With hindsight, it was a little rash of Napoleon to call the British a nation of shopkeepers. Fast-forward a couple of centuries and so enticing is France's own richly-stocked larder of shops that hordes of us Brits now head across the Channel to raid them each festive season. From artisan chocolatiers to imaginative museum stores, the question is, where to start?
Which is where this guide comes in. Having sent our army of elves out to scour the myriad of specialist shops, one-off boutiques and well-known stores across France, we've put together 50 places to find the best French buys. We've even thrown in some ideas for interesting day trips, museums and attractions, which are sure to entertain and prove inspirational for dedicated Francophiles.
1. Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence
Paul Cézanne may be Aix's best-known artist but he wasn't the only one. The Fondation Vasarely pays tribute to Victor Vasarely, a pioneer of Op Art and known for his dazzling zebra and chessboard designs. Along with 42 of Vasarely's most spectacular paintings, the foundation boasts a great museum shop for art and design books.
Fondation Vasarely, 1 avenue Marcel Pagnol
00 33 4 42 20 01 09; www.fondationvasarely.fr
2. Paul Cézanne DVD, Aix-en-Provence
This year has been a good one for fans of Aix-en-Provence-born artist Paul Cézanne. To mark the centenary of his death in 1906, several major exhibitions opened in the town and a Cézanne trail was laid out around the streets that inspired him. If you're looking for the ideal commemorative gift, try a Cézanne DVD from the Réunion des Musées Nationaux, a vast online store stocking gifts inspired by works of art from France's top museums.
Réunion des Musées Nationaux, www.rmn.fr
3. Jean Trogneux, Amiens
One-time home to author Jules Verne, Amiens is famed for its Gothic cathedral and for the moodily beautiful marshland around the River Somme. Foodies, however, revere the town for the chocolate delights found at Jean Trogneux. If handmade chocs aren't your thing, try the tuiles, wafer-thin biscuits in the shape of roof tiles.
Jean Trogneux, Parvis de la Cathédrale 00 33 3 22 71 17 17; www.trogneux.fr
4. Le Creuset, near Amiens
A worthwhile hour's drive from Amiens, in Fresnoy-le-Grand, is the famous cookware company's factory store. Le Creuset has been making its cast-iron pans here since 1925 - each one is handcast from a single mould that's destroyed afterwards, so no two are identical. Prices here are 35-40 per cent lower than in the shops - Le Creuset fans take note.
Le Creuset, 902 rue Olivier Deguise
00 33 3 23 06 22 22; www.lecreuset.fr
5. Dîner Chez Soi, Angers
If you see cooking as an art form, this is the shop that ensures your table setting doesn't let your food down. A popular place for wedding lists, Dîner Chez Soi has a huge range of tableware from designers such as Villeroy & Boch, Baccarat and Cristallerie Royale de Champagne. The glassware range is particularly impressive, so this is a useful place to find presents for wine lovers.
Dîner Chez Soi, 20 rue des Lices
00 33 2 41 81 04 43; www.dinerchezsoi.com
6. Tartine et Chocolat, Angers
This delightful children's clothes shop brings back a world in which nanny knew best, little girls sported frilly dresses and their baby brothers wore sailor suits. The defiantly retro feel hasn't stopped the Parisian chain becoming the height of kiddy fashion, though: in Sex and the City, Miranda bought Brady's christening gown from the New York store. The Angers branch is one of the best in France.
Tartine et Chocolat, 17 rue St Aubin
00 33 2 41 88 54 11; www.tartine-et chocolat.fr
7. Harvest wine festival, near Avignon
What do you give the wine lover who has everything? How about a trip to the harvest wine festival in Avignon, Côtes du Rhône country? Here, in the first week of September each year, Popes is taken over by wine makers, with a spectacular procession, music and, of course, wine tastings. For information, call 00 33 4 90 27 24 00. Tickets to Avignon with Eurostar start from £99 return: 08705 186 186; www.eurostar.com
8. L'Isle sur la Sorgue, near Avignon
Just 15 minutes by train from Avignon, this atmospheric town is crossed by picturesque canals. What really draws the crowds, though, is the array of antiques shops, bric-a-brac vendors and market traders that congregate here each Sunday. Honey sweets, olive oil soap and Provençal tablecloths all make great stocking fillers. And look out for the stall selling educational posters from old French schools.
For more information, call the tourist office on 00 33 4 90 38 04 78; www.ot-islesurlasorgue.fr
9. L'Intendant, Bordeaux
L'Intendant is one of the most spectacular wine shops in the world. More than 15,000 bottles are arranged around a 12m-high spiral staircase
designed by the owner of the legendary Château Pétrus. Take the lift to the top, where the "grands vins" are displayed, then descend at your leisure to peruse more modestly priced vintages.
L'Intendant, 2 allées de Tourny
00 33 5 56 48 01 29
10. Les Sources de Caudalie, near Bordeaux
Set in the heart of Château Smith Haut-Lafitte,
this chic spa hotel is just south of Bordeaux, so it's ideal for visiting the region's wine country. Wine isn't just for drinking here, though. The spa's luxurious "vinotherapy" treatments make a perfect pre-Christmas treat. Alternatively, what about recuperating here after the party season?
Les Sources de Caudalie, Chemin de Smith Haut-Lafitte; 00 33 5 57 83 83 83 www.sources-caudalie.com
11. La Boutique Maille, Dijon
If you want to sample Dijon's most famous export in its many guises, this shop has it all. Located behind an imposing, wooden, 19th century shopfront, La Boutique Maille sells 20 varieties of the piquant condiment, including house blends Chablis, white wine, grape juice and honey. Best of all, visitors are encouraged to try before they buy.
La Boutique Maille, 32 rue de la Liberté
00 33 3 80 30 41 02; www.maille.com
12. Hospices Civils de Beaune, near Dijon
Since its foundation in 1443, the Hospices Civils de Beaune has tended to the sick, produced world-renowned Burgundies and held one of the world's most famous charity auctions every November, when the new vintage is sold off to wine merchants. You don't have to be in the trade to get a flavour of this unique vineyard, though. Book a Discovery Day package (around £17) and you can go behind the scenes of the vineyard and attend a tasting.
Hospices Civils de Beaune, BP 104; 00 33 3 80 24 45 00; www.hospices-de-beaune.com
13. Ganterie Notturno, Grenoble
Grenoble used to be synonymous throughout Europe with gloves, and Notturno represents the last of that legacy. These are gloves with a royal heritage, as even the Russian court once looked to Notturno to keep its collective hands warm. The 80-year-old owner still cuts the leather himself and will make a pair to measure if you ask. Prices for off-the-peg gloves start from around £25.
Ganterie Notturno, rue Humbert II
00 33 4 76 46 56 60
14. Jean-Pierre Bresson, Grenoble
The kind of store that makes you yearn for pre-supermarket days, Bresson is as much a treat for the nose and eyes as for the palate. Coloured sugars adorn the tables and rustic mountain sausages hang from the ceiling, while the smell of freshly-baked bread mingles with that of ground coffee and exotic spices. The selection of oils and vinegars offers a legion of gift ideas for gourmands.
Jean-Pierre Bresson, 2 rue Auguste Gaché
00 33 4 76 44 42 08
15. Musée Malraux, Le Havre
Are you daunted by the queues for the big blockbuster art shows in London? Then try the Musée Malraux instead, Le Havre's best-kept secret. This is the first gallery in France outside Paris to be dedicated to the impressionists - its superb collection includes works by Pisarro, Courbet, Renoir and Monet, whose famous Soleil Levant was painted in the town.
Musée Malraux, 2 boulevard Clémenceau
00 33 2 35 19 62 62; www.ville-lehavre.fr
16. Nicolas, Le Havre
The pre-Christmas booze cruise to Le Havre has become a British tradition, but buying wine in bulk at bargain prices doesn't have to mean stinting on quality. Founded in 1822, the Nicolas chain fulfils a similar role in France to that of Oddbins in Britain, with informed shop assistants offering advice. At the large Le Havre branch, look out for its "petites recoltes " selection, which comprises wines from small producers at great prices.
Nicolas, Centre Commercial Coty
00 33 2 35 41 50 04; www.nicolas.com
17. Tourist pass, Lille
Historically, Lille has changed hands between the Austrians, Spanish and French with surprising regularity. These days, the Eurostar link makes this culturally-rich city ripe for a British invasion, so pop on the train and spoil a loved one to a weekend away. A two-day tourist pass (around £20) gives entry to all the city's tourist attractions, free public transport and a 10 per cent discount at Printemps.
Lille tourism, 00 33 3 59 57 94 00 www.lilletourism.com
18. Interieur, Lille
Set in one of the city's characterful old industrial buildings, this interiors shop cherry-picks the best names in contemporary design. Furniture is the main focus, with everything from designer sofas to custom-built chairs in stock, but you'll also find lighting and one-off decorative items. Can't decide? Interieur also offers an interior design service.
Interieur, 9 rue Hovelacque
00 33 3 20 31 92 50; www.interieur.fr
19. Passage Thiaffait, Lyons
Located in the city's former silk-making district, Passage Thiaffait is where you'll find the Creators' Village, dubbed Lyons's Little Soho. A hang-out for some of the city's coolest young clothes designers, it's the perfect place to pick up one-off fashion items on the cheap and is great for presents for those who don't like to follow the high-street herd.
Passage Thiaffait, 19 rue Leynaud
00 33 4 78 27 37 21; www.passagethiaffait.fr
20. Le Hameau du Vin, near Lyons
Any wine lover would toast you for buying them a trip to Le Hameau du Vin, 20 miles outside Lyons (entrance from around £9). Established by wine maker Georges Duboeuf, the so-called King of Beaujolais, Le Hameau is a theme park dedicated to all things vinicultural. Learn what makes a good vintage, how to taste wine and what glasses to use.
Le Gare, Romaneche Thorins
00 33 3 85 35 22 22; www.hameauduvin.com
21. Manon Martin, Marseilles
If you can't find the hat you're looking for at Marseilles's famous milliner, then chances are
it doesn't exist. Martin began her career working with Givenchy and now offers hats for seduction, hats to keep you warm and hats to hide in. She also sells accessories such as scarves, stoles and bags.
Manon Martin, 10 rue de la Tour
00 33 4 91 55 60 95; www.manonmartin.com
22. La Maison des Savons, Marseilles
In 1688, Louis XIV, the Sun King, laid down rigorous rules that made the city's wash bars sought after - Marseilles has cleaned up from soap ever since. The traditional variety takes 14 days to make, 10 of them just to boil the ingredients. A classic 600g bar at this excellent " soapermarket " costs around £3.50.
Maison des Savons, 294 rue Paradis
00 33 4 91 81 53 68; www.maison-des-savons.com
23. Graine d'intérieur, Metz
For funky homeware that you definitely won't find at your local branch of Ikea, head to this interiors store in Metz. The shop is popular among locals looking for classy furniture with a modern twist, but the great thing for present-hunting visitors is that it also does a nice line in smaller items, such as quirky vases, lamps, clocks and rugs.
Graine d'intérieur, Lafayette Maison, 4 rue Wilston Churchill; 00 33 3 87 76 59 68 www.grainedinterieur.com
24. Du Pareil au Méme, Metz
This popular French children's clothes, accessories and toy shop has just opened a branch at Lakeside shopping centre in the UK. Buying in euros is much more cost-effective, though, not to mention more fun. Look out for its "albums doudous", which are gorgeous linen-covered photo albums for babies, printed with your own photos and, best of all, suitable for machine washing.
Du Pareil au Méme, 9 en Chaplerue
00 33 3 87 36 99 02; www.dpam.fr
25. Pinto, Montpellier
You'll find everything for the budding gourmand
in this famous Montpellier deli, from gooey Garrigue honey and boxes of black truffles to caviar from Aquitaine. It's also an exclusive stockist of Délice des Trois Grâces, which is delicious ginger-flavoured dark chocolate. Try it in bars, wafer-thin coin shapes or sticks of orange candied peel. Foodie heaven.
Pinto, 14 rue de l'Argenterie
00 33 4 67 60 57 65; www.pinto.fr
26. De Fil en Perle, Montpellier
It may not look much from the street but this Montpellier institution is like catnip for budding jewellery designers. As well as a range of broaches and pendants, it sells beads in every variety under the sun, from cloisonné to millefiori glass, as well as everything you need to string them along with.
De Fil en Perle, 69 rue de l'Aiguillerie
00 33 4 67 60 83 13; www.defilenperle.fr
27. National Automobile Museum, Mulhouse
Cars have long been important to the Alsatian town of Mulhouse: Peugeot is still the biggest employer in the area. So it's fitting that France's National Automobile Museum should be located here. This car collection is a dream destination if you want to treat your petrolhead partner to a weekend away. The shop sells books, memorabilia and toys.
Cité de l'Automobile - Musée National
192 avenue de Colmar; 00 33 3 89 33 23 23 www.collection-schlumpf.com
28. Christmas market, Mulhouse
Mulhouse boasts the largest market in eastern France, the 300-stall Marché du Canal Couvert. Go after 22 November and you can combine a visit to that with a trip to the Christmas market (on until 30 December). Nibble seasonal biscuits, sip mulled wine and admire the lights while you browse the stalls for traditional Alsatian produce. Whoever said shopping wasn't fun?
Mulhouse tourism, 00 33 3 89 35 48 48 www.ot.ville-mulhouse.fr
29. Maison des Soeurs Macarons, Nancy
Sofia Coppola was so taken by Ladurée macaroons that, during the filming of Marie Antoinette in Paris, she had them delivered to the set (they also appear in the movie). If she visits Nancy, Coppola should do a little contrast and compare at Maison des Soeurs Macarons. The macaroons here, first created in Marie Antoinette's day, are hard to top.
Maison des Soeurs Macarons, 21 rue Gambetta 00 33 3 83 32 24 25; www.macaron-de-nancy.com
30. Musées Galerie, Nancy
An ideal shop for cash-rich, time-poor culture vultures, it specialises in reproductions of works of art from some of France's most famous museums. Products range from sleek resin hands, such as those in the Rodin Museum, to glistening, Egyptian-style silver bowls that mimic those on display at the Louvre, plus interesting local pieces.
Musées Galerie - La Boutique des Musées
89 rue Grande; 00 33 3 83 37 53 16 www.museesgalerie.fr
31. England v Samoa, Nantes
If your partner's mad about rugby, send them crazy this Christmas with a ticket to watch one of the matches at next year's Rugby World Cup, England v Samoa in Nantes in September. Sports tour specialist England Rugby Travel is offering packages to the match from around £430 per person, including return coach travel, two nights' accommodation (on a B&B basis), a ticket to the game and exclusive branded souvenirs.
England Rugby Travel, 0870 120 1111 www.englandrugbytravel.com
32. Parti Pris, Nantes
In the centre of Nantes, the Passage Pommeraye shopping mall is more Burlington Arcade than Bluewater. This elegant, glass-covered gallery is decorated with classical statues of chubby cherubs and was built in 1843. Still going strong, it has three storeys of stores, including this excellent gift shop, which stocks something for everyone.
Parti Pris, 11 & 14 Passage Pommeraye
00 33 2 40 89 55 03; www.parti-pris.com
33. Huilerie Cauvin, Nîmes
You'll find more liquid gold in this shop than in the backyard of a Russian oligarch, from grape seed and sesame blends to rare olive oils from Gard, which are pressed from freshly picked Picholine olives. If you're not sure what to go for, we recommend the peppery Aux 3 Oliviers label, an extra-virgin oil from the first cold pressing of the olives.
Huilerie Cauvin, Km3 route de St-Gilles
00 33 4 66 04 71 81; www.huileriecauvin.com
34. Art et Signature, Nîmes
Writing thank you letters won't be a problem once you've stocked up at this up-market stationers. From leather-bound diaries to designer fountain pens, it's a one-stop shop for would-be scribes. Bestsellers include Syll office accessories, a range of traditional, French-made leather goods that includes wastepaper baskets and desk files.
Art et Signature, 17 Bis Place du Marché
00 33 4 66 21 63 44; www.artetsignature.com
35. E Dehillerin, Paris
Some shops are perfect for people who like looking at designer cookware, others are for those who actually cook. Dehillerin, near Les Halles, is firmly in the latter category. Want the correct knife for boning a grouse? Or just the right pot to cook bisque in? They'll have it, plus anything else that a budding Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver might like to find under their Christmas tree.
E Dehillerin, 18-20 rue Coquillière
00 33 1 42 36 53 13; www.e-dehillerin.fr
36. Fragonard, Paris
If your partner has a nose for a good gift, let them try before you buy at Fragonard in Paris. This long-established perfume house has two free museums, both with shops, one of which is in an early 20th century theatre. This museum has an impressive collection of antique perfume bottles and lots of information on the history of perfume.
For details of all Fragonard stores, call 00 33 1 42 60 37 14; www.fragonard.com
37. Maison Fossier, Reims
If you want to do things Reims style, once you have some bubbles in your hand, you need some
pink Fossier biscuits to dunk into them. Another local speciality, Fossiers are made "pink for sweetness, powdered for nobility and crunchy for pleasure". How the biscuits are actually made is a closely guarded secret, however.
Maison Fossier, 25 cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet 00 33 3 26 47 59 84; www.biscuits-fossier.com
38. Champagne Selection, Reims
Put the fizz into someone's Christmas with a personalised bottle of bubbly from France's champagne capital. For around £13.50, you can have a name or message of your choice printed on a label at this inventive little place just by the cathedral. If not for Christmas, then this present will be perfect for New Year's Eve.
Champagne Selection, 18 rue Tronsson Ducoudray 00 33 3 26 77 95 65
39. Carrément Bain, Rennes
If you're a supermarket shirker, you'll enjoy shopping in France, where the specialist store still reigns supreme. Among the niche outlets in Rennes is this well-stocked bathroom boutique, which has everything you need for your smallest room. What better way to give mucky pups a hint than with something glam from Carrément Bain's range of classy mirrors, soap dishes, linen baskets and other bathroom accessories?
Carrément Bain, 15 rue Hoche; 00 33 2 99 27 02 14
40. Champs Libres, Rennes
An attraction in three parts, the Champs Libres opened in the Breton capital last March and encompasses a dramatic public library, a science centre and the Museum of Brittany. It also has a great "cultural" shop selling an imaginative range of books, DVDs, postcards and educational toys. Entrance fees apply, but entry to the hall, the library and the Brittany of 1,001 Images exhibition is free.
Champs Libres, 10 Cours des Allies
00 33 2 23 40 66 00; www.leschampslibres.fr
41. Auzou, Rouen
Life really could be like a box of chocolates if you happen to know someone heading to Rouen with an empty suitcase this winter. The capital of Normandy is home to one of the country's best artisan chocolatiers, Auzou. Here you'll find everything from lavish gift boxes to beautifully wrapped bars, perfect for under the Christmas tree.
Auzou, 163 rue du Gros Horloge
00 33 2 35 70 59 31; www.auzou-chocolat.fr
42. O&Co, Rouen
Founded by Olivier Baussan, the Provence-born founder of L'Occitane ( www.loccitane.com), O&Co specialises in yummy olive oils and olive-related products. Though the company now has more than 50 stores all over the world, the Rouen branch is one of the best, especially if you want that authentic French feel.
O&Co, 5 rue Rollon; 00 33 2 32 10 56 60
43. Pic et Pan, Saint-Étienne
Once the centre of France's mining industry, Saint-Etienne has shrugged off post-industrial decline to become one of the country's most cultured and style-oriented cities. Super-cool menswear boutique Pic et Pan is a beacon for the city's brand-conscious fashionistas and sells lines such as Paul Smith and Puma, as well as a large range of male grooming products and accessories.
Pic et Pan, 18 rue Léon Nautin; 00 33 4 77 49 14 26
44. Musée d'Art Moderne, Saint-Étienne
With more than 15,000 exhibits, including works by Picasso, Warhol and Kandinsky, Saint-Étienne's modern art museum can justly claim to be one of the best, not just in France, but in the world. The icing on the cake is the huge, recently refurbished bookshop. Offering 3,700 titles on art, architecture, design and photography, the shop is the perfect place to find a present for the aesthete in your life.
Musée d' Art Moderne, La Terrasse
00 33 4 77 79 52 52; www.mam-st-etienne.fr
45. L'Oeillade, Strasbourg
Husband and wife team Anke and Vincent Meurice put lots of care into sourcing high-quality children's toys and gifts from around France. Traditional without being fusty - a lot of the designs will remind you of The Magic Roundabout - this friendly boutique is the place to find wooden baby rocking horses, colourful mobiles and cuddly toys.
L'Oeillade, 116 Grand Rue; 00 33 3 88 22 15 87
46. Arts et Collections d'Alsace, Strasbourg
It's always a problem buying regionally-specific gifts if you don't want to be kitsch, which is why Strasbourg's Arts et Collections d'Alsace is a joy. The concept behind this charming interiors store is that everything is copied from Alsatian museums and private collections. The glassware and pottery are particularly worth a look: peasant style has never been so chic.
Arts et Collections d'Alsace, 4 place du Marché aux Poissons; 00 33 3 88 14 03 77
47. Fromagerie Xavier, Toulouse
Xavier, a farmer's son from Jura, and his wife Marie have been perfecting the art of cheese making for 30 years. All their cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk using artisan techniques: the key, they say, is to worry about the taste rather than the appearance. There are 150 types to choose from, but we recommend the goat's milk cheese that has a Cathar cross on the crust.
Fromagerie Xavier, 6 place Victor Hugo 00 33 5 34 45 59 42; www.french-cheese.com
48. Airbus tour, Toulouse
If your child or partner is mad about planes, take them on a trip they'll remember with a tour of the Airbus factory in Toulouse. You can visit the Jean-Luc Lagardre "cathedral", where the giant A380 is built, or watch the A340 being assembled. A Concorde visit can be added on, too. The downside: booking weeks in advance is advised.
For tours, call Taxiway on 00 33 5 34 39 42 00 www.taxiway.fr
49. Antiquaires de la Geôle, Versailles
Not one shop but 50 of them. Looking to fill the stocking of the choosiest antique lover? Then you shouldn't be disappointed by this historic corner of Versailles, which has everything from paintings and ceramics to jewellery and suits of armour. Shopping is not the only reason to come here, though, as you're sure to have a fun day out as well.
Antiquaires de la Geôle, Versailles
00 33 1 30 21 15 13; www.antiques-versailles.com
50. Palace of Versailles, Versailles
Let them visit Versailles this Christmas, with a one-day pass to the royal palace, where much of fated queen Marie Antoinette spent her life and where some of Sofia Coppola's recent movie was filmed. From around £11, you get priority entrance to the whole estate. Tickets are available from: Versailles (00 33 1 30 83 77 88; www.chateauversailles.fr), at some SNCF (train) ticket offices and online at www.fnac.com
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