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An Insider’s Guide to the Best Flea Markets In and Around Milan

“The moment when you’re not looking for anything in particular is when you stumble across a treasure.”

There’s something rather magical about owning a piece of furniture with many past lives, wondering about the stories of its previous owners. Desks in particular carry a special curiosity, I find, and inspiration can often be found writing at an antique desk and imagining the letters crafted there in days gone by. 

Hunting for antiques is a perfect way to while away an afternoon (or an entire weekend) in Italy, and often, the moment when you’re not looking for anything in particular is when you stumble across a treasure. Unlike mass-produced, flat-pack furniture which often lacks quality and requires replacing after a few years, the antiques that can be found across Italy are unique pieces, full of character, that are meant to last (many of them already have for decades!). Part of the fun of antiquing is rifling through the tat, finding out about an item’s history (many vendors are happy to answer questions about their pieces) and boldly bartering for the best price. 

There is an abundance of excellent flea markets in Italy–indeed, you could visit a different market every weekend and always find something new. The homes of my chicest Italian friends feature a carefully curated selection of modern pieces juxtaposed with furniture inherited from family members or picked up at markets. Italians are renowned for their love of beauty and fine craftsmanship in all aspects of life, from food and fashion to art and design–a value which extends to how they furnish their homes. A little hand painted plate from a favourite restaurant, a fur coat passed down from a grandmother, a set of vinyls picked up at a street market, a little side table found lurking at the back of an antiques shop–these are the items that are displayed with pride in homes across Italy.

The Milanese, in particular, are spoiled for choice. The city’s annual Salone del Mobile fair draws the creative crowd from all around the world to showcase the country’s finest furniture design, and brands often re-release archive pieces that have become modern classics during Milan Design Week (e.g. Alessi, Poltrona Frau or De Padova), demonstrating the enduring significance of pieces designed several decades ago. This legendary design influence is palpable at the antique fairs which spring up across the city most weekends, where you might just be lucky enough to come across some vintage Gio Ponti chairs or a Richard Ginori teacup. On the last Sunday of each month, Milan’s canals–i Navigli–are lined with stalls for as far as the eye can see, selling everything from dining room tables to porcelain dinner services. I recently picked up a set of colourful Murano glass tumblers for a fraction of commercial prices, and still think about the ceramic wall sconces that I regret not taking home with me–the ones that got away…

Elsewhere in Milan is the overflowing Aladdin’s cave that is Tra Noi e Voi near Piazza Repubblica–an underground emporium of antiques with a particularly good selection of paintings and lamps. For an eclectic selection of 20th century furniture, head to Dock 41, while those keen to wander through stalls along Milan’s cobbled streets should explore the Mercatino Antiquariato di Brera. Di Mano in Mano is another popular destination for mid-century furniture along with Penelope in Milan’s Porta Vittoria district, which has an impressive stock of vintage velvet sofas. The nearby Mercatino delle Pulci is a great place to treasure hunt and the street market in Porta Genova is known for its ceramics and crockery.

Further afield in Italy, there are many destinations for aspiring antique hunters to load up their cars: 

 

  • Mercanteinfiera di Parma: Perhaps the best and biggest selection of antique furniture I’ve found is at the annual fair at the Fiera di Parma, held in October, just outside the city of Parma itself. Get there first thing to have time to visit the vast space, which hosts over 1,000 exhibitors. We came home with just a marble coffee table, but could have gone absolutely wild. 
  • Brocantage, Novegro (near Milan Linate): For vintage prints and posters, mid-century furniture and paintings, head to this very good antiques market near Milan’s Linate airport held in early April. 
  • Mercatino di Bergamo Alta: A very special market is held on the third Sunday of each month in Bergamo’s citta alta, selling only second-hand books–see if you can spot a valuable first edition. 
  • East Market, Milan: A former factory in the east of Milan has been transformed into the city’s trendiest market, with stalls selling everything from vintage clothes and records to videogames and design objects, complete with live music and several cocktail bars. 
  • Mercatino dell’Antiquariato, Padova: It’s worth the journey to Padova on the last Sunday of each month to visit Villa Contarini, home to a widely renowned antiques fair. Hundreds of sellers travel to showcase a range of antiques from furniture to silverware.
  • Mercatino di Pavia: A short distance from Milan is the charming city of Pavia, where the Sunday antiques market has an especially good selection of books and vintage clothes. 
  • Mercatino dell’Antiquariato Nicese, Nizza Monferrato: This lovely outdoor antiques market in Piemonte takes place on the third Sunday of every month and is a good place to pick up smaller decorative items like paintings or ceramics. 
  • Le Pulci di Portobello, Assago (Milan): With a large selection of vintage clothing and accessories, this market in south-west Milan is the ideal place to find rare collector’s items. 
  • Mercato Antiquariato Sant’Ambrogio, Florence: One for serious antique lovers, the Sant’Ambrogio market in Florence, which takes place on the last Sunday of each month, is jam packed with 19th century pieces including pristine crystal and oil paintings.

 

For those in search of special antiques, Milan and the surrounding area has plenty to offer. Spend every Sunday exploring the many fairs across the region and be sure to haggle where you can. The professional antique hunter should also come equipped with the essentials: a tape measure, cash (as most stalls don’t accept credit cards) and a tote bag for carting home new purchases (as well as comfortable shoes!). You won’t find me in Ikea: more often than not, you’ll spot me on Sundays wandering along Milan’s canals, imagining my home in my next life, filled to the brim with rare Italian antiques…

Tra Noi e Voi

Dock 41

Mercatino Antiquariato di Brera

Di Mano in Mano

Penelope Mercatino dell'Usato

Mercanteinfiera di Parma

Brocantage, Novegro

Mercatino di Bergamo Alta

East Market, Milan

Mercatino dell’Antiquariato, Padova

Mercatino di Pavia

Mercatino dell’Antiquariato Nicese

Le Pulci di Portobello, Assago

Mercato Antiquariato Sant’Ambrogio