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Soap is a bit of a cliché as a souvenir or gift, but Marseille soap (savon) is different. It’s as much loved by locals (everyone has it in their bathroom) as it is by tourists. The cheapest can be found in the Saturday market in Aix at La Rotonde, and it’s of a good quality, but it’s also available in many of the stores in town.
The French take macarons very seriously, and Aix is no exception. These delicious dessert biscuits travel well (over a day or so) in carefully wrapped boxes. Head to Les Macarons de Caroline Eurl or Macarons Meresse to find the best. Cannes also has some great places to buy macarons.
Provence is loved for its fields of lavender, which look amazing at the height of summer, and lavender is one of their biggest-selling souvenir items. While lavender used to be associated with old ladies and clothing sachets (they do work well at keeping mites and moths away from your clothes, though), things have moved on. You can find some wonderful lavender products, such as toiletries and soaps, in the local markets, and at the renowned chain, Compagnie du Provence. You’ll find branches all over the region.
This almond dessert is the main thing that Aix is known for. It’s candied fruit (normally melons or oranges) that have almond icing on top. You can find them everywhere in Aix, but the most sought-after come from Les Calissons du Roy René in town.
Local baker Christophe started out selling his homemade madeleines in the markets in Aix. He was so good that by last year, all his madeleines would be gone by 10 am, unless you had pre-ordered. He now has his own shop in the centre of town. It’s a must-see on any tour around town, but the madeleines may never make it home. The flower market in Nice and the Marché Forville in Cannes are other places to pick them up.
Aix takes its preserves very seriously, and a good jam or tapenade (a sort of chutney made from olives or aubergines) makes a great gift. It’s common to serve a tapenade with gourmet bread with the apero or evening drink. Jams are strictly for the morning, on a fresh, hot baguette. Head to the divine deli Aix&Terra Epicerie for wonderfully boxed tapenades and olive oils that make brilliant presents. For jams, head to the wonderful La Chambre aux Confitures in Rue d’Italie, which has turned jam into a designer product.
Herbes de Provence is a perfect cheat for any cook. It’s a local blend of herbs and spices that are pre-prepared in bouquets. You can add them to anything to make it look like you know your way around the kitchen. Find them freshly prepared in the daily markets or in any large supermarket, such as Monoprix.
It may be a strange choice for a souvenir, but Aix has one of the best bread shops in the region. Head to Farinoman Fou on the Rue Mignet, but be prepared for a wait, as there are often lines outside the shop. It’s tiny, and bakes around 10 types of bread every morning. You may find that you eat the bread on the way home; think of it as an early souvenir.
There’s a local rule about honey: if you get hay fever you should eat honey made by your local bees. Don’t let that stop you eating the Provençal honey too; it’s legendary. You can find the best ones at the daily markets.
It may seem like a strange choice of souvenir, but Aix has lots of wonderful sewing shops where you can buy Provençal fabric. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re looking for fabric that is a little bit different to what you find at home, not to mention cheaper, check out La Victoire in Place Richelme and La Bonheur du Dames, just around the corner. Alternatively, the Tuesday and Thursday morning markets on the Cours Mirabeau include fabric sellers, as does the morning market on Avenue du Prado in Marseille.