Ever since I moved to southern France some two decades ago, I have suffered from a fear of missing out related to having chosen Languedoc over Provence. For years I’ve heard that the grass is greenest over there in Provence. I finally went to see and discovered the grass is just as green right here. I’m back from a little roadtrip and have to say it didn’t feel like a getaway at all. It felt very much like around here. This isn’t to slight Provence, which is as beautiful as everybody says, but it’s to say that it’s just as beautiful–even a very similar genre of beauty–but with fewer hassles. I’ve never been so happy to be right where I am.

Seen on the street. Very cute! Potential future DIY…

The point of the trip was the antiques market at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which I’ve wanted to see since forever. It’s supposed to be the third-biggest brocante in Europe, after London and Saint-Ouen on the outskirts of Paris. I love the déballage at Pézenas, and the regular antiques markets in Limoux or along the les Allées François Verdier in Toulouse, or the town of Mirepoix, with all its antique shops. Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a big fair at Easter and Aug. 15 (a holiday in France), and the off-season brocante is much smaller. I just hadn’t expected how much smaller.

My usual tactic for brocantes is to be there early. I got an AirBnB in town for Saturday night, since the market is Sunday. Surprisingly, quite a few restaurants close on Saturday, and vegetarian options were few and far between–just two places.

The AirBnB was so quiet that I slept longer than I had planned, and didn’t head out until 8:30 or so. To my great surprise, vendors were just setting up their stands for the food market. I’ve been to the Saturday food market in Carcassonne as early as 7 a.m.–when it was still dark–and I think they start even earlier in summer. So I got a window table at the Grand Café de la Sorgue and enjoyed a huge café crème and a chocolatine. The waiter primly corrected the order as pain au chocolat. I thought we were in the south! However, I just revisited the question, and indeed, chocolatine is just used in the southwest. So the waiter must have decided I was some kind of country hick from the even-more-rural southwest. On the map, my département of Aude looks split, but I can attest that Carcassonne is in chocolatine territory, or choco for short.

The food market was immense and diverse. The brocante part was not. It’s on Avenue des Quatre Otages (Four Hostages Avenue–in honor of a WWII tragedy). I don’t know if there were even 10 stands, because by the time I left, around 11, some were still setting up.

I stopped at the tourism office, where they confirmed that I had seen the entire brocante, and that the main attractions were the antique shops, which were mostly clustered around courtyards on the outside of the ring around the town center. Like many villages here, there’s a big church in the center, and the town wraps around it. In Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, that center is an island, formed by canals that deviate the Sorgue river. This leads to many little bridges and several still-turning waterwheels, plus ducks. And waterfront cafés. All lovely.

The antique dealers’ courtyards were lovely as well. Antiquaires tend to have an eye for aesthetics. (No photos because they all had signs forbidding snapping pics.) I saw many beautiful pieces, but they always had a zero or two too many in the price. I saw a montgolfier (hot-air balloon, but upside down) chandelier for 450€ that was identical to one I bought for 40€ from a couple of retirees who were moving out of their house near Toulouse, and I had to help them disconnect it from the ceiling (which is one way to know it worked).

40€ or 450€?

Looking at all these fine pieces in fine settings was enjoyable, but what I find really fun is rooting through a dusty warehouse space packed with disorganized stuff and spotting just the right thing, buried under piles of junk, paying next to nothing for it, then taking it home, cleaning it up and having a piece that everybody will compliment–and, most importantly, that I enjoy. The Carnivore had a kind of antique-tuned X-ray vision and could home in like a laser on the nugget of gold in the pile of junk and then could haggle down the already-low price even farther. Another thing I enjoy is buying secondhand from Le Bon Coin (kind of a French Craigslist), where I found my chandelier, and I had a wonderful chat with the sellers over coffee before heading home. I’ve had a number of enjoyable encounters, and no creepy ones, both buying and selling on Le Bon Coin. While you can have stuff shipped and never meet the person, for something like chandeliers and furniture you go to their house to pick it up. This has given me an inside view of private homes, and they can be mind-blowing, both for good (like, this should be in a magazine) and for sad.

I did chat with the antiquaires. Usually they would ask where I was from as soon as I opened my mouth and betrayed myself with my accent. My response of “Carcassonne” would generate a raised eyebrow. I told a couple of them that I hadn’t realized the Sunday antiques market was an indoor affair. I got the same reaction when I said I’d been to Pézenas a few times. “Oh you mean the brocante,” they answered, saying the word as if it were an insult. “That is not what we sell here.” I should say not! Brocante prices have fewer digits! The line between antiquaire and brocanteur is fuzzy. A brocante might have antiques, and nice ones, but it could also just be anything that’s second hand. An antiques seller usually specializes in a specific period, maybe also a specific kind of furniture of that period, and they are experts on it.

Adorable free library in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. And I love the “correction” on bibliothèque.

I’ve been reading the works of Marcel Pagnol, who is famous for his loving portrayals of turn-of-the-century Provence, and part instigator for this provençal trip. (He wrote the novels Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs, which are delightful books. If you don’t read French, check out the great movies, by Claude Berri in the 1980s, with Gérard Depardieu, Yves Montand, Emmanuelle Béart and Daniel Auteuil–must see!) Pagnol also wrote a series about his childhood, Souvenirs d’enfance, which I recently acquired (on le Bon Coin, with covers by Sempé, for 4€ for four volumes!!!). In the first volume, La gloire de mon père, or My Father’s Glory, he recounts his father’s obsession with brocantes, a love his mother didn’t share. Here’s my attempt at an abridged translation:

Every month, when he got paid, he brought back a few marvels: a broken muzzle (0.50 francs), a math compass (1.50 francs), a bass bow (1 franc), a surgical saw (2 francs), a sailor’s telescope where you saw everything upside-down (3 francs), a knife for scalping (2 francs), a hunting horn a little ovalized, with a trombone mouthpiece (3 francs), without speaking of mysterious objects for which nobody has ever found the use, and which were lying kind of all over the house.

The father defends himself, giving the example of the hunting horn. He says with condescension to his wife, “You don’t realize that this instrument, perhaps useless on its own, is a veritable mine! Reflect a second: I saw off the bell and I get an acoustic horn, a sailor’s loudspeaker, a funnel, a phonograph horn; with the rest of the tube, if I roll it in a spiral, it’s the tube of a still. I can also stand it up to make a blowpipe, or a water pipe, in copper, mind you! If I saw it in thin slices, you have 20 dozen curtain rings; if I pierce a hundred little holes in it, we have a showerhead; if I adjust it with an enema bulb, it’s a cap gun.”

And so, before his enchanted sons and his beloved, disappointed wife, he transformed the useless instrument into a thousand objects just as useless, but more numerous.

A remnant of olden times, advertising showers, baths and furnished rooms.

The best deals are at vide-greniers, or empty-the-attics. These are village-wide garage sales, but instead of happening at individual garages, everybody hauls their stuff to a central place (football stadium, parking lot, just in the streets in the village center…), where they pay a couple of euros per linear meter (proceeds for the village football team, school, or some such good cause), and folks can walk along, perusing the flotsam and jetsam of other peoples’ lives. This is where you get the best deals, because nobody wants to haul this stuff back home after sitting there all day. The best items go early, and I do mean early. I have been both buyer and seller–as a seller you try to get there by 6 a.m. to set up, and the professionals (as buyers) will already be there with flashlights, looking for treasures to stock their shops. It’s quite a party–you chat with the sellers around you, somebody usually comes with a thermos of very strong coffee to pour into little cups for the sellers, and you meet all kinds of people. If it weren’t so exhausting to sit there all day, it would be a lot of fun.

More on Provence coming soon. Share your tips and observations, whether about Provence or antiquing. Also a question: Do you read this on a computer or on your phone? The format comes out very differently, so I will adjust…

The plastic sheets are windbreaks for the market stalls.

42 thoughts on “No Mo’ FOMO

  1. Fascinating, from the antiquaires to Pagnol (envious of your book find with the Sempé cover). I’m lying abed pre-dawn, reading on my phone when I should be out scouring the brocantes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed this column! Yes for some reason people expect ISLS to have a huge antiques market on Sunday and I always explain to my clients ahead of time (I’m a travel advisor) what it is and isn’t. And to answer your question, I read this on my large screen, desktop computer, and it looks great. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! I see the “featured image” doesn’t show up on the mobile version–which is rotten, because I always aim for the best photo for that!
      Re the BIG twice-a-year antiques fair, I might go one day, but I’m not sure it would be worth the trip, to go that far and then have to compete with professionals.


  3. I read all my blogs on the computer – much easier than on the phone!
    As for antiquing, over the years I’ve become more ‘seller’ than buyer, but I still enjoy browsing and very occasionally buying something, like the vitamix blender for 3 Euros last summer – and yes, it works!! Transformed my soup-making! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to read exclusively on my desktop but increasingly often on the phone. Like now — on the train to get my hair cut in Zug (which funnily enough means train!) Thanks for the virtual tour!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I became enamored with Provence after reading Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” and his other books set in and around Menerbes. In 2016 we rented an apartment there and used it as a base to explore the region. We visited Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for the Sunday market, but bought food. No room in our luggage for antiques. I read your blog on my iPad and the format looks great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same here–“A Year in Provence,” though since having moved here I don’t share his disdain for French contractors, and I’ve renovated three properties. Ménerbes is very pretty, but at the same time it reminded me of some villages around here, which is to say the ones here are just as cute.


  6. Read blog on iMac, all looked fine. I live about 20 minutes from Isle sur la Sorgue, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to meet you there! Its quite an attractive town, but the last place I would go fo antiques or brocante; as you say its ridiculously expensive. I live near Carpentras and go to the brocante there most Sundays and there is usually very good stuff, and quite reasonably priced. Most of the sellers are professionals, they know what some things are worth, but have no clue about others; you can’t know everything about antiques and collectibles. I buy things to keep, and also to sell in my very small Etsy shop, which I do for entertainment, not for the income (but making enough to support my brocante habit is a good thing). There are also good VGs around here, where I have found treasures. As you say, Bon Coin is good, I use it to sell things I no longer need or have become tired of. It takes a long time to find the buyer, but that’s okay. I lived in Roquebrun, which is NW of Beziers, for several years and still own a house there (for sale). It was somewhat isolated, and a long way to any kind of a real town. For me, being here near Carpentras and about 20 minutes from Avignon gives me access to better transportation, medical care, etc. I found the Languedoc to be quite beautiful and more authentic than it is here, but this area works better for me.
    bonnie in provence

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I kept thinking about you when I was there, but it was kind of in flux. Nothing worked out as planned, so if I had arranged to meet, I would have disappointed you!
      I agree that Languedoc is more authentic. Less a second home for Parisians. But as you say, you have a good location between Carpentras and Avignon, and Avignon has the TGV to Paris.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I love reading your posts because of the everyday life subject matter. Sometimes Americans glamorize French living, so it’s soothing to read about the small beauty found in simplicity.
    I usually read on my desktop, although right now on my tablet. I probably would never read on my phone unless I needed reading material outside the home AND had an internet connection. (Which doesn’t come up often.) I see the featured image no problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I normally read your wonderful blog on my laptop. My eyesight isn’t good enough to be able to read easily on my phone. Jean D’Florette is my husbands favorite movie as only recently he let go of his DVD copy. We did watch JDF and Manon both on either Prime or Netflix just recently.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I read your blog on my laptop as I do most others, it is easier to comment form this keyboard than on my phone.
    I’m sorry your adventure was not as you had hoped. But the good news is that you made the right choice and your area is just as beautiful, and charming with less stress.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful corner of the world and all of the places you visit.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. No mo’ fomo is a good place to be Catherine! When we were deciding where to go first in southern France, east or west of the Rhône, we chose the Languedoc. Guess we were worried Provence was over hyped, over touristed, over priced, etc etc. Hope to get there eventually.

    My antiquing days are over as I’m trying to scale down but it sure can be fun. That chandelier looks like the beauty that was hanging in your AirBnB in Carcassone.

    I read your posts on an iPad. All of your lovely photos, including the lead, come through great. I’m enjoying following your adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we did a similar journey. We started in Arles, figuring anything east of that was too expensive. The flat countryside there wasn’t appealing, and we kept looking farther west and ended up with a coup de coeur near Carcassonne.
      The chandelier in the AirBnB had a similar shape but was much bigger–as tall as me. It was also found on Le Bon Coin and entailed a nighttime trip into the foothills of the Pyrénées, to a little village with no cellphone reception (hence no GPS), but ultimately to a magnificent home and a very cool couple who were selling. The chandelier was so big it barely fit into the car.


  11. Loved this article as with all the others you post. Read all your posts, as well as others, on my computer. I guess I’m a bit old fashion and only use my cell phone if I’m away from phone. Not a big fan of being connect all the time.
    I love antiquing and have done a lot over the years in cities like Charleston, SC, London, and Dublin…also found lots of nice items.
    Please keep writing these lovely posts…I really enjoy them.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Isn’t it wonderful to know you landed in the right spot after all? I haven’t read the Pagnol books but I loved the films when they came out. There was a time when French cinema loomed large in my life and the actors of the time were as well-known to me as family and friends.

    I had been away when this post came through so read it on my phone, which is never my favourite and I haven’t figured how to comment on it. The top photo doesn’t appear with any prominence and there seems to be ads that fade in and out of the post when you move down the page on the phone. I’ve saved commenting until I got home and can read and see your post in all in its glory on my laptop.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, sorry about the ads. I use the free version of WordPress because I don’t do my own advertising or sponsor partnerships to pay for hosting. I am just grateful there’s a free option.
      There is another movie, from 1990 and by Yves Robert, based on the second volume of the childhood series, Le Château de ma mère. I saw a bit of it on TV during the pandemic, just surfing and spying some Belle Epoque drama set in the south and kept watching. When I read the book (I happened to own it already and gobbled it up after Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources), I realized I was reading the book that movie had been based on. Well, the film includes a bit from the third volume, too. But I think I might do a separate post on Pagnol.


  13. S
    First I love L’Isla one of my favorite places in Provence. Second I never rad on phone, but on iPad, haven’t owned a desktop or notebook for many years. So far I find setting which photo I want as featured works, but now need to check if it is working on phones.

    iPads are easier for reading at the Grand Cafe, I love that place to watch setting up, and sketching.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No shade on Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It’s more as if Provence were a 3-star restaurant and Languedoc a no-star, local place that’s excellent and then you go to the three-star for the first time and realize the food, the décor and the service are just like the local place. The only differences are the hype and the price. Instead of thinking I’d been missing out, I realize what I have is just as good.
      In WordPress, you can do previews for different devices, and I usually do it for desktop; I was surprised when I tried the phone option that it looked so different.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve visited both Isle sur la Sorgue as well as other places in Provence and Carcassone and a few places in the Languedoc and found both interesting and enjoyable places to visit. Currently we have a holiday home in the Cantal, which is even quieter than the Languedoc and has regular Marche aux Puces
    ( literally “flea market”) in the nearest town, Mauriac. There is also a biggish brocante in August, when there are more visitors about. Other places have fairly regular vide-greniers, though more usually in the spring and summer months. Winter in the mountains is cold, snowy or cold and wet, so less fun than in better weather.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the vide-greniers tend to be spring-summer-fall here, too, but the various brocantes of antiques dealers are year-round. I guess pros are more willing to brave the elements.


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