12 very French Christmas gift ideas
Have you run out of inspiration for Christmas gifts for loved ones? Why not treat them to a real flavour of France? Emily Commander has a few ideas for you to choose from
A beret from the Basque country
What could be more quintessentially French than a beret? Maison Laulhere is the only artisanal beret-maker still operational in France, and each piece of headwear is lovingly finished by hand. A range of styles is available, from the traditional to the cutting-edge, and they come in a rainbow of colours for adults and children alike. Your friends will love their new French look. Laulhere’s website will direct you to your nearest supplier, or you can buy online at museeduberet.com, where a Parisienne will set you back 38€.
A bottle of blanquette de Limoux
Blanquette de Limoux is one of the South of France’s best-kept secrets. A sparkling wine from Cathar country, a bottle of good-quality blanquette will cost less than half the money of a reasonable bottle of champagne, but it is a gift that will be appreciated by any serious wine-lover. Although they are made using the same traditional methods as champagne, the mauzac grape gives blanquettes a more earthy feel. A bottle of J Laurens Moulin brut blanquette de Limoux will set you back just 8.90€.
Calissons from Aix-en-Provence
A calisson is a traditional Provençal sweet consisting of a paste, made from ground almonds and candied fruit—usually orange or melon—and topped with royal icing. They are almond-shaped, and sometimes come in bright colours. Calissons are most closely associated with Aix-en-Provence, which is where Roy René has been located since 1928. Here you will find products ranging from the traditional to the experimental, such as a cranberry and chili-flavoured version. 180g of calissons in a tin depicting a French monument will cost you 13.50€, and Roy René ships throughout France.
Candles from Paris
Give your friends a whiff of France with one of Maison Maison’s candles in a tin mug. Among the scents available are fig, recalling southern summers, verbena, a fresh scent found in all good French homes, and samarcande, named for the novel by Amin Maalouf. Each candle is handmade in Maison Maison’s workshops in Paris and Marseille, and the tin mug is sturdy and re-usable in conformity with the company’s ‘slow, useful, simple and healthy’ design philosophy. A candle will cost you 35€.
Canvas from the Pyrenees
Used to make the espadrilles worn throughout Catalonia, the Pyrenees is famous for making bright, striped canvas that can be used to create a multitude of other items. Les Toiles du Soleil is a company which uses traditional artisanal methods and local know-how to produce an array of fabrics that conjure up images of the southern French sun. You can buy fabric by the metre to whip up any number of items yourself, but if sewing is not your thing, how about treating someone a colourful table-linen set for 35€, or giving a culinary-minded child a beautifully-crafted apron in their size for 19€?
Doll from Lorraine
Petitcollin started by manufacturing combs in 1860, then in 1907 began to use celluloid for the manufacture of dolls. Its most famous “Petit Colin” doll is instantly recognisable for the lock of hair curled over its forehead, and is still manufactured in the Lorraine today, where visitors can visit the factory. You can induce a French sense of style in the young recipient of this lovely doll by decking it out in traditional French costume. It will set you back about 60€.
Fleur de sel de Guérande
Collected for thousands of years, fleur de sel is a delicate crust of salt that forms on the surface of sea water as it evaporates. It is so fragile that it has to be harvested by hand, by artisans called paludiers, using traditional tools. As fleur de sel requires very specific conditions for collection, in Guérande, Brittany, an average of only about 1kg is harvested each day from each salt marsh, which explains why it remains a prized delicacy. It is sometimes sold flavoured with other herbs and spices, as in this discovery box set from the Atelier du Sel, which contains six different-flavoured salts, and will cost you 25€.
Oyster knife from the Aveyron
Oysters are an essential, and sophisticated, part of any celebratory French meal. Your friends will be delighted to shuck their oysters with a French-made oyster knife. Laguiole has been making knives since 1829, when it was first established in the Aveyron. The brand is instantly recognisable by the bee emblem that appears at the join between handle and blade. Its elegant oyster knife costs 145€.
Paper products from Paris
Adults and children alike find it hard to resist the allure of a blank notebook, and Papier Tigre has a beautiful range of paper products to attract the budding author and prolific doodler alike. All of Papier Tigre’s products are stamped with the logo “made in France, with joy and love”. You will find notebooks, calendars, storage boxes and wallpapers with bold, colourful designs made using quality, sustainable recycled paper and cardboard, as locally sourced as possible. The A5 “woodsman” notebook costs 12€, a set of beautiful playing cards will set you back 10€ or a calendar featuring seasonal fruit and vegetables 27€.
Pétanque balls from Marseille
There is no scene more achingly French than that of a group of old men gathered in a village square to play pétanque (or boules, as it is known in Northern France). The version of the rules currently played was first developed 1910 in La Ciotat, near Marseille. La Boule Bleue has been a manufacturer of traditional pétanque balls in Marseille since 1904, before the current rules came into force. Hervé Rofritsch represents the fourth generation to go into the family business, which boasts that it makes the balls of champions. They also sell sets designed for the amateur player, which come in bags of a variety of hues, for just 20€, and will surely entice adults and children to try out this French sport.
A raclette set to conjure up the French Alps
On a wintry day, help your friends to conjure up a convivial, mountain scene in their own home by buying them a raclette set. You can opt for a traditional raclette machine by Bron-Coucke, in which a huge hunk of cheese is suspended and melts progressively onto the food below, or a more modern grill-style machine, perhaps better suited to the blocks of cheese available outside France. Tefal has a stone-topped grill, made in Rumilly, which will accommodate ten raclette-palettes, for 79.90€. Bron-Coucke’s machines start at about 110€.
Silk from Lyon
In 1535, King Francis I granted a royal charter to two merchants in Lyon to found a silk industry there. Thousands of workers called “canuts” helped build up the industry, which, in the middle of the seventeenth century, boasted 14,000 looms. There are very few canuts left in Lyon now, but a few workshops produce beautiful individual silk products. Brochier Soieries, for example, has a selection of silk scarves based on the work of artists such as Monet or Picasso, and a collection of printed silk ties. These items can be purchased via the Atelier de Soierie.