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    Stay in a local "Gîte" while in France

    Stay in a local "Gîte" while in France

    If you're traveling to France and want to experience the country more like a local, you may want to keep away from the large international hotel chains and book a stay in a local "gîte" (or "home").  They can be found all over France and come in a variety of options, from single rooms in a private home to large houses and villas.

    Many times these homes are surprisingly affordable;  the entire 3-bedroom home pictured above near L'Isle sur la Sorgue in Provence (a quaint town known for its antiques) runs only about $100 per night.

    There are a variety of websites that offer booking services in English;  below are a few to get you started:

    Check the Calendar Before Traveling to Europe

    Check the Calendar Before Traveling to Europe

    Whether you're planning a trip for business or pleasure, be sure to not only check your calendar as to when might be a good time to go, but also the calendar of your destination(s) you wish to visit.  Some points to keep in mind:

    • Holidays - Official holidays are different from those of the U.S. in every country throughout Europe, and sometimes even in different parts of the same country.   Be sure to check when stores, markets and businesses will be closed, and avoid paying double or more for airfares, hotels and rental cars.  Keep in mind that in some countries, businesses have no option and must be closed on Sundays and/or official holidays.
    • School and Summer Holidays - Many businesses close at some point during the summer to allow their employees to vacation with their families.  It's not unusual for small, family-run businesses to just hang a sign in the window that reads: "Closed. On vacation from August 1 - 22, see you when we get back."
    • Winter and Other Holidays - Just as above, many businesses will close during the Christmas & New Year holidays.  Many of the vendors that I visit basically finish up business by December 15th and don't really get going again until the 2nd week in January.  Also, most schools and businesses will close down for a week during the spring, often around Easter (since Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are all official holidays in some countries).
    • Seasonal and/or Cultural Events - A number of years ago at the end of April I was heading to the Netherlands on a buying trip and usually stay somewhere south of Amsterdam.  I was surprised that almost every single hotel and lodging was fully booked up.  When I asked why, it turned out that entire busloads of tourists were coming to look at the tulip festivals around Holland, especially Keukenhof - one of the world's largest flower gardens.  This can also happen during Christmas markets, religious activities or other events.
    • Weekends / Sundays - In some countries around Europe, stores and businesses must be closed on Saturdays and/or Sundays.  This rule has become more relaxed in the past 20-30 years, but in Germany, for example, many stores traditionally close by noon on Saturdays and by law must be closed on Sundays.
    • Call Ahead and Make Appointments - If you're hoping to visit antique dealers or other vendors, call ahead and make an appointment to be sure they will be available.  Plus, this gives them a "heads up" that you're coming and someone will be there to personally help you.
    • Weather - Although no one can control the weather, keep in mind that many flea markets, even if scheduled, may not see many vendors show up if the forecast predicts heavy wind, rain or snow.  I therefore prefer to go to flea markets in the late spring or early fall, avoiding the busy and more expensive summer months.  Most markets shut down during the winter months.
    • Jet-Lag - Plan at least a day or two when flying over to Europe to adjust to the new time zone.  Relax in a sidewalk cafe and do some people-watching.  You don't want to plan visits to either museums or businesses when you can barely keep your eyes open.
    • SiestasThe siesta is common throughout the Mediterranean and Southern Europe. It is the traditional daytime sleep of Spain and popular in Italy.  In Dalmatia (coastal Croatia), the traditional afternoon nap is known as "fjaka" (from Italian "fiacca").  Be aware that businesses may close for several hours in the early afternoon but may be open later in the evening.
    • Stay Flexible - Other unforeseen events, such as airline or train strikes, road construction, traffic jams, etc. can affect your itinerary, so build in some extra time in your schedule and remain flexible.

    10 Largest Flea Markets in England

    10 Largest Flea Markets in England

    England has an endless variety of flea markets selling everything from trash to treasures.  Bargains can still be found and with the current chaos of Brexit, the pound is down and makes the dollar stretch further.

    Below are 10 of the largest flea markets throughout England.  Although scheduled with regular days, keep in mind that the number of vendors at each market will greatly depend on the weather: the nicer the day, the more vendors.  Most markets operate from late Spring until early Fall and tend to shut down during the winter months.

    1.  Newark International Antiques & Collectors Fair

    Held every other month at the Newark and Nottinghamshire Showground on an enormous 84-acre site, up to 2,500 stands attract thousands of dealers from across Europe, North America and Asia who, along with domestic buyers and collectors, make regular pilgrimages here for some serious purchasing.

    Number of Vendors 1000+
    2019 Show Dates May 30 & 31 (Thursday & Friday)
    August 15 & 16 (Thursday & Friday)
    October 10 & 11 (Thursday & Friday)
    December 5 & 6 (Thursday & Friday)
    For More Info Newark Antiques Fair


    2.  Runway Monday at Newark Antiques and Collectors Fair

    Six times each year the International Antiques & Collectors Fairs (IACF) arranges for a one-day market with more than 600 vendors offering their collections that they have gathered throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and some of the nearby northern European countries. In fact, some dealers come as far as Germany, France and the Netherlands, with huge trucks and trailers fully loaded  for the fair.

    Number of Vendors 400-800
    2019 Show Dates April 29 (Monday)
    May 20 (Monday)
    June 24 (Monday)
    September 23 (Monday)
    October 28 (Monday)
    November 18 (Monday)
    For More Info Runway Newark


    3.  Lincolnshire International Antiques and Home Show

    Hosting thousands of antique vendors, the bi-monthly Lincolnshire International Antiques and Home Show is one of the largest antique markets in Europe, and is often considered an antiquing extravaganza.

    Number of Vendors 1000+
    2019 Show Dates May 29 (Wednesday)
    August 10 & 11 (Saturday & Sunday)
    October 9 (Wednesday)
    December 4 (Wednesday)
    For More Info Lincolnshire Antiques & Home Show


    Note:  The Newark and Lincolnshire markets are located about 30 miles from each other and usually run during the same week.  If you plan carefully, you can visit 3 of the largest markets in England on one trip.

    4.  Ardingly International Antiques & Collectors Fair

    Located only one hour away from London, 12 miles from Gatwick and only 90 minutes from Dover, this fair is a hot spot for local and national dealers and buyers who regularly attend the largest IACF event in the south of England. And its proximity to the Channel means vendors come from continental Europe and further away to sell here, and buyers come from all over the world.

    Number of Vendors 1000+
    2019 Show Dates April 23 & 24 (Tuesday & Wednesday)
    June 18 & 19 (Tuesday & Wednesday)
    July 16 & 17 (Tuesday & Wednesday)
    September 3 & 4 (Tuesday & Wednesday)
    November 5 & 6 (Tuesday & Wednesday)
    For More Info Ardingly International Fair


    5.  Peterborough Festival of Antiques

    The Peterborough Festival of Antiques offers a wide array of items, from finer porcelain, glass and silver to vintage kitchenware, gardenware and tools. Held at the East of England Showground twice a year towards the end of March and early in October, this event opened in 1999 and now attracts over 1,700 stallholders and over 15,000 visitors from all over the world to each event.

    Number of Vendors
    2019 Show Dates
    September 27 & 28 (Friday & Saturday)
    For More Info


    6.  Sunbury Antiques Market

    Held at Kempton Park Racecourse, Sunbury Antiques Market is one of the real gems among English venues. Easily accessible by train from London, this sprawling, substantial flea market showcases an astonishing variety of wares, fine and rustic, antique and vintage.  Held twice a month, the market hosts well over 700 inside and outside stallholders.

    Number of Vendors 700+
    2019 Show Dates May 14 & 28 (Tuesday)
    June 11 & 25 (Tuesday)
    July 9 & 30 (Tuesday)
    August 13 & 27 (Tuesday)
    September 10 & 24 (Tuesday)
    October 8 & 29 (Tuesday)
    November 12 & 26 (Tuesday)
    December 10 (Tuesday)
    For More Info Sunbury Antiques


     7.  Shepton Giant Flea & Collectors Market

    The Royal Bath and West Showground is the site of both the Shepton Giant Flea & Collectors Market event and the Shepton Mallet International Antiques and Collectors Fair, two major antique fairs which take place a few times a year.
    They are eclectic and lively and have the reputation of being two of the key UK antique fairs to source quality goods.

    Number of Vendors
    2019 Show Dates
    June 14-16 (Friday-Sunday)
    July 21 (Wednesday)
    August 25 (Sunday)
    September 13-15 (Friday-Sunday)
    October 13 (Wednesday)
    November 8-10 (Friday-Sunday)
    November 24 (Wednesday)
    For More Info

    Shepton Flea Market

    Shepton Mallet International Fair


    8.  International Yorkshire Antique Home and Vintage Fair

    The International Yorkshire Antique Home and Vintage Fair is made up of two large arenas crammed full of vendors. Both are fully covered, indoor set ups, so there are no worries about weather ruining a good weekend’s shopping. One of the arenas has fixed booths in place, the other is populated by more casual, table-top sellers. Both boast antiques, collectables and a whole range of items of excellent quality, with enough variety to delight any and all visitors.

    Number of Vendors
    2019 Show Dates
    June 22 & 23 (Saturday & Sunday)
    October 12 & 13 (Saturday & Sunday)
    For More Info
    Yorkshire Antique & Home Fair

    9.  Cheshire Showground Decorative Home & Salvage Show

    The Cheshire Decorative Home & Salvage Show takes place in June and August at the well-positioned Cheshire Showground on the edge of the grounds of Tabley House near Knutsford.  The show is popular with professional buyers and home decor enthusiasts looking for salvaged items, decorative decor and architectural antiques.

    Number of Vendors
    2019 Show Dates
    June 7, 8 & 9
    (Friday, Saturday & Sunday)
    August 2, 3 & 4
    (Friday, Saturday & Sunday)
    For More Info
    Cheshire Show


    10.  Brighton Racecourse Fair

    Just four times a year, through the warmer months, the Brighton Racecourse becomes the setting for an event whose fame has gone well beyond the town of Brighton: the Brighton Racecourse Fair. This antique fair has grown steadily over the years and now hosts over 200 vendors selling everything from bric-brac to antique furniture.

    Number of Vendors
    2019 Show Dates
    May 5 (Sunday)
    August 25 (Sunday)
    October 20 (Sunday)
    For More Info
    Brighton Racecourse Fair

    Other sources for finding information on flea markets in England:

    Flea Market Insider


    International Antiques & Collectors Fairs (IACF)

    Arthur Swallow Antique & Home Shows

    If anyone has any favorite flea markets in England that aren't listed here (no matter how big or small), please send us a note and we'll post them.  Thanks.

          How to recognize genuine Antiques

          How to recognize genuine Antiques

          Understanding that antiques are at least 100 years old, below are some of the characteristics to watch out for when hunting for a true antique:

          Wear and Tear   Surfaces on an old piece of furniture should show signs of normal wear and tear such as water marks, rings, stains or cigarette burns.  You may notice softened edges and chipped paint, as well as some separation between joined boards.

          Color   Most antiques aren't comletely uniform in color.  The top is often lighter than the rest of the piece because of fading due to sun exposure.  Conversely, recesses and other hidden parts may be darker.

          Feet, Crowns and Baseboards   These parts should not be pefect because they stick out.  Crowns and baseboards often have dents, dings and chips, the result from brooms or vacuum cleaners.  Corners and edges tend to suffer when a piece is moved and hits a wall or another object, and feet are notorious for cracking or breaking completely off when being shoved across a floor.  Don't be surprised when you see a really old piece that has new feet.

          Hardware   The hardware and the wood immediately around it should show more wear than other parts of the wood.  Screws should be single-slotted, not phillips head, and there should be signs that the hardware is handcrafted.

          Drawers   Pull out drawers and inspect the underside for signs of wear on the runners.  Pay attention to unstained areas of the wood, which should have turned slightly brown with age.

          Mortise-and-Tenon Joints   Irregular pegs or dowels in furniture joints indicate a greater age than perfectly symmetrical (that is, machine-made) ones.

          Dovetailing   As above, uneven dovetail joints indicate handcrafting and are generally older than their even machine-made counterparts.

          Carvings   Repetitive designs are generally older if uneven and variable than those that are comletely regular throughout their length, which are likely to have been produced by a machine.

          Modern Materials   Plywood, pressboard and staples are signs of modern construction.  Antique glass tends to be bumpy with air bubbles and imperfections, whereas new glass is smooth and clear.

          Understanding Reproductions   Most reproductions aren't made with the intention of fooling anyone into believing they're antiques.  Carpenters may duplicate an antique's style or look, but with modern construction methods they are easy to detect.

          If there's any question of a piece's authenticity, be suspicious if the wood is flawless, the corners are sharp and the edges are crisp.  Modern reproductions generally have inexpensive plywood backs attached with staples or finishing nails.  Phillips-head screws and hardware that looks lightweight or machine-stamped are also indicators that the piece is a reproduction.  If you are buying the piece because you like it and not as an investment, the only criteria is how much you like it and how much you can afford.

          Tip:  If possible, take a look at the back of a furniture piece.  It is almost immediately clear whether or not the item is a reproduction.  You'll either see a nice, new-looking back or one that has an irregular, handcrafted look with old wood, handmade hardware and years of wear and tear (most people tend to ignore the back of a piece and over the years it really begins to show its age).




          How old is "Antique?"

          How old is "Antique?"

          There are many misconceptions around about what makes an item antique, or vintage, or is it perhaps a collectible, reproduction or simply retro?!?

          The rule of thumb used by most antique dealers is that anything over  100 years old is an antique.  Items that are from 20 to 25 years old, but not over 100 years, are often called vintage (and sometimes  collectible or retro, although these days retro generally applies to the 1950's era).  Since imported antiques from Europe aren't taxed, there is a legal definition for all of this.  In 1930, the U.S. government put a tax law into effect that an item was considered antique if made before 1830 (hence the 100-year-rule).  In 1996, the tax law was revised to read that "if the essential character is changed, or more than 50 percent of the item has been repaired or restored, the item is no longer considered an antique and is subject to duty."

          So what are collectibles?  A collectible is defined as "a valuable object less than a hundred years old, often distinguished from antiques."  However, almost anything can be a collectible, yet most people don't "collect" 75-year-old dining tables or cupboards from England.  They're just vintage.  Wait another 25 years and they, too, will become antique.

          Reproductions, as the name implies, are newly made items to look like they came from a long-gone style or era.  For example, there might be a Louis XIV cabinet that dates to around 1680 (original, antique and probably very expensive), or there can be a reproduction made in the 1950's that looks somewhat like the original.  Can there be a reproduction that is also an antique?  yes.  If that Louis XIV cabinet was made in the 1850's, it is both a reproduction and an antique.

          Watch out when buying something that is labeled "antique-style" or "vintage-style."  These pieces are mostly reproductions that have been made to look old, but are almost always newly mass-produced products.  My pet peeve are stores that are called something like "Vintage French Farmhouse" yet sell items that are not from France, are 100% new and certainly have never been on a farm.  Perhaps it's just the style and look that they're going after, which is fine and the items are often cheaper than the originals from Europe, but I prefer the real deal.

          Does any of this affect the pricing of vintage or antique furniture?  Yes and no.  Generally, furniture and accessories that are older, original pieces in good condition sell for more money than newer items that may not be in the best shape.  However, over the years markets tend to swing widely based on current trends and prices will depend on the supply and demand of items.  I often see pieces in Europe that 20 years ago would have sold for the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars, yet now are readily available for around 1000 dollars because the younger generations don't necessarily want the same pieces as their parents or grandparents did.

          One final note:  not everyone uses the same terms as those above.  Some vendors will call ALL of their pieces "vintage," whether they're new, used or  antique.  Others will call anything that is older than 25 or 50 years old as "antique."  The best thing to do is ask a lot of questions if you're seriously looking at buying an item.

          On a funny note, I was driving around the Washington D.C. area a few days ago and saw a truck that had printed on its side in big, bold letters:  "Antique Tables Made Daily"...