Our favourite (art) bookshops in The South of France for Art Lovers
1) Librairie Les Arcenaulx
An exceptional bookshop in a monumental building, i.e., Marseille’s former arsenal, a 16th-century weapons store and shipyard for galleys. The shop occupies several rooms of this amazing old building, with wooden beams and stone walls. While it’s a good place to stock up on literature, books about food and tourist guides, Les Arcenaulx is mainly known for its selection of books on the history of Marseille and Provence. It also sells prints as well as historic and current maps. The shop’s other name is Librairie Jeanne Laffitte – Laffitte is a publisher with a keen eye for old and rare publications, which she gives a new lease on life. She also lobbied tirelessly to ban cars from Cours d’Estienne d’Orves so it would become a pedestrian area. There is an excellent restaurant next to the bookshop. Check the ‘literary’ menus.
2) Librairie Maupetit
Librairie Maupetit was founded in 1919, making it Marseille’s oldest bookshop. Situated along boulevard La Canébière, the cheerful red shop windows beckon from afar. It remained in the hands of the Maupetit family, which specialised in university books, until 1998, when it was acquired by Actes Sud. Maupetit is a spacious bookshop with an excellent range of books. The exhibition space on the first floor attests to Maupetit’s desire to participate in Marseille’s cultural scene as much as possible and attract a diverse crowd.
3) Librairie Actes Sud au Méjan
This spacious and excellent bookshop is located in the city centre of Arles. Actes Sud is a chain of eight bookshops (five in Paris, three in the South of France). Originally a publishing house, it was founded in 1978 by Hubert Nyssen and his wife Christine Le Bœuf in Paradou, a small town close to Les Baux. In 1983, they moved to Place Nina Berberova in Arles. Actes Sud was an outlier in more ways than one: it was the first French publishing house ever to be established outside of Paris. What’s more, it specialised in translations of foreign literature, unique formats and exceptional editions. This approach is reflected in its flagship in Arles, in ‘Le Méjan’: a pleasant, well-kept and well-organised shop with plain wood bookshelves. They carry books on a wide range of subjects, including literature, foreign affairs, history, politics and art, in addition to all the Actes Sud publications, of course. On top of that, Le Méjan is also a cultural centre with a cinema, a hammam, a concert hall and a restaurant.
4) Librairie Galerie Laure Matarasso
An art bookshop and publishing house with a rich history. Jacques Matarasso founded this bookshop in 1941 in Nice. In addition to selling old and new books, he decided to also buy and sell original graphic art. Soon his bookshop became a popular meeting place for artists and writers and the place to be for exhibitions and book signings by, among others, Marc Chagall, Albert Marquet, Pablo Picasso, Fernando Arrabal, and Michel Butor. In 1993, Laure Matarasso followed in her father’s footsteps, but the vision remained unchanged. In 2017, the shop relocated to 46 boulevard Risso, close to Nice’s Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain (MAMAC). This smallish bookshop specialises in artist’s books, oeuvre catalogues, monographs, original prints and bibliophile and special editions. There’s always an exhibition on.
5) Le Temps de Lire
What a pleasant surprise it was to stumble across this charming and cosy little bookshop and its carefully curated range of books in Puycelsi, one of the most beautiful villages of France. Local history, art and a nice selection of English books. And all this loveliness in the middle of nowhere.
A stylish, minimalist bookshop with a glossy white interior, design furniture and art objects: this is Saint-Tropez, after all. A small space (50 square metres) with a good selection of international publications on art, photography, design and fashion. A lot of large format and exclusive books. There’s also a table with recent fiction and non-fiction.
7) Librairie La Basse Fontaine
The perfect spot to snap up antiquarian books, bibliophile editions and prints. La Basse Fontaine is situated on the fringe of the old centre of Vence, next to the fountain that Raoul Dufy painted so many times. The shop opened in 1988 and has been selling rare art books ever since, as well as artist’s books in which graphic design is paired with poetry or prose. You can also find some gorgeous exhibition posters here. They mainly focus on artists who have lived and worked in Vence for a short or longer time, such as Matisse, Chagall, Dufy, Dubuffet, Soutine ... Recently the bookshop expanded, adding an exhibition space for books and prints. A truly wonderful place.
8) Librairie Le Haut Quartier
A small, cosy bookshop on the corner of a shopping street in the old, car-free town centre of Pézenas, which was founded in the 1960s by Albert Camus’s Algerian publisher. The shop moved to its current location in 2011 and is now run by Fabrice Andrivon. The books are displayed in plain wooden bookcases. Fiction, for the most part, including a children and young adults section, Unsurprisingly, Le Haut Quartier is an active participant in the Festival du livre de jeunesse (an annual children’s book festival). There’s a table with some chairs, where you can take some time to browse in more detail.
9) Ombres Blanches
Ombres Blanches is Toulouse’s largest bookshop and is located near Place du Capitole. The shop occupies several historic dwellings and has a number of beautiful rooms with tall windows. This university bookshop stocks a wide range of foreign literature in addition to books on history, psychology, travel, food and comics. There are chairs in most of the rooms so you can take your time to browse the books. Ombres Blanches has a longstanding tradition of interviews and panel discussions with writers. All of these talks are recorded and made available as podcasts. There’s also a cafeteria.
10) Le Passeur de l'Isle
Although L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue can get quite touristy in summer, you’ll be happy to know that it is also home to a surprising bookshop. The books are displayed on the ground floor; on the first floor, there is a shop with the most beautiful fabrics from around the world. So what do these two have in common, you might wonder? The answer: a taste for the exotic. The books and the fabrics are an invitation to roam around the world, whether you prefer a real-life adventure or choose to do so from the comfort of your own sofa.
Buy the book
The South of France for Art Lovers is one of the spin-off titles of The 500 Hidden Secrets series of essential city guides. This guide focusses on one particular aspect of the region of the South of France.
Already a member? Log in.
New here? Sign up.