As a magazine editor, I spend a lot of time in Europe, looking for story ideas. Along the way, I’ve also picked up a lot of antiques. (Some might say too many.)
My husband is a photographer and fellow flea-market lover, and together we’ve focused mostly on small items—vases, glassware, plates, vintage photographs, and postcards that could be stuffed into our luggage and brought home to upstate New York.
It went on for years until we ran out of room—even the storage barn was almost full.
And then I was sent on an assignment to the Médoc region, and Bordeaux is within the region. My knowledge of the area began and ended with the labels on my favorite Bordeaux wines, but I quickly fell hard for its beautiful, empty Atlantic beaches, pine forests, sprawling estates, charming villages (many of them seemingly uninhabited), and the great city of Bordeaux. The area is relatively untouched by tourists and modern life, and, more importantly, it offers a lower cost of living than many other parts of France.
We heard a rumor that the TGV was going to begin a Paris-Bordeaux route, and felt we should get in on the secret. So in 2015, on a whim, we bought two small, adjacent houses in the village of Saint-Yzans-de-Médoc and combined them. (We did a gut renovation, but we’ll get to that on another day, after a bottle of wine.)
Our intention was to bring the house back to its original mid-19th-century glory, so that it would feel like we’d been living in it for ages. Since our local contractor didn’t really understand the idea of using “period materials,” it was up to us to find them.
We drove all over France, sometimes several hours deep into Cognac, Gascony, and the Dordogne, filling up the rental car with reclaimed tiles, pedestal sinks, doorknobs, even a claw-foot tub. Three years later, the house was finished and we were brocante-obsessed.
I say brocante, which is French for “secondhand shop,” because it covers all the types of markets/shops, from a vide grenier (“empty the attic”) to an antiques store, to a flea market, to a junk shop. Most vide greniers happen in the summer, and they are the focal point of my weekend. (I’m happy to make a four-hour drive to Gascony just for the antiques in Castéra-Verduzan, a small town of roughly 1,000 residents, and the market in Lectoure.)
Once our house was finished, we moved on to the garden and pool furniture, scoring early-20th-century galvanized buckets for planting lavender and rosemary, 1950s cement planters for our olive trees, and lots of striped canvas deck chairs for lounging.
We’re technically “done” with the decorating work, but we still wake up early every weekend morning to find more treasures. And now we’re spending evenings walking through our village, dreaming of opening our own store. Hey—it’s an affliction.
In the summer, travelers to France can find a vide grenier within an hour’s drive of almost anywhere in the country. The Vide.Grenier app is indispensable for locating quality merchants. And although it sounds deceptively simple, I’ve had good success when simply typing in “brocante near me” on Google Maps.
But first, a few of my favorites …
In Bordeaux (the City)
An excellent flea market takes over the Basilique Saint-Michel several times each week. Walk across the road for even more antiques shops; the best is Passage Saint Michel antiques. Once you’re finished there, don’t hesitate to pop into two of my favorite spots for lunch. Au Bistrot, a favorite of my wine-maker friends, is a classic bistro, but with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients. La Tupina is one of the most beautiful restaurants in town, with fantastic roast chicken and duck-fat fries. Then move on to Les Chartrons, one of the most charming neighborhoods in the city—if not my favorite in the county. Rue Notre-Dame, its main street, has many antiques shops, cafés, and restaurants. Finish the day with a pastry or baguette from La Pt’ite Boulangerie La P’tite Boulangerie Notre-Dame, the best bakery in town.
The Médoc Region
Valeyrac, home to Brocante, my favorite junk shop, is north of Bordeaux; the drives takes less than an hour and a half. Choose the scenic Châteaux Route and pass Margaux-Cantenac and the great wineries such as Château Palmer, Château Latour, Château Lynch-Bages, Château Lafite Rothschild, and Cos d’Estournel. In these parts, there are few restaurants, and many of them stop serving lunch at two p.m. My favorite is Maison d’Estournel, a hotel and restaurant that opened a few years ago. Café Lavinal, at Lynch-Bages, is also reliable.
Continue driving north to discover an idyllic seaside town completely caught in time, with pastel-blue-striped canvas cabanas available to rent by the day. But do prioritize the antiquing at Alain Dufort. We’ve found paintings, garden furniture, tables, and small pieces, too—Dufort has an amazing eye. If you arrive in the morning, don’t miss the best artisanal bread, from Montreuil-sur-Mer. Chanelle, the baker, got her start at Circus Bakery in Paris before decamping to the southwest. In the summer, lunch at Brasserie de la Plage is a must, thanks to its simple seafood and table wine and the best view onto the beach and the Atlantic. Afterward, get a few scoops of ice cream at Glaces Judici.
Village des Brocanteurs Lectoure is an incredible little collection of antiques shops in a lovely, bucolic setting. Un Coin du Passé in Castéra-Verduzan is a little antiques shop with an owner who has a great eye and has sourced wonderful silver, table settings, and antique linens. He will also make you a quality espresso. In the same town is one of the best restaurants in the area, Restaurant Le Florida. Both a modern, gourmet restaurant and well-run auberge, it’s a worthy attraction in its own right, and an ideal starting point to explore this rich and varied region.
Yolanda Edwards is the founding editor of Yolo Journal. A longtime magazine editor, she was previously the creative director of Condé Nast Traveller. She lives in New York, Rome, and Médoc