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Where to Find Unique Gifts in Paris – All Under One Gorgeous Roof

Where to Find Unique Gifts in Paris – All Under One Gorgeous Roof

Have you been to the Grands Magasins of Paris?  No?  What about one of the huge department stores in Manhattan or in your local mall?  The ones you have seen are big aren’t they?  But, really, really big?

Big is an Understatement

Galeries Lafayette Atrium

Saks Fifth Avenue is big.  Bergdorf Goodman is luxe.  Barney’s is cutting edge.  But, you cannot imagine the spread of the Grands Magasins.  All of the New York stores combined into one do not equal the sheer enormity of either Printemps or Galeries Lafayette.  These are the two, true Grands Magasins of Paris.  And they have food too!

Imagine one of the incredible department stores that you know, then supersize it – twice or three times.  Next, add haute couture names from the best in the fashion world, plus everything you can imagine from a regular department store.  Add in food in all variations.  And there you have it – one of the Grands Magasins.  All under one roof (or three, as the case may be).   As a bonus, the Grands Magasins are next door to each other (and behind the Palais Garnier).  Convenient, eh?

Galeries Lafayette

 

What is Inside the Grands Magasins

Housewares – floors full
Kitchen – great souvenirs in the tea towel section and utensils section
Bedding – anything you can imagine
Men’s – of course
Women’s – can’t have a department store without it
Shoes – for acres
Food – pantry items to prepared gourmet take home
Restaurants – from sandwiches where they slice the aged ham off the bone to a Petrossian caviar and Champagne restaurant right by the atrium in Galeries Lafayette.  And, everything in between.  In Printemps du Goût, we stopped at Byzance for a beautiful smoked salmon baguette sandwich that we enjoyed while looking over the rooftops and the Eiffel Tower in the distance.  Not too shabby!
Grocery – like a super high end grocery store with butchers and fish mongers who can answer any question you have about the product or how to prepare it
Wine and Liquor – tremendous wine selections, rooms of Champagne, spirits of all kinds

Galeries Lafayette Wall Diagram

Thinking of food and drink, Printemps recently opened two new floors of gourmet food halls, Printemps du Goût.  One floor even has a great gift section appropriately named, “Le Cadeau” (“gift” in English).  Shelves of perfectly sized gems for gift giving.  (Just ignore my advice on not really taking jarred and canned things back and get a few for family and friends back home if you dare.)  Galeries Lafayette has amazing food halls, too.  Luxurious, insane, deliciousness waiting for your watering mouth.

Printemps cadeau

Perfect size for gifts.

Fashion at the Grands Magasins

And, are you looking for the most exclusive names because you are a fashionista?  I bet you have never heard of all of the luxury brands encircling the atrium beneath the fabulous multi-colored dome of Galeries Lafayette.  The same with Printemps in an entire building dedicated to women’s wear.  Printemps also has a dome, but it covers a brasserie where, once you are done shopping, you can relax under beautifully filtered light.

Galeries Lafayette Bons Bons Maquillage

Who knew you could get chocolate bons bons in a make up format?

With all that is on offer, it is hard to imagine that any store can be as magnificent as the Grands Magasins.  Just walking around for an hour to browse and getting a snack (or two) can be overwhelming.  And, you cannot make it through the Grands Magasins in a day – or maybe even a week.  They are simply over the top, and at the same time, a must visit.  Obviously visitors from all over the world feel the same way.  You can see any nationality shopping, and the Grands Magasins have sales people who speak practically every language.  The diversity is amazing.

View From on High

View from terrace of Galeries Lafayette

View from the terrace of Galeries Lafayette of the Palais Garnier.

Whatever you do, shop or not, do not miss the view from the top of one of these Grands Magasins.  The view is worth every penny you don’t pay to go shopping.  Expanses over the rooftops at a height that makes Paris seem to stretch out forever at your feet.

Galeries Lafayette Sign to the Terrace

Keep going up!

A Couple of Notes on Visiting the Grands Magasins

– Expect your bags to be checked by security when you walk in the doors of each store.
– Do not bring suitcases with you.
– Galeries Lafayette will soon open another location in a huge historic building on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées
– Thinking of eating during a shopping trip?  Be prepared to be overwhelmed; there are lots of choices and lots of competition for seats
– Practice a few key menu terms before you go
– At the restaurants, pay attention to the details – yes, they have “hairnets,” but they are stylish
– Galleries Lafayette even has an RER entrance into the men’s department
– Check out this warning – and admonition to get your body moving – from the Printemps website:

ALCOHOL ABUSE IS DANGEROUS FOR THE HEALTH. CONSUME WITH MODERATION.
FOR YOUR HEALTH, PRACTICE REGULARLY PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES.

View from Printemps Food Halls

Not a bad place to enjoy a smoked salmon baguette sandwich!

Galeries Lafayette – Paris Haussmann
40 boulevard Haussmann
75009

Printemps – Paris Haussmann
64, Boulevard Haussmann
75009

Vintage Clothes in the Marais

Vintage Clothes in the Marais

Jennifer was on a quest to find the best vintage clothes in the Marais.  As soon as we were planning the trip, Jennifer began researching names and locations of vintage clothing stores.  Then, she decided to narrow it to the Marais.  With that limitation, she and I could map out the stores and create a route for the day, with some culture and a snack or two along the way.

Jennifer is an expert at vintage clothing and has a collection that rivals the best shops anywhere.  Whether in New York, Miami or London, Jennifer has found exceptional quality at vintage clothing stores.  Along with clothes, she shops handbags, jewelry, shoes, luggage, and hats.

On the trip in January, Jennifer packed 3 vintage berets that she sported jauntily in our evenings out.  Also in her suitcase, she packed vintage dresses from Yves St. Laurent and Givenchy, vintage Gucci heels, vintage clutch, and bags full of vintage earrings and jewelry.  (She was stunning each night!)  Her motto is save for something spectacular and timeless, and do not waste money on trends at retail stores.  With that goal in mind, she set our mission for the day of shopping at vintage clothes in the Marais, and we were off.

Start at Saint Paul for Vintage Clothes in the Marais

Rue de Rivoli near Saint Paul

Rue de Rivoli near Saint Paul Métro

First, we took the Métro up to Saint Paul station.  After walking past some of the beautiful foods offered at shops along the way, we arrived at Tilt on the rue de Rivoli.  Jennifer went in to check out our first shop of vintage clothes in the Marais.  A few minutes later, she returned to the sidewalk without making a purchase.  Her assessment:  not high end, not really vintage, more of a resale shop.  Nice sales people that were helpful.  At the end of the day, she added that Tilt is not crammed and jammed like the ones on the rue des Rosiers (more to come about those).

Fit in a Little Culture and Some Great Food

Picasso Museum Courtyard Entrance

Entrance to the Picasso Museum – nice house!

From Tilt, we walked to the Picasso Museum and saw his personal collection on the top floors.  Then, we walked around the corner and ordered crêpes to go from Breizh Café annex – next door to the sit-down restaurant.

Park behind Picasso Museum

Great picnic spot! The other side of the house from the entrance to the Picasso Museum.

We walked across the street and had a picnic at one of the tables in the park behind/in front of the Picasso Museum.  Along with our to go boxes, the cutlery and packaging were all biodegradable.  (An example of Paris really trying to be green.)  This was a completely perfect way to enjoy a delicious Breton crêpe in the Marais!

Bio c’ Bon

Bio c' Bon

Now that we were fortified, we could start our shopping in earnest.  But, Paris has many diversions, even if it is a grocery store.  On our walk, we passed a store, Bio c’ Bon and I went in to get a bottle of water.  It turned out to be an amazing store of 3 floors of only organic products.  From brimming meat cases to stunning produce, to everything else in a regular grocery store – all organic.  A great find – and they are all over Paris.  Add it to your list.

Place de la République

Place de la Republique

Place de la Republique

We kept going up to near the Place de la République to find the shop, Nice Piece.  It was supposed to open at 12:30 pm, and we got there right at 12:30.  We looked in the window for a few minutes.  Jennifer said it looked good and worth checking out.  We waited, then walked up the street and looked at Place de la République, took some photos, then back again.  Still not open.

Onward to High-End Vintage

Time was ticking, so we walked over to the end of rue Tournelles.  Two vintage stores are down the block from each other:  Odetta and Fabri & Co.

Fabri and Co

From the outside, each one looks like a high-end boutique – small, tasteful, luxe.  Jennifer and John were in Fabri & Co. so long that I was sure Jennifer was making a purchase.  Finally, they came onto the street without a bag.  But,  Jennifer was very impressed.  She said the shop owner was super friendly, high-end vintage, the quality was great, clothes were in great condition, lots of beautiful jackets and matching skirts or pants from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.  Also, handbags and some shoes.

Odetta

Next, they went into Odetta and did not spend as much time.  Jennifer said it was extremely high end with a salesman to match.  The shop is a sparse boutique with a well-edited collection.  Clothes are beautifully made, along with handbags and jewelry, all in great condition.

Café Time

Chez Janou zinc bar

As we made our way down the street, we saw a café and stopped in.  It was Chez Janou.  A café with a super-great Parisian feeling.  A beautiful rounded zinc bar, a friendly bartender, a lively crowd and an excellent looking menu!  We ordered a celebratory drink – Jennifer a glass of Champagne, John a kir and me a glass of red wine.  Maybe you wonder why celebratory?  It is Paris and that is reason enough to celebrate!!!  Plus, Jennifer was feeling especially optimistic about our next stops.  After our pick-me-ups, we started out again.

More Beautiful History

Place des Vosges winter

Place des Vosges in winter.

On the way to the next store for vintage clothes in the Marais, we had a few stops to make.  First, we walked in and around the Place des Vosges.  We sat on a bench for a few minutes admiring the amazing architecture and calming square.  Even without any leaves on the trees, it remains one of the most beautiful squares in Paris.

Snack Time

Florence Kahn Bakery

Even in cold and rain, you can sit outside at Florence Kahn Bakery and enjoy falafel.

Then we made our way down the narrow streets to the corner of rue des Rosiers and rue des Ecouffes – falafel central of the Jewish quarter.  John had been waiting for a snack here.  He got a falafel stuffed pita and we all had a bite of the falafel – deee-licious.  It is always a great place to go on each visit to Paris for a reasonably priced and delicious meal (or snack).  When making plans, remember that most of these restaurants are closed on Saturdays in observance of the Sabbath.

Kilo Shop

Kilo Shop – one of multiple.

While we were walking for a falafel snack, Jennifer saw a second-hand store, the Kilo Shop, and went in.  Jennifer’s assessment:  some vintage clothes, fur coats, men’s and women’s jackets, shirts, and jeans.  Minimal accessories and the store was packed with things.  Here, shoppers buy by weight – an interesting idea.  Later comment – Kilo Shops are all over Paris with thrift-store quality.

More Like Thrift Stores

Vintage Desir

Look on the glass storefront for the painted letters – Vintage Desir.

Another find was right off of the falafel corner.  Vintage Desir (or Coiffure – looks like a leftover sign from a previous haircutting place) is a second-hand shop and Jennifer went in.  Her assessment:  slightly more upscale thrift shop quality.  Much more wear to the clothes, both men’s and women’s clothes, everything from jackets, to bins of scarves, purses, hats.  Some hidden gems.  Kind of a free-for-all inside with the shoppers.

Free'P'Star

Another Free’P’Star is across the street from this one. Look at the piles of purses.

Free’P’Star was the last store of vintage clothes in the Marais on Jennifer’s list.  It is in the next block from Le BHV with a Kilo Shop next door.  Jennifer’s assessment:  claustrophobic, free-for-all, thrift store grade, knock-off purses by the load.  Once she got in, she had a hard time getting out.  It is two stores, one across the street from each other.  I only looked in the window and it was a mob scene.

Place de l’Hôtel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

After the raucousness of Free’P’Star, that was it for the day.  We walked to the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, satisfied our craving for a Nutella Crêpe, saw Yellow Vests marching down the rue de Rivoli, then headed back to the hotel for a nap.  No purchases, but Jennifer took us on a great tour and we found out a lot about vintage clothes in the Marais!

Take a tour of vintage clothes in the Marais, but add some spice and spend the day.  Here is a map with directions for this walking tour of vintage clothes, history, art, and food.

Tilt
8 rue de Rivoli
75004 Paris

Picasso Museum
5 rue de Thorigny
75003 Paris

Breizh Café
109 rue Vielle du Temple
75003 Paris

Nice Piece
76 rue Charlot
75003 Paris

Fabri & Co.
82 rue Tournelles
75003 Paris

Odetta
76 rue Tournelles
75003 Paris

Chez Janou
2 rue Roger Verlomme
75003 Paris

Kilo Shop
locations around Paris

Vintage Desir
32 rue des Rosiers
75004 Paris

Florence Kahn Bakery
24 Rue des Ecouffes
75004 Paris

Free’P’Star
61 rue de la Verrerie
75004 Paris

My Favorite Messenger Bag for Paris

My Favorite Messenger Bag for Paris

My favorite messenger bag – or satchel – for Paris is a Timbuk2 Custom Classic Messenger Bag, size medium.  Because I am tall (about 6’4″), I ordered the custom bag so I could get a longer strap.  And, it was fun to pick some colors.   The folks in San Francisco who make these bags are nice like that.

Goes Everywhere

Since I first got the bag about 18 years ago, that satchel goes on every trip I make.  I carry it everywhere with me like Linus’ blanket.  The inner liner is waterproof. The outside is Cordura® canvas with a flap and Velcro® closures and buckles.  D-rings at the ends outside are perfect for attaching my id tag.  And, it holds everything I need for a day exploring Paris.

If I take it off my shoulder, I put it between my feet and also put one arm through the strap.  (It is as safe in Paris as the United States, but because many things can distract my attention over there, I try to be more aware of guarding my bag.) The Timbuk2 Messenger Bags have interior compartments and zipper closures, keeping the contents out of reach from pickpockets.

Although my messenger bag is 18 years old, Timbuk2 is continually refining their bags with padded compartments designed to perfectly fit new model laptops and tablets. And, they are sleek.

One Messenger Bag – Two Uses

There are two uses for my Timbuk2 messenger bag.  One, is going on the plane.  Two, is exploring Paris. 

Some Timbuk2 models include a luggage handle passthrough, making them ideal for travel. 

For going on the plane, put all of the things you need to live for a day, in case luggage is lost.  That means medications, laptop or tablet (if you are taking one), boarding passes, hotel contact information, plus other items needed on the trip over.

This is what I keep in my favorite messenger bag for exploring Paris:

  • Two or three super lightweight ponchos that are about 99¢ at the grocery store in case it begins raining
  • Several paper napkins – spill something on myself, wipe off a wet chair bottom to sit in, wipe the sugar off my face after visiting a patisserie
  • Travel-size disinfecting wipes, who knows when you may need one
  • Eye drops
  • Sunglasses
  • Eyeglasses
  • Lip balm
  • Camera
  • Guidebook
  • Pocket map, if not in the guidebook or easy access on my phone
  • Metro map, if not in the guidebook
  • Museum pass or tickets to the events I am going to that day
  • Water bottle
  • Pen
  • Change
  • Small umbrella
  • Hotel name with the address and telephone number

Most of the time my messenger bag is light.  I keep it slung over my shoulder, and there is still extra room to stuff my jacket in it if I get too hot.  There is easy access to my water bottle, which I always need and can refill, and room to poke in some postcards when I see one I want to send.

Comfort is Key

Many women have comfortable bags that would be great as a satchel.  Timbuk2 offers a variety of styish bags enjoyed by women too. Comfortable and useful are the key factors.  But, you have to have some way to tote your essentials around in or you will be staying within walking distance of your hotel room.

Take note of what you use during a regular day and make a list of your necessities.  Review the list, then review it again and make that the list for your satchel.  Only those things that will make your day comfortable, go in your bag.  Don’t overdo it – just the necessities.  Remember, you are in the most civilized city in the world. A pharmacy or a Monoprix is never too far away and you can easily find the things you need.

Paris Auction Houses

Paris Auction Houses

Paris is home to some of the greatest auction houses and auction traditions in the world.  Of course Christie’s and Sotheby’s have locations here.  But, Paris also has homegrown auction houses.  One thing that makes these Paris auction houses great is that everyone can participate.  Paris auction houses sell everything from cups and saucers to gold cigarette cases to paintings and art worth millions.

All of the auctions start in the afternoon.  A friend told me all the auctioneers and big spenders go eat lunch and drink together.  There, they decide what things should sell for what amount and to whom.  Then, they go back and auction their wares to the bidder who was in on the action at lunch.

That may have been the case at one time.  But now, all of the auctions are online, so who knows if that still could be true.  People from all over the world bid – and win – on items sold nearly every day from Paris auction houses.  Recently a T-Rex skeleton sold for more than 2 Million Euros.  There are many Paris auction houses, but here are a few.

Drouot

Hôtel Drouot is probably one of the most famous Paris auction houses you have never heard of.  The main location is a big building with many auction rooms under one roof.  It has other locations around the city with even more auction rooms.

About 70 auction firms participate in the Drouot organization.  So there is always something being auctioned – except in August.  Nothing happens in August in Paris auction houses.

Drouot began in the 1850s.  Its location is in the 9th arrondissement and is easily accessed by the Métro.  Just look for the station that bears its name, Richelieu-Drouot.  Check out Drouot Digital.

 

Paris auction house

Artcurial at the Hôtel Marcel Dassault in Paris. CC BY-SA 3.0

Artcurial – One of the Big Paris Auction Houses

The spectacular Hôtel Marcel Dassault is home to Artcurial.  This former private home (yes, a home for one family), was built in 1844.  Not only is the house grand, it is a pretty grand location for an auction house – at the Rond Pont Champs-Élysées. Artcurial is supposedly third in sales of the Paris auction houses after Christie’s and Sotheby’s.  Artcurial has fun automobile sales if you are looking for vintage Bentley’s and Rolls-Royces.

Tajan – Another of the Big Paris Auction Houses

Tajan is another of the Paris auction houses specializing in high quality, high dollar art.  Its sales range from 20th century art deco masterpieces to fine medieval works of art to antiquities.  Plus everything else, including books, fashion and vintage suitcases.  Take a look at Tajan’s website.

Even if you do not participate at one of the Paris auction houses, you can have fun watching – live or at home.  While you are in Paris, drop in and watch live.  Or, you can watch live at home on your computer.  Have fun, listen to the language and enjoy the fun, without spending a dime?

You may be surprised by the amount of money some of these things can bring.  But, then again, you may get lucky and find a perfect souvenir.

Souvenirs from Paris

Souvenirs from Paris

A souvenir = a reminder/a memory.  The French word for remember describes exactly what we crave from places we visit – a remembrance of a trip or a special place that conjures the spirit of that place or trip in one symbolic item.  Souvenirs do not have to be much, a little something for your family and friends to let them know you were thinking of them in Paris.

When buying souvenirs, keep them small and lightweight!  Remember, you have to tote them home!  Here are some suggestions for souvenirs.

Chocolate

Perfection for nearly everyone.  Paris has no shortage of delicious chocolate shops.  Be careful on the return journey because chocolate can melt!  You may want to keep all chocolate and candy souvenirs in your carry-on.  The packaging is extraordinary and even the smallest amount of chocolate makes for a grand souvenir.

Paper, paper products, notebooks

Gibert Jeune – not just any paper products.  Think paper products and notebooks done the French way – these are souvenirs with style and interest.  Yes, it is a book store and text book store for all of the students, but it is much more and worthy of taking a turn through the aisles for yourself and for others.  You will see the yellow signs near Place St. Michel. The sign includes, “Librarie,” which translates to bookstore, not a library in the American sense.

Tea towels/kitchen towels

A useful souvenir that can be for the whole family.  Your family and friends can hang them from the oven door and think of you for as long as they last!  Find tea towels at many museum gift shops, along the touristy walkways and even at Monoprix or Franprix.

Candy

La Cure Gourmand, newly installed in Paris, made in the South of France, and only from 1989. However, your head will spin when you walk in the stores and see the selection and the packaging, taste the flavors and decide you must bring some home. Try the chocolate olives!

Fashion

Maybe a chic scarf is the way to go – Paris is the fashion capital of the world. Take a look at the museum shops, les Grands Magasins and even the tourist stalls on the rue de Rivoli.  Also, when you duck into a Franprix or Monoprix, they may have something to suit you.

Children’s clothes – new baby in the family??  Stop by the Monoprix or Franprix and pick up children’s clothes at great prices.

Old books, interesting maps, vintage looking magnets and trays, what about a reproduction menu?

Find them all at the bouquinistes.  These souvenirs can please even the most well-traveled relative or friend.  The bouquinistes have the green flip top storage containers sitting atop the walls along the quais of the Seine.  When the top is opened, the sellers are ready for business.  Do not touch anything without asking first.  Many times, the seller will pull out the item for you and present it to you for inspection.  Shop for souvenirs, plus, enjoy the walk and admire outstanding views of Paris.

Museum Shops

Did you visit a museum show with an incredible exhibition that you loved? See if the museum shop has a small exhibition catalog for a souvenir. Or, if you especially loved it, you can get a souvenir for yourself!

The boutique at Musée de l’Armée has super cool miniature Napoleonic canons for boys on your list.  Anything more appropriate than that for warring Napoleon?

Postcards

A postcard is my favorite souvenir from someone who goes on a trip, and one of my favorite souvenirs to send.  Most people have everything they need and a postcard is always perfect.  They are easily found nearly anywhere in Paris, they are save-able, inexpensive and thoughtful.  They can be beautiful, funny, monumental or whatever you prefer or whatever matches the style of the recipient.   Most hotels have stamps and will mail them for you – and you do not have to bring it home with you in your luggage!

Specialty Souvenirs

For book lovers, you may select a book from Shakespeare and Company – be sure to have it stamped by the store on the way out – or, try the bouquinistes again.

Someone who likes gardens may like a box of note cards from the shop in the Tuileries.

Sometimes, you have a grandchild or niece or nephew who couldn’t be more pleased with plastic snow globe of the Paris landmarks – you can find these and other “unique” items around Notre Dame, the Louvre and Montmartre.  Or, what about an Eiffel Tower key ring – inexpensive enough to buy multiple in case you forgot someone on your list. Mini monuments are kitsch, but…. you are a tourist.

For cooks on your list, try a kitchen supply store like La Vaissellerie (4 locations) or E. Dehillerin. Or, maybe an apron from Café de Flore.

Pharmacy

What great products the French pharmacy has! Look for the green, kind of weird plus sign and that signifies a pharmacy. Besides being able to help you if you have a sore throat, they have all kinds of beauty potions and lotions that will satisfy even the most fickle person on your list.

Recap on Monoprix or Franprix

These are kind of a combination supermarket, variety store and department store.  Incredible resources for necessities that you may have forgotten and for souvenirs. You may be amazed after entering a simple street-side door, marked with a sign overhead, that opens to an expansive multi-level affair.  Interesting and fun places to shop for souvenirs and to learn about French culture (look at all of those yogurts in glass jars! What is that wooden contraption over there?).  You can find your own souvenirs, but consider:

Jaunty make up bags

Rows of Dijon mustard, not Parisian, but hey, it is French and pick a brand that you have never seen before

Milled bar soap

Kitchen towels

Sea salt – Fleur de Sel from the Camargue – not Parisian either, but, still French

Children’s clothes

Socks

Toothbrushes – a friend brought these back for a whole group of us and the toothbrush came with a little brush head cover that I still use today (on newer toothbrushes)

Cooking utensils (go to that section and see if you can figure out what they are all used for)

Food Souvenirs

A caution for food souvenirs: Food other than candy and chocolate – buy at your own risk.  Customs has taken jars of jelly from me before, so I avoid food products other than chocolate and candy.

However, for the honey lover – the Opera Garnier’s gift shop sells honey from the hives on its roof.

Forgot a Gift?

Did you forget to get a souvenir, but have yet to take the flight home? Use your left over euros at the airport in one of the shops to find a last-minute souvenir.

Back at home and forgot a gift? Maybe you saw an exhibition and now you want the catalog? Check out the official French museum shop online.

Questioning Whether You Can Bring It Back?

For a definitive list of what you can and cannot bring back into the U.S. and what the costs may be, check with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection online and watch, “Know Before You Go.”