Avignon ranks right up there with Arles for souvenir shopping. I love the Provencal fabrics in table linens, bath linens and anything else they can dream of making. There are all kinds of crazy things like chirping ceramic cicadas to remind you of summer nights in Provence. I have, so far, resisted the chirping ceramics.
The Old Town is the place to start if you want souvenir-type things. There are lots of shops and often spreading out onto the street with their wares. If you want more normal things, head downtown for lovely shops carrying anything you could want.
What to buy: Anything! It really depends on what you want. We have discovered one neat trick though. If we forget something or need something we hadn't thought of, we buy it in France. Then we have what we need and we also have a marvelous souvenir when we get home. You can almost consider it a free souvenir because you need it anyway . . . ;^)
As far as food and drink, we always try to buy local products. It supports the local economy; it reminds us of our trip and it is invariably much less expensive.
What to pay: Prices tend to be about the same as at home but we live in California and I suspect it may be a bit more expensive than some other places. If you buy local goods, they are often much cheaper than you would pay at home.
Rice is one of my absolute all time favourite things to eat in just about any possible incarnation, and Camargue red rice is something that I've been looking forward to trying for some time.
I didn't have much time to shop in Avignon, and drew a blank with the few small supermarkets located in the city centre. However, I did get lucky when I rose at dawn on my last day to visit the Les Halles fresh produce market and found organic red rice at a wholefoods stall at the eastern end of the complex.
Red rice is a form of wild rice, which turns a distinct red colour on cooking. Some cultivated rice strains have a tendency to turn red, which is a warning sign for farmers that the rice is reverting to a wild strain (which is usually less productive and more difficult to handle, as well as out of spec with customer requirements). However the Camargue strain has been achieved by cross pollinating local wild and white rice strains, which have been stabilised.
I can't wait to experiment with this: watch this space!
As you might expect, the Les Halles fresh produce market is a hall equipped with serried ranks of edible temptation - although surprisingly well ordered and subdued, at least when I visited (very early morning). I suspect that there must be a wholesale fresh produce market elsewhere, as this didn't seem to be big enough to service a town of this size, and also wasn't selling much in bulk.
I made a point of visiting because I was in search of Camargue red rice, which I tracked down in a wholefoods stall at the eastern end of the complex.
Unsurprisingly, the quality of the produce was outstanding, and in particular, the variety and presentation of the meat stalls - not usually my favourite displays - just made me want to purchase everything in sight and comandeer someone's kitchen!
I did note with some amusement that the design of the foodstuffs is not as exclusively Provencal as they might appear: a tempting pile of iced biscuits fashioned in the shape of European animals (elk, foxes, bears) looked awfully familiar becaause I bought an identical set of cookie cutters in Ikea last Christmas!
Even if you're not a foodie, the building is well worth a visit because of its highly distinctive 'living wall'. It is on the western edge of the complex, which abuts Place des Halles and would actually be easy to miss if you were walking close to the market, because the plants do not extend down to ground level, and are partially obscured by covered walkway.
Note that there is also a small tourist information centre at the Les Halles market (only open 10:00 - 13:00 daily).
To my eye at least, Provencal pottery is gorgeous and reflects the warmth and joie de vivre of its provenance.
I don't like buying gifts that are decorative but useless, so I usually plump for items that are practical or edible ... or ideally, combine elements of the two, such as this lovely rest for wooden spoons.
Not only does this reflect the colours of a Provencal summer, but also features the cicada, Provence's emblem. It's also small and flat and relatively easy to transport, so it pretty well ticked all the boxes. Better still, this was on special when I visited in late September 2011: two for €4, so I bought four, combined them with bags of dried herbes de Provence, and bingo, my gift problems were largely solved!
A few words of warning on bringing back Provencal herbs as gifts. Firstly, make sure that your local customs regulations allow you to import plant matter (many don't). Secondly, the herbs sold in tourist shops tend to be attractively packaged in little fabric bags with printed labels such as 'pizza' and 'salade'. This is all well and good if the people for whom the gifts were intended speak some French, but in my case, my Afrikaans-speaking work colleagues were somewhat nonplussed to be given little bags which at first glance seemed to be labelled 'poison' (actually 'poisson', meaning fish) ... ;)
There is a string of craft shops along Rue de la Balance, just off the Place du Palais. They way be touristy, and perhaps the same items can be got for less elsewhere if you have the time to look around. However, I was keen to use the little time that I had in Avignon to explore as much as possible, and they seemed like reasonable value for money to me.
The choice of goods was excellent, and I was enchanted by the brightly coloured Provencal fabric (although less so by the price!). Other than pottery, the other staples are different variations on a herb, lavender and homewear theme, as you might expect.
I have to confess that I did keep one for myself ... well, if it's good enough for my friends, it stands to reason that it's good enough for me :)
It's most fitting that the cicada is the emblem of Provence, because its hypnotic screech provides the summer soundtrack for the region.
This little pottery cicada is my Avignon addition to the family Christmas tree - which is the embodiment of our family history and travel. I doubt that he was designed for this purpose, but it won't be the first - or last - time that a decorative item acquired on our travels has been similarly repurposed!
What to buy:
My personal favorite souvenirs are ceramic cicadas (crickets) with mechanical mechanism (don't need batteries) that emit the sound of real cicadas. They come in various sizes, designs and colors.
I love the most those with lavender flower design.
What to pay: 6 Euros big ones, 3 Euros small ones, 1,5 Euros small magnets
Sold all over Provence in France, these cute little cicadas are "armed" with a movement detector and will let out a shrill sound as you pass. Unusual item and when the sound drives you crazy, just turn off the switch and then a silent cicada.
They come in a variety of colours and sizes - the one photographed (and on guard in our house) is about 6" long, 2" high and 3" wide. He was "asleep" and packed in bubble wrap and for additional protection, lived in a shoe until we got home. Not sure how airport security devises would have reacted to our cicada going off in a suitcase - LOL
Les Halles in Place Pie is a covered market (open 7am-1pm, Tues-Sun) and sells fresh produce, cheeses, wines, and produits du pays.
The northern facade of the market is covered by a wall of vegetation Known as Le Mur Vegetal in French a creation of the botanist Patrick Blanc, consisting of a variety of plants trailing gently up the outside wall. Watching it flourish from scaffolding to flowering was delightful surprise.
Where to buy:
-The Poultry shop "chez Hugon & Jean Volailles" every kind of poultry is there. The pigeon is especially good. Jean is always ready for a joke, especially about foreign rugby teams and Rasheed will catch you out with his playful good humour.
-The cheese "chez Michel et Jeannine Bourgue" always warm and ready to advice on what is ripe and in season
-Spices "chez Jean Marc Asker" everything is available
-Bakery "chez Gaetan (Pain au Levain) good variety. Every sunday he puts on different hat, it has to be seen to be believed.
-Olives "chez Serge" Never seen such variety of brining/curing olives. They think they know about olives in the middle east, they should come here!
-fruits & Vegetable "Bonny/Le Jardin de Victor" reasonable price
-Wine "Cave Les Genets" always smiling Laure Chassagne knows her wine. A free tasting every saturday, try LE SABLET " VIEILLES VIGNES " BLANC
The Halles also holds cooking demonstration every saturday at 11am
What to buy: Everything from the market otherise stick to ceramics from the surrounding villages.
What to pay: Count your change and make sure your bill is not added on top of the previous customer; it happened to us several times even though we were "locals" , however the shops I mentioned above are honest.
What to buy:
In many little shops a french treasure awaits you... Provencal fabrics for table cloth, place mats, curtains... lavender scent in pot pourri... pottery and cicada pottery...
Also try the gourmet approach as we found little groceries with candies, oils, vinegars, pates, olives, foie gras, mmmhhhh!
Great place to stop, sample wine, visit, sample, talk, sample, relax, sample ... as in many others, but I like this one
See your wine maker and his wife waiting for a baby :)) Little Melanie, 1 month old now.
NB : Possibility to stay and sleep there. Booking preferred.
New appartment with kitchen next to the Renaissance Castle rented @ 457 Euros per week. Beautiful view on the vineyard. Swimming pool. Good base to visit the beautiful Provence.
What to buy: Wine
Probably and strangely, the white is the best
What to pay: Not enough
If you like shopping you are in lucky. Avignon has a huge shopping area, and right next to it are many outdoor restaurants, and small snack shops.
Here's a photo of the main area.