It’s officially holiday time. And with a favourable pound to euro exchanges rate, you can take advantage of lower prices when traveling the European continent this summer.
But when you’re shopping on holiday, how do you know if you’re getting an authentic item or not?
The answer is knowledge (and research). Find out beforehand what items are made locally in your destination, and how to spot authentic products from dupes.
To help, we’ve made you a European holiday shopping guide. Find out below the best things to buy locally in Italy, Spain, Germany and France. Bon voyage — and bon shopping!
Most popular cities and areas in Italy cater to tourists so intensely, it’s hard to find products that are truly local. It’s overwhelming to walk down a tiny street packed with slow-moving tourists and stalls selling everything from lemons to bikinis.
It’s not impossible to find beautiful and locally crafted goods, though, we promise. As long as you’re judicious and not easily lured in by tourist traps, you’ll be fine.
Here’s what we’d recommend looking for:
These are everywhere in Italy. But beware: a lot of the “Italian Leather” bags you’ll find are manufactured in China. Not to mention they’re of mediocre quality.
Our tips for buying a well-crafted, real Italian leather bag:
- Know Where to Go. Most leather workshops belonging to true craftsman will be off the beaten path: like Scuola del Cuoio, a school that teaches leather crafting in Florence. There, you can talk directly to the craftsmen, watch leather goods being made and get your purchase customised with a monogram.
- Don’t Take Anything at Face Value. Salespeople will tell you anything you want to hear, and will preemptively offer you a “deal”. Additionally, be wary of tags that say Italian Leather. Instead, the Made in Italy tag is often an indicator that it was produced in the country.
- Get Touchy. You can tell a lot about the quality of leather by the way it feels and smells. Quality leather is so soft it’s usually described as “buttery”. It shouldn’t smell like chemicals or dyes. Inspect the stitching too, as well as the lining. Real leather bags are usually lined with silk, or have a raw leather interior.
There’s nothing like the crisp feel of real Italian linen. Sadly a lot of the linen products sold in Italy now are either manufactured in China or woven cheaply at inferior mills.
You can still find high-quality linen goods in certain regions. Montepulciano, in Tuscany, is home to Biagianti dal 1913, a purveyor of fine linen fabric and home goods for over 100 years.
Souvenir Finder offers some helpful ideas for what to keep in mind when choosing linen, too:
- Thread Count doesn’t mean much. It’s actually about the quality of the cotton, the weave and the expertise of the mill.
- Have necessary measurements on-hand in case you want something custom made.
- You can tell a lot about the quality of linen just by touching it. It should snap crisply when you shake it out.
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Celebrate your shopping success with gelato or locally made limoncello.
Spain, as you probably know, has more to offer than just sangria and tapas. It’s one of the world’s top olive oil producers (beating out Italy), and home to breath-taking architecture that reflects its storied history.
Not to mention, certain brands that are based here, like Zara and Mango, are vastly cheaper than the UK.
If you’re looking for something more long-lasting and reflective of Spanish culture, however, consider these options:
An integral part of the Catalan Modernista movement, these tiles were originally produced by hydraulically applying coloured, powdered marble to a concrete base. Some are more than 125 years old.
You can find a surprising amount of them discarded in dumpsters in the Catalunya region. Local craftsman also turn them into beautiful art and furniture, like Mesa Bonita in Barcelona.
A beautiful, functional and lightweight souvenir option, espadrilles (alpargatas/espardenyes) are local to Catalunya. Traditionally they’re handmade, and excellent for walking over cobblestones.
La Manual Alpargatera is a famous espadrille shop in downtown Barcelona. They offer a wide variety of espadrilles in different styles, colours and patterns.
And by steel, we mean swords. For authentic steel sword souvenirs, head to Toledo. Because of the chemical makeup of the River Targus, which surrounds the city on three sides, swords forged in Toledo are incredibly hard and sharp.
You can have your find shipped home, or see if your airline offers special baggage options.
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Sip some cava! Maybe try to open the bottle with your new sword? Or maybe not…
When it comes to shopping for Made in Germany merchandise, thinking outside of the beer-and-BMWs box is in your best interest. There’s a lot that’s locally produced in Deutschland that’s worth snapping up.
The Birkenstock brand can trace its roots back to 1774. And though these orthopedically appealing shoes aren’t always a paragon of fashion, they’ve recently been dubbed trendy again.
They’re designed and manufactured in Neustadt to this day, and parts of them are even still made by hand. They tend to be cheaper here than in the UK, with a much larger variety of colours and styles on offer. Keep your eyes out for sales as well — sometimes they’re marked down to around 20€ (about £14).
Yes, we do realize that these are available in the UK. Best we also know that the varieties made and sold in Germany have less preservatives than those made and exported.
You can taste the difference. Plus, there are a plethora of different flavours and kinds that you won’t find outside the country. Guten appetit!
German flea markets, particularly in regions like Bavaria, boast all kinds of interesting and historically significant finds.
When it comes to porcelain and china, a lot turns up that dates back to the 50s, 60s and 70s. You can also find pieces from the former GDR.
Here’s a collector’s tip that could land you something worthwhile:
- Look for old porcelain with marks on the bottom that resemble Meissen’s sword logo. They could be Rauenstein porcelain from Thuringia, which is highly collectible.
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Did someone say beer? Make that craft beer. It’s an emerging beverage trend in Germany, especially in Berlin. Keep your eye out for locally produced unfiltered lagers and I.P.A.s.
We’ll admit that the first thing we buy when we get to France is a chocolate croissant. And though Paris is billed as the best place to shop, the rest of the country also offers an array of artisanal, locally produced and historical souvenirs.
Here’s what you should buy the next time you venture there:
For years, Brits have been getting caught trying to smuggle unexploded WWII artillery from erstwhile battlefields. And if that doesn’t convince you that France is an antique-hunter’s dream, we don’t know what will.
Just keep in mind this tip from the Preloved blog: “The best bargains are found at the smaller brocantes and marché aux puces (flea markets) held every weekend throughout France, and it is here that you can pick up furniture and homewares at a fraction of the UK price.”
- “The best bargains are found at the smaller brocantes and marché aux puces (flea markets) held every weekend throughout France, and it is here that you can pick up furniture and homewares at a fraction of the UK price.”
Here are 3 markets, in 3 different regions, you’ll want to check out.
- Grande Braderie de Lille Flea Market
When: Saturday, September 5th – Sunday, September 6th 2015.
What: The biggest flea market in Europe.
- Marché aux Puces Porte de Vanves
Where: Saint-Ouen, Paris.
When: Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10 am – 5 pm (Friday is for professionals only).
What: The largest concentration of antique shops and secondhand dealers in the world.
- Boulevard Alexandre Martin
Where: Orléans, Loire.
When: Every Saturday morning.
What: A moderately sized but eclectic flea market.
Chanel No. 5? Très ennuyeux. Buying perfume in France is an opportunity to find scents you’ve never smelled before — or to have a custom blend created just for you.
These three parfumeries are not to be missed:
Grasse, in the French Riviera, is the uncontested perfume capital of the world. Molinard, which dates back to 1849, is one of the most renowned parfumeurs located there.
Caron is a centuries-old Paris perfume house. Its air of modern luxury will sweep you off your feet.
As the oldest producer of perfume in France, Guerlain also offers spa and makeup services in many of its locations.
Cookware and Kitchen Tools
E. Dehillerin in Paris is a Francophile chef’s dream. Not ready to wrangle a cast iron crepe pan into your suitcase? Traditional linen tea towels are a safe bet, and make great gifts.
Or try La Vaissellerie for small, affordable and distinctly French kitchen gadgets.
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Especially If you partake in the moules frites that are typical French flea market fair, try washing it down with a glass of chartreuse. This liquor is made by French monks with over 100 herbs, plants and flowers.
Plan to pick up a few of these finds the next time you’re on the Continent? Let us know! And don’t forget to share.