If you are a dedicated flea market/antique lover and a francophile to boot, stop reading NOW unless you are able to jump on a plane immediately. Because, in case you don’t know about it already, I’m am about to tell you about antique nirvana.
My Charleston friends Sandi and Darlene are fellow antique addicts. We once had a small antique business together in Charleston, called Antiques du Jour (in which we mostly bought wonderful things which we then couldn’t bear to part with, so we took things from our homes that we weren’t so fond of, and sold those. It was great for upgrading, not so great for profits). So when both Sandi and Darlene came for a visit this month, of course we had to head to Provence to the antique capital of Europe: L’isle sur la Sorgue (ISLS for short), in the Vaucluse. Photo above, ISLS on market day (courtesy Wiki Commons).
ISLS is dripping with charm, quite literally: there is a small river and its accompanying canals which run every whichaway though la petite ville, complete with large, mossy waterwheels at various intervals that groan and churn the waters of the gently flowing river. The banks are lined with restaurants, and with les magasins which are the only industry in LSLS: antique stores. In a town with a population of 18,000, there are 70-plus antique stores. Just one of several “antique villages” in the town has 110 dealers, just to give you an idea.
And these are not just any old stores. They are in fabulous old buildings with stone walls and beamed ceilings, they are off of hidden courtyards, they are in old mansions and gardens and along the streets. Fine, beautiful Provençal antiques spill out onto the gravel cours and along the sidewalks. There are large important pieces, there are “smalls” (brocante), and there are antique linens and fabrics. As Peter Mayle famously said, “You can get anything in L’isle sur la Sorgue but a bargain”.
But Peter never dealt with us: three serious bargain hunters and merciless negotiators. In addition to the shops, there is a weekly outdoor flea market where one might just strike a deal. We were limited by space (three women and their luggage doesn’t leave much room in the car), so we scored some small treasures: old cutting boards, linens, vintage clothes and jewelry. Next time, we’ll take une remorque (a trailer)!
IF YOU GO: In addition to shopping, ISLS makes a great base for exploring the Luberon. The Best Western Domaine de La Petite Isle is a mile or so out of town. It’s a quiet, sprawling walled compound that is a respite from the city, with gardens, swimming pools, and a terrace restaurant/bar right on the banks of the Sorgue. Not super deluxe, but a super value.
The flea market is every Sunday (also a vegetable market and foire: clothes, baskets, etc). Get there by 9 or 9:30, and park behind the post office or at the gare. Twice a year there is a huge, outdoor international antique fair that takes over the town. NOTE: unique to ISLS, most stores are open ONLY Thursday through Sunday.
Photos: The shoppers in their chapeaus. That's Darlene and me on a bridge in ISLS; At left, Sandi and new friend Pat, who went with us to the Lyon flea market (another great one!).
FAVORITE READS: Sandi has just finished and passed on a great read called How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City , a history of the City of Light which is a real page-turner.