I traveled to Europe with my mother to rediscover France and Italy. In contrast to the Philippines where there were monsoon rains, it was summer in Europe (July/August). It was the best time to travel there because airfare was cheaper and almost everything was on sale.
Let’s start with Paris. Normally Paris is a city with luxury goods that only a few can afford. But with the global recession affecting almost all of Europe, prices have gone down. Everywhere I went my favorite word was at every store window, soldes. It means sale in French, and that was all the French I needed to know.
La Vallee Village
Yet despite all the sale items sold along the famous Champs Elysees, I wasn’t too happy. I felt there were more that I wasn’t really discovering. My Pinoy friend, Jennifer, who lives in Paris, said I should go to La Vallee Village.
She warned me though, most of the stuff there “are last season.” But where will spring clothes fit in my wardrobe, I asked? She slapped me silly.
Needless to say, I booked my bus fare to the outlet village. (It costs 22 Euros for an adult round trip ticket and 11 Euros for children above three years old.) This is called the Shopping Express Service from Paris, which offers two daily departures from Paris to La Vallée Village. You can choose between departing from the Place des Pyramides at 9:30 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m. I suggest that you go early just in case you need more time to shop or in case you get lost due to the language barrier.
After 35 minutes in the bus we arrived in La Vallee Village. I loved the place because other than being cheaper, the city has its own summer soldes!
So it’s even cheaper than usual. I found Givenchy, Armani, Paul Smith, Aigle, D&G, Valentino, Cavalli and more.
With the things I was buying, nothing went beyond P1,500, which included a Dolce bag for men. Trust me when I say I needed a balikbayan box between my mother and I.
After Paris we flew to Italy, and from Rome, we took the train to Florence or Firenze. This is my favorite city in Italy. I don’t know why but I feel very relaxed here. Or maybe it just offers more shopping options, such as the Space, or popularly known as the Prada & Miu Miu outlet; The Mall, Valdichiana Outlet Village and Barberino Designer Outlet.
Space or Prada outlet is accessible by bus. The Space is not actually in Florence; it’s located in a small town of Montevarchi, 20-30 minutes away by train. We took the 9 a.m. train from Santa Maria Novella (direction towards Rome), and then a cab from Montevarchi train station to the outlet. The cab should cost you around 12 Euros each way.
The doors don’t open until 9:30 a.m. Once you get to the outlet; make sure to get a number from the machine next to the entrance. It doesn’t matter what number you get, since it seems that they let around 100 people at a time, as long as you have one of those little pieces of paper, you’ll be able to get in and shop till you drop.
Once you have your number, you can sit down at Space Cafe and wait till they call your number. That number you got is your identification. Most of the outlet attendants will help you bring your goodies to the cashier even before you pay. And they will ask for your number so your goodies are not mixed with the others. And when you’re ready to pay, they will ask you again if you still want those goods.
There are several ways to get to The Mall. Last year I went via the shuttle bus in front of the Savoy Hotel in the Piazza Della Repubblica. By some luck the doorman was a Filipino and gave me the direction.
If you choose to go by train, take the one that goes to Rignano Sull’Arno.
The Mall is the outlet for most of the luxury labels found in Europe—McQueen, Armani, Burberry, Dior, Gucci, and so on. I got a Ferragamo shoe for P3,000; it originally cost P45,000!
Valdichiana Outlet Village
The Valdichiana Outlet Village is located in one of the loveliest spots in Tuscany, between the provinces of Arezzo and Siena. The Valdichiana Outlet Village houses over 140 famous brands; it offers 30 percent to 70 percent discounts all year round!
I took the train from Florence, then a bus. It’s somewhat far.
The area is big. This time I had choices of both local Italian brands and international luxury goods. There are also a number of American labels that dot the area such as Nike, Puma and Adidas. For me, who wants to balance and stretch my money to the max, I choose this place to spend more. If I buy a luxury item, like Prada for example, even if it would cost P15,000, a regular local Italian brand would give me at least three products with the same cost. That’s what happened there when I went. I got an Onitsuka sneaker for P1,500, which normally cost P7,000 in Greenbelt.
This outlet was my latest discovery. I never heard of this till I talked with Eugenio, the Filipino doorman from Savoy Hotel.
Thinking my mother could not handle the train trips back and forth from Firenze, I decided to ask him if he knew anybody who could drive us to the outlets. He gladly offered his friend Jett, another Filipino who owns and drives a van and is licensed to take tourists around. (Of course like all good travelers, I asked around for other options to compare Jett’s prices with the local tourist rentals and true enough, his price was cheaper.)
Jett picked us up in front of our hotel and gave us suggestions on how the day should go. All I said was make sure we hit the outlets and see the countryside after.
He took us to Barberino first, since it was the closest to Firenze. It was smaller than the Valdichiana, but it was easier to navigate since shops were closer. This is where I found two Dolce & Gabbana bags that cost P1,000 each! And this is where I found my favorite Spanish label, Desigual. My mother and I went crazy because it was 70 percent off.
The best part was Jett as tourist guide. He took us to San Gimignano and Siena. And when we would reach a place, he would give us a brief history and description of the place plus the things worth buying. A regular travel guide and a car would just schedule our trip to one outlet and go back home. Jett went beyond that and really took us around within the 10 hours we rented the van. Trust me when I say he was worth every Euro. I even recommended him to Cristal and Vicky Belo when they went to Europe a week after I had left Firenze. They were very happy as I was.
Porta Di Roma
So we fly back to Manila via Rome. I just wanted to relax on my last two days in Italy so I didn’t plan anything. Just sleep, walk and eat. On my last day I started packing and found out that my luggage had “space.” That’s when I again had ideas. I went to the reception of my hotel and inquired about a shop that carried men’s shoes.
To my dismay, the receptionist smiled and told me the place I was looking for is found in a mall. A mall? In Europe? That seems unheard of (being sarcastic here). It’s called Porta di Roma and it is about 45 minutes away from the center of Rome.
I took the Metro to Roma termini and boarded bus No. 38. Just to be sure, I asked a Filipina waiting inside the bus if I was on the right bus. She said that the bus stops right in front of Porta di Roma and it might take a while to get there. After 45 minutes, the big sign of Porta Di Roma came to view. It felt familiar because it did look like a real mall.
As soon as I got in I asked what time it would close, 10 p.m. I only have two hours left to do the “Amazing Race”! This last-minute decision to come here was well worth it. A regular sale bag in Firenze, which cost P1,000 peso, cost P500 here, even cheaper. And a Zara shoe, which cost P5,000 in Manila, which was on sale in Firenze at P3,000, was marked down at P1,000. Yes, I shopped to death throwing any concern of excess luggage or weight.
All in all, my recent trip to France and Italy served its purpose. I took my mother to Paris and Lourdes; she heard Mass at the Vatican; she shopped at Firenze, I saw the Tuscan countryside, but most importantly I discovered new places to fill my addiction inside, shopping! Wait let’s be politically correct: I went to Europe to avail myself of retail therapy. There that felt better.
If you want more detailed accounts and other information that I fail to give, give me a tweet at my Twitter account: @raymundisaac.