There are few settings as dramatic and glorious for a flea market as the one on place Charles David in the sleepy town of Villeneuve-les-Avignon. Perched high above the square (more rectangle), you can see the ruins of a papal palace and to the immediate east, the Rhône River.
Every Saturday morning, some 60 to 100 dealers from the Gard, and neighboring departments of Vaucluse, Languedoc, and Ardèche, arrive as early as 5am to set up and peddle their wares. In the pre-dawn hours, a flashlight is a necessity.
As with most flea markets, the best finds are discovered early. Should someone uncover a serious treasure, word quickly spreads among the confrèrie of dealers and buyers. On the busiest weekends, namely those preceding the major international buying shows in Béziers, Avignon, and Montpellier, dealers have learned to unveil their stock more leisurely to allow for the late arrivals. Sometimes this means a “forced” march of eight or ten spins around the pitch.
Meeting old faces is the antidote to constant vigilance and searching. I regularly see shop owners that I know from the antiquing village of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which requires the customary salutations: a handshake and bonjour or three kisses on the cheek. Everyone is looking for a bargain out here.
Occasionally, I’ll see vendors I know well. Sebastien occasionally makes the 90-minute drive down from Privas. Jean-Pierre from Lagnes often sets up for the big shows. While I will have previously visited them in their respective homes, they always seem to come up with new inventory. Somewhere, there’s an inexhaustible attic!
All that walking, stooping, scrutinizing, and haggling demand a respite for food and drink. There’s a nice little stand for espresso and croissant (recently, an indoor café opened) and a food truck offering frites and pizza; there’s even an oyster vendor.
Some of the treasures I’ve found here include landscape paintings, trade signs, railway panels, marble mortars, a wrought iron coat rack with the silhouette of Josephine Baker, and a 1970 hot-air balloon basket and burner from Bristol, England. Amazingly, I still have it (contact me if interested). In short, you never know what’s you’ll find. Some days the yield is great; others not so much, but the thrill of the hunt never wanes.