Calais has come a long way since its days as a haven for rosy-cheeked beer lovers trundling across the Channel on a booze cruise.
The huge discounts on wine, spirits and lagers remain, but these days invaders are more likely to come in the form of ale aficionados and vino lovers.
“Our store has got the largest range of products,” said Cyril Boucherat, general manager of Carrefour, the French hypermarket chain which is the flagship store of Cité Europe.
The shopping centre is the first thing drivers see after exiting Le Shuttle in Coquelles after the 35 minute journey in the comfort of their car on the train through Eurotunnel from Folkestone.
What’s in store?
Since it opened 20 years ago, Cité Europe’s biggest draw has been Carrefour – with its vast array of alcohol from around the world.
“We are always looking for a new offer,” said Cyril. “Always looking for a new product to fill a gap.”
The strange thing is, there do not appear to be any gaps to fill – the shelves of wines from across the globe is mind boggling.
When they run out of room, staff fill the aisles with pallets of their latest discount products, many with buy-three-get-three-free type offers. Wine consultants stand next to barrels of vino offering free samples to shoppers.
“Our job is to interest customers in the new products,” said Aseel Demilly as she passes around a sample of chardonnay.
“You won’t find the same wine list this year as you found last year. A lot of customers have been coming here years and years. They come from England, Belgium, Germany and even Scotland.”
Are there genuine savings to be had?
For all the customers who come looking for something new, Carrefour remains mindful of its regulars who want to find their favourite brands at low prices.
Rows and rows are stacked with Gallo, Wolfblass and Barefoot cabernet sauvignons, merlots and pinot noirs, with tags highlighting how Carrefour’s prices are “51.81%” cheaper than Tesco back home in the UK.
“The price is competitive,” said Cyril. “The shop is known for its good price.”
Even with its discounts and bogof offers, shoppers arriving at the till can still have 10% knocked off if they buy more than 100 euros of booze. Buy 200 euros worth and the assistants will knock 20% off.
How do you find the deals?
The trick for Carrefour – the fourth largest retail group in the world in terms of sales behind Walmart, Tesco and Costco – has been to find a balance between providing old favourites on the cheap and exciting new wines.
Wine expert Didier Le Nestour travels around the world tasting different products and trying to match them with his employer’s value ethos.
He said: “The key is getting the ratio right between the quality and the price. I’m always following the tastes and the trends.”
What else can I find at Cité Europe?
Pretty much everything you could want. Just a few miles outside Calais the international shopping centre has more than 120 shops, a cinema and about 15 restaurants.
The main shops - including Toys R Us, H&M and a massive Go Sports – are open from Monday to Saturday, 10am to 8pm but the Carrefour hypermarket has extended opening hours.
For more info
You can check out all the shops plus the Sunday opening hours in the run up to Christmas, at www.citeeurope.com
Opposite Cité Europe is the Channel Outlet Store, a French equivalent to the Ashford Designer Outlet Centre. It has 55 shops, with brands including Adidas, Hugo Boss, Lacoste, Quiksilver and Tommy Hilfiger. Details at www.outlet-malls.eu