I get quite a few people contacting me who are about to visit Provence asking for recommendations on places to visit and stay and favourite restaurants. A fair few are also interested in my suggestions for what to buy and bring back as souvenirs from the region. So I thought I’d write this piece on a subject close to my heart – shopping. I always enjoy wandering around the fabulous independent boutiques you can find all over Provence – all of them brimming with original home accessories – often made by local craftsmen.
My first suggestion – whether you’re shopping for yourself, or for presents to bring back – is to buy items made from typical provencal fabric or “Indiennes” as they’re called. I think these colourful fabrics are just fantastic – a provencal tablecloth on a kitchen table will absolutely transform the room. But you can find much more than just tablecloths in these pretty fabrics – as well as placemats and cute little bread baskets, you’ll find an array of cosmetics bags, shopping bags and even little girls’ skirts and dresses in a wide array of colours and patterns. Or buy a length of fabric and then have it made up when you get home. Every market in Provence will have at least one stall selling provencal table linen – but do make sure it’s good quality cotton. Some of the fabric can be nasty polyester imitations. My favourite shop for items in provencal fabric is La Victoire in Aix en Provence, on the square where the daily fruit and vegetable market takes place. They also sell fabric by the metre.
Next up – provencal pottery. They’ve been making pottery in Provence since Roman times, and there are hundreds of artisan workshops all over Provence, where you can pick up beautiful hand painted pottery in a variety of colours and patterns. Given you’re likely to be flying home, you won’t be able to bring back much. But a pretty curved jug, an oil pourer or a hand painted pottery bowl would be a lovely souvenir of your stay in Provence. Or pick up a painted gratte-ail – these little earthenware saucers with raised spikes make grating garlic easy, and are typical of the region. It’s difficult to recommend just one shop for pottery – there are a few good ones in Aix en Provence and Avignon. And the Wednesday market in St Remy has a few good stalls with good quality artisan pottery.
You can’t visit shops in Provence without being assailed by a variety of products using lavender. Lavender bags, lavender-stuffed dolls, sprigs of lavender – it’s everywhere. Sometimes it feels like lavender overkill. My suggestion would be to opt instead for a few bars of soap in some interesting fragrances. Marseille is famous for its soap-making, particularly the large cubes of Savon de Marseille. But there are many artisan soap producers all over the regions, creating soaps in everything from lavender or rosemary to chocolate and orange. Again, any provencal market will have at least one soap stall – avoid the stalls selling the soaps in lurid colours, and opt for the more natural bars of soap, and you won’t go far wrong.
If you’re looking for bric-a-brac, then the place to head is L’Isle sur la Sorgue which is famous for its numerous boutiques brimming with brocantes. But there are often stalls selling bric-a-brac at the numerous markets in the region.
Finally, there’s always food. Provencal specialities such as jars of tapenade and anchoiade make great gifts. Calissons from Aix are great if you’re a fan of marzipan. Local lavender or rosemary honey is also a great souvenir. There’s an endless selection of scrummy food gifts to be had, either at the market, or from such stores as Peches Gourmands who have shops all over Provence including Avignon, Isle sur la Sorgue, Nice, Cannes and Sanary.