Unless you have a hobby of collecting fridge magnets or keychains from your trips abroad, deciding on the perfect souvenir can be tricky. Here, we give you some suggestions for gifts and souvenirs from France that are a little less cliché, plus we sprinkle in a few fun facts to take home too.
Chocolate is adored in France, and so fittingly, Paris boasts more gourmet chocolate shops than any other city on the planet! A romantic little fact is that chocolate was introduced to France back in 1615 when it was gifted to King Louis XIII by his fiancé Anne of Austria for their wedding day. Unlike Belgian or Swiss, French chocolate is made using less milk and is typically more bitter, dark, and rich.
In the South of France, Marseille became the first Soap making region and is still home to several original factories today. The famous soap is entirely natural, consisting of only four ingredients, the foremost being olive oil, which means it’s excellent for all skin types.
You don’t just need to be in Marseille to find all kinds of gorgeous artisanal soaps, though. You’ll find lots to choose from wherever you are, made from natural products and usually packaged with French flair.
If you are looking for a quirkier keepsake or a personal gift for a friend, then a book written in the language of love is a perfect pick. Take some time to browse any of the numerous antique bookstores, and you might even be lucky enough to find the first edition of a classic or maybe a beautiful vintage coffee table book. If you are in Paris, the quaint Librairie Delamain, the city’s oldest bookstore, is well worth a visit. Did you know France is proud of being the country awarded the most Nobel Prizes for Literature?
The most famous porcelain in France comes from Limoges. This world-class craftsmanship has been ongoing in the city since the 18th century. As legend has it, the rare and precious white clay substance, Kaolin, which is what makes this type of porcelain so exquisitely shiny and translucent, was found by the wife of a pharmacist who thought, at first, to use it for bleaching linens. You’ll find all over France beautiful porcelain, from little trinket boxes to unique table sets. Your choice is limited only by the size of your suitcase!
France is most famous for its wine and champagne, but did you know that it is the biggest producer of cider in the world?! 800 varieties of apples are grown in orchards throughout France and have been since at least the 8th century. Charlemagne ordered the planting of many of these to cater for his insatiable appetite for cider. Historically, cider was considered a staple beverage and was consumed instead of water during the plague years because it was considered the safer option! Nowadays, you’ll find an array of craft ciders to suit every palette, and one particularly charming feature of French cider is that it often is sold in Champagne-style corked bottles.
Bees have been treasured by France for centuries and are said to be one of the oldest symbols of French royalty; Napoleon Bonaparte was particularly fond of them and had them emblazoned on wallpapers, sculpture, and clothing. Each locality produces its unique variety of honey, so depending on where you are, you might taste subtle hints of lavender, rosemary, chestnut, or all kinds of region-specific flora.
France is the centre for European trade and design of perfume and has been so for the last 700 years! Flower cultivation in the South of France, especially for their essence, began as far back as the 14th century, and the industry is still thriving there today. Throughout history, French Royals have been infamous for their use of fragrances. Napoleon was a massive consumer of perfume, as was his wife, Josephine, so much so that the scent of musk still lingered in Josephine’s boudoir 60 years after she died!
You’ll find the most iconic French perfumes available all over the world now, but it’s a nice nod to your French trip to bring home a bottle of Chanel or Dior direct from its country of origin.
Macarons did not originate in France (shock, horror!) They were brought over from Italy by the noblewoman who married Henry II. However, Macarons have since become a decadent little treat synonymous with French sophistication. Light and airy, they make a delicious snack or dessert, perfect with coffee and come in a multitude of flavours and colours, neatly packaged in beautiful boxes. They make a wonderful gift, that is, if you can resist the temptation of eating them yourself first!
No French souvenir list would be complete without mentioning wine. We could write a whole article dedicated to wine alone, but we’ll try to keep it simple here. It is thought that Greek settlers first brought winemaking to France way back in the 6th Century BC, and it has continued to be perfected for the past two thousand years. We recommend visiting a reputable sommelier on your trip who will happily direct you to the perfect glass to suit your palette.
Champagne is distinct from other wines because of the process of its second fermentation, which is what causes its famous bubbles. Who officially invented the drink is a topic of debate but, the most famous story is of Dom Perignon, a Benedictine Monk during the 1600s who accidentally stumbled upon creating a sparkling wine when he bottled it before it had finished fermenting. Early on, the drink was known as “Le Vin du Diable” – “The Devil’s Wine” because often, due to the fragile glass produced at the time, there would be a dramatic shattering of bottles when too much pressure built up! Thankfully, we don’t have that problem anymore, and there are 100s of different varieties of champagne from which to choose.
Treasure hunting in France for vintage and antique items is so much fun, and you’ll be sure to find something unique to bring home. You’ll discover Brocantes (antique stores) in every town, and we highly recommend a visit to Les Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris. Officially established back in 1885, it is the largest antique market in the world. From 19th century toys to pretty tableware, it’s effortless to spend hours browsing through quirky items that will take you back in time.
France is world-renowned for its cuisine and equally for its high-quality cookware used by professional chefs across the globe. Copper cookware, in particular, is hugely popular in France due to its durability and heat-conducting qualities, plus it looks impressive too! The town of Villedieu-Les-Poêles has been the centre for copper working since the Middle Ages. Its name translates to “God’s City of Pans. If you haven’t the room or weight allowance to bring home something so heavy as a copper pan, another excellent souvenir for any cooking fanatic is a set of salt and pepper mills made by non-other than Peugeot. The company was making household items long before they began producing cars and their mills are the crème de la crème of their kind, even offering a lifetime warranty.
We hope to have inspired you with our list, but really, the best way to find your very own perfect souvenir is by experiencing French shopping first-hand! From the many huge department stores to the old-fashioned little boutiques, you’re sure to enjoy searching for whatever you choose!