Vide Greniers.” Translating to “Empty the Attics,” these are sales that happen on the street in different neighbourhoods over the spring and summer in Paris, organized by Le Marie, or mayor’s office, in each arrondissement. They can span for several blocks with up to 80 vendors. Some of the sellers are professionals, specializing in one type of item (records, photographs, glassware) but just as often they are regular people looking to get rid of things they no longer need. Unlike their counterparts at the flea markets of St. Ouen and Vanves, they can’t just lock up at the end of the day, put the cork in the bottle and go home. They must actually shift merchandise or be forced to pack it back home and wait for next year’s sale. Therefore, they are motivated sellers, and willing to barter.

Last weekend, we found some amazing things at the Vide Greniers in Montparnasse. I scored a vintage lot of our wedding flatware for 10 Euros (including a half dozen soup spoons) and some Christophle butter knives for less than 2 Euros each (new, they go for 81 Euros a piece).

Christophle Butter Knives

NB: Mixed vintage silver cutlery is a big restaurant trend in Paris right now, even at Alain Ducasse’s new Or restaurant at Versailles. This is a trend I can buy into.

Murray discovered a pristine Pastis set from the 1960s for 12 Euros and I came across a photojournalist with a huge collection of his own candid shots of rocks stars in Paris in the 1960s and ’70s. For me this was priceless—but this guy wanted just 20 Euros for all 6 prints that I chose. A vintage apothecary jar and a blown glass wine jug rounded out our morning shopping. Now we just have to figure out the shipping container size for out “settlers effects.”

View the Paris Vide Greniers schedule by date and neighbourhood here

Mick Jagger