What are the best souvenirs from Paris? We spoke with Jo Karnaghan, author of The Ultimate Paris Address Book, for her recommendations. This is what she has to say about everything from second-hand books to Chanel bags.
Souvenirs from Paris: Perhaps start your shopping with a stroll by the Seine to look at some prints? Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash
Long time readers of TurnipseedTravel are well acquainted with my friend Jo, the voice behind FrugalFirstClassTravel.com. Her hometown expertise for Sydney, Australia, has featured prominently in early blog posts here (like this one about the best sweet treats in Australia and this one about an insider's guide to the city). Over the years, we've not only connected in Sydney but also in Ottawa and even in Athens. Jo was by my side when I almost caused a bit of a scene in the Athens meat market! But if there's one destination that I always go to her for advice about, it's Paris. And there's no better person to connect with to chat about souvenirs from Paris.
Jo first visited Paris in 1991 on a bus tour of Europe. While she didn't stick with the formulaic group tours (can't blame you there, Jo!), she DID stick with Paris and has been back to the City of Lights about 20 times - and counting. In fact, she was in Paris when she conceived the idea for her blog. As she says: "It was mid 2011 and I was sitting in a cafe on rue du Bac. I literally wrote out my first "business plan" on the back of a paper napkin. (From memory I was eating duck confit as I did it)". Frankly, of all the possibly souvenirs in Paris, coming home with a vision for a travel empire seems like the best possible one of all! But for more every day gifts and souvenirs, I knew Jo would have amazing suggestions. After all, she packs light (so she knows a thing or two about being practical), she embraces frugality (hey, it's right there in her blog name!) and she always has an eye out for a first-class experience.
I chatted with Jo about her new book, The Ultimate Paris Address Book, and got her expert advice on how to source memorable souvenirs from Paris. (Plus - there's a special coupon code for readers at the end!) This is what I asked her...
Since that first visit, you've been to Paris many times. Who do you have in mind when you shop for souvenirs now? Are you envisioning a keepsake for yourself or family? Or do you find the object first and then figure out what to do with it?
"I always go to Paris with a shopping list, and also a list of places I want to visit where I may find a special something for either myself or someone else. I rarely have a specific gift in mind for friends and family unless it's something my daughter has particularly asked for. I think rather than race all over town trying to find something specific it's better to be on the look out for interesting shops where I might find a hidden gem that is perfect for a gift or for myself."
For my next trip, I'm definitely heading to Ines de la Fressange's eponymous shop on rue Grenelle in the 7th. I visited there the last time I was in Paris in 2019 because it was a shop I had wanted to visit without really knowing what was sold there. Once there, I bought a beautiful branded notebook to give to a friend as a gift (perfectly gift wrapped), and bought some perfume for myself. I was very tempted by the selection of her own brand sunglasses, but thought I would wait till I returned to Paris in 2020 - and we all know how that worked out for everyone."
(Note from Vanessa: Oh boy, do I EVER know how Parisian travel plans in 2020 worked out....)
"The other place I am dying to visit (because I only found it online during the pandemic), is Marin Montagut on rue Madame in the 6th. He designs a range of treasures that make perfect souvenirs and gifts, paying homage to Paris generally and the Left Bank specifically. They truly are like little works of art. I'm sure I'll something for friends and family there."
There are generic souvenir shops and stalls all over Paris, selling tourist knick-knacks like plastic Eiffel Towers and things like that. Is there anything in these kinds of shops that actually make for good souvenirs from Paris or should people give them a pass entirely?
"Honestly, I hate these shops, with their EUR5 scarves, fake berets and gaudy tee shirts, but they do have their place. One of the best souvenirs I bought in Paris for my daughter came from one of those shops - it was a chef's apron and toque. She always wore it for cooking at home until unfortunately she grew out of it. If you are looking for something for a child or things you can buy in bulk for work colleagues they are worth picking over - have low expectations and if you find something that looks fun, you haven't seen in every other place you've looked and is of reasonable quality, you are probably onto a winner."
Where do you recommend people go to find great souvenirs in Paris?
"Most people wouldn't think of it, but I love department stores for souvenirs. Le Bon Marche has a range of fun branded shopping totes, biscuit tins, luggage tags and notebooks in both their main store and their food store Le Grand Epicerie. Galeries Lafayettes is excellent for their own brand silk scarves and cashmere - not cheap souvenirs compared to the souvenir shops on rue de Rivoli of course, but excellent quality, and they make great mementoes. Keep an eye out for branded merchandise in the most unexpected places - such as iconic cafes and book stores. You never know what you might find on the way to the loo or lurking near the cashier desk."
I know you love a frugal find! Do you have any souvenir recommendations for value-seekers? Is affordable Paris shopping possible?
"Yes! Antique markets and second hand book sellers. Search out antique post cards for as little as EUR1 and second hand prints, books and china for not much more. Museum boutiques are excellent places to buy less expensive book marks, notebooks and stationary."
Sometimes people envision Paris as the kind of place to buy a very pricey souvenir, like a Chanel bag. Any advice for people who are heading to Paris to splurge?
"Do your homework. Global designer brands tend to use global pricing, so the cost of the goods don't differ between countries much these days. Be very clear about the cost of the goods at home, the exchange rate, how much VTA (the French VAT) you can be refunded, together with how much tax you may be liable for when you take the goods home.
The strategy for shopping for designer goods could be a blog post all of its own. Personally, I love shopping at the flagship designer stores in Paris - even if I just want to buy a lipstick or tiny bottle of scent. That is where you get the best range of goods available and the premium service ('Fancy a glass of champagne while you try on shoes, Madame?'). If you want to go to Chanel, the flagship rue Cambon store is the only store where they offer your purchase in the white shopping bag with the 3D camellia. But going to another store can be less busy, and if you go to the concession boutiques in the department stores sometimes (it depends on the specific brand) you can take advantage of the generous department store VTA refund arrangements."
After all your trips, is there one souvenir that is your favourite? Is there anything you're still looking for?
"I have two very favourite souvenirs. Firstly, a pair of chickens I bought in Carcassonne many years ago. They live on my kitchen window sill and make me feel happy whenever I see them. What is even funnier and more special about the Carcassonne chickens is that I found a pair of miniature ones in a gift shop in a tiny country town about 5 hours from Sydney some years later. Talk about six degrees of separation!
My other favourite is my creche (nativity scene) of Provencale santons. I purchased the original small creche in Aix-en-Provence and have added to the set over the years. I love setting them up every Christmas and looking to add to my collection. They are not just a souvenir of a wonderful trip, they are an heirloom that I know my daughter will take excellent care of when the time comes.
Obviously, I'm still hanging out for my Ines de la Fressange sunglasses - hopefully later this year I'll be able to pick up a pair. But while I am wanting something that I know won't last forever, it's the enduring souvenirs like my Carcassonne chickens and santons that I love to treasure."
I know that TurnipseedTravel readers will LOVE Jo's book, The Ultimate Paris Address Book. You can embrace the spirit of first-class frugality yourself by getting it at a discount, as blog readers can save 20% with code paris20. Buy it here!
If you enjoyed this post, you'll also like:
Secrets Of The Louvre For The Savvy Traveller
Adventures With Airport Sleeping Pods: YOTEL Paris
One Day In Paris: What To Do In A Three Hour Layover In Paris
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