La Belle Vie: Brocantes, books and where to buy a second home

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: Brocantes, books and where to buy a second home
People browse a brocante in Paris (Photo by JEAN-PIERRE MULLER / AFP)

From second-hand markets to the best places to live in France and the books to prepare you for life here, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.


La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

Sometimes living in France can feel a bit like stepping into a time capsule. After I moved, I spent a weekend in a small town in the Pyrenees. My friend took me for a walk past the local cemetery, and I was amazed by the centuries-old tombstones (my French friend was unimpressed).

Aside from architecture and cemeteries, the French have an appreciation for old things, as evidenced by the popularity of spring-time brocantes and vide greniers (akin to village-wide yard sales) that pop up regularly in French villages, towns and cities. Last week, at a brocante outside of Paris, I noticed a stand selling old soldier's uniforms and helmets, dating back to before the first World War.

Vide grenier and brocante: The written and unwritten rules of France's second-hand sales

Brocantes and vide greniers are not just for getting rid of used stuff you no longer need. In rural areas, the village brocante is a big social event, often with food trucks, coffee stands, and sometimes music.


If you live in a large city like Paris, second-hand sales can be a great way to save money, but if you want to take it one step further, my recommendation would be to take a day trip and get out of Paris. A short 30-minute drive will take you to the edge of the capital region. 

The local brocantes are not only charming, but they are also more affordable. A gorgeous painted vase in Paris might cost you €20 at a brocante, which could feel like a good deal until you see a similar product offered for €5 at the non-urban brocante

How to save money in Paris

Unsurprisingly, France's large cities like Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon can be expensive, especially when it comes to real estate. They obviously have their perks, but France has so much more to offer.

There are plenty of small to medium sized cities dotted across the country that are easy to miss, like Angers, which has been recognised as France's most 'green city', with a high quality of life, and 'the best French city for biodiversity'.

The six 'best places to live' in France (that you'd never consider)

But what about locations for people looking to buy a second-home? A recent report by the Notaires de France has taken a look at the parts of France popular with those looking for a home-away-from-home. 

Most of France's second-homes are owned by French people, but there are a few places that stand out for foreigners. When we look at nationality, Brits tended to seek out the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region, while Americans preferred Paris.

Revealed: Where foreigners are buying second homes in France

If you're thinking of making a move to France, first things first, you should join our 'Moving to France' newsletter (you can sign up here).

Then maybe order a few books. One author's perspective is no substitute for your own real, lived experience in France, but it can prepare you for what's to come. 

8 books to read before you move to France

And then brush up on your French a little bit. Even if you are just visiting for a short trip, some of these language tips might help make life a little easier.


For example: the concept of re-bonjour. Here's a hypothetical (that may or may not have happened to me earlier this week): you run into the grocery store and say a quick 'bonjour' to the cashier. After finishing up with your shopping, you start to head home only to realise you forgot to buy eggs. You run back into the store and pass a quick 'bonjour' to the clerk again. She nods, but corrects you to say 're-bonjour'.

11 top French language tips we wish we knew before moving to France


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