Lille's world-famous market is full of homeware, food and friviolity

Europe’s biggest annual flea market, farmers’ market and semi-carnival is just 90 minutes from London by train.
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Next week more than two million people will descend on Europe’s biggest annual flea market, about 90 minutes from London by train, in Lille, northern France. La Grande Braderie de Lille, which runs the weekend of September 6-7, is predominantly flea market, a bit farmers’ market and semi-carnival — and all haggle.
A total of 15,000 stallholders set up shop along 62 miles of city pavements.  It’s the perfect opportunity to combine your search for a second home in France with a hunt for bargain buys to fill it.


Teeming: Lille gets packed with market bargain hunters
The word “braderie” translates as “best price” and came into existence in the 12th century when valets would sell their masters’ unwanted cast-offs.
Today, buyers and sellers come from across Europe and beyond, but this is an unmistakably Gallic affair, with all purchases, great and small, served up with a hearty helping of moules frites. On street corners, great mounds of empty mussel shells demonstrate the gluttony of hungry punters. Lille restaurants compete to be top of the heap with the biggest pile of shells.


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Though the items for sale are starting to include some international handicrafts, the mainstay of this festival are the everyday contents of French cellars and lofts. Viewing is on Saturday morning and the sale opens at two o’clock that afternoon, when money can change hands and you get to bargain for whatever has caught your eye — everything from old silver-plated  cutlery, crystal chandeliers and silver candelabra to lampshades, gilt mirrors, toy cars and crockery.
“I lived many years in London and made many friends. When they visit they love to rummage at the Braderie and soak up the street party atmosphere,” says Patrick Alliani, who lives and works on the outskirts of Lille.
This sprawling street market is broadly split into two camps. The grander boulevards have high-end professional offerings, including antique French furniture in abundance. The boudoir fixtures, fittings and chattels of yesteryear will help achieve a latter-day Marie Antoinette effect. This ornate and grandiose treasure trove is on display along the Boulevard Jean-Baptiste Lebas.
There are more eclectic home décor items, from old to nearly new, including old Courrèges and Cardin. These are concentrated along la façade de l’Esplanade and Deûle Canal. But for true charm and surprise head for the cobbled streets of the old town, for all manner of bric-a-brac in street after street of stalls.


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As this is northern France the flea market will have special resonance in this centenary year of the First World War. Plenty of items date from that period. Aside from military memorabilia, of particular interest are the silk-embroidered postcards, known by collectors as “WW1 silks”, created by local women and girls. More than 10 million were made, decorated with forget-me-not flowers, bluebirds, or regimental crests. They look great when framed.
Also to be found in abundance are French-label vinyl records, perfect for framing to add a touch of retro-chic Gallic glamour to any London home. True enthusiasts can rummage for sleeves of albums made by French acting superstars who went into the recording studio, from Jeanne Moreau to Brigitte Bardot. Though the music might be of an uneven quality, the sleeve artwork is always a winner.
Consider literature as another possible signature purchase. A hand-tooled leather copy of a Balzac early edition is sure to impress dinner party guests — or it can beautify a table or bookshelf. You will also find classic French tableware and linen, and can even equip your kitchen with authentic cooking utensils, from lovely French cast-iron skillets to pots and pans.
Aside from the rigours of pounding the pavement in search of that illusive find, there is the party atmosphere to enjoy. Aficionados claim that Saturday is the best day to work the streets, as that day’s sale is followed by an all-night street party which leaves its mark on the carefully laid-out wares.


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Come Sunday morning, signs that revellers have passed that way are apparent and the stalls look a little more disorderly. However, some regulars swear this is the moment to swoop on the best bargains, when stallholders are a bit the worse for wear.
The Braderie de Lille offers 36 hours of street market theatre, which means that at best, you are sure to return with a little bit of France — including, perhaps, fine cheeses from the farmers’ market — and at worst, too much to carry home and a filthy hangover. 
  • For more information, visit
  • A two-day Pass’Braderie, giving unlimited travel on local public transport, costs €4.60 (£3.70)

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