The best little shops in Paris


The best little shops in Paris

This blog is about bouquinistes – the best places in Paris to find a gorgeous, unique souvenir. One that you’ll treasure forever.

The word “souvenir” smacks of tacky plastic Eiffel towers and ashtrays, and that’s not what I’m talking about. I like hand painted ceramic bowls, coffee table books and local spices…

I hunt for souvenirs that are more cultured. (Confession: I do have an ashtray from Cuba of a big bottomed lady with a hole in the back of her skirt so she puffs smoke out of her mouth).

I love browsing art markets (where I found the aforementioned Cuban lady) and little galleries where local artists show their work. I don’t mind if a painting was done by a four-year old, as long as it speaks to me of the place I bought it.

So you can imagine my delight when I was wandering along the banks of the River Seine, right at the Pont Neuf near Notre Dame Cathedral, and I discovered the bouquinistes.

This little 3km section of the Seine river walk is an institution in Paris and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s the Portobello Rd of Paris, a treasure trove of vendors selling antique books, prints and paintings.

Bouquinistes (used book sellers) have been plying their trade along this portion of the Seine since the 16th century. Their little green kiosks, just two metres long by one metre wide, are fixed to the stone walls and have played a big part in local history. From distributing Protestant ‘propaganda’ to hiding messages in their books during the World Wars, they’re your ordinary bookstore.

 

Today it’s not uncommon to pick up rare leather bound books with engravings dating from the late nineteenth century. If you’re a collector of antique books or etchings, take your time. These vendors gather their wares from surrounding flea markets, antique shows and deceased estates so you might find something truly amazing.

Sadly there’s still touristy tat like magnets and postcards (the city government granted them permission to sell as times have become tough), but you need to look past those.

I spent about an hour riffling through replica Van Gogh oil paintings and cliché Eiffel Tower scenes until settling on a still life of a wine bottle with grapes and bread for €60. I’m now saving to buy a frame – it will probably cost me a lot more than the painting!

If you pick your hotels the same way you pick your souvenirs, take your time to book a boutique hotel. Paris has plenty of small hotels with character in spades. A real gem is the Select Hotel – Rive Gauche, 5th arrondissement. Book into a room in the rafters, where you can snuggle up under the exposed beams and sleep until the sun comes through the wooden shutters.

The bouquinistes are closed on Sundays, opening the rest of week from noon till siesta time at 2.30pm, then again from 7pm till 11pm.

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Megan Singleton

About the Author Megan Singleton

Megan Singleton is an award-winning travel writer with 14 years experience travelling the world – and calling it work. She is editor and founder of  Blogger at Large, one of New Zealand’s biggest travel blogs, where she shares inside tips on places to go – and not to go – and uploads plenty of pictures because she’s also a wannabe National Geographic photographer. Her suitcase is only ever ten minutes away from being ready. But when she’s not gallivanting around the world, Megan is in Auckland with her husband pretending to be Master Chef and planning her next trip.   3  travel must haves? iPhone, a good camera, and my laptop so I’m always connected.   What’s on your travel Bucket List? Staring at the phenomenon that is the Northern Lights, Christmas markets in Germany – preferably by river cruise