During the first weekend of September, my husband and I headed to northern France to go to la Braderie de Lille, which is something I had been looking forward to doing all year long. The annual braderie is the largest flea market in Europe and its history dates as far back as the 12th century. The event has evolved over time since its inception during the middle ages, originally being something of a trade show where folks sold their merchandise. Servants at the time had also received permission to sell their masters’ unwanted clothes and things once a year, so they piggy-backed onto the trade show to unload their masters’ goods. Today, over 10,000 professional antique sellers and individual vendors wanting to empty their attics take over more than 100 km of Lille’s streets, setting up stalls on just about every corner of the city. The annual event is held the first weekend of September, starting on Saturday afternoon and goes through the night and ends Sunday evening at around midnight.
La Braderie de Lille is probably one of the most impressive and liveliest events that I’ve been to in France. The streets are teeming with people, with over 2 million visitors from France and all over Europe flooding the streets, in search of potential hidden pearls. After spending the day treasure hunting, folks fill up on THE dish of the event, moule frites, which is served at EVERY single restaurant in the city. Over 500 tons of mussels and 30 tons of fries are consumed over the weekend and mountains of empty mussel shells can be seen on the streets!
With so many choices to choose from, the mister and I had no idea where to go. We wanted to avoid the more touristy restaurants in the Grand Place, but we also wanted to dine somewhere lively. After a quick stroll through the old neighborhood, we stumbled into a fantastic restaurant tucked away on a small side street. After seeing their amazing outdoor terrace, I knew that that was where I wanted to eat. Though Les Compagnons de la Grappe doesn’t normally serve moules frites, they nailed it that evening, with the mussels being cooked to perfection.
After stuffing ourselves each with 1 kg of mussels + fries, we continued checking out the goods at the thousands of booths. There were hundreds of things I wanted to scoop up, but I ended up buying only a set of spoons and forks. I’m kicking myself now though for not getting the vintage Hermès typewriter and the Rolleiflex camera from the guy who had at least several dozen vintage cameras. Those will definitely be on my list of things to look for at the braderie next year!
Countless watering holes, cafés and bistros offer a moment of detente from bargain hunting. And once the sun sets, the festivities continue through the night, with music pulsating from the numerous bars in the Vieux Lille (old Lille) neighborhood. Being the old farts that we are, we only lasted until around 11:30pm, at which time, we hopped into our car and drove the 2.5 hours back to Paris.
Already, I’m looking forward to going to this event again next year! Hopefully, I’ll walk away with more interesting purchases next time!