There are literally thousands of markets that take place on a daily or weekly basis in villages, towns and cities across France. There are also seasonal market events where entire city centers are transformed into giant marketplaces with miles of stalls being set up to accommodate professional vendors and locals just cleaning out their attics or garages. Each city will have at least one fruit, vegetable and fresh produce market (a marché) that will operate outdoors throughout the year, but it is often the antique and flea markets that hold the greatest appeal for international visitors and locals alike. The notion of coming home with a priceless antique (even if it only cost you $10 on the street), can become the shopping highlight of your vacation.
Considered one of Nice's best attractions, Marché aux Fleurs ("flower market") on cours Saleya operates daily except Monday, when it becomes a wonderful antique and flea market. The market peaks on a Sunday, when a combination of locals and tourists flock to the red canopy stalls in search of the freshest produce, fish, meats, cheeses, gourmet items, fruit, vegetable and an array of colorful flowers. Flowers really are the main draw card with hundreds of varieties -- most grown locally in the fields of Provence and the French Riviera, including carnations, roses, camellias, lilies, irises, freesias, daffodils, cyclamen, chrysanthemums, azaleas, marigolds, daisies and my personal favorites, gardenias. The market's location in the heart of the old city of Nice, one block from the Mediterranean Sea makes it an ideal stop on a walking tour of the city. This square has been a site for the selling of flowers for at least a hundred years, but a market of some sort has operated here since the Roman period. The sights, smells and tastes make this a feast for all the senses.
Street vendors and performers keep crowds entertained and there are several outdoor cafes and restaurants lining the street enticing hungry patrons. A visit here will make you wish you'd rented an apartment or small house rather than stayed in a hotel as the desire to purchase fresh produce and go home to cook may overwhelm you. At the very least you can brighten up your hotel room with some freshly cut stems and pick up a bottle of red and put together a picnic to eat in the park or on the nearby beach. The market is open all year long, but spring sees the best seasonal explosion of color and choice of delicious foods. There are several moderately priced hotels located within a few hundred yards of the Flower Market, including Hotel Villa La Tour (www.villa-la-tour.com), Hotel Crillon (www.hotel-crillon-nice.cote.azur.fr), and Hotel Acanthe (www.hotel-acanthe-nice.cote.azur.fr).
Lille in Northern France is home to probably the largest market in France and perhaps the biggest market sprawl in the world. For one weekend a year (in 2007 it takes place August 31 and September 1), the city hosts its famous Braderie market. The city's proximity to Calais and train/boatloads of British tourists ensures that you'll be competing for the bargains against avid purchasers with pounds sterling to spare. The thousands of stalls extend nearly 40 square miles across the city, selling antiques, crafts, furniture and miscellaneous treasures. Although professional vendors and dealers will have prime positions along the main streets, venture onto the narrower side streets for a more flea market/boot sale feel. La Braderie also brings a party atmosphere to the city with musicians and street performers lining the streets to take advantage of the million or so visitors who actually come here on this festive weekend. Visit the city's official website www.lilletourism.com for more information. Getting to Lille is probably easiest from the U.K. On the Eurostar train, it is a mere 55 minutes from Ashford or one hour and 40 minutes from London's Waterloo Station so even a day trip would be worthwhile. For those coming by ferry from the UK to Calais, it is a further 67 mile drive. There is also an airport in Lille with regular flights from Paris.
Paris has an abundance of markets with everything from fresh produce to antiques, arts and crafts to books and rare stamps. Every day there is a market to explore but most start early in the day and you'll need to get up with the birds to grab the bargains. In particular, the city of light is known for its puces or flea markets that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every weekend. There are three main flea markets that date back to at least the 19th century but still attract vast visitor numbers on a weekly basis, plus there are several more specialized smaller market places featuring goods like second-hand clothing, military memorabilia and period furniture located around the city. Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt (Porte de Clignancourt, 18th arrondissement) is considered the largest antiques market in Europe as well as being the oldest in Paris, boasting several different market areas with more than 2000 shops spread over a nine mile radius. This market comes alive on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Due to the popularity of the market on weekends, it can get extremely crowded plus they often hold special events throughout the year. The other major markets may be found at Porte de Montreuil (20th arrondissement) and Porte de Vanves (14th arrondissement). You can more information about the markets and their history at www.parispuces.com.
Another exceptional flea market is the Rhône-Alpes Brocantes market at Puces du Canal in Lyon. This Sunday morning tradition in Lyon starts very early (6am for the dedicated treasure seekers). With over 400 stalls, the market is a wonderland of antiques, bric-a-brac, used goods and 18th and 19th centuries regional furniture. The Sunday market is the largest open until 1pm but a smaller version takes place at the same site on Thursdays and Saturdays. For more information, visit www.pucesducanal.com (English) and www.lyon-france.com (French only). Lyon is a two hour train ride from Paris aboard a high speed TGV train, appropriately from Gare de Lyon station. Alternatively it is about a four and a half hour drive. Tickets are available prior to departure from the U.S. through Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com) or can be purchased at the train station in Paris.