Dear Diva Readers,
ur lovely Antiques Diva Guide in Provence is Caren. Today she’s sharing a bit about why antiquing is so much more exciting than simply shopping big box stores—especially in Provence where markets have constantly changing inventory! She even shares some of her favorite places to score antiques.
Diva Guide Caren writes:
“Antiquing… it’s so much more exciting than just shopping. It’s like looking for hidden treasure. You’re never sure what you will find and it’s often not in plain view, but when you discover the right piece, you know it’s a keeper. For most of us, shopping is a chore. Not so with antiquing. In a world where so many of the stores pump out the same old, same old, it is a breath of refreshing air to be in Provence with daily possibility of shopping at a market.
And remember, nowadays, even top fashion houses are looking to combine shabby with chic. When you’re antiquing you won’t see the same brand names that are found in high streets, airports and shopping malls the world over. The French markets are a daily and weekly delight, brimming with fresh local produce and handicrafts.
If you’re looking for a bargain or something that won’t be found in any of the high street shops, it’s the Puce or Flea markets, the Brocante (Second Hand goods) and the Vide-Greniers (literally, Empty Attics,) which are the ones to seek out.
Some Flea Markets take place on a regular basis and the stallholders are mostly professional dealers, but the Brocante and Vide-Greniers sales tend to be held only occasionally. Vide-Greniers normally attract private sellers who in the UK might attend a Car Boot Sale or in the US would hold a Yard Sale. Really big Vide-Greniers may attract hundreds of sellers and thousands of bargain hunters. This is the place to find collectables or pick up a bargain— something that you won’t find at any chain store.
The great news is, that if you’re in Provence, there’s a flea market to be found every day of the week. Here’s a list of some of the Antique markets.
Saturday: Villeneuve les Avignon.
One of my favorites is held every Saturday morning across the Rhone from Avignon. Moderate in size, it is held in the car park underneath the ancient fortress of Villeneuve. Between 80 and 100 vendors set up here, offering a wide range of items, many with a focus on Provence. Buyers who own shops in the near-by Isle sur la Sorgue come here in search of a bargain. Provençal ceramics, pots, linens, agricultural tools and clocks. A great market where you might well make an interesting discovery, and at a reasonable price.
Sunday: Carpentras – parking des Platanes
Carpentras is approximately 30 km north of Avignon. Late on a Sunday mornings a delightful flea market unfolds in a lovely tree-lined parking area– parking des Platanes. It starts around 10.00 am and it’s a preferred meeting place for some of the more serious collectors: those who a happy to do their own digging. Here you often have to rummage through boxes and crates to find your treasure. Between 130 to 150 vendors set up and often, they are selling their own belongings, which fall more into the category of “second-hand” than “collectable”. The variety in terms of wares and prices is huge, with an emphasis on the rustic and every day, rather than on up market decorative objects. If you are looking for something really unusual and surprising, this is one of the best places to find it, though you will have to expend some energy in the process.
This is the perfect flea market for someone to dig around and hunt for something special and affordable!
Also on Sunday…
Aubagne: Antique market: last Sunday of every month at the Marche de Gros, quartier de la Tourtelle
Isle sur-la-Sorgue: Antique and flea market: every Sunday all along the avenue des 4 Otages, in the village centre
Monday: Nice – Cours Saleya
There are about 200 vendors here until to mid-afternoon. Cours Saleya is just behind the Promenade des Anglais and it’s a great place to rummage. The market is mostly high quality, but treasure hunters can often find a special something. Many items have also found their way here from across the Italian border which makes for an interesting mélange and some vendors speak English, as well as Italian. Lots of silver, vintage clothing, posters, nautical and travel items and ceramics.
Tuesday and Thursday: Aix en Provence, Place Verdun in the mornings
Wednesday : Pernes les Fontains
Antique market in the morning in the car-park at the centre of the village
A Brocante market at Place du Théâtre in the morning
If you would like more information on an Antiques Diva Provence Tour, email us at email@example.com.
Au revoir et Bonne Shopping!
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
FYI…Today’s post is coming from Provence in a guest blog by our Provence Antiques Diva guide, Caren Trafford.
t started with a door.
The short email appeared unexpectedly one afternoon. It was marked URGENT. Wanted, it said. The typeface was bold. I clicked it open and read on.
“Wanted: matching pair of Louis XIVth doors, original condition. Walnut wood preferred but oak a possibility, patina unworked, curved. Looking to ship as soon as possible, transportation needed to USA.”
I pondered the query with a sense of excitement. I was in the perfect place to accept the challenge. An Antiques Diva treasure hunt was about to begin.
As the lucky residents of Provence will tell you, Provence is known for many things; its location in southeastern France offers an attractive climate, a sumptuous choice of cuisine and enough history to fill at least 10 encyclopedias.
What you can’t learn from the travel, cooking and history books is that in Provence, the sunniest part of France, can be found some of the finest antique doors in the world: some, many hundreds of years old, crafted by the Masters from another era. Today, these doors may be locked away in some antique dealer’s cellar, or stacked carelessly and half-forgotten, at the back of dis-used warehouses. It’s just a question of knowing where to look.
I considered the email further. The 17th century style is stately and sober, elegant with a complicated style of moldings. So what manner of a door would be the right match for my client? And what would this investigation uncover? A door is a statement. The exterior door is the first thing people see when they pay a visit, so choosing the right door is a worthwhile exercise. What first impression would you like to convey?
Doors are an introduction or a prologue. They can be an invitation or a deterrent. Whether it is your home or office, a door is the first point of contact for any visitor. And here in Provence, we have some of the most beautiful doors in the world.
In city offices, the modern, semi-transparent, smoke-coloured, austere glass doors only open if you are a member of the “club”. Key cards and passwords allow passage through them. At home, it is no different. A door is the portal into your private world. And yet, too often nowadays, a door is at best glanced at, passed through and then forgotten.
The antique doors hidden in various corners of Provence are the opposite. They are antique timbers that once adorned a chateau or gated a bas tide that were beautifully crafted and are now sought after by those who can well appreciate them. In their hey-day these doors were the focal point- a starting place- from where to create a sense of anticipation for what lay beyond. French timber doors and shutters have a character that new woods will never have. They reflect the craftsmanship and theatre of ages past: a statement, a promise, a mystery. Where have they been? What secrets were whispered by those who lived behind them? But I digress… As I said… it started with a door.
An eager Sherlock Holmes with the enthusiasm for the mystery of a new case, I went to work. My goal? To locate the perfect door.
I sent out a flurry of emails. That was the easy part. Antique dealers, formerly inaccessible without an appointment or a letter of introduction, are familiar with the concept of emails. However, whether they can be bothered, to respond to them at all, is another matter. Photos and emails make much of the initial research easier but nothing can replace a visit to those “Aladdin’s Caves” of antique doors.
A few hours later, replies flashed across my screen and my planning session began. Living in Provence has provided me the opportunity to meet many interesting characters but the sellers of all things ancient, are a breed apart. Young and old antique dealers love their antiques with a passion. They protect their treasure-troves fiercely. You have to be bien connu (well-known) before they will let you into their confidence and sanctum.
Here’s a hint of how it’s done: share a few glasses of the local wine and let them beat you at boules. You’ll gain Brownie points.
But even getting to know the antique dealers won’t help you secure the item you desire. Often, when finally a selling price is agreed, it will be as a favor. Many antiquaires admit quietly that they will sell a piece only if they like you.
Peter, an antique dealer of repute, is a fine example. He is a thick set antiquaire, who enjoys his wine and his lunches as much as his antiques. He could pass as the brother of Friar Tuck. Peter will rub his thumbs together, look you up and down, sniff a few times before he delivers his verdict. If he is not liking what he sees, he will simply say, ‘Non, c’est ferme aujourd’hui. Désolé.’ (Sorry, I’m closed today.)
The timing of a visit to the antique dealer’s lair is crucial. It took a while for me to realize that the vague gestures and the distracted looks that entered the conversation when discussing the age or origin of a particular piece were not personal.
At first I thought my accent was beyond them but no, the French find the foreign accent rather exotic. Nor was it a question of price. It was far more probable that the seller just had his lunch on his mind and was contemplating which bottle or two of wine would accompany it. Or perhaps it was the aperitifs that called?
I tried arriving after lunch. But if it wasn’t the fine wines of Provence calling, it was likely to be a game of boules, underway outside the shop, on the sandy public foot-path. ‘I’ll be with you in a minute,’ is the normal greeting, and so you watch as the antique dealer flings his final boule to win against his antique-dealing friends.
I was introduced to Antiquing in France by a friend who was leaving her business, to set off on a world adventure. She took me around and introduced me to her contacts. I learnt quickly that these were not just contacts, they were also friends. Many antique dealers have been in the antique dealing trade for generations: fathers, sons, grandsons and daughters, and many of their antiques have been handed down through the generations.
The antiquaries welcomed me into the fold. The language spoken was French, but not the French that I had learnt at school and was familiar with. Here in the south, the patois or accent is delivered at the speed of the French motor bikers racing between cars on the motorway and is akin to a Londoner trying to understand a Newfoundlander. The exchange is loud and excited. There is little pause for breath. I came away shaking my head and begging for a translation. After a few visits though, the ear acclimatizes and you realize you understand the guts of the conversation. By the time you are offered an aperitif you know that you have been given the thumbs up even though, they will continue to consider it your severe misfortune that you come from another land.
Searching out the perfect door in Provence is hard. Even with the right contacts. Why? Because there are so many: all contending for the position. And my role as the match-maker is to find a connection between the door and the buyer. Then, I stand back and watch the sparks!
The range of antiques available in Provence is vast, thanks to the successive waves of settlers that have made this area home since the days of the Romans. Romans gave this area its name, which comes from the Latin word Provincia. The architecture and form of Provence may have their roots in antiquity but the style of decoration is from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The area is covered with chateaus, manor houses (bastides) formerly occupied by wealthy farmers and smaller dwellings called mas’s. In the 19th and 20th centuries many of these homes were converted into summer dwellings by Parisians, seeking the sun, or by the well-to-do Marseillais who wanted to escape the heat of the city. The architecture and furnishing of these buildings, although based on antiquities, re-invented itself into a relaxed elegance that is now known as the Provencal style. Today this is known as the Provence style and is copied and sought out internationally.
Through Antiquing, my love for the environment has found a new route to run. I can help to recycle the great masterpieces of Provincial history that are lying discarded and forgotten. As a passionate recycler, I could immediately see the potential of finding new homes for those pre-loved pieces of art and architecture, crafted in the atelier workshops of ages past. Here, the antiques of Provence are waiting to be rediscovered, to stand again and to be admired.
And so, back to the doors. The ones I found were real beauties. The dealer who located them in his cave of treasures, loves his doors. And the whole family is in the business: uncles, aunts, sons and daughters. Three days of searching and then, they unearthed the treasure. Hidden behind a stack of other doors, covered with grime and cob-webs they had stood there quite forgotten, since grand-father had opened for business. They were a rarity from the 17th century, double doors, with a beautiful curved arch.
A few drinks, a game of boule and emails sent and voila, they were sold. Smiles and hand-shakes.
Arriving home, I sent the final details to the shippers. Just as I finished, another email arrived in my in-box. It read: “Great work. Just on the off chance, can you locate a Napoleon III chimney-piece?”
Caren Trafford not only is our Antiques Diva Provence Guide but she also writes environmental books for kids. She is happy to find architectural pieces of interest for you in Provence – email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.