Of all the things I expected to experience on a visit to Monaco, going to a jumble sale was definitely not on the list.
It's got to be the poshest jumble sale in Europe, if not the world. Of course it goes under the much more romantic title of 'Kermasse' but basically it's a jumble sale and Christmas fair held in the Principality of Monaco at the beginning of December every year to raise money for various charities.
Held in Monaco's prestigious circus tent in Fontvielle, it has over the years become something of ritual in the social calendar of the well-off who live in Monaco and on the Côte d'Azur. With Princess Caroline as the Patron it draws on a rich seam of supporters to organise it every year.
Not only do the well-to-do donate all kinds of unwanted clothes and goods, they also attend the event, en masse. They treat the day and the place as their own and descend to eat, drink and gossip. "It's just like a midday cocktail party with all one's chums", is how a friend described it to me.
From the moment the tent flap is lifted at 10.00 a.m Saturday morning and the orderly queue that has formed is allowed in, it's all systems go. The whole place pulsates with people hunting down a bargain with a determination that knows no bounds. Forget the first day of the sales - this is much more fun.
Those people not engaged in socialising are busy running the stalls set up around the perimeter of the tent, with all the efficiency of WI matrons back in the UK. In fact the whole atmosphere is reminiscent of a WW1 Christmas Fair. The babble of conversation though is in several European languages. All the familiar stalls are here: cakes, preserves, handmade toys, Christmas presents and cards, sweets, bric-a-brac, paintings by local artists. In between there are fund raising stalls selling raffle and tom bola tickets.
As for the jumble itself: the trestle tables are piled high with all the usual goods, clothes, shoes, books - hundreds of books - electrical goods and miscellaneous items. The better quality clothes, designer labels and the like are separated and shown in an area called 'The Boutique' and this is where the real bargains are to be found.
Rumour has it that a Chanel suit had gone for just twenty pounds a couple of years ago and a Versace cocktail dress for a mere forty pounds.
Unfortunately the year I went all the designer bargains had been snapped up by the time I arrived. I consoled myself with the thought that the women who wear 'haute couture' in Monte Carlo tend to take the phrase 'You can never be too rich or too thin' very seriously. Consequently dress sizes all seem to be in the 6 - 10 size range with very little in my size. (14 on a very good day!).
I did find a couple of bargains though. A brand new pair of Timberland boots for my husband, fifteen pounds, a lovely leather handbag for five pounds, and lots of goodies for Christmas.
All this before lunch. The centre of the tent, where the circus ring would normally be is packed with tables and chairs. Food stalls surround them offering everything from filled baguettes, toasted sandwiches, rice dishes, salads, soups, gateau etc etc and local specialities. As the wine flows into the plastic cups, the partying begins. The noise starts to rise and ricochet around the tent and its almost impossible to hear what people are saying even if they are sitting next to you.
It was a great day out and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Back home very few people believe me when I say that the best jumble sale I've ever been to was in Monaco - but it was. And I've still got the leather handbag to prove it!
The Circus Tent, Monaco. Photo courtesy of Monaco Press Centre Photos
If you fancy going to a jumble sale with a difference this year's Kermasse in Monaco is on Saturday December 6th. You can't miss the circus tent - it's right next to the helicopter port!