France in general is a paradise for shoppers. Even outside Paris, most main towns have excellent department stores – usually a Galeries Lafayette – as well as a host of independent shops which make superb targets for window-shopping (known as lèche-vitrines, or literally “window-licking” in French).
Food is a particular joy to shop for; well-stocked supermarkets are easy to find, while on the outskirts of most towns of any size you’ll come across at least one hypermarché, enormous supermarkets selling everything from food to clothes and garden furniture. The most well-known chains include Auchan, Carrefour, Leclerc and Casino. Every French town worth its salt holds at least one market (marché) a week. These tend to be vibrant, mostly morning affairs when local producers gather to sell speciality goods such as honey, cheese and alcohol, alongside excellent quality vegetable, meat and fish stalls. Boulangeries are the best places to buy bread, while patisseries offer a broader range of pastries, cakes and sometimes also sandwiches and other snacks.
Regional specialities are mostly of the edible kind. If you’re travelling in Brittany, be sure to pick up some of the local cider (cidre), while Normandy is famous for its calvados, and the south for its pastis. Provence is well known for its superb olive oil (huile d’olive) and pricey truffles (truffes), as is the Dordogne. No matter where you go, each region will produce at least one local cheese, and wine of course also varies from region to region. Cognac and the Champagne region are also obvious destinations if you’re looking to stock up.
Other items to look out for include lace (dentelle) in the north, pottery in Brittany and ceramics in Limoges. The northeast, especially Lorraine, is renowned for its crystal production, while Provence, particularly the town of Grasse on the Côte d’Azur, is the place in France to buy perfume.
Non-EU residents are able to claim back VAT (TVA) on purchases that come to over €175. To do this, make sure the shop you’re buying from fills out the correct paperwork, and present this to customs before you check in at the airport for your return flight.