Because books and coffee are a match made in heaven.
If we needed further proof that coffee and books are a match made in heaven, just look to Voltaire, who reportedly drank 50 cups of coffee a day. Even in the 18th century, this caused doctors to throw up their hands in horror, but Voltaire defied all odds and lived to the ripe old age of 83, writing over 20,000 letters and more than 2,000 books and pamphlets in his lifetime.
After all that caffeine, we’d be shaking too badly to hold a pen, let alone write some of the most famous philosophical and satirical works of all time, but our point stands that coffee and books pair very well indeed. France is full of bookstore-cafés hybrids, so follow in the footsteps of Voltaire, Hemingway, and Balzac, and flâne between 10 of the best across the country.
Top Picks for You
Camili Books & Tea
In the walled city of Avignon, the former home of the Popes (seven, to be precise, all during the 14th century), the walled courtyard garden of Camili Books and Tea mimics the city in miniature. If there’s one thing that can make a bookstore café even more appealing, it’s plants, and the patio and bookstore itself are crammed with leafy pot plants that will keep the most hardcore of plant moms and dads happy. The selection of second-hand English language books is excellent, and Camili also hosts intimate concerts, craft workshops, and exhibitions.
France’s coolest bookstore café, in the coolest part of Paris (near Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the Latin Quarter), is all clean lines and Brooklyn vibes. The flat whites (although not cheap) are some of the best you’ll find in Paris, and alongside books, Bonjour Jacob sells vinyl and indie magazines. They even have a magazine club where subscribers receive two mystery independent publications each month. Whatever you read here, make it part of the look. An experimental novel that uses no punctuation or speech marks. A hardback coffee table tome filled with aspirational home interiors. The first edition of an anarchist zine. No true crime allowed.
The friendliest bookstore café around is Le Bookshop in Montpellier, which deals exclusively with English language texts. It has been going on for almost 30 years. Montpellier is the fastest-growing city in the country, and a quarter of the population are students: easy to believe when the tables of Le Bookshop are crammed with people working on essays over a fresh cucumber lemonade. The 14th-century building certainly inspires creativity.
New kid on the block is Emma’s Bookshop in the rather austere-looking city of Clermont-Ferrand, a historic, industrial place hidden among the extinct volcanoes of the Auvergne, with an immense gothic cathedral built from black lava. Emma’s, in contrast, is light and airy. A foreign language bookstore, their collection comprises numerous titles in English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Italian, with book clubs in both English and Spanish. Always up to speed on new releases, they’re also reliable stockists of beautiful volumes of classic literature. The all-organic drinks menu is great, too.
Damn Fine Bookstore
Home to one of France’s most famous authors, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Lyon has bookstores and book markets in abundance, but the finest of all is Damn Fine Bookstore. Owner Fiona is a seemingly never-ending mine of recommendations, she lives and breathes books, and it’s rare that you’ll pick up a title, even one of the newest releases, without her being able to give you a quick lowdown. The coffee is affordable, and the kitsch sofas are reminiscent of an English tea room. Even the bathroom is a delight, and you may find yourself lingering longer than expected, admiring the walls covered with book pages. Regular English language book clubs and book swaps seal the deal.
Cup of Tea
Marseille, in France’s sunny southeast, enjoys over 300 days of sunshine each year. With this in mind, it’s little surprise that Cup of Tea is all about the terrace. Mosaic tables, climbing plants, and trellis roofs dapple the sunlight across the pages of whatever you’ve chosen to read al fresco. Inside, the wood paneling and gothic chandeliers hanging from chains will have you feeling as though you’ve stepped into an Agatha Christie novel. The amicable owners are always ready for a chat. More than a bookstore, it’s a hangout, and as the day progresses, clientele swap Rooibos for Corsican beer. Cup of Tea has been open for 20 years and is only gaining popularity.
Shakespeare and Company
Would any bookstore-café round-up be complete without a mention of Shakespeare and Company, the most famous bookstore in the country? It’s played host to some of the most famous authors to grace Paris’s literary scene: Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller, and Allen Ginsberg, among others. The location is enviable, right on the banks of the River Seine, overlooking Paris’s Île de la Cité and Notre-Dame, and it’s testimony to Shakespeare and Company that even with one of the country’s most famous monuments just across the water, the little bookstore draws huge amounts of visitors itself. The books are tightly packed, fighting for space on every inch of the shelf. The café serves proper meals, not just sweet treats, and has a very good vegetarian and vegan menu.
Emily in Paris may not be known for being the most literary of characters, but it says a lot about Tram’s aesthetic that the show’s producers decided to film part of an episode here. The Croque Monsieur (with truffle) may eat into your book budget, but trust us, it’s worth it. Come evening, Tram is the perfect spot for an apéro over your latest purchase, and there are plenty of new releases and classic titles to choose from.
Edgy, artsy Nantes in Brittany, West France, is exactly where you’d expect to find one of the country’s best bookstore-cafés, and it doesn’t disappoint. Les Bien-Aimés doubles up as a wine bar and serves a mouthwatering menu of cakes and savory tarts. They regularly host live events (music, poetry readings, and talks from authors) and the collection of squishy armchairs and benches on the first floor means there’s plenty of space to plonk yourself down with a pile of books and give them a good peruse before you buy. A crisp paperback with a chilled glass of Muscadet feels trés chic to us.
Bradley’s Bookshop, as the distinctly English name suggests, is an English-language bookshop, and the kooky logo of one of the King’s guards diving into a good book will have you wondering whether you took a wrong turn and ended up in Green Park rather than in Bordeaux in South West France. The thing that gives it away? No English tearoom could produce such a picturesque selection of patisseries. Obliging staff is happy to order in any title from the USA or UK for bookworms abroad.