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Shopping in Paris

The Parisian ideal is elegant rather than funky. Trends may come and go, but Paris is always at the forefront and there are few cities where you can find so many top-quality designers. These include the - British John Galliano at Dior, Beatles' offspring Stella McCartney at Chloe, - the ever-controversial Jean-Paul Gaultier with his own store near Bastille and Londoner Alexander McQueen at Givenchy, who recently shocked his bosses by signing an 'own label' deal with their great rivals Gucci.

The exclusive designer shops are in the 8th, enclosed in the golden triangle formed by the avenue des Champs-Elysees, avenue Montaigne and rue François 1er and along the rue de Faubourg St-Honore. A less rarefied, but typically Parisian shopping experience, is to be had at the main department stores at the boulevard Haussmann, 8th - Les Galeries Lafayette with its huge coloured dome and Au Printemps. The not-so-French Marks and Spencer is nearby. Metro Temple or Republique take the bargain shopper to the cheapest department store in the city, Tati, 13 place de la Republique, 11th. Cut-price designer gear can be snapped up at the Mouton à Cinq Pattes, 19 rue Gregoire de Tours. The sales sweep through Paris in January and July.

Those who enjoy intimate, friendly boutiques should head for the Marais district of the 4th. The rue des Francs-Bourgeois in the gay quarter sells designer kitsch, while the winding rue des Rosiers in the Jewish quarter has plenty of young designers whose works are displayed at L'Eclaireur. This area is at its busiest on Sunday, with many shops closed on Saturday due to the Jewish sabbath. It is ideal for a quick falafel snack while the best ice cream is for sale at Berthillon on the rue de St-Louis-en-L'Ile.

The Carrousel du Louvre, under the glass pyramid in the Louvre courtyard, is a good place for tasteful gifts but shoppers determined to take home plastic Eiffel Towers should head for the rue de Rivoli, home to tourist kitsch. The American-run Shakespeare & Co, 37 rue de la Bûcherie, 5th, has the city's widest selection of second-hand books in English. French books are best purchased at the city's FNAC stores, one of which is at the shopping arcade, the Forum des Halles, 6th. Bouquinistes sell second-hand books along the Seine.

Expensive antiques are to be found at Le Louvre des Antiquaires, beside the Louvre on the place du Palais Royal. For bric-a-brac, there are the renowned flea markets (marches aux puces), including the Porte de Montreuil, 20th, open Saturday, Sunday and Monday 0700-1900 and St-Ouen/Porte de Clignancourt, 18th, open Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 0730-1900. There are numerous morning food markets in Paris and the Ile-de-la-Cite has one of the largest flower markets in Paris.

Most shops are open Monday to Saturday 0900/1000-1900/2000 and close between 1200-1430 for lunch. Sales tax is 20.6%, standard rate, though varies widely between what are regarded as essential items and luxury goods. Non-EU visitors can get a tax refund on purchases of over FFr2000 in any one establishment by obtaining a form at the relevant shop and presenting it to customs on departure.

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