All photos courtesy Cynthia Rose.
Paris Christmas shopping can be complicated. It’s crowded, the shops are hot and everything takes a little longer. You’ve probably already struggled to see all the sights and now you have to get the loved ones something special. Except, before you know it, no time is left.
Don’t panic! Paris has several oases for one-stop shopping. The most promoted may be the Carrousel de Louvre, but massive crowds make it a must to avoid at Yule. Instead, try places you can enjoy playing the savvy Santa. Your only requirement is to organize the list of targets, so you won’t be sidetracked into merely treating yourself.
My first choice location to find something for everyone is La Grande Epicerie. The food hall of Le Bon Marché, this place is an Xmas wonderland. (It also stocks great gifts on which we rely all year.) For women, I always choose Fauchon’s heart-shaped tins of chocolates—which come in chic black, holiday gold or shocking pink. For men, try Hediard’s boxes of chocolates in red with brown ribbons. Everyone likes the French soaps: fresh Savon de Marseille or luxurious Savon d’Alep.
In Christmas shopping around Paris, I’ve seen nothing more delightful than its selection of candies. For one thing, it’s truly enormous. Plus, the more traditional goodies feature gorgeous packaging. Try pink-and-yellow calissons, group assortments of the French mints Anis de Flavigny or the épicerie’s marzipan cherries to hang on your tree. I couldn’t resist chocolate bars wrapped like antique Xmas cards—or fat marshmallow Santas and polar bears on sticks.
Another choice that never fails to please is the sugar creations of Can à Suc. This French company makes whimsical items out of cane sugar: angels, hearts, diamonds and snowflakes, stars and a range of Yuletide decorations. Some are small and delicate, designed to perch on coffee cups, others are meant to be hung on the tree. They come in sturdy boxes, so it’s safe to carry or mail them.
The épicerie is huge, with goodies stashed in unlikely places. For instance, my favorite find was hidden in the household goods. It was one I never could have imagined: miniboxes of Kleenex by the couturier Kenzo.
La Grande Epicerie does have a downside, though: even at Christmas, it stays closed on Sunday. This is when you need to head for the Centre Pompidou (“le Beaubourg”), which is open every day but Tuesday. It has a special designer boutique stocked by Printemps. But its best gifts are across the floor in the giant bookshop.
Here, you’ll find Paris Christmas shopping at its easiest. The sprawling store is stuffed with gorgeous art books (heavy or light), CDs that feature the “favorite music” of famous artists and a truly mind-boggling range of DVDs. There is also every kind of stationery, trinket, map and memento. Its French agendas (diaries) are always beautiful. But I prefer the special notebooks made for cooks and cinema fans.
Kids love the coloring books designed by artists and their mums like the artist-made pins, rings and necklaces. It’s easy to get lost among the zillions of cards and postcards—but try not to miss the ones that feature fake historic moments. These offer Paris monuments and French wit on a tripist budget.
Open until 9 p.m.—11 p.m. on Thursdays—le Beaubourg is the city’s No. 1 gift-shopping lifesaver. We once came on a last-minute Father’s Day emergency and ended up polishing off half our Christmas list.
The only caveat I have about one-stop shopping is that it can leave you famished. However, that’s another thing I like about my choices: each has its own delightful in-house café!
If you buy Parisian DVDs for Americans, remember: the region coding is different. Your intended recipient must have a compatible player.
A majority of the Beaubourg’s books can be bought in English. But if you seek a wide selection of English-language books about Paris (humor, guides, feminine treats, novels or simply history), go to W. H. Smith across from the Tuileries. This branch of the British store is also open on Sundays. Plus, here you can score royal wedding mugs—or those for the queen’s 2012 diamond jubilee.
La Grande Epicerie
W. H. Smith
Editor’s note: Going to Paris without our Paris highlights iPhone app just isn’t smart. OK, so we are a bit biased, but still . . .