One man's junk is another man's treasure, or so the saying goes, and nowhere is this more evident than Lille's annual flea market, The Braderie.
For one weekend every September France's fifth-largest city is closed to traffic completely as vendors of all trades and types line the streets with stalls.
In a tradition reportedly dating back to medieval times, anybody can come to the city to buy or sell wares, and every year millions of visitors descend on the ancient streets in search of a bargain.
Estimates suggest there are more than 100km of stalls for you to explore, which can prove a daunting prospect if you are unfamiliar with Lille and its winding medieval streets.This Eurotunnel le Shuttle guide will help you find the best the market has to offer and make the most of your weekend.
For further information www.lilletourism.com
Origins of the Braderie
The definite history of The Braderie appears to have been lost in time, but popular local legend has it that the event originated when medieval aristocracy gave their serfs permission to sell their old clothes and unwanted possessions on the street. The story goes that the upper classes thought the event looked so much fun they eventually joined in and soon the flea market had become an established tradition.
Today anybody is free to set up a stall, with the event become a sort of massive jumble sale rather than an organised market, though serious traders often reserve their pitches weeks in advance and the city hall has also begun offering reservations.
There are no restrictions on what can be bought and sold (outside of the general legal ones of course) so expect items of all shapes and sizes. The Braderie has become particularly well known for its antiques, with items from across Europe on offer, ranging from war memorabilia to fine art.
Getting there, parking and getting around
Lille is a 109km (1hr 15min) drive from the Eurotunnel le Shuttle terminal in Calais. Take the A16 out of Calais, heading east, then take exit 57 towards Lille. From there the A25 will take you right to the edge of the city.
City centre roads are all closed off for The Braderie, so it is best to park out of town and take public transport in. Just off the A25, on the way into the city, are Porte d'Arras, C.H.R. B-Calmette and Porte des Postes car parks, where you can pay for long stay supervised parking. Both are near Metro stations, so it's easy to leave your car and head off to explore the market. Alternative out-of-town car parks can be found north of the city in Lomme and east in Villeneuve d'Ascque.
Where to shop
The Braderie does not officially open until 3pm on the Saturday, so although you can browse some of the stalls in the morning it is often worth saving your energy until trading begins.
In recent years critics have bemoaned the influx of more modern stalls selling cheap electronics and mass-produced items, but the smart shopper can avoid these lower-quality traders by exploring the smaller back roads and staying off the main boulevards.
The city's metro is the fastest way around, though the streets around the exits will often get very crowded and exploring on foot gives you more opportunity to find a unique bargain or unexpected sights. Most of the market can be found between Gare Lille Flandres and Porte des Postes stations.
If you're looking for antique furniture and other larger pieces head for the Façade de l'Esplanade, where you can hunt out a bargain while taking a stroll along Lille's ancient canal. This area is also popular with British antique dealers who make the journey to sell their wares for the weekend.
The narrow streets of the old town, Vieux Lille, offer a friendly atmosphere, and are a great place to witness an impromptu performance by one of the many bands which liven up The Braderie every year.
Inside the walls of the Citadelle de Lilleshoppers can find smaller antiques, such as books, jewellery and paintings. The opportunity to browse in such unique surroundings is not to be missed.
Don't be put off asking about items if your French is not completely up to scratch – many traders speak English and you can often get a better deal with a bit of haggling.
Food and Drink
The north France weather can be extremely hot over the weekend, so make sure you have plenty of water to stay hydrated. Many of the locals will get in on the act, selling you cooling drinks from the windows of their houses.
At The Braderie eating is a big business and the dish of the weekend is always mussels and frites. Restaurants display their popularity by having diners stack their empty mussel shells on the pavement outside, with an ongoing competition to see who can produce the biggest pile. This can lead to the market taking on a distinct seafood aroma by the second day.
Before The Braderie begins organisers take advantage of the closed roads to hold a half-marathon through Lille on the Saturday.
Throughout the weekend musicians can be found playing on nearly every street corner, so there is always some form of entertainment to enjoy, and because the event runs for a straight 33 hours visitors often party well into the night.
For more ideas of thins to see and do check out our guide to Lille.
Whether you are bargain hunting or just looking to soak up the atmosphere, The Braderie is a unique event that should not be missed.