Histoire d’enseignes. A story about signs (2)


Panneaux. Enseignes. Ecriteaux. Pancartes. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I love signs, all kinds of signs. As we were traveling in Europe this summer, I took many pictures of panneaux, enseignes, écriteaux et pancartes and saved them in a special folder on my faithful MacBook Air so I could go back and revisit them later. Let’s fly to Europe once again. Will you join me? The trip started in London. Pubs and taverns are everywhere in England. They have the best signs (and coolest names.)

There were other panneaux, in the streets, or… underground.

Junior impersonating a famous detective in “the Tube”


Old streets signs for sale on Portobello Road

Once we arrived in Paris, things got serious. There is so much to look at in the French capital. Rues, squares et jardins (streets, small squares and gardens.) Parks. Buildings. Art. Two fellow bloggers capture the spirit of Paris perfectly. These two ladies are talented photographers, and I love discovering their daily posts; traveling back to favorite neighborhoods; discovering new quartiers or daily scenes through their eyes. Merci, Genie and Virginia.
While in Paris, Junior and I spent an afternoon in Rueil-Malmaison, a lovely town in the suburbs. Le Brother and his family live there. The most famous local attraction is le Château de Rueil Malmaison. It was the home of Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. The young Bonaparte (as he was known back then) bought it for her and she lived there after their divorce.

Château de la Malmaison

Later on, impressionist painters flocked to Rueil to paint the Seine River that flows nearby. To me, Rueil will always be the place where I worked for ten years with American Express France.
During our visit, I was surprised to see that the area known as “le Vieux Rueil” (the old town) had been entirely renovated. It has become a wonderful little village (just 8 miles away from Paris), complete with specialty shops, pedestrian-friendly streets, boutiques and restaurants. While Le Brother shopped for dinner that afternoon (being very French, he likes to make at least five stops at five different shops to buy the food,) Junior and I tagged along, taking pictures: de parfaits touristes. 

“Le Vieux Rueil”
I counted at least 8 boulangerie-pâtisseries on a 5 block radius:
Bienvenue en France! 
Le Traiteur: the indispensable deli


Citrouille (pumpkin): This word challenges most of my French students,
 but it sounds delightful!
Children’s stores have the best names and signs.
(“soulier” is an old-fashioned word for shoe)

I found my favorite signs as we were traveling through France over the next two weeks. If you have ever driven on the great French roads (routes nationales for interstate highways, or départementales for state highways,) especially in Southern France, this photo will look familiar. Do you remember those long, straight, two-lane roads, bordered by ancient planes trees (les platanes) ? As you slow down to enter small towns and villages, a familiar signpost greets you.

Arriving in Montignac, home of the Lascaux prehistoric cave, Périgord
Départementale D 65

Some of the best enseignes can be found outside restaurants. Sometimes, reading the menu is almost as good as eating the food served inside. Almost.


The aptly-named “Coat of Mail” in Carcassonne’s medieval city


La Trappa: a tapas restaurant in Nice
La Chèvre d’Or  (the Golden Goat): a 5-star hotel-restaurant in Eze
“La Bedaine,” Sarlat (The Potbelly)

This restaurant’s best customer, digesting

The French can be quite creative with street signs. Styles vary with each city, or region.

Many streets in France are named after this French statesman,
remembered here on an iconic Parisian street sign


Cheerful Collioure, where street names are listed in French
and in the old Occitan dialect
Colorful Nice
Main street, Eze

A sign can bear good news…


This old fountain, in Saint Paul de Vence, supplies drinking water

… or bad news…


Castel-Merle Inn (Périgord) is popular and welcoming…
… as a result,  the “no vacancy” sign often pops up on the main gate
 as early as 2:00pm

Signs have one raison d’être: information. Some take this mission seriously.


Cimiez Monastery, Nice
This sign goes the extra mile and tells us about the origins 
of the famous Place des Vosges square, Paris

Other signs lead us to interesting, and “must-see” places, such as museums and historical buildings…

If you enjoy visiting museums, go to the Marais neighborhood in Paris
The medieval Gisson manor in Sarlat (Périgord) 
is a renowned local museum
It tells the story of the French justice system from the Middle Ages
to the Revolution



Signs can be creative. The owner of that Carcassonne wine bar catches our attention with his clever display of “Le Guide du Routard” covers (a popular collection of French travel guides) as an endorsement.

It is difficult to trace back the origin of signs. Romans used them already. In France, and in other European countries, shopkeepers and artisans started posting signs outside their shops as early as the Middle Ages. Just like today, they helped potential customers find a workshop, or a boutique. Les métiers (craft, occupation) are often advertised on les enseignes hanging on buildings. It can be a bit of a guessing game to figure out what the artisan makes or sells as there may not be another inscription on the façade. Many people in the Middle Ages were illiterate. Signs and illustrations had to be self-explanatory if they were going to be effective. Before we wrap our Tour de France of signs, can you guess what these businesses specialize in?

St. Paul de Vence
St. Paul de Vence

Founded in 1850

A bientôt.

Véronique - France with Véro
Véronique of France with Véro

Véronique of France with Véro

Vero shares her homeland weekly on social media with virtual tours, photo essays, live events and other publications at France with Vero. Learn more.

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