Treasure Hunting Like A Pro

Fairhope designer Suzie Winston tackles the world’s best marketplaces.

Suzie Winston at the Souks Marrakesh
Suzanne Winston. Portraits by Jenna Peffley.

Suzanne Winston has had a lifelong fascination with Morocco. As a creative who has been in design for nearly 25 years, she was drawn to the images of painted doorways, glimmering tiles and stacks upon stacks of rugs. Finally, at the end of 2019, an opportunity came up that would get her that round trip ticket. “I was launching towne+beech, our brick and mortar shop and e-commerce  site,  and needed unique inventory. Then a design client specifically asked me to hand source authentic Moroccan Rugs for her new house. The timing was perfect and it just made sense to go.” 

    She booked accommodation in a riad— a traditional Moroccan home built around a central courtyard— to have a more authentic experience, and spent her days digging for treasures in the marketplace. Leather shoes, ceramics, textiles and trinkets of every sort lined stalls where sellers haggled and hocked their wares. After shopping and sightseeing for 10 days, Winston headed to the Atlas Mountains to meet the people behind the handwoven rugs. While the best prices can certainly be found at the source, the trip is not for the novice traveller… or the faint of heart, she says. The stories, photos and decor that came home from that trip, however, are priceless.

While shopping the souks certainly excites a professional designer, Winston admits there are more approachable marketplaces to scour for treasures abroad. “London is a great place to start,” she advises. Paris and Provence also make the top of her list. “Many years ago, a decorator and art curator named Bill Cowan gave me this advice: go see the best of the best, even if you can’t afford to buy it. You must have a benchmark to compare to, and ultimately you will train your eye to be discerning, to recognize quality and workmanship. If you want to see the best of the best and the oldest of the old, these are the places to go.” But, she advises, the one of a kind memories are the real treasures. At the end of the day, according to Winston, it’s all about meeting people, listening and learning.

The Portobello Market is a mile of bustle and treasure hunting in the heart of London. Top Left- historic London pub The Grenadier. Bottom Right– a sumptuous bedroom at The Kensington Hotel.

- Sponsors -

Portobello Market London

tortoise box from london
“I collect small tortoise boxes whenever I travel, and the ones in London were a much better price than I’ve seen elsewhere!”

The Portobello Road is a great place for a novice to begin a foray into foreign markets. Without language and cultural barriers, you can comfortably navigate the buying, packing and shipping process. Said to be the world’s largest market, it is open Monday through Saturday, with the latter being the big day to go. Most of the antique vendors are set up at Westbourne Grove between Portobello Road and Kensington Park Road. Portobello Market is just a mile from Kensington, and one can easily take the tube.

I found a woman who sells the most amazing antique silver, and now we communicate regularly! I also picked up antique tortoise boxes, vintage furniture and even clothing! 

The Kensington Hotel has insanely beautiful decor boasting period charm and modern comfort. It’s centrally located to everything and has impeccable service in the heart of South Kensington, perfect for shopping excursions. The stately facade is classic London, and inside the large fireplaces and Victorian grandeur make your stay memorable.
The Kensington Hotel |

The Grenadier is a historic London pub with a seasonal menu that is super inviting on a chilly or rainy British afternoon. I like to cozy up after a long day in the drizzle with some elevated pub fair like Scotch eggs and sausage rolls. Grenadier |

The City of Lights is full of design inspiration— not just at the market, but in hotels, cafes and museums, too. Far left- the inviting sidewalk dining of Ma Cocotte du Faubourg. Bottom right- tall ceilings and chic decor at the Relais-Christine hotel.

“You can find literally everything for the home at the Paris Flea Market.”

Flea Market Paris

Les Puces de Saint-Ouen is the correct name for the Paris Flea Market. If you ask a cab driver to take you to the Paris Flea Market, they will ask you which one, as there are others. This is the original and oldest antique market. I learned this the hard way with a very long and expensive cab ride the first time. They also refer to it as “The Fleas.” 
110 Rue de Rosiers in Saint Ouen

You can find literally everything for the home at the Paris Flea Market, from art to antique furniture, salvaged flooring and antique lighting. If you are decorating a whole house, you can do it all! 

I would not try to take public transportation the first time. It can be a bit confusing and I am told there are pickpockets in the area.

I love to stay at the Relais-Christine hotel. Anyone who loves design will swoon over the courtyards, wallpapers and sumptuous fabrics of this chic Left Bank hotel. A hidden gem on a quiet street, the 48 rooms and Guerlain spa are ready to help you unwind after a long day on the hunt for treasures. Relais-Christine |

Designed by French Industrial Architect Philippe Starcke, Ma Cocotte is a design haven and the perfect spot for people watching. It’s part restaurant, part coffee house, part canteen, and it’s right in the heart of the antique markets. Perfect for beginning or ending your shopping day. We stayed for hours! Ma Cocotte du Faubourg | Insta: macocotte.restaurant_ 

The light in Provence is sure to inspire, as it has for centuries. Bottom left and right- the inviting spaces of the Hotel Relais de Magdeleine.

“I can’t get enough of the art, antique textiles and pottery found in Provence. Planning a trip for June!”

The Towns of the Luberon Provence

The Sunday antique market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is amazing, rated one of the best in France and it’s one of the largest in Provence. If you’re into both food and design, the markets of Provence will be a double treat! You could easily spend months traveling from picturesque village to tiny coastal town, hunting for beautiful things in flea market after flea market, with baguettes in hand!

I can’t get enough of the art, antique textiles and pottery found in Provence. I’m planning a trip for June!

There are several different kinds of markets in the Luberon. A brocante tends to be antiques sold by professional dealers. Vide grenier means “empty the attic,” and so will be individuals selling anything that is no longer wanted in the house. Some markets will have more foodstuffs, but they will all be enjoyable!

I  stay at a family owned country house turned into a boutique hotel with the perfect central location. Hotel Relais de Magdeleine has a great restaurant and dreamy outside dining with a piano. Hotel Relais de Magdeleine |

While you’re shopping for antiques, grab a baguette, some cheese, local produce and wine and stage your own impromptu picnic!

“Don’t be afraid to haggle. While it might Be considered rude in America to ask for a bargain, many dealers and vendors expect it. It’s not an insult to ask for a better price.”

The Souks Marrakesh

Suzie Winston walking around the Souks Marrakesh

Massive pink walls have enclosed Marrakech’s old city since 1122. It’s full of riads with their peaceful inner courtyards, and of course the souks. Overflowing stalls line tight alleyways where vendors sell spices, handmade crafts and souvenirs. Buying in Morocco is not for the inexperienced traveller, but can be very rewarding if you plan properly.

The main goal is to find amazing hand-woven rugs, but the hand-painted ceramics, beautiful lighting, zellige tile and so much more will dazzle!

Muster your courage and be prepared to give the vendor a little bit of a hard time on his price. Haggling is not the American way, but its expected.

I love to stay at El Fenn— it’s a designer’s dream! Created by Madeleine Weinrib, the owner of New York’s ABC Carpet and Home, its 41 rooms are not only chic, they have everything an American traveler might want while abroad. It’s also a great spot for celebrity spotting! Instagrammable vignettes are at every turn and it has the coolest rooftop bar ever. El Fenn |

My party would go to Le Jardin every day in the late afternoon to cool off and drink luscious mint tea and people -watch at this oasis in the heart of the Medina. The green tile courtyards are divine. Le Jardin |

The saturated colors of Morocco are dazzling. Above left– the green tile walkways and fountains of hotel El Fenn. Bottom left– cooling off over mint tea at Le Jardin is just the ticket after a hot day at the souks.

Winston’s tips to shop like a pro, no matter where you roam.

GO WITH A GUIDE. If you stay at a quality hotel, they should be able to connect you with a scout who can take you to the best shops and advise on pricing and shipping. Even if you just book a guide for the first day, it will help you get the lay of the land and help you feel confident as you head out on this shopping adventure! 

DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAGGLE. While it might be considered rude in America to ask for a bargain, many dealers and vendors expect it. It is not an insult to ask for a better price.

ASK THEM TO PACK IT. Ask the person you are buying from if they will wrap items to pack in a suitcase or for shipping. Many can wrap in bubble wrap while you wait, and some will ask you to come back the next day and retrieve your packages, ready to go!

ASK IF THEY SHIP. Many reputable dealers are used to shipping overseas. If they can handle the process for you, it takes added stress and time off your plate. If they don’t offer the service, your guide often will. There also are services that will handle shipping, but it obviously adds more to the cost. If you’re just looking for a few treasures, think about taking an extra suitcase. If you have a whole house to fill, think about booking an entire shipping container!

GET THEIR CARD. Even if you walk away from the booth or store empty-handed, you never know when you’ll get home and regret not buying that special something! With today’s technology, it’s so easy to get back in touch. If you will quickly write what the person sells on the back of the card, or better yet, hold up the card and take a picture in their store so you can jog your memory when you get home, it will be easy to email and see if you can strike a deal.

TALK AND LISTEN. The experience is more important than the stuff. It’s about learning about the stuff and the people behind it. Building the relationships. Also, talking to a person can help you figure out pretty quickly who is legit and who is not. If they cannot speak intelligently about what they are selling, move on.

Get the best of Mobile delivered to your inbox

Be the first to know about local events, home tours, restaurant reviews and more!