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!
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).
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.
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.
Another place to make your own glass items is the Centre du Verre Contemporain and the Galerie Internationale Du Verre ; both also have accompanying glass art galleries. You can also see glassblowing at the Verrerie Raphael Farinelli , which is primarily a shop, and a good place to get household glass items. You can get more information on Biot’s official website.
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.
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.
In Nice’s old town, you can pick locally-made hand-painted ceramics at Dina Poterie Provençale , contemporary vases and plant pots at Autour Du Pot , and leather goods at Atelier Cuir Cousu Main .
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 .
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!