Retail therapy comes in many guises, nowhere more so than in Paris, writes Maureen Marriner
If shopping is on your agenda during a visit to Paris, you probably will have lined up Galeries Lafayette's flagship store and the adjacent Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann. You may also have the glorious but eye-wateringly expensive Le Bon Marche, the city's oldest department store on your list but there is another marche, or market, that provides a unique spectacle.
It is Les Puces de Paris Saint Ouen, the Paris flea markets in the north of the city, 14 separate covered markets that have 1000 traders for new and used clothing and handicrafts and 2500 antiques sellers. The whole thing covers 7ha and a guided tour prevents glaze-over after the first half-hour.
I did a three-hour tour with Romain, of Meeting the French, who was a wealth of information about the history, the specialities of each area and what makes the markets tick.
It used to be said that you could stumble upon a gem of a find and the unaware seller practically gave it away. Perhaps, but not any longer. These traders know the value of it all . . . but negotiation is always possible.
The markets officially began in 1865, bringing order to where rag-pickers sold their finds outside the city fortifications at the Porte de Clignancourt. The first was Vernaison, which today is a haven of antique clothing, linen buttons and beads, followed by Malik — now a hipster hub, then the Biron Market, which sells expensive vintage jewellery. Serpente has high-end art from antiquity to the 1970s . . . there is so much of everything, everywhere.
However, unless you are a serious collector, who has pre-organised shipping, or someone who has no worries about luggage-weight restrictions, Les Puces, can largely be a feast for the eyes.
When my two companions and I were flagging, Romain suggested a drink and a bite to eat. Whether it was lucky timing or a carefully curated stop, I don't know, but we ended up at Chope des Puces, where gypsy jazz has been ruling since music great Django Reinhardt played there in the 1920s. The front is a bar of small high tables but we were ushered through to the back, to a large room of tables and chairs, benches, sofas, low tables and a stage. While we drank warmed wine (it was November) and tucked into a board of meats and cheese, a "planche mixte", a three-piece band let rip. Much stamping of feet, clapping and a feeling that we had stumbled upon a market gem.
Etihad flies from Sydney to Paris, via Abu Dhabi, with codeshare connections to New Zealand.
Les Puces de Paris Saint Ouen runs from 10am-7pm, Saturdays and Sundays and some shops are open Mondays. The nearest Metro stations are at Porte de Clignancourt on one side and Garibaldi on the other. en.meetingthefrench.com