If you want to take home a real piece of Paris, you won’t find it in a souvenir shop that sells tchotchkes from China. And honestly, do you really need another refrigerator magnet? Get serious about your Paris love and get off the Ile de la Cité. Shop where the Parisians shop, where you’ll have the time of your life doing it: local grocery stores, pharmacies, and the pharmacy on steroids: la parapharmacie.
What kind of souvenirs will you find in these stores? The best kind; the kind that allows you to experience Paris long after the vacation high has worn off—stuff you can savor and slather on. Not high-end products, but the everyday Parisian staples that to us are exotic and exciting. Here, a few of my favorite finds for under 20€—most under 10€!—plus, a shopping guide for where to find them.
Lotions, Potions and Soaps—Oh My!
Nothing says Paris like beauty products—the variety, the fragrances—and all in gorgeous packaging that really snazzes up the WC. The best part about French products? You can find quality at bargain prices—way cheaper in some cases than that 30€ Paris-themed sweatshirt.
Pharmacies & parapharmacies
There is a pharmacie on nearly every block in Paris (look for the green cross), and most are owned and operated by the pharmacist who can advise you in depth on every product in the shop, not only the medicines. But don’t walk into one and just start handling the products. Faux pas. This ain’t CVS, honey, this is the pharmacist’s domain. You must first see him or her (the one in the white lab coat) and explain your needs: “I’m looking for a body cream that’s light but effective.” Or, “What is the difference between this Vichy cleanser and the one by La Roche-Posay?” Truly, the pharmacist will explain these products as if they were your Xanax prescription. It’s a great way to learn about all the magical lotions and potions in store. Don’t speak French? No problem, there are pharmacies for you in districts like the Marais and Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
If you prefer to explore the products for yourself, or are too timid to speak with a pharmacist, head for a place where you are free to fondle—the parapharmacie, or any store with health and beauty aids, like Monoprix. Both of these have a larger selection than most pharmacies, and will offer inexpensive mass brands to boot. If you love HBA and love to shop, you will have the time of your life in these places.
NOTE: Always test products before using, particularly around the eye.
A Few of Lisa’s Pharmacy Faves
La Roche-Posay Lipikar Surgras Douche-Crème Concentrée and Lipikar Lait: All products from La Roche-Posay are top notch and dermatologist-tested, and the Lipikar line is no exception. The concentrated shower cream cleanses without soap and leaves your skin silky smooth without a residue. I love the body milk, or “lait”—super rich and luxurious. Under 15€ each, and often sold as a buy-one-get-one-half-price offer
Mixa Intensif Crème Mains Réparatrice: This little tube packs a punch for dry hands and elbows, especially rough wintertime skin. It moisturizes deeply but doesn’t leave your hands slippery. Fits in your purse, ladies, and has a subtle rose scent. A great gift. Under 4€
Christian Lenart Eau Aromatisé: Sold for over 70 years, these products are 98% natural, alcohol- and paraben-free. These lovely scented waters come in rose, cornflower, orange flower, jasmine and more, and are packaged in a cobalt blue glass bottle with a chic Art Nouveau label. Looks great on the bathroom shelf. Under 5€. A steal
Le Petit Marseillais: What’s a better souvenir or gift than French soap? This brand is a longtime staple in France, like Dove or Ivory in the States, and a staple in my shower in Paris. Delicious options like chevrefeuille (honeysuckle), sweet almond oil, orange flower, and my favorite, a pure milk soap that has a light, clean scent. Makes lots of thick, creamy suds. Under 2€ for a giant bar
Monsavon Au Lait: Well, technically, this soap is from Belgium (made since 1925!). I love the soft, spicy scent, subtle and not overwhelming. The simple blue and white wrapper speaks to another time. Under 1€ per bar. Buy a value pack and hand them out to your colleagues
Ushuaïa Shower Gels: This brand has many other products as well, but the shower gels fascinate me the most. I’ve never seen so many types and scents: toning, reinvigorating, hydrating—it never ends. They seem so exotic and indulgent, yet are dirt cheap. The Polynésie and Hammam lines are my favorite with choices like Baume de Douche Apaisant (soothing shower balm with vanilla and jojoba butter) and Lait de Douche Détoxifiant (detoxifying shower milk with green tea and mint). Under 3€ for 250 ml
Toothpaste and beyond: I confess I am obsessed with French toothpaste. Something you use everyday and probably rarely change, but isn’t this a wonderful opportunity? Every time you brush, you’ll think of Paris. They’re also playful gifts, a window on everyday Parisian life. Some of my favorites: Botot with it’s retro packaging and mild wintergreen flavor; Denblan, the designer toothpaste; Fluorcaril; Vademecum; the quirky Email Diamant (Diamond Enamel), made since 1893. The package has a drawing of the Barber of Seville because the creator’s sons were opera singers. See what I mean? Quirky. Most under 4€
Memories You Can Eat
It doesn’t cost much to bring home the taste of Paris. As long as you have room in your checked luggage and can accommodate the extra weight, you can bring home most things, even canned goods. Note: You’ll want to bring extra Ziploc bags and a few squares of bubble wrap to safely pack items and make them leak-proof.
I’ve already written about the glories of Paris grocery stores, how even the basic foodstuffs are gourmet to a non-native. These places are a treasure trove of gift ideas and edible souvenirs. There are several chains in Paris—Monoprix, Franprix, Carrefour City—but also many small convenience stores and traiteurs you can, and should, visit. NOTE: Check with your country’s customs guidelines to be sure what food items are permitted.
Lisa’s Treasured Treats
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring home a can of foie gras, chestnut preserves or organic speculoos-speckled dark chocolate in lieu of key chains, tee shirts and snow globes. Here are some other ideas:
Spices and salts: Usually quite lightweight (luggage!) and often in decorative tins (Terre Exotique) or glass jars (Albert Ménès), you can’t go wrong with spices. Truffled salts and French sea salts are another great idea and many are packaged beautifully, like Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel with its cork lid. Your friends will be thrilled to receive these as gifts, and you’ll love sprinkling a little Paris on your favorite foods back home. What could be better? Most under 15€; many under 5€
Mustards and mayos: No one does these better than the French in my opinion, especially mayonnaise, which is so much eggier than ours. I like the mayos that come in a tube, like Lesieur and Bénédicta. Mustards, or moutards, abound—from the basic yellow stuff to the gourmet, infused versions. My favorites: mustard with cognac from Albert Ménès, and mustard with walnut from Clovis (only 1.65€!), but you’ll find more flavors and brands than you can carry home. Most under 4€
Chocolates: Yes, you can spend a lot of money on gourmet chocolate in Paris, but you don’t have to. At Monoprix there are about a zillion choices including organic (or “bio”) and artisanal styles. Way better than a ‘fridge magnet, am I right? Under 10€; most under 5€
Monoprix: One-stop shopping from HBA to groceries and everything in between. Target with a French accent. These are all over the city. Monop’ is a smaller version with a smattering of foods and HBA. For locations, click here.
La Grande Epicerie de Paris (Bon Marche): Newly renovated, this is mecca for food-based souvenirs and gifts. A glorious environment to shop in, but often very crowded nowadays as it caters more to tourists than before. I’ve checked the prices against my local grocery store and they’re comparable for many of the items I’ve written about, despite of the swanky digs. 38 Rue de Sèvres, 7th arr.; Métro Sèvres-Babylone
Franprix: A large grocery chain with stores all over Paris. They have a huge selection of wonderful, gift-able foodstuffs. For locations, click here.
Citypharma du Four Bonapart: One of the best, cheapest and busiest pharmacies in Paris. And they speak English. 26 Rue du Four, 6th arr.; Métros St.-Germain-des-Pres or Mabillon
La Pharmacie de la Place de la Republique: A great one, in the heart of the Right Bank. Open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, which is a rarity in Paris. 5 Place de la Rebublique, 3rd arr.; Métro Republique
Pharmacie Central: My first and favorite pharmacy. Open 7 days a week until midnight. Great selection, friendly service, and often cheaper prices. Some English spoken. 52 Rue du Commerce, 15th arr.; Métros Emile Zola or La Motte-Picquet-Grenelle
For other pharmacies that are Anglo-friendly, click here.
Always test beauty products before using.
Check with your country’s customs guidelines to be sure what food items are permitted.
Prices correct as of 2016.
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