We’ve just unpacked after a lovely road trip around France, and as I laid out my holiday souvenir purchases I realised they form a somewhat eclectic and improbable collection of objects.  Undistracted by the glorious profusion of regional wines, cheeses and basketry in every town, I have returned instead with a bathroom plunger, a bread knife and a large collection of someone else’s shoes.

Let me explain.

We planned our trip loosely, driving under the sea to pop out in Calais before touring slowing around northern and central France.  We were each allowed to pack one luxury item in the car to take with us; mine was a vast crate of art supplies, Harry’s was his guitar and my husband chose an inflatable flamingo, so it was already something of a squeeze as we set off.  We downloaded Audible books to listen to together as the miles fell away, buffering the guitar medley offered up from the backseat; one can indeed have too much of a good thing.

Our first stop was Paris, where we walked the streets for hours, sipped coffee in street cafes and traversed la tour eifell.  I made a pilgrimage to one of my favourite stores in the world; the legendary BHV – a department store bazaar with floor-upon-floor of treasures, all beautifully arranged to look like works of art.   From designer shoes to kids’ school supplies to house paint, le BHV is here to serve, and we lost all sense of time as we explored.

I discovered a huge box of leather scraps tucked in a corner of the basement, all priced at a couple of euros; I think I brought most of them back.  I have all sorts of projects in mind for them, from clothing embellishments to handmade book covers to cable storers – for now they’re just looking beautiful and tactile in the art room whilst I decide.

We headed to the arty historic district of Montmartre for the evening and strolled the streets around the Sacré Coeur, which glowed as the sun began to set.  I slipped into a tiny store owned by the legendary perfumer Fragonard and eventually chose this embroidered cotton bag for my many travels.  It is definitely, unequivocally a purchase for the woman I would like to be – someone whose smalls are gossamer wisps spun by La Perla fairies into perfect matching sets – rather than the woman I actually am.  Still; a small price to pay for a lofty aspiration.

We left Paris for the Loire region and its villages, chateaus and markets (more pictures and stories next week).  One of the most famous is in Amiens, where stallholders gather all along the riverside at dawn for trading, braced by a fortifying coffee and shot of brandy.

At Amiens you can buy warm loaves straight from the oven, spit-roasted chickens and cheeses from local makers and farmers across the region.  If you’re a charcuterie fan, you will be in paradise here.  If you are a vegetarian, cast your eyes away momentarily.

If you prefer your chickens live and laying vs spit-roasted, you can find every variety at Amiens.  As we watched, numerous locals examined and made their purchases, with the chickens then regally transported in large cardboard carriers to their new homes.

We toyed briefly with the wholly impractical idea of chicken husbandry before settling instead on buying a legendary Opinel bread knife – an immediately practical choice as we used it every day for picnics for the rest of our trip (we ate A LOT of baguettes!).

From Amiens, on to the sleepy village of St Dye Sur Loire, which in the heat of an August day could be mistaken for a ghost town; houses and stores are tightly shuttered against the relentless sun, and most places close for the lunchtime siesta. But St Dye has a secret, which is that it has a great concentration of brocantes yards, selling everything from vintage tractors and reclaimed chateau cornicing to trunks and umbrella stands.  You will find everything you are not looking for in St Dye, and you will want to bring it all home.

I found a giant bin full of ancient clogs; peppered with long-deceased woodworm and worn through use and time.

I confess that I bought them all.  This is just a fraction of my haul (but they were less than €5 a pair, and they are beautiful..)  At the moment they’re laid out in my studio, humming with possibility and promise.  I might turn them into a wall installation, or use them to style a folk art Christmas theme this year, or even paint them.. there’s no rush to decide.

It was a wonderful trip, and I love the eclectic and random souvenirs we picked up along the way.  Are you too an impulsive holiday shopper?  On the journey home we made a list together in the car of all the things that had worked well on the trip to remember for next time.  Harry’s voice piped up from the back;

‘We should remember that mum always comes back with more than we started with, so we should leave some space in the car for surprises’.

So young and yet so wise.  He will be good husband-material.

Have a lovely weekend, wherever you are and whatever you’re upto!