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London - Shopping
and travel have always made the most delightful bedfellows. Whether it’s digging out an unusual trinket from a lively local market, finding that backstreet where the Parisians go for affordable style or grabbing discounted designer gear at a shopping mall, nothing beats the thrill of a bargain abroad, or finding something unique or unusual that you wouldn’t be able to pick up on the high street at home.
Shopping has become so much a part of the holiday experience that specialist trips, tours and hotels now offer the chance to combine retail with repose.
Some cater specifically for the female market. For example, in Italy, the Palazzo Victoria hotel in Verona has a girls-only weekend package with a three-course dinner, in-room gift, hairstyling session and a VIP shopping experience – taking guests to selected boutiques.
For those who simply want to factor in a bargain hunt to a regular holiday, consider time-saving tours that take you directly to hard-to-find souvenirs and crafts. Discover Walks (www.discoverwalks.com) offers a tour through Paris’s famous flea market, the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt, helping antiques hunters to get their bearings and find the best bargains among the maze of 2 500 shops.
The run-up to Christmas is prime shopping time, when cities entice holidaymakers with the notion of stocking up with gifts during a short break.
In Europe, Christmas markets see a flurry of festive stalls sprinkled around squares in cities ranging from Birmingham to Berlin. They began in the 15th century in Germany and Austria; Nuremberg, in the former, remains the biggest and most famous of them all, attracting more than two million visitors a year.
But not all markets have to be Christmas themed. Hotels and tour operators often offer the expertise of a local guide who can help unravel the complexities of Moroccan souks or simply help with a bit of haggling. Fleewinter (www.fleewinter.co.uk) has a network of mostly English and French residents in Marrakech who will take clients to the best stalls in the souks, but also to lesser-known shops and warehouses in the city’s new town and industrial quarter.
While New York is world famous for its shopping and competitive prices, many visitors are often unaware that a number of other states, such as Texas and Louisiana, also offer tax-free shopping for tourists.
For something more bespoke, consider Asia: Vietnam, Thailand and Hong Kong are perfect for picking up tailor-made suits and entire wardrobe updates at affordable prices. In Hoi An, Vietnam, you can order clothes from one of the dozens of tailors in this pretty coastal town. A typical tailor-made suit or made-to-measure dress costs from R1 000. Try Thu Thuy Silk (www.hoianthuthuysilk.com) or Yaly (yalycouture.com).
If high style is on your agenda, then look no further than Paris. There are packages which offer a stay at the five star Pont Royal Paris along with a three-hour tailored tour.
The Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong offers a private shopping tour that can take in the high-end shopping district or traditional markets with haggling help from your guide.
Make-mine-a-mall US has historically led the way with shopping malls. However, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai are determined to steal its crown by adding ice-rinks, indoor ski slopes, canals and restaurants.
Premium Outlets (premiumoutlets.com) has malls all over the US packed with discounted designer shops. Two of the most popular are Woodbury Common, near New York, and Orlando Premium Outlets.
In Europe, Chic Outlet Shopping Villages has malls near Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Madrid and Brussels where you can find Armani and Burberry.
Dubai has a month-long shopping festival in January (dubaievents.ae).
The Mall of the Emirates has 250 international brand stores.
The gold and spice souks offer an authentic shopping experience.
Get into the festive spirit with a tour of Europe’s glittering Christmas markets. There are seven-day tours of markets in Salzburg, Munich and Innsbruck.
Two Christmas markets combine with a free ice-skating rink in Kungstradgarden Park in Stockholm. Skansen market has stallholders dressed in 19th-century garb. In the Old Town, Stortorget square sells jams and homemade sausages daily.
Prague hosts markets in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square.
Count on a cruise. One of the major benefits of taking to sea for a shopping trip is the unlimited luggage allowance and the number of places you can cover in one short trip. – The Independent