Travel: Roadside treasure: In France, put a bateau-lit in the boot, says Liam Davies

FORGET Portobello Road. The smart money in antiques is moving to France, and not to the horribly overpriced antiquites shops, not even to the slightly downmarket brocante stores, but to one of France's best kept secrets, les Depots de Vente d'Occasion.

These secondhand warehouses, or depots as they are known, can be found all over France on the outskirts of towns, often well hidden on industrial estates. Once past the rusty fridges and Formica which traditionally guard the entrances, the patient bounty-hunter is rewarded with an Aladdin's cave of dusty antiques.

'The wardrobe, Monsieur? Early 19th-century. They were used for hiding

lovers.'

'I have a faithful wife, but I'll take it for 1,600 francs.'

'Fr1,700 and it's yours, Monsieur.'

Thirty seconds of good-humoured negotiation results in another satisfied customer for Mr Boucher, proprietor of Depot Meublocas. A merchant banker from Tours has just become the proud owner of a magnificent Napoleonic armoire with walnut inlays.

Meublocas is located in a warehouse on the Route Nationale 143 between Esvres and Tours in the beautiful Touraine countryside. Mr Boucher explains that he is open for business every day from 2pm-6pm except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On those days he may be found clearing houses, anything from small farmhouses to the elegant country mansions, or gentilhommieres, scattered liberally throughout Touraine.

Prices are keen, even at Fr8 to the pound: marble-topped washstands, pounds 87; Louis Philippe bateau-lit beds, pounds 100; Napoleon III walnut chairs, pounds 44; and huge armoires, pounds 160.

Down the road in Loches, visitors take time off from the splendours of the medieval town to explore the local depot concealed in rue du Ruisseau. A quick browse towards the rear of the depot reveals the usual cache of oak farmhouse tables ( pounds 130), Art Nouveau mirrors ( pounds 93) and an impressive pair of Baroque-style fire dogs ( pounds 80).

I spoke to James Isset, an Englishman with a home near by, who had just purchased an intricate brass bedstead for pounds 50. He explained that he had completely furnished his converted barn from six visits to local depots.

According to one of the depot handlers 'les GBs' are some of the best customers, often buying vanloads of antiques for resale in England.

Amateur antique hunters can find the addresses of depots in the French Yellow Pages listed under Depots de Vente d'Occasion. Your next trip to France could pay for itself.

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