Paris: Hopping to the shops
We take to the streets of Paris in search of the real Euro stars.
Paris, as every woman knows, is synonymous with fashion. No matter how hard Milan and New York try, nor how much London labels itself the city where the edgiest trends are born, Paris has that indefinable je ne sais quoi when it comes to fashion, so what better reason to visit than to combine a soupçon of Parisian atmosphere, with a dash of fashion shopping.
In the cause of investigating the Parisian shopping scene, your intrepid correspondent donned her most on-trend trainers and boarded the Eurostar train at glossy St Pancras International for the two-hour-15-minute journey to the heart of the French capital to find either what was different from the UK, or so much better value that it was worth the train fare.
First stop in any quest of this kind had to be Le Marais, the one-time Jewish quarter, which is now Fashion Central in this city.
Fashionistas should start on rue des Rosiers where, alongside a couple of surviving kosher delis and boutiques belonging to the major French and international fashion brands, are a number of independent boutiques and small local chains.
Among the latter is the recently opened Suite 341, showcasing the collections of Sandro, Maje and Claudie Pierlot; Heroine, offering gorgeously cut little dresses; and Cecile Jeanne, a big name locally for accessories, with big slouchy bags and satchels in jewel colours plus stunning fashion
Train: Eurostar operates up to 18 departures daily from London St Pancras International, from £69 return. The fastest journey time is 2hrs 15mins; Tel: 08432 186 186
Shop: Check La Vallee Village website for opening times and shuttle service from Disney hotels, the RER station and central Paris.
Stay: The Pavillon des Lettres, rue des Saussaies, is a 26-room boutique hotel with all the luxury and romance one expects from a Paris visit, including a vast and beautiful bathroom with double sinks and large, separate shower, a huge bed, windows you can actually open, massive flat-screen TV, iPod dock and free WiFi.
Sister hotel to chic Pavillon de la Reine, it is well-located for shopping on St Honore and the Champs Elysee, as well as for sightseeing (it's a short walk to several Metro stations).
Opened just over a year ago, it is themed around writers, from Andersen to Zola. Although it doesn't have a full kitchen, there's a bar and tea room, and a room service menu, available day or night and delicious breakfast. Double rooms start at 255 euros (£218). Tel: 01 49 24 26 26
Eden, a local chain of shoe shops, had perfectly on-trend leather footwear at very affordable prices, while on nearby rue du Francs Bourgeois, there is unusual silver fashion jewellery at Uno de 50; and quirky shoes, including ballerinas in red or navy patent, and multi-coloured courts with yellow heels at Mellow Yellow.
Still largely unknown in Britain despite recently opening its first UK shop in Westbourne Grove, Les Petites is a must for petite women. It offers effortlessly directional and stylish collections, cleverly scaled down for the under 5' 3" woman.
It is worth searching out the Marais branch of the oddly named - in any language - Ekyog for its quirkily on-trend pieces, while other French chains to look out for include Rayure, which offers grown-up knitwear and shirts (along similar lines to Anne Fontayne but at more affordable prices), and Cotelac, which has casual and city-slick pieces with that insouciant Gallic twist and individuality.
The Paris retailer with a real buzz is Merci on Boulevard Beaumarchais. Opened in 2009 by Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, creators of childrenswear brand Bonpoint, it is reminiscent of Milan's chic 10 Corso Como, its 1,500 square metres home to a similarly eclectic mix of fashion, home decor, flowers, childrenswear and an organic, health-food restaurant. A percentage of the store's profits goes directly to charity, and many items on sale have been donated or specially made by artists and designers, who include Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, Marni and Paul & Joe. Clothing is pricey, but items such as candles cost from five euros.
When it comes to bargains, Paris is famed for its depots-ventes, the shops where discounted designer clothing is on sale year-round, most of them offering a dazzling roll-call of top names, including Chanel, Dior, Vuitton, Lanvin, Yves St Laurent and Givenchy.
There are little ones like Le Depot-Vente de Buci tucked away in a tiny street off Boulevard St Germain, where there are individual - mostly exquisite and often vintage - designer items for sale, many pre-owned, and quite pricey.
At Depot-vente Luxe in the tiny rue des Saussaies, a few steps from Vuitton, Hermes and the Lanvin branch in St Honore, there are dozens of pairs of Chanel shoes, still in their boxes, priced from 100-600 euros, and "as new" Chanel clothing for around 800 euros for a dress.
The shop also stocks the couture costume jewellery of Marguerite de Valois, who once made for Chanel, with rings from 50 euros and elaborate, one-off collars up to 2,000 euros.
Among the larger depots-vente is Reciproque, which occupies six shops on rue du Pompe in the north-east of the city. Here, you will find every top French label, with the some bargains interspersed with breathtakingly overpriced items.
But for those who want real bargains, the place to visit is the Vallée Outlet Village at Marne le Vallée, about 40 minutes from the centre using the Village Express shuttle bus, or a few minutes' walk from Eurostar's Disneyland Paris station.
Here, in one of those twee, spotless faux villages, familiar to anyone who has visited Bicester, is every international designer and French brand you could want, at a minimum 33 per cent off, and up to 70 per cent off, including many iconic and timeless pieces from top designers.
There were real bargains to be had across dozens of brands, including Givenchy and Valentino, where there was 40 and 50 per cent off what seemed to be current season merchandise, and Comptoir des Cotonniers, which was offering some current season merchandise at under 20 euros.
Naturally, reductions and stock varies throughout the year, but the sale periods - from January to February and from July to August - usually mean terrific bargains.