This morning, I engaged in one of my favorite activities in France…shopping at a village flea market dans la compagne. The French as a rule love flea markets and love a good find. There are several different types of markets. Yesterday, I visited Le-Ferté-sous-Jouarre and shopped Vide Greniér.The word Greniér means an attic or small storage space where one puts things they don’t use, etc. There’s a bit of everything for sale, but you can find treasures if you look. I noticed a few suspected pickers. Buyers from the Paris flea markets often come to country markets looking for items to resell. To compete with them, you’ve got to get there when the market opens, usually 7-8 am. I was NOT competitive on this day!A Vide Grenier is often sponsored by a local organization as a fundraiser. Sometimes it’s sponsored by the village or town. There’s usually amusement for the children. Of course, there’s food! Rosé and frites with mayo works for me!Although this Vide Greniér was small, I still found a few treasures! An early 20th century chauferette (portable bed warmer for travel). A fitted stone was heated in the fire and then placed in the mesh cylinder. It’s about half the size of a lunch box. I have no idea what I’m going to do with it, but I love its Art Deco design. Very Metropolis. Prints by Steinlein and Cheret (not original more’s the pity!) which I will reframe. Both are prints one doesn’t see as often. I own a signed Cheret lithograph in a carnival theme. Come EatWith me and you can see it! A Quimper 12×6″ platter in perfect condition. Beautiful colors and glaze. And my favorite find! A heavy brass plaque 14×3″ which I think must’ve been affixed to a large piece of machinery. I’m guessing it’s early 20th century. It will look great on a wall! I’m surprised a picker hadn’t already snatched it up. The grand total for all my purchases? $44! And you have to factor in the fun I had hunting. I could sell these items (especially the sign) for a nice profit back in the States, but I want them all for myself. The next time you are in France, visit brocabrac to see if there’s a sale near you. You can search by city/village or region. Then go!
It would take a lifetime to see all there is to see in Paris. Paris is to France what New York or Los Angeles is to the United States. It’s a place and culture unto itself. If you are fortunate enough to have four or five full days in Paris, consider taking part of one to visit a small town. There are many beautiful, interesting places easily accessible by train that can give you a taste of the rest of France. Today, I want to share Coullomiers with you. A welcoming town, Coullomiers was a Gallo-Roman settlement in the fifth century but is almost certainly older. Having survived both World Wars without suffering great physical damage, Coullomiers is traditional, pretty and rich in medieval architecture.
Located in the Seine-et-Marne region, Coullomiers is most famous for its cheese and rightly so. A soft-ripened, artisanal cows milk cheese, Coullomiers cheese is a lesser-known cousin of Brie although it has been produced for much longer. True Coullomiers cheese is made with unpasteurized milk and cannot be exported to the United States. Those that are available in the US lack the depth and creaminess of French Coullomiers.
One of the best reasons to visit Coullomiers is its lively twice weekly market, one of my very favorites. Beginning at 8 am on Wednesday and Saturday and lasting until around 1 pm, this market is the real thing. It’s a gastronomic destination for Parisians who want to shop at a country market for “les produits de la terroir”, literally “the products of the land.” The market stretches down several side streets from the two market squares and features two “marches couvert” (covered markets). Spend an hour or two wandering through the market and listening to the vendors calling out their products. You will find everything from cheeses, the freshest produce, fish, charcuterie and meat to sewing machines, clothes, linens and more. Try to arrive by 10 AM to get the full effect. It’s noisy, colorful and smells divine. After your wandering is done, enjoy a coffee or a glass of wine in one of the many cafés or purchase all the makings for a picnic. Enjoy it in the beautiful gardens of Parc des Capucins where you will see the ruins of the tanneries that were once a major industry in Coullomiers and supplied the highest quality leather for French Royalty. There is also a small museum inside a 14th century Roman church that boasts a breathtaking grotto. During the summer months, you can rent a paddle boat and travel the gentle old mill stream through the ancient town.
Not to be missed is the Commanderie des Templiers. Constructed in 1173, it is one of the best preserved Knights Templar sites in all of France. It is a bit of a hike but truly amazing to see. Learn more about the Knights Templar here.
There is an RER (nonstop) train to/from Paris Est to Coullomiers several times a day. The trip takes approximately one hour. You can find out more about the Coullomiers train station and the schedule here. It is not necessary to purchase your tickets in advance. There are plenty of kiosks with an English option in Gare Est and the ticket agents there speak English. Click here for a navigable map of Coullomiers from the Coullomiers Office of Tourism. The Market Squares and the Office of Tourism (which is worth a visit) are both only a 10 minute walk from the train station.
As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.