Luxury chocolates and caramels
Chocolates might not be the most original present, but you can be assured that no one will be disappointed with a box of French delights. One of France’s most famed chocolatiers is Patrick Roger, whose coffee, vanilla, and fruit creations are to die for. Walk around any French city during the holiday season, and you’ll see the most extravagant Christmas chocolate sculptures. While you’ll struggle to get them in a suitcase, they are worth checking out. Equally delicious are salt caramels from Brittany, available at La Maison d’Armorine, Henri le Roux, and Kerjeanne.
Our olfactory memory is one of our strongest, so while the images of France you have in your mind will distort and fade over time, a whiff of that perfect perfume you found there will always take you back. Paris has some of the oldest and best perfume shops in the world, including Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, where you can create a bespoke fragrance and the vintage bottles are ever-so-elegant. Les Parfums de Rosine at the Palais Royal offers a wide range of flowery scents, and Sabé Masson’s bright packaging and unique fragrances would make a lovely gift for Christmas.
If you’re looking for an edible gift, or want to take home a few of the flavors you have discovered on your travels, then head to your nearest épicerie or gourmet food shop. La Grande Epicerie on Paris’ left bank is a local favorite where you’ll find every French delicacy imaginable. Lafayette Gourmet also has a good selection, but expect to fight your way through massive crowds of tourists outside and inside the store. Other lesser known stores to try include Fauchon, Hediard, and La Maison Plisson.
Trendy snow globe
Snow globes come in many forms, but sadly, most of them are horribly cheap, clunky, and tacky. Even in stylish France, this rule holds true. Thankfully, merci, one of Paris’ trendiest concept stores, has a limited edition range of chic snow globes that you can take home and proudly display on your desk or mantelpiece. The store is also famous for its line of simple but beautiful jewelry that is inscribed with the store’s name and for the fact that a portion of its profits goes to charity. So you can shop and save the world at the same time.
Wherever you go in France, you’ll find windows full of brightly colored, fragile, and scrumptious macarons. In the capital, people fall into one of two tribes: those who prefer Ladurée and those who side with Pierre Hermé. Whoever you decide to go with (and even if it’s neither of these two), be sure to get your macarons placed in a gift tin. Yes, it makes a more ecological and substantial gift, but it will also save you from wondering whether these delicious little discs have turned to powder in your bag while on your journey home.
The Christmas vacation, sadly, is one of few times when people actually have the time to curl up on the sofa with a good book, so why not make this winter treat even more special with a vintage volume from one of the Seine’s bouquinistes or other specialist stores in cities across the country. Unlike in the Anglophone world, book sales in France are on the up, and the number of independent stores – and those that cater to English readers – remains healthy. Of them all, Shakespeare & Company is indisputably the most famous.
Calvados, wine, and champagne
Provided you are traveling with a suitcase and can spare the space next to all the new clothes you’ve bought for yourself, a couple of bottles of calvados, the strong apple brandy brewed in Normandy, make a great liquid gift. It can be difficult to get ahold of outside France and is perfect for warming up a chilly winter’s night. Otherwise, visit a cave for a case or two of wine (or have them shipped to your home) or brand stores such as Veuve Clicquot’s in Reims where you can find cool accessories like a handled bottle carrier.
There’s no better way to remember your festive holiday in France than to take back a locally made Christmas decoration to hang on your tree year after year. All the Paris department stores – BHV, Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette – have dedicated Christmas departments where you’ll find lights and ornaments, but there are also specialty stores in the capital that are worth a visit. Le Cedre Rouge does a nice variety of traditional decorations, mainly inspired by nature, and in a Scandinavian style. Christmas à Paris and Il était une fois are much-loved, as is, remarkably, The Disney Store.
Nougat and turron
If you’re in Provence for Christmas dinner (which happens on the evening of the 24th), you’ll soon become acquainted with their traditional 13 desserts. Yes, after countless courses of amuse bouche, appetizers, and entrées, Provençals finish their meal with more than a dozen sweet treats. One of these is always nougat. The white nougat from Limoux, which is rich in almonds and pistachios, is a particular favorite. Another southern delicacy to try and buy is turron, a mixture of honey, dried fruits, almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, and pickled orange peel.
The final recommendation for a French Christmas souvenir is the humble bougie or candle. France is the home of the candle – Claude Trudon started selling them out of his Parisian store, Cire Trudon, in 1643 when he wasn’t busy acting as the official supplier to the Palace of Versailles. Maison By Khol does a lovely contemporary range of porcelain candles available at L’Exception, and you’ll find other chic varieties at concept stores like Colette and Centre Commercial.