Shopping heaven for Vatican bargain hunters

It's not just the Vatican treasury that's spending its pennies more wisely this year. Citizens of the world's tiniest state have been enjoying a last-minute Christmas shopping splurge at knockdown prices in the Holy See's own department store.

Bargain hunters can pick up Samsung 3D flat-screen televisions, Baume and Mercier watches and golf club sets at 30 per cent discount in the three-floor, tax-free emporium tucked inside the Vatican's old train station, just yards away from St Peter's Basilica, which somehow remains one of the Holy See's best-kept secrets.

Officially the store is open to Vatican citizens, employees and their dependents, diplomats accredited to the Holy See and, unofficially, their friends, who they accompany to the checkout with the all-important identification card. Many members of the public appeared to be making the most of their Vatican connections and profiting from December's "extraordinary opening hours", which has seen wine tasting promotions in the central atrium, according to the Associated Press.

The Vatican Museum is the main money-making enterprise of the Vatican, bringing in €91.3m (£74m) in revenue last year. But smaller firms, including a pharmacy and tax-free petrol station, all contribute. Ahead of Christmas, the Vatican's own supermarket has been doing brisk business, with Holy See citizens and their friends filling their trolleys with everything from cut-price panettone to bargain cigars. Even the Holy spirits are cheaper, with Gordon's Gin at €8.50 (£7) a litre compared to €15 (£12) it costs in ordinary grocers.

Commenting on suggestions the Vatican should allow ordinary Italians to use its stores, official Monsignor Giuseppe Sciacca, said treaties with Italy would not allow it. "We shouldn't. And we can't," he said.

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