If you’re anything like us, antiquing in the South of France tops your bucket list. In our version we’re walking the cobblestone streets, haggling with vendors (in perfect French, of course!), and sipping rosé after a long day’s haul. Which is why when Chez Vous—a French antiques specialist and Chairish dealer—offered up first dibs on their freshly-picked Provencal loot (available HERE), AND was willing to reveal their secrets for visiting France’s famed antiquing village, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, we couldn’t say no!
Whimsically deemed the “Venice of France,” L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a postcard-worthy gem intersected by the river, Sorgue. While water attractions are plentiful (think waterside bistros and canopied bridges), the real draw of the town is its antiques. Boasting the largest concentration of antique shops outside of Paris, vendors participate in a giant, open-air market every Sunday (and an even bigger one semi-annually). Chez Vous and its founder and curator, Karen, frequents L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue several times a year to stock up on those-only-in-France type goods and take in the local scene. Here she shares how she end up with one seriously enviable day job, and everything you need to know to plan your trip to this charming village!
How did the business idea for Chez Vous come about?
Thanks to traveling extensively as the Corporate Architect / Director of Construction for a major U.S. company, and being the harried mother of two children under the age of 3, I had a plethora of unused frequent flyer miles. To avoid those miles expiring, my husband and I packed up the kids and a nanny and headed to the south of France for a much needed holiday in the spring of 1997. With toddlers and double stroller in tow, we explored the hill towns of the Cote D’Azur, frequently encountering flea markets in the village squares.
As the daughter and granddaughter of inveterate antique collectors, I was drawn to the beautiful items offered and picked up a few pieces of my beloved Haviland Limoges and other treasures to take home. Friends and design clients took note of these pieces and pleaded, “Bring stuff back for us!” Buoyed by their support, we quickly scheduled another trip, this time hiring a local dealer to give us the inside scoop on the markets and shops of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the Antique Capital of Provence.
How often do you travel to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to source items?
Not often enough! We do try to go at least once a year. Unlike many dealers who utilize local “pickers,” we hand-select every piece Chez Vous offers. Our commitment to buying firsthand supports our “client-centered” focus. We know our clients and our business in a way pickers cannot.
For people who haven’t been to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, how would you describe the overall market scene?
Our focus in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has always been the weekly Sunday market, which is fabulous for serious shoppers and Francophiles alike. While the semi-annual events are larger, there is no need to wait for them to schedule an antiquing junket to Provence.
What are the top items we should keep an eye out for when in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue?
Rustic pottery, household linens, art, curiosities and unique decorative accessories, and lavender and olive oil products.
If planning to spend a full day at the market, what would you propose as the ideal itinerary ? Feel free to time-stamp!
5 AM: The Sunday market starts with the food vendors. The food vendors are a must-do stop for visitors wanting the quintessential Provence experience, as the stalls are a riot of color, texture, and French bon vivance. On a more practical note, the market is also a well-priced and well-stocked food source for those renting self-catering vacation homes.
7 – 8 AM: The artisan vendors start opening for business with lovely hand-crafted goods such as soaps, lavender products, household linens, and casual clothing.
9 AM: The “brocante” dealers are firmly in place along both sides of the river. Depending on the time of year, the crowd, and how much wine is consumed, the dealers may stay just until 1-2 PM, or until later in the day.
CHEZ VOUS’S TIPS FOR SHOPPING L’ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE
1. When you arrive at the market, Karen advises “making a quick run through the area(s) that appeal most to you, and get a lay of the land.” During this time, “if you see a must-have item on this initial survey of the market – buy it!” she says. “It probably will not be there later.”
2. If you’re on the fence about an item and want to revisit it later, jot down a note about the piece and its location. “The choice and the layout can be overwhelming,” Karen cautions, “and you may never find the way back without some guidance.”
3. When it comes to navigating the market, Karen recommends starting at one end of the riverbank and making your way down to the other. “We like to go down one side first,” she says, “and then back up the other, so as to not miss a single vendor!”
4. Negotiation is part of the game at flea markets, and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is no exception. Nervous? Karen breaks down the art of negotiation into two easy options: “Ask if they can offer a better price, or shoot them a reasonable offer and wait for them to counter.” Easy.
5. While on the subject of negotiation, Karen reminds us, that “as with any purchase, buying multiple items for one price will always be less than the sum of the individual pieces.”
6. Learn a little French. Karen recommends equipping yourself with a few basics. “Even if pronounced with an American accent, it will be most appreciated,” she says. “The courteous way to shop is to greet the vendor, ‘Bonjour Monsieur (or Madame).’” Continue using your French if you feel confident, or politely ask “Parlez vous anglais?” Almost all vendors speak some English.
7. Lastly, if you fall in love with an item that’s too large for your suitcase, Karen advises checking with an international shipper before closing the deal on the item. “Take measurements and a photo to share with the shipper to get the most accurate quote,” she says. This may mean delaying the actual purchase until the shipping offices open on Monday, but it’ll be more than worth it in the end!
CHEZ VOUS’S GUIDE TO L’ISLE-SUR-LA-SORGUE & THE PROVENCE REGION
La Petit Curieuse
If you like quirky, lovely old curiosities, you must visit La Petit Curieuse and the knowledgeable proprietress, Odile. Open limited hours and hidden down an alleyway off one of the town’s main streets at 23, Rue de la Republique, it is worth the hunt.
La Boutique de Francine
Another favorite for linens is La Boutique de Francine at 20, rue Julien Guigue near the train station. Don’t miss the various “antique collectives” along the main road across from the market – there are fabulous shops stocking everything from shabby chic dishes to rarified 18th Century antiques.
CAFES & RESTAURANTS
Boulangerie Patisserie Leyris
Mornings start with a walk to our favorite bakery, Boulangerie Patisserie Leyris for fresh croissants and a baguette to snack on during the day. This is our current favorite at 45 Rue Carnot.
L’Atelier de Julien
L’Atelier de Julien is another favorite on Place Victor Hugo.
Café de France
Come evening, we’ll start with an apero in front of Café de France, a quintessentialturn-of-the-century bistro across from the church.
From there we move to one of Bella Vita’s outside tables next door to enjoy Italian delicacies such as house-made pasta. The nids (pasta nests) get rave reviews from everyone we take there.
Mistral Bistro Moderne
For more refined fare, Mistral Bistro Moderne is a tiny bistro that offers innovative cuisine in a friendly atmosphere – be sure to book ahead so as to not be disappointed. Menus change with the season so always something new to try.
To the southeast the Luberon Valley, a French national park, offers numerous hilltowns, each with a distinct personality of its own, including Bonnieux, with its quirky corkscrew museum and with charming restaurants with scenic overviews. There’s also Lacoste, featuring Pierre Cardin’s outdoor sculpture garden and summer music festival set amid the ruins of the castle of the infamous Marquis de Sade.
To the southwest are the plains of Provence with their fields of poppies and sunflowers and the fabulous “light” favored by artists. Highlights include St. Remy, with its Roman ruins and famous inhabitants such as Nostradamus, Van Gogh, and Princess Caroline of Monaco, and Aix-en-Provence, a cosmopolitan city with a grand promenade and designer boutiques.
Rhone & Gardon
To the northwest are the Rhone and Gardon river valleys, home to vineyards and popes. Visit Avignon with its turreted wall, famous bridge, and papal palace, Chateauneuf du Pape with world renown wine estates, and Saint Quentin Poterie, a potters’ village with charm to spare.