Shopping in France is world-class. Paris is the obvious place to start, with its grandiose boulevards laden with fashion houses, historic department stores and international chains. Delving into the backstreets, peppered with specialist boutiques and artist studios, is a particular delight. Big cities like Lyon, Marseille, Nantes, Strasbourg and Bordeaux enjoy the same superlative shopping. Folk in rural France rely, all too often, on their village's weekly market for a shopping fix.

In France to Shop!

OK, so Paris is the bee's knees for luxury goods like haute couture, high-quality fashion accessories (Hermès silk scarf, Madame?), lingerie, perfume and cosmetics. Lovely as they are, they most probably aren't any cheaper to buy in France than at home.

Time your trip right and pick up designer and street fashion for a snip of the usual price at France's soldes (sales), by law held twice a year for three weeks in January and again in July. Other times look for the words degriffés (name-brand products with the labels cut out), bonnes affaires (cut-price deals) and dépôt-vente (secondhand). Away from the capital, Troyes and Calais in northern France are known for their fantastic factory-outlet shops.

Take along your own bag or basket when shopping for fresh fruit, vegetables and other edible goodies at the local weekly market. Ditto for supermarkets where the bagless can exchange a few centimes for un sachet (near-to-useless, thin plastic carrier bag).

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted; very occasionally there is a minimum purchase of €10 or €15. Visa and MasterCard are the most popular; American Express is only accepted by international chain hotels, luxury boutiques and major department stores. Check if bars, cafes and restaurants accept cards before ordering; places in Corsica and rural villages countrywide don't. Chip-and-pin is the norm for card transactions – few places accept signatures. ATMs (points d'argent or distributeurs automatiques de billets) are everywhere, offering withdrawal from savings accounts and cash advances on credit cards. Both transactions incur international transaction fees. If you don't want to rely on plastic, you can change cash and travellers cheques at some banks, post offices and bureaux de change. Ask for un mélange (an assortment) of banknotes; many shops don't accept €200 and €500 bills.