These are the kind of things I pack in my suitcase when leaving France…
I’m quite a tea connoisseur. I start the day with a pot of spicy black tea, throughout the day drink green tea and before bed make a digestive infusion. Out of all the tea I’ve sampled in France, Mariage Freres is my favorite. The boutiques have an old fashioned drugstore atmosphere with little jars set out for examination. I usually sniff my way through them all before committing to one. Bought in 500 gram sachets or in simple black canisters, my favorite is a fruity green variety called Marco Polo. Having lunch in the tearoom is a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Many chocolate shops and bakeries make their own but La Duree’s macaroons lined up in mint green boxes have the best presentation. There is a vast array of flavors from which to choose such as rose, pistachio, orange-chocolate, lavender and caramel. They go quickly at parties. Watch Marie Antoinette’s birthday party scene in Sofia Coppola’s film to get the picture.
When holding dinner parties in France, guests usually present the host with one of these three: chocolate, flowers or a bottle of wine. There is much debate about which chocolaterie makes the best confections and with a chocolate shop on nearly every street there is a lot of competition but I’ve heard many rave about La Maison du Chocolate.
Once I received a gift basket and since I’ve been hooked. L’Occitaine is a chain of artisanal bath products and candles made in the South of France. My favorite of their scents is the Relaxing 3 Huiles Essentials that is made from a mixture of lavender, geranium and tea tree essential oils. I’ll often give a candle from that line as a gift. Also, their hand cream works like a dream and smells like baby powder. I recently tried the almond shower oil which I’m now hooked on as well. They have opened a few shops in the states but I’ve heard that prices are a bit cheaper in France.
Charms have seen a renaissance in the past few years. I was given a charm necklace so long it grazes my belly button as a birthday present. The French chain Agatha has a booklet full of different shapes. Some special French themed charms they sell are an Eiffel tower, an Arc du Triumph (the monument that marks the start of the Champs Elysee and the world’s scariest roundabout), a croissant or a cup of coffee.
Champagne and Wine
After getting recommendations from a cavist, the owner of a wine shop, I’ll usually choose a few bottles of red, from the Saint Emilion region for example, to tote back. Try visiting smaller independent caves rather than grocery stores or French chains like Nicolas. They carry smaller producers and nice bottles can be had for as little as 10 euros. Wait to buy Champagne at home because it won’t cost you any more than in France and you can the save suitcase space.
Cooking lessons, Wine tasting classes, or Spa treatments
When all else fails these types of experiences make original, memorable gifts. Last year for Christmas I gave my dad and brother classes at O Chateau and my mother an afternoon at the Medina Hammam.