As the holidays inch closer (see how the French celebrate Christmas,) it’s time for last minute gifts to take form. The French, naturally, aren’t much about socks and mugs for Christmas, instead opting for their rich history to guide their shopping list. Their favorite holiday shops are usually quirky niches with “Made in France” options that highlight the country’s unique savoir faire.
When I moved to Paris, where many of the restaurants (like the Polidor, one of Hemingway’s haunts) are older than the US itself, I was awe-struck by how the old and the new are woven together so seamlessly. For example, in the courtyard of the seventeenth century Palais Royal you’ll find the famous Colonnes de Buren modern sculpture installation, symmetrical rows of striped columns rising to different heights that is a selfie hot spot. With that in mind, I’ve selected some of my favorite go-to gift sources, an eclectic combination of contemporary and collectable, all of which reflect the extraordinary craftsmanship for which the French truly set the benchmark.
Just blocks from Saint Germain is one of my favorite streets in Paris, Rue Jacob, a deliciously long stretch of charming bistros, cool galleries, boutique hotels, and inviting boutiques. A lively window display of hand-crafted artisanal kitchen and table-ware invited at the La Maison Ivre (“The Drunk House”). There’s a fun-house quality to navigating your way through the dizzying array of pastel colored kitchen towels, Mediterranean blue goblets, vases and table linens which fill crates stacked everywhere and the floor-to-ceiling shelves. Owner Sylvine Nobecourt sits at farmhouse table in the center of making customers feel as welcome as if they were in her own kitchen. Well, in a sense, they are.
38 rue Jacob, Paris 75006, 01 42 60 01 85
The beautiful covered courtyard that frames the Jardin du Palais Royal, where the cry that ignited the French revolution was given, now houses some of the loveliest boutiques to hunt for this season of gift giving. Bacqueville is a curious cabinet of a shop packed with every type of historic, military, and honorific French medals. Collectors, costume designers, and the recently knighted come here to find what they’re looking for. A collectible piece of French history in the form of an authentic Medal of Honor is about as unique a gift for the Francophile in your life. Other medals include L’ordre de la Legion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor), the highest accolade, created by Napoleon to promote a meritocracy after the abolition of all titles of Nobility; The Croix de Guerre (War Cross) awarded for acts of exceptional heroism in WWI and WWII; and La médaille de la Résistance fFrançaise (the Medal of French Resistance) for remarkable acts of bravery in resisting the German occupation of WWII.
8 Galerie de Montpensier, Palais- Royal; +33-1-42-96-26-90
A few doors down from Bacqueville is another source for glorious and one-of-a-kind gifts, La Maison de L’Ambre which specializes in elegant jewelry made from Amber. The translucent honey colored amber is crafted into modern as well as classical stunning earrings, necklaces, bracelets and brooches. Here you will find chic gifts fashioned from repurposed fossilized tree resin. What could be more French and sustainable that that?
13 Galerie du Palais Royal, +33-1 40 15 07 98
This hub for handcrafted stylish scarves is a go-to destination for Parisian trend-setters and fashion magazine stylists. The foulard is a timeless French fashion staple that the French seem to wear so effortlessly and well. The simple modernist elegance of this boutique, filled with eye-popping collection of designs, is a terrific counter-point to the historically rich setting along one of the oldest arcades in the former seventeenth century palace.
27-28 Galerie de Montpensier, 75001, +33 1 42 96 68 26
Twenty-nine-year-old chocolatier Edwin Yansane’s star is rising. Fast. His boxed chocolate collections are so lovely you could frame them. Bonbons are purposefully on the thin side, allowing you to better savor the brilliant flavor and texture combinations, which include classic ganache as well as more edgy flavors like Curry, Japanese Buckwheat, Coriander Seed, and Oolong. The holiday offerings are as whimsical as they are delicious. My favorite is the classic gingerbread man surrounded by dark and milk chocolate chips that are meant to be used to make an outrageously good hot chocolate. It comes in a festively designed box with a colorful naïf drawing of the gingerbread man being dunked into a cup of the cocoa concoction. I appreciate the mischievous sense of whimsey of the chef, matched by his outsized talent.
244 Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris (Check Site for other locations)
When asked recently what I felt was France’s most under served food asset, without hesitation I said it was the honey. We’ve heard there are at least as many types of cheese as days in the year. The baguette is as much a French icon as the Eiffel Tower. Wines, well, we don’t even have to go there. But even the French don’t realize what an embarrassment of riches they have with the nation’s honey. With over seventy thousand apiaries and 1.3 million hives in France (over four hundred in Paris alone) honey might arguably be the most truly French food gift you can give.
I get my honey at La Famille Mary, a family business since 1921 which sources from their own hives as well as from a collective of carefully curated apiaries. With over one hundred and twelve different exceptional honeys, this family brand puts a special focus on wellness. The knowledgeable staff explains the specific health benefits of the various offerings. My own daily routine includes their Elixir bien-etre (Wellness elixir), a honey-pollen mix with a touch of lemon extract. I make sure to also keep stocked up on the honey with Propolis, an age-old French remedy for sore throats.
44 Rue de Lévis, 75017 Paris, +33 1 42 12 72 70
Philip Ruskin is an External Lecturer (ESSEC Bus. School), Consultant (food & travel marketing), writer and drummer. He loves to bike around his adopted hometown of Paris. On Instagram