We returned to the continent in May with the intention of reaching Florence. The plan was to not have to sleep with our purchases for at least 10 days. We travelled on the Thursday night so that we would be in France for the weekend. A Vide Grenier at St Gobain in the Hauts de France was our first opportunity. The whole of the village becomes involved in these events and it is probably how local projects such as the village hall are funded. Most of the stall holders are villagers, with a few local charities. One such villager was fascinated at my intention to purchase a job lot of vintage white enamel vessels that were used for delivering enemas. I thought they would make excellent wall-mounted plant watering vessels.
Another vide grenier at Mirbel in the Haute Marne Department provided our next opportunity. The village was just a few farms, houses and old barns being used to house additional stalls. I bought a 1930s fringed glass lampshade, which I feel that I overpaid for, but it is so beautiful that it is yet to be listed for sale.
Onwards To Italy
The Battlestar navigated the Col du Mont Cenis from Modane in France to Susa in Italy. We were fortunate that the pass was open for the first time that day. The marmots were scampering about, probably mating and had become used to the absence of humans.
We found out why we sell such a lot of vintage and antiques to Italy. Second-hand items are taxed and any events have to be licensed. The bureaucracy of a car boot sale would be impractical as all the traders would have to be approved. Some major cities are allowed a flea market once a year. The antique shops were expensive and stocked mainly British items. Oh bother we forgot our business cards!
Pisa was a marvel. We found a motorhome park on the outskirts and walked in a couple of miles to the centre. The tower looked fabulous with the scaffolding removed after finishing restoration works. It had been recently been pulled back to 0.5 degrees to the vertical to ensure its future stability.
We climbed the tower in the evening when all the day trippers had left for their hotels. The view was awesome with the sun going down.
We headed to Florence the following day and parked up at a small motorhome aire in a suburb about 3 miles from the centre. Ideally positioned on a local bus route, I couldn’t persuade the driver to accept cash for the fare, I think we should have bought some sort of pass. Franc was very happy for a free bus ride! Beware of the ticket touts in Florence – you could find entry to a museum costing 90 euros! Wait until the afternoon, then the queues fall away and you pay 15 euros. We saw some fabulous works of art in the Uffizi Gallery.
Florence was very hot in May (about 40 degrees!) and it was also very crowded with tourists as several cruise ships had docked.
We found a great way to see the sights in a horse and carriage! We decided to leave Italy the following day and head back to France via Nice, where the pickings are greater.
We spent a noisy night at an Aire in Nice preparing for a vide grenier in Antibes. Our diplomacy was required with questions about our Brexit position in order to secure a deal. It wasn’t very well organised and it seemed that the Battlestar was stopping people leaving. Franc did a 24 point turn in order to avoid an international incident.
The scenery to the North of the French Riviera was sublime, overlooking the Alpes Maritime. Grasse is considered the perfume capital of the world. It also delivered an excellent vide grenier.
We had an overnight stop in Castellane in the Alpes -de-Haute-Provence. Castellane like many small French towns had a serviced Aire for motorhomes in the centre. The following day a vide grenier was to be held in the market square. We were up at dawn and were the first punters. Our most memorable purchase was a pitchfork hewn out of a single piece of wood. Franc was skeptical (he had to wrap it) but it now adorns a cottage fireplace.
Charity shops are rare in France but Franc found a likely candidate in Grenoble. We took a punt – parking the Battlestar was going to be an issue in the city. We parked near the university and had a short walk to La Ressource. It was an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. Theft was obviously an issue and we had to place our bags and purse/ wallet in a locker. We did spend heavily, particularly on Italian and French desktop items. I think Grenoble was a fashionable resort in the 1960s and a place for the wealthy, hence the quality of the items.
Some places have no presence on the internet so when you pass a `Brocante’ sign, the Battlestar is instructed to reverse or turn back to investigate. Such was `La Somette brocante’. La Somette is a small village the middle of nowhere in Eastern France near to the Swiss border. I am not into stereotypes, but there is definitely a universal antique dealer. Long grey hair and beard, looks seventyish but is fiftyish, reclusive, bookish, doesn’t really want to part with anything and rarely opens the shop. It is so in France, however, if you start to collect things on his table he will warm to you and a deal is to be had.
Eguisheim in the Alsace is a fairy-tale place where French and German cultures meet. It is a place for buying wine not antiques. One of the cellar yards opened its yard to allow motorhomes to stop overnight in return for the chance to sell you a couple of bottles of their wine. Tasting and buying was the order of the day so we gladly joined in!
On the edge of the Vosges mountains is a place called Bruyere. As part of their village festival, a flea market is held here. A local charity serves food in the market square on trestle tables and there is a combination of traders and local people selling. One lady had some fantastic antique jewellery. I overspent the budget as usual and kept raiding the cash machine.
Is it better to visit a car boot sale early or late? It is difficult to say. Local people may not be as organised as the regular traders and set up later in the day. Visitors are often few and people do not want to take stuff back home. Such was the case at Bruyere vide grenier.