A recent visit to York and Edinburgh showed me that city centres don't have to be full of Benetton, Boots and Woolies - other shops can, and do, thrive.
Plaisir du Chocolat doesn't strike me as a quintessentially Edinburgh shop. No tartan for a start. And self-indulgence is not a Scottish trait (other than indulgence in austerity; having one less blanket on the bed for instance...) But this shop on Canongate picks the whole area up - no tat, it's a superb chocolatier and tearoom.
And I've not seen anything quite like Bertrand Espouy's chocolates before. Each one is printed with a design - black leaves on the 'Antilles' ganache, art nouveau designs on 'Sheherazade' pistachio and 'Piemont' gianduja, and bright red roses on 'Ronsard' tea-infused dark chocolate.
A less elitist sweet tooth is in evidence at Jim Garrahy's Fudge Kitchen in York (58 Low Petergate). And here that other nice trend, watching the craftsman at work, is also in evidence - when I was there they were rolling out the rum fudge and the whole shop stank of rum (this is not a complaint, of course). Retail theatre par excellence.
Now darn it wouldn't you know I've lost the contact details for the best shop in Edinburgh, a fantastic little place on Victoria Street that sells all kinds of alcoholic distilled concoctions - cranberry gin, orange and mint cream (think Bailey's only with a twist), some fine whiskies, and other drinks - all made in England by craft distillers. The alembics on the plain wooden shelves glowed in the sun when I walked in, making the whole shop sparkle, and what made me sparkle even more was a free taste of the excellent distilled cider. I never made it to the Bow Bar at lunchtime after all.
However someone on Tripadvisor seems to have suffered from the same alcoholic haze that hit me shortly afterwards, as they had also forgotten the name - so a quick Google helped me find Demijohn. Definitely worth a visit if you're in Edinburgh.
I like shopping in French towns, too. Chartres is a particular favourite - my boyfriend's French place isn't far from there - with a bookbinder's, a fantastic chocolate shop (actually a branch of Maison du Chocolat, a small chain) that does chocolate with red peppers, a street full of delis, a fine art deco butcher's shop still in use for its original purpose, a dolls' hospital, a good second hand bookshop... or Rouen, also a great shopping place as long as you steer away from the Rue du Gros Horloge - there's an art shop by the cathedral, a shop selling replicas of Romanesque sculpture near the Aitre Saint Maclou, more second hand bookshops... Yes, we like Rouen!