Products Made Locally, on the French Riviera
The French Riviera is known for its traditional handicrafts, such as pottery, glassware, jewelry, and other decorative items. The marketplaces of Monaco, boutiques of Cannes et al, are the heart of their respective cities, but some villages have more boutiques than year-round residents — and their wares are rarely compelling. But if you know where to look, you can find the incredible products that this region is known for. This guide will help you find truly authentic and locally-made souvenirs.
Made in France?
According to former MP Yves Jégo, “Made in France is not controlled, and is therefore often overused.” — and abused. Lacking any meaningful government supervision, the label – which is not official – can be written on almost anything. “For example, on a plate made in China you could affix a little thing like a hook in France and, because you transformed it from a plate to a decorative object, call it Made in France,” says Émilie Auvray. Another example is soap that’s made in China, then imported as a raw material in cubes and stamped with a logo in France. That’s why it’s so important to know the back-story of the products you buy.
On the French Riviera, you can not only visit where many of the products are made, but watch them being made — or make them yourself!
There are two primary towns where perfumes and fragrances are made: Grasse and Èze.
Perfumeries in Grasse
Nestled in the rolling hills north of Cannes, Grasse is the go-to destination if you’re shopping in France for fragrances. Grasse (a small town about 30 minutes inland from Cannes), and is considered to be the birthplace of modern perfumery. It is renowned for its production of high-quality raw materials, including jasmine, tuberose, rose, lavender and orange blossom, used to make some of the world’s most famous perfumes. The town is also home to some of the oldest perfume houses in the world, such as Galimard , Fragonard , and Molinard (each with multiple locations in Grasse, so check your maps app), which have been making fragrances for centuries.
The region’s warm climate and sun-soaked fields of jasmine, lavender, and roses led to Grasse becoming the heart of France’s perfume industry as far back as the 1600s, with factories set up to create delicious scents. Parfumerie Fragonard , one of the town’s venerable fragrance makers, is just a short walk from Grasse’s centuries-old cathedral.
Grasse is also home to many specialized distilleries, which produce essential oils, absolutes and concretes used in perfumery. The town’s long and rich history in the perfume industry has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site for its importance in fragrance-making. The region is also renowned for its production of soaps and cosmetics using these local fragrances (especially lavender from Provence).
Perfumeries in Èze
The history of perfume-making in Èze dates back to the 16th century, when the village became known for its production of aromatic plants and flowers. The unique micro-climate of the region, with its mild winters and sunny summers, provided the perfect growing conditions for a wide variety of fragrant plants, including lavender, jasmine, rose, and orange blossom. At the time, perfume-making was a craft that was practiced by local farmers and herbalists, who would distill the essential oils from the plants using traditional methods. These oils were then used to make perfumes, soaps, and other fragrant products.
Over time, the perfume industry in Èze grew and became more specialized. In the 18th century, the town’s first perfumery was established by a local family, and by the end of the 19th century, Èze was home to several prominent perfume houses. Today, Èze is still known for its perfume industry, with a number of artisanal perfumeries located throughout the village. These perfumeries continue to use traditional methods to create their fragrances, using locally grown plants and flowers to produce unique and high-quality scents.
Like Grasse, Èze is also home to some of the oldest perfume houses in the world, such as Galimard , Fragonard . Visitors to Èze can take a tour of one of the village’s perfumeries, where they can learn about the history of perfume-making in the region, as well as see how the essential oils are extracted and blended to create the final product. They can also purchase a bottle of perfume or other fragrant product to take home as a souvenir of their visit.
The south of France is home to several wine-producing regions, including Bellet (just above Nice), Provence, Var, and the Côtes de Provence AOC. Along the French Riviera, there are many vineyards where you can enjoy a wine tasting experience.
The Bellet region is the easiest to visit if you’re staying in Nice. The Bellet wine region is –amazingly– within the city limits of Nice, and people have been producing wine there since the year 600. It’s only a 15-minute cab ride (or you can take public transportation) from Nice’s seaside, but it feels like you could be in the middle of the French countryside, miles from anywhere. The region has 15 wineries, producing organic wines.
If you’re staying in Saint-Tropez, the nearby Gassin and Ramatuelle are also home to many picturesque vineyards.
If you only have time to visit one, then spend an hour visiting Château de Bellet , a small vineyard and winery that occupies a hilltop overlooking the mountains on one side, and Nice on the other. Book a €10 winery tour and you’ll be given a map and left to wander through the vineyards at your own pace. When you’ve had your fill of the lovely views, you’ll be given an informative guided tour of the winery where you’ll learn the basics about winemaking, the three types of grapes they grow, and the history of the winery. For €10 more, you can then taste the wines in their crypt or their ancient chapel.
If you want to sample many of the local wines without a lot of travel, then head to Jeanne , a charming wine bar in old Antibes with a big focus on locally-made wines. It’s run by two sisters who are extremely passionate and knowledgeable about wine. Here, they have more than 400 natural wines from small local producers, and you can pair them with creative plates to share. Reservations are recommended.
Liquor & Beer
The French Riviera is home to a rich and diverse selection of local liquor and beer producers, each with its own unique flavors and experiences to offer. Whether you’re interested in sipping on a fruity liqueur or a locally-brewed beer, the French Riviera produces something to satisfy every taste bud. Here are a few of our favorites:
- L’Orangerie , also known as La Distillerie de Monaco, is a family-owned distillery located in Monaco. The company’s most famous product is its orange liqueur, which is made from the peel of fresh oranges collected from the trees in Monaco. They also produce gin and a lemon zest liqueur that is equally delicious.
- Brasserie de Monaco produces a range of award-winning beers, brewed in Monaco. You can enjoy them at their brasserie in the port of Monaco.
- B06 Biere d’Antibes is a local microbrewery that produces an exceptionally high-quality range of beers. The founder’s secret is to select the best malted barley and wheat malts. She does not filter or pasteurize and uses only 100% recyclable aluminum bottles.
- Blue Coast is a local French microbrewery located in Nice that offers a wide range of high-quality beers, some of them organic. They have a strong partnership with F1 drivers and have won a number of awards. You can also have a beer at their chic bar and tour the distillery, and they do events with live music and food trucks.
Traditional handicrafts have mostly died out. Every town east of the Rhône has at least one gift shop specializing in Provençal-style printed-fabric skirts, bags, blankets, tablecloths, pillows, and scarves — but almost all of it is made in factories overseas. The same shops usually also sell dried lavender pot-pourris, sachets of herbes de Provence (thyme and bay leaves), and Marseille soaps.
That said, there are still traditional artisans who craft unique items made from local materials, such as basketry, woodworking, and leatherwork. The region is also home to some of the oldest embroidery workshops in France, and many of the artisans specialize in traditional methods of production. Visitors to the Riviera can purchase these unique items directly from the artisans, or find them in local markets and shops.
Here are a few more examples of local French Riviera artisans:
- For almost a century, three generations of the Rondini family have been hand-making their famous leather sandals at Atelier Rondini in Saint-Tropez. Ask, and they will show you the atelier, behind the shop, where the leather sandals are still manufactured.
- The owner of Le Palais d’Osier makes charming woven bags and baskets by hand in her shop in Nice, which has been there for over a century.
- Pretty much anything you can imagine to be created from the famous local lemons has been made and can be purchased in Menton at Au Pays du Citron .
The town of Biot is famous for their glassware production. Biot is home to many glassworking studios, with some of the most renowned artisans in the country. The town also hosts the Biot International Glass Festival, where you can discover the creations of French and international master glassmakers. The festival includes exhibitions, an art market, open-air glass blowing, public events, film screenings, conferences, workshop visits and demonstrations. You can get more information on Biot’s official website.
Here are a few glassmaking workshops to check out in Biot:
- La Verrerie de Biot is a glass museum, factory, gallery, and shop, where you can witness or partake in the glassblowing, and make your own glassware. Their art gallery exhibits local glass-makers, and their glass shop is beautiful and full of kitchenware, vases and other glassware made on site. You can create your own glass items for €68. They’ll guide you through the whole process, which is very easy yet hands on. You can’t take your creation home on the same day, as the glass needs time to dry; you have to return 2 days later.
- The Galerie Internationale Du Verre is a glass art gallery.
- The Centre du Verre Contemporarain is a glass art gallery housed inside a 15th-century oil mill. The Center connects an international community of creators and students who explore new techniques for the use of glass in art and design.
- Members of the Pierini family are some of France’s most accomplished glassmakers. Their original sculptures, limited editions, and monumental pieces are fully contemporary, and can be seen at the Pierini Glass Studio . They host workshops where you can further admire the work of these masters of fire, color and glass.
- You can also see glassblowing at the Verrerie Raphael Farinelli , which is primarily a shop, and a good place to get household glass items.
Amid the pretty, colorful alleyways and flowery, sun-drenched balconies, the town of Vallauris (a mere 10 minutes from Antibes and Biot) possesses a treasure unequalled in France: the pottery know-how it has been keeping alive for centuries. Since Gallo-Roman times, pottery has been center stage in Vallauris in the form of culinary ceramics. Saucepans pans, pots and jugs have raised Vallauris’ profile in the eyes of the world, thanks in particular to the material’s resistance to high temperatures. A visit to the castle that houses the Museum of Ceramics is also a good idea, in order to admire developments in pottery through the ages.
The arrival of Picasso in the 1950s raised Vallauris to the rank of ceramic capital of France, as he brought in many artists wanting to learn about the fired arts. Picasso himself, as well as Chagall and Miró, created a wide range of models ushering in a new era for ceramics. Make sure to visit the National Picasso Museum in Vallauris, which is home to many of his ceramic sculptures.
Today, only a handful of craftspeople still uphold this tradition. Their creations can be seen in the shops and galleries of Vallauris in the form of artworks or everyday objects such as vases, plates, glasses, bowls, cups… All these pieces are handmade by dedicated master ceramists.
Here are a few local ceramic artists to discover:
- At Atelier 573 , Maggie and Catherine work with stoneware, porcelain, and earthenware to create handcrafted contemporary pieces in their studio in Vallauris (between Cannes and Antibes). Maggie’s cups and plates are both refined and playful, and Catherine’s hand-throwed geometric designs in unbaked clay are stunning.
- Alice and Clotilde create beautiful ceramic items such as teapots, mugs, and other everyday objects, onsite in their shop, Atelier KLA , in old Antibes. They also hold workshops where both adults and children can learn the art of ceramics.
In 1640, Armenian merchants first introduced Indian-printed textiles at the port of Marseilles. They were incredibly popular, and an influx of imported fabrics (then known as “painted cloth”) from India flooded the French marketplaces. In 1686, Louis XIV banned imports of Indian cottons, in an attempt to protect the French silk industry. Clever entrepreneurs responded by producing imitations still known today as indiennes, which are now widely associated with Provence.
Today, Les Olivades (founded in 1818) is the only company left standing to continue this tradition. Their textiles are printed in Provence (by board, the old-fashioned way), then washed and dried in the neighboring meadow.
Unlike textiles, the Cote d’Azur has many locally-made gourmet food items. Nearly every town has its own specialty: nougats in Vence, ‘marrons glacés’ in Collobrières, orange-flavored chocolates called ‘grimaldines’ in Cagnes, lemon-flavored delicacies in Menton, creamy ‘tartes tropéziennes’ in St-Tropez, and Nice’s many local dishes.
The French Riviera is also known for its fresh seafood, such as mussels, oysters, and sea bream. It’s also known its high-quality local produce, including olive oil, locally-grown fruits and vegetables, honey, wine, and cheeses, as well as its locally-made pastries and jams. You can find all of these at the local markets, in the ‘bio’ grocery stores, and in boutiques.
Nearby, Provence is well known for producing candied fruits, which you can buy in the markets on the French Riviera or at Maison Auer in Nice. The most popular candied fruits are oranges, lemons, and kumquats. These fruits are boiled in sugar syrup and then dried, resulting in a sweet and tangy treat. The candied fruits of Provence are often used as decorations on cakes and desserts, or eaten as a snack. They are also a popular souvenir, as they last a long time and are a unique and delicious way to remember a trip.
Where to Shop
You’ll find locally-made gourmet treats in various local shops, as well as in some of the local markets. That said, it’s important to know which markets are good, and which are mostly selling junk made in China. Check out our guide to the best French Riviera markets so you’ll know which markets to shop at for the specific items you want — and which to avoid. And if you’re looking for antiques, art, or resale, check out our guide to flea and antique markets.
While Provençal items and local gourmet specialties are favorites at shops and markets, luxurious shopping malls can also be found littered along the region. While they don’t sell locally-made items, you can still find items made by French and Italian designers in boutiques in Cannes, Monaco, and Nice. And in the villages perchés, from Eze to St-Paul-de-Vence, at least a million artists wait to sell you their works. Happy shopping!