A day trip shopping in France can be a great way to experience some of the delights that this unique country has to offer and best of all it can be done in one day! With just 26 miles of water separating the UK and France you can arrive for shopping in France in less than 2 hours.
Shopping in France can be a real feast for the senses. From the bustle of French food markets where you can buy fresh, local, seasonal home produce including vegetables, fruits, meats, jams, breads and pastries to the aroma of roasting chickens, cherries in season and powerfully pungent yet delicious and appetising cheeses.
In addition to gourmet foods and culinary treats, France is also famous for its huge hypermarkets such as Auchan, Carrefour and Leclerc. The size of football pitches and situated in Centre Commercials on the edge of towns, these enormous French hypermarkets stock thousands upon thousands of products from electrical and white goods, clothing, household items, food and of course fine wines and beers. With many items cheaper than in the UK it is possible to make considerable savings when shopping in France.
Shopping in France and opening hours
Shop opening hours in France differ to those in the UK with virtually all shops and stores in France closed on a Sunday. Occasionally there are exceptions to this rule and some hypermarkets e.g. Carrefour have special openings. During the rest of the week most of the larger shops and hypermarkets are open all day with some smaller shops and businesses closing for lunch between midday and 2.30pm. On French national and public holidays all shops, banks and businesses are closed.
Best buys when shopping in France
While French bread tastes delicious, it is made with little or no preservatives and can therefore go stale quite quickly particularly during the summer months. One tip to preserve freshness is to use a bread bag or to wrap the bread in a tea towel. French bread is best bought from a boulangerie. Look out for those boulangeries which appear busy or where there are queues. Be prepared to pay a little more for your French bread here than you would in a supermarket.
Although generally ok, tap water in France is rarely drunk with most French people preferring to drink eau de source for everyday use. Cheap and palatable, eau de source is mostly bought in 1.5L bottles. Well known brands such as Badoit, Evian and Perrier come under the banner of eau minerale naturelle and are often considerably cheaper to buy than in the UK.
As you would expect in a country that has at least 365 cheeses to its name, French supermarkets sell a wide selection of cheese and they will often have samples for you to try. If you adore cheese, then perhaps a better option would be to visit a French specialist cheese shop called a fromagerie. The most famous fromagerie in Pas de Calais is Philippe Olivier at rue Thiers in Boulogne sur Mer, 30 minutes from Calais on the A16. Boulogne sur Mer is also the home of the “World’s Whiffiest Cheese” – Vieux Boulogne as named by scientists at Cranfield University. Philippe Olivier sells local, regional and national varieties of cow, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses.
French food markets
Your first stop to buy fresh fruits and vegetables should be a French food market. Open for business from around 8am and closing around noon most French towns will have a market taking place on Saturday. Generally seasonal, lots of produce for sale is local and regional with fruits, vegetables and meat direct from local specialist suppliers and farmers. Best buys from French food markets include seasonal vegetables and huge bundles of smoked garlic for a fraction of what they would cost in the UK.
Calais has two food markets, Place D’Armeson on Wednesday/Saturday morning plus Place Crèvecoeur on Thursday and Saturday. The food market in Boulogne sur Mer takes place on Wednesday and Saturday mornings in Place Dalton just off the Grand Rue.
Fresh seafood straight off the boat
The pretty town of Boulogne-sur-Mer also happens to be France’s largest fishing port. For fresh seafood and shellfish straight off the boat pay a visit to the harbour – Quai Gambetta. Here you can buy the day’s catch of fish, lobster, crab and mussels from a variety of shops in the fish market or direct off the fishing boats. Another excellent place to shop and eat seafood is Aux Pecheurs D’Etaples situated on the Grand rue in the centre of Boulogne. A highly praised restaurant and fishmonger, Aux Pecheurs D’Etaples is run by a local fishing co-operative.
Wine, beer and spirits
France’s hypermarkets are second to none when it to comes to price and selection of wine, beer and spirits. In most French hypermarkets a huge area of floor space is dedicated to just aisles upon aisles stacked high with international and local beers, wine and champagne. Top tip: two trolleys are better than one if you plan on doing a major shop at a French hypermarket and don’t forget to have plenty of change as French trolleys require a one Euro coin.
Take your own shopping bags to France
Taking your own reusable shopping bags to France will ensure that you won’t have any nasty surprises when you arrive at the till with several heavy laden trolleys. Due to concerns over the impact of non-biodegradable plastic bags on the environment, supermarkets and shops in France have either phased out plastic bags at the checkout or are in the process of doing so. Instead, many French supermarkets and shops now give you the option of buying a reusable bag or brown paper bags and boxes.
Keep your shopping cool and fresh
Having a cool bag or cool box is essential when shopping in France. For one, there are all those ever so tasty but oh so whiffy cheeses to consider plus it is always a good idea from a food safety point of view to keep meats and dairy products cool especially if your shopping is going to be “resting” in the car boot for a while.