Give fleas a chance

I’ve been musing a lot lately about stuff. No, not stuff stuff, things stuff; that collection of material goods we accumulate (and eventually begin to choke ourselves with) as we meander through life. Here in our minuscule Parisian lodgings we have the advantage of not having the space for a whole load of material baggage (click here to discover more advantages of living in a chic match box), though when we do have the urge to shop, we do live in one of the best cities in the world to do it in.

Sure we have all the chains and the big names, chic arcades and sprawling malls – hell even the larger train stations in Paris are being turned into soulless shopping centres designed to lure in those sensible enough to have allowed themselves ample time to catch their trains. That’s not really what gets my carte bancaire sweating though, and I’m lucky enough to live less than a ten-minute walk away from one of largest flea markets in the world, where vintage chic melds with the beautifully bizarre and getting a real bargain beats battling around the rat run in Ikea into flat-pack submission.

If you’re heading up this way, eschew line 4 and the Porte de Clignancourt exit where cheap trainers and pleather handbags clog the lanes, and instead brave line 13 and get off at Garibaldi near the northern end of the main street Rue des Rosiers, meaning you’ll more easily get to good stuff and avoid all the tat (unless you really can’t do without some new incense sticks and a Bob Marley flag). Then all you have to do is keep an eye on your twitching credit card and decide which particular classic delight(s) your life and home are missing.

Rather than one big sprawl, the area is divided into lots of smaller markets (15 and counting), all specialising in slightly different things, though there’s furniture up the wazoo at every turn and if you have the time for a more comprehensive wander, it’s worth having a rifle through as many as you can (or bank balance will allow). See the photos for just a tiny taste of some of the gems I found on my way around. Needless to say I didn’t have a bag big enough to take a vintage pinball machine home, no matter how short the distance back to Granny Flat.

For those without a white van man on hand for larger purchases, there are plenty of smaller items to dig through from vintage postcards and knick knacks, to jewellery and classic toys. Remember though that actually digging may lead to some exasperated stall owners – ask before touching (‘je peux?’) and lead with your eyes; handling things is taken in some cases as a precursor to a sale. As with all flea markets, bartering is a useful skill, though you’ll have way more success if you bring cash (some stalls don’t take cards at all) and have a go at sealing the deal in French.

If you’re a visitor rather than a native and plan on organising your trip around a visit here, just be aware that the markets are only open at weekends and on Mondays, and you’d do well to try and avoid peak times if you want to snag the best bargains. Bad weather Mondays are treasure-searching gold.

Whatever your shopping motivation, for weary feet and spirits there are some weird and wonderful cafés dotted around, including some amazingly traditional French gems (remember the stall owners need to eat too!). And even if you haven’t been so lucky as to find that 19th century chandelier at the right price, keep your eyes peeled as you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the local firefighters jogging around the area in their tiny, tight red shorts as they most regularly do. Sadly, no touching allowed, and models not for sale…

Click here to explore the various markets and offerings to plan your visit (available in English).