Val d’Europe – Largest Outlet Mall in Europe
If you are a shopper you may have heard of this gigantic indoor and outdoor mall about 35 km east of Paris in Marne la Vallee. Promoted as the largest mall in Europe, Val d’Europe attracts travellers from all over the continent and is a shopping destination for Parisians who can reach it by a quick train ride from central Paris. Val d’Europe is close to EuroDisney and represents the Disney concept of creating “idealized” communities. It has been called the “Disneyfication” of shopping experience.
When we first arrived we happened to stay not far from this mall and one afternoon decided to check it out. At the time I didn’t realize that I was going to the “Disney mall”. I thought it was just an outlet mall, like the ones I have been to in the US. Read on. We called the shuttle to pick us up and paid 5 Euros for a round trip. Evidently, they would like to make it easy and convenient for you to drop off your money at their stores. We were let off at the entrance to a beautiful open air upscale shopping promenade. It is built in French style architecture with white country-like “homes” topped with blue roofs housing the various stores. The stone “streets” are nice and wide and the visual effects are calming and inviting. You feel like you are walking in a nice French village. But it is not a French village by any stretch. Every designer store you can think of has an outlet there. Givenchy, Celne, Valentino, Dolce & Gabana, Vesace, Max Mara, Marni, Missoni, Sonia Rykiel, and DVF are just a few of the more than a hundred stores in the mall. For those of you who like house ware there is Vilroy & Boch, Ralph Lauren home, Bodum, Lagostina, Lalique, Baccarat and Anne de Solene. Shoe fetish? just for you: Jimmu Choo, Ferragamo, Tod’s, Uggs and Tumi are just a few of the shoe stores. Purse crazy? Lomgchamp, Furla, Tumi, Porsch Design are just a few I remember. Restaurant-cafes are dispersed through the area offering sandwiches, soups, coffee, hot chocolate, ice creams and more. There is even a Starbucks in the middle, in case you begin to miss home.
We walked a while in the open air shopping area looking in many of the shops and eventually reached the end. Across the walkway however there seem to be an indoor mall. I needed to sit down (uncomfortable shoes) so we went inside, buying a cone of warm roasted chestnuts from the vendor near the door and settled at a table in the eating area (I suspect the table belonged to a fast food outlet on the corner but I didn’t ask and we just sat there making a mess with the chestnuts peelings. Of course we cleaned it up before we left). Once we settled and looked around we realized that we were in no ordinary place. We were in a very impressive structure, reminiscent of the Galleria of the Grand Palais off the Place Concord in Paris and even the Galleria in Milan. It wouldn’t surprise me if these similarities were intentional in the design. The food court has a giant glass and iron galleria style roof high up, letting the light stream in from above. The area was called Les Terrasses Food Court. It was interesting to see landmarks of Paris being featured in this area. At the back there was a carousel, such as you see around Paris here and there. It looked like it was made of aged copper but I doubt it. It’s Disney, so it must be make-believe but very well done. There was also a fountain, reminiscent of the many fountains in Paris.
In the food court you can find Paul Boulangerie, Brioche Doree, Pizza del Arte and a few others I couldn’rt see from where we were sitting. We then settled at the Paul Boulangerie cafe and ordered a salad for lunch (ummm, okay, kinda, but way too big with three large baguette slices grilled with goat cheese on top). We were looking for a market and the server advised that there is a grocery store down the mall about 5 minute walk to the left. I thought the five minutes was a slight exaggerations as after walking through the outdoor mall I expected it to be not so large on the indoors part. After lunch we turned left down the hall and were just shocked. The mall was beautiful and seemed to go on forever (and ever). It is built as one long corridor that seems to never end. This straight indoor promenade is broken periodically by pavilions from which one can enter and exit the mall. Part of the reason we were so shocked at the size is that we saw no cars parked anywhere outside. Parking is relegated to an L shape space somewhere inside the complex, hidden from view of shoppers and residents of the area. Like the food court, the main promenade is also topped with a long glass gallery-like roof and up along the walls you see “balconies” that make it look like you are walking along a Parisian street. Each of the sections had a name borrowed from Parisian or French neighbourhoods: La Promenade (in Nice), Le Balcon des Halles, Rue des Hales. Even the entrance and exits are named meaningfully: Porte de Volga, Porte du Danube, Les Passage Parrisiens. Very interesting. I think the idea was to emulate and connect the “mall life” with Parisian or French life in general. Leave it to Disney to come up with this all encompassing concept. They have already executed some of this concept in Florida, in a community called Celebration and here they are implementing it in Marne la Valée east of Paris.
We kept walking and still, no end in sight. We were determined to find the “market” and kept going but every time we’d come to a pavilion, another section begun. Finally we found the market, a giant store called Auchan. If there was any food there we could not find it. Housewares, toys, whatever. No produce. Bummer. Little did we know that the food was on another floor, below the main. We went back there on another day and it was large but not exciting.
The stores inside the mall were of the variety that you would find in high end malls around the world, only more of them and ten times larger and with European stores we are not familiar with in Canada and the US. I went into Zara but got overwhelmed with the size and amount of merchandise and left without looking. I can’t shop like that. This is for professional shoppers, I was done. I remarked to my husband that in spite of the grand setting, this did not feel much different than any other mall around the world: same shops, sterile environment, uniformity. Don’t get me wrong. The mall is gorgeous, probably the most beautiful mall that I have seen (and I have been to a few), but still, it’s a mall. We know what it’s all about. I don’t mean to discourage you though, if you love shopping you’d be in shoppers heaven.
There is also a sealife aquarium in the mall with some 300 species of sea life, however we didn’t see it. I could hardly walk another step and we needed to get out. We headed back down the beautifully lit indoor avenue and retraced our steps back. Then we had to walk through the outdoor shopping area to get back to the concierge office where our shuttle would pick us up. All went smoothly, and I am glad we went there, although I did not buy a thing. I plan to make up for this in Paris, give me time:).
Val d’Europe offers memberships that will entitle you to notices about all their sales, special offers and special events. You can register on line at www.lavalleeVillage.com. An app is also available to keep you apprised of the shopping offers from the mall.
Access from Paris: RER A from any central Paris station to Val d’Europe station (one before the last Disney stop). On Sunday free shuttle departs the RER station to the mall. Check