One topic that comes up whenever friends and family are in town is souvenirs. Plane tickets, car rentals, hotels and train passes tend to eat up most of the travel budget, so visitors love ideas for gifts to bring home to friends and family that won’t break the bank. But they want something more unusual than an Eiffel Tower key chain.
I’ve figured out a bunch of fabulous souvenirs you can find in any French supermarket. All of them are non-perishable (in case you are jaunting to Milan after your trip to France), and every one of them is bargain. Today I’m sharing 10 of my favorites. To make them really shine, I recommend picking up a spool of French flag ribbon, and some cellophane bags. Maybe they’ll inspire you to book a flight to Paris!
First up, go directly to the spice aisle and pick up a big bag of famed French Sea Salt. When Ben Blair and I took the cooking class in Louviers, the chef gave this advice: if you buy one foodie item in France to bring home, make sure it’s salt! And she also said the best stuff was the greyish sort from the Brittany region (Bretagne in French). You can see above that this package indicates Bretagne as the source.
If you don’t want to repackage it, you’ll find salt in gift packages ready to go, but a far more economical plan (and I think a more charming one as well), is to buy the salt in a bulk bag and repackage it in ceramic yogurt jars when you get home.
I’ve mentioned these beautiful yogurt jars before. They come in different colors and sizes. Some have words imprinted on the side and others are blank. We use them for all sorts of things — cups, pencil jars, water jars for dipping paint brushes. You can even bake in them! They make great souvenirs as a set (for example a set of 6 for your favorite baker), or, if you don’t have room to carry home a dozen, fill them with salt for an individual gift.
The best part: you get to eat the yogurt during your trip so you can bring home the empty jars. : )
Fill up a jar with the gourmet, greyish salt, put the jar in a cellophane bag, and add a bow.
A bag of salt costs about $1, and will fill about 4 jars depending on their size. Bargain!
Next up is something for the kids. Check out the kiddie aisle and pick up a pack of toy Euros.
American kids will be fascinated by the colorful bills that come in different sizes. Such a change from U.S. dollars! Your kids can use them when they are pretending to be spending the afternoon at a Parisian café. And since you’ll be using Euros while you’re on the trip, they’ll be fun little reminders for you, too. This pack was priced at about $2.50.
This one might be my favorite. Stop in the cleaning aisle and pick up these traditional French cleaning cloths. They come in several styles, but you’ll recognize them because they consistently have red and blue stripes down the sides.
They actually come as two cloths connected together. (See that fuzzy line in the threads that crosses the colored lines? It’s meant to be cut, dividing the very large cloth into 2 regular size versions.)
They’re super thick and crazy absorbent. We like them for heavy duty jobs and washing the car. One cloth (which is actually two cloths) runs about $3.50.
Or, how about a block of famed French Laundry Soap? The French are very particular about their soap and you can expect the quality to be high. Instead of the bath aisle, you’ll find blocks of soap like these near the laundry detergent.
When you get home, ditch the store packaging and wrap the bar with cellophane. Add a bow and you’re all set. At the supermarket, one big bar of laundry soap costs about $2.50. Or sometimes I find a package of 3 cubes for about $3.00.
(Another side note: When I was a newlywed, my mother gave me a block of soap just like this — including the French flag ribbon — that she had found at a gift shop — or maybe TJ Maxx. : ) I loved it! It sat on our windowsill for about a year, because I felt it was too pretty to use. But when I finally opened it, it was my favorite for handwashing my delicates.)
Here’s another one for kids. In the school supply aisle, you’ll find small, rounded corner, two-sided chalkboards. French kids use them in school to practice their script. One side is plain and the other is covered in graph lines. Aren’t they cute?
If you wanted, you could plus it up by adding a little cord for hanging, but they’re just as cute the way they come (which is cordless).
Next up, simple ceramic bowls and dishes. Every French grocery store has a kitchen aisle with all sorts of various ceramics. My favorites are the footed bowls in every shade of the rainbow. We call them hot cocoa bowls at our house, because we were taught that French children drink their morning chocolat chaude from these lovely little bowls. They are very French! And can be found in different sizes and colors for about 1 euro ($1.25) each.
But it’s not just bowls! You can find all sorts of small bakeable ceramic dishes in varying shapes and sizes. I like the ones pictured for their delicate shade of blue/grey. You can use them to bake individual portions, or for creme brulée, or just as small dishes for ingredient prep. Again, they run about 1 euro each.
Stack them up, add a bow, and they make a fabulous souvenir! You could even fill them with French salt as an added bonus.
Another idea is candy. That’s a no brainer, right? But the candy that’s boxed and promoted as a gift can be quite expensive. So I recommend buying some favorites that come in not-that-pretty packaging, and transferring them to a cellophane bag instead. (Here is my favorite French flag ribbon, and cellophane bags.)
My three picks: 1) Salted Caramels. Since salt and dairy are French specialities, you can bet they take pride in their salted caramels. Even the inexpensive ones are delicious! The ones pictured are made in France and don’t have any branding on their wrappers. So they look great in a cellophane bag. These caramels run about $2.50.
2) Vichy mints. These are classic. Again, they’re very French with a distinctive shape and branding.
I always keep these in my handbag for quick breath freshening. They’re not too strong and have that perfect texture somewhere between crispy and chalky. A bag runs about $2.00.
3) Licorice gums. Reglisse, which means licorice, is a very popular flavor in France. In fact, you can even find reglisse ice cream! So this is another candy that feels super French.
The texture of these is nice and chewy — more chewy than an American gum drop. And the flavor is perfection, at least, if you’re a licorice fan. : ) Luckily, my kids don’t favor black licorice, so when we buy these, Ben Blair and I get to eat the whole bag ourselves. A bag runs about $2.
The next idea can be found in the grocery store near the aluminum foil and plastic wrap. French stores offer lots of little paper containers for serving individual portions. I love these! And think they make a great gift for anyone in your life who has a thing for party supplies. They can be used for all sorts of things — like party favor holders, dessert dishes, or to organize your jewelry drawer.
Repackage them in cellophane, add a bow and you’re all set. Little cartons like these are around 2 euros (or $2.50) for the whole package.
The fourth souvenir idea is a good one for school age kids, teens, or even adults. Head to the school supply aisle and pick up a fountain pen, and a famed Rhodia notebook. Every French student uses both of these. They are an absolute fixture in French schools.
The pens comes in many designs and colors and they include 2 ink cartridges. (I recommend picking up a bag of ink refills while you’re there.) The pens are about $2 each.
Rhodia notebooks are a French staple. They come in various shapes and sizes, but they’re always the signature golden yellow/orange, and the pages are always small graph lines. A pen and a notebook together make a fun and very French gift.
I think you might laugh at this last idea, but it’s a really good one for foodies! There are tons of amazing and famous French foods but they can be tricky as gifts. For example, foie gras would make an excellent French souvenir for a foodie, but even tiny containers are usually priced starting at $10 and up. And the Normandy butter is out of this world, but how do you transport butter? French mustard is amazing too, but packing up a glass bottle can cause stress. So when I’m looking for foodie souvenirs, I favor items in tin cans. And my favorite pick is… Sardines!
Confession: I don’t actually like to eat sardines. But the packaging is so fabulous, that I end up buying them anyway. Hah! Some come in oil, some in tomato sauce, some with herbs. But they’re all very inexpensive at around $2.50 each. And the cans are so handsome, they are pretty much irresistible.
Stack two or three, add a bow, and you’ve got yourself a souvenir any foodie would love!
There you have it. Ten French souvenirs under $5. Hopefully you’ll be all set on your next trip to France. You’ll buy gifts for everyone you know without eating up your entire travel budget!
And now I’d love to hear. What did I miss? What would you add? And when are you headed to France?
P.S. — When you’re in the school supply aisle picking up a fountain pen, don’t miss the elastic closure and belt closure folders. I adore these! I’m bringing home a stack of them. If you have a friend who crushes on office supplies, these would make a great gift!