Voyages don’t just take in fantastic duty free ports such as St Thomas and Dubai, but also call at some of the greatest shopping cities on earth. The likes of New York, Dubai, Shanghai and Hong Kong are true Meccas of retail therapy, unlike anywhere else on earth.
But, happily for those who enjoy some pampering with their bargain-hunting, they also happen to house some of the world’s best spas. And this affords the opportunity to combine some of the latest treatments and therapies (especially for tired feet!) with your passion for fashion.
So here are my Top Five recommendations to seek out that perfect Spa tonic at the end of a long day’s shopping…
Being the daddy of them all and shopping nirvana. Sadly, the exchange rate is not quite as good as it was but it still affords enough to bring home some great bargains. One of the wonders of NY City is there is always something on sale and, even in the smartest department stores, if you hunt around for a while, a sale rail will soon manifest itself.
Start with the big American labels, everything from Gap, Banana Republic, Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, and you will find that what you pay in dollars there, you would pay in pounds in the UK.
Cosmetics and fragrances – again all the American brands such as Revlon, Estee Lauder and Clinique – are also great buys. Even if you are just window shopping, the great palaces of retail along Fifth and Madison, such as Saks, Bergdorf’s and Henri Bendel, are worth an outing, while Barneys must be one of the most beautiful stores in the world.
I you’re looking for something a little more off-beat, or designer ranges at knockdown prices, head for the sample sales in the Garment District between Sixth and Eighth Avenues from 30th to 40th Streets. For serious look-alikes, you can’t do better than Orchard Street and Grand Street (on the Lower East Side). Shops here are closed on Saturdays but open on Sundays.
To recover from the excitement and stresses of shopping, treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure on any one of the hundreds of walksins throughout the city. Mostly run by surly Koreans, they still do a great job, quickly for 20 bucks or so.
Otherwise, head for the glamour of the Four Seasons and treat yourself to the Big Apple Antioxidant Manicure and Pedicure, (pictured above) an hour of total pleasure for tired feet and hands aching from gribbing carrier bags. Here your four extremities will be bathed, scrubbed, oiled and massaged – pure bliss!
The most opulent Spa in New York must be the one at the Mandarin Oriental on the 35th floor floating over the heart of Columbus Circle. It has an Oriental tea lounge, an amethyst crystal steam room and a 75ft-long indoor lap pool. Lie down and enjoy a massage – try the Oriental head massage, which will both relax and revitalise. The newest spa on the block and, indeed, the most chic is the Sense Spa at The Carlyle. Trust this iconic landmark to be the first spa in the US using Sisley products and treatments – this French company prides itself on the natural plant extracts that are used in the products, and claim they have researched some 800,000 from all over the world. This is most certainly the place to get the grime of the city off your skin while it is being pampered and rehydrated with one of their signature facials.
This city leaves shoppers positively hyper-ventilating as there is SO much choice from the lanes of Central to the main drag of Kowloon. Whatever you do, don’t miss the street markets on the Kowloon side – Temple Street Night Market, Ladies Market as well as the Jade market.
While in Kowloon, head for Tsim Sha Tsui where you can buy any style, any design and any colour of inner and outer wear at knockdown prices. On Central, best buys are found at Stanley Market on the south of the island, which is great for Chinese-inspired coats, jackets and scarves in silks and velvets as well as wonderful pure cotton embroidered bed linens at Tongs’ stalls.
Just off Queens Road you will find two alleyways, Li Yuen East and West, which offer designer look-alike handbags, watches and sunglasses. On the latter, you will also find a tiny shoe shop, Vickie’s, which not only sells shoes and boots but will also make them for you in a huge choice of fabrics. Going slightly upmarket, head for the Pedder building on Pedder Street for Shanghai Tang and Blanc de Chine, both offering high fashion in cashmeres and silks.
If you have time, take the train to Shenzen on the mainland where, in one five-storey building, grown women weep with joy. For here are handbags, watches, sunglasses, semi-precious stones, pearls and shoes, plus fabrics and tailors who will copy anything in 24 hours or less. And all at prices that will beat any credit crunch.
After all of this you will need serious relaxation, so head for the spa at the Mandarin Landmark and book the Oriental Harmony treatment, where you get two therapists working on you for two hours. The best bit is when one massages the head while the other does the feet.
If you fancy a completely new pair of feet after all that walking, the nearest way to get it is to book an appointment with Samuel Soh at the Mandarin Oriental for an authentic Shanghai pedicure. Or, if you’re running out of time, try the Plateau spa at the Grand Hyatt, where you can opt for a number of express treatments lasting no longer than 40 minutes. Choose from a head and shoulder massage, an express facial or a relaxing scrub.
At times, this Gulf port seems like one great shopping mall. That’s because it has almost as many malls and complexes as it does five-star hotels, each one glitzier than the last and filled with designer stores and every label under the sun – and all with full air-conditioning.
There is a shopping festival each spring with discounts and sales to die for, plus the ubiquitous raffles where $20 might win you an Aston Martin or a Lexus! The spice souk in the old part of town is where to head for little packages of saffron, cumin, coriander and cinnamon as well as larger packets of rose petals for pot-pourri, while the gold souk is renowned as one of the best and cheapest places to buy jewellery.
A glittering maze of tiny shops in multiple alleys, it is easy to get and bedazzled. And, while gold is sold by weight, it is still possible to barter. Most gold is the 24-carat variety, a little too yellow for pale northern skins and used in more traditional designs, but many traders now stock white and 18-carat varieties in more European designs.
One of the best shops to look for is Damas, right on the edge of the souk while, just around the corner, is a strange little shop called Rainbow Tech, where people bring their extra Rolexes and Cartiers to be sold second-hand. And save some money for the Duty Free on the way home – Dubai has one of the largest and best malls, from luxury items of cashmere and caviar to the latest in mobiles, MP3 players and sunglasses.
Dubai is also Relaxation Central, with more spas and well-being centres than you could sheik a stick at. Top Spas include the three-storey Caracalla Spa and Health Club at Le Royal Meridien which is a veritable United Nations of a concept with its ancient Roman design, Turkish hammam, cardiovascular equipment from the States, treatments from France, the UK, Sweden, Egypt and Asia and staff from all over the world.
For the top-of-the-range experience, try to get an appointment at the Assawan Spa at the Burj al Arab simply for its jawdropping appeal. Located on the 18th floor with staggering views across the Arabian Gulf, it has 18 luxurious treatment rooms – 9 each for men and women, and the most perfect shade of lavender marble surrounding the pool.
In between treatments, you can relax in the Diwania library, which is built along the lines of a Roman amphitheatre and is stocked with an extensive selection of Arab and English literature as well as having its own billiard table! To help you recover your equilibrium in such surroundings, have a hydrotherapy massage where strong jets of water boost the circulation and stimulate muscles.
As almost everything these days seems to be made in China, it only goes to prove there is nothing you cannot buy in Shanghai. It is also a city which is growing by the minute, so it is best to concentrate on shopping in particular areas. For instance at Xi Tian Di, a collection of small, original buildings which have been preserved and now house young designers, artists and craftspeople, the retailers have a different take on traditional Chinese skills, from silks to woodwork and calligraphy.
By contrast, head for Xiangyang Market at Puxi metro station. It’s huge but manageable and fantastic for sportswear, bags, shoes, silks and pearls. Or head to the South Bund silk market for a vast and mouth-watering array of fabrics; it even has tailors who will make anything you want, almost in the twinkle of an eye.
For a different take on pearls, plus funky jewellery and bags, go to Lilli’s either at Xinzha Road or inside the Shangri La Hotel at Pudong – great designs at truly affordable prices. And, as for CDs and DVDs, it is difficult to beat Oscar’s on Feng Yang Road. For chocoholics, you will not find more beautiful or delicious delights than at Laris at Three on the Bund.
FLOP & PAMPER
Now you have saved so much money, you can splash out on a Jade Jewel Facial at the Chi Spa at the Shangri La. Based on the traditional healing powers of Jade, which is supposed to unblock energies, the facial comes with a footbath, acupressure massage, facial cleanse, tone, mask and massage. You’ll feel like a million bucks.
Where Asia meets Europe is one of the most exotic shopping destinations anywhere. There are some wonderful designer avenues, but they are mostly labels we know. So, for a truly Turkish experience, head to the Covered Bazar, or Kapali �arsi.
This is retail blow-out, with more than 4,000 shops offering everything from gold to T-shirts and copper to leather, not to mention enough carpets to cover the distance from here to the Moon. Best buys are copper and leather – there are some wonderfully crafted jackets and coats – as well as, surprisingly, furs.
Needless to say handbags, shoes and boots are fantastic and amazingly well-made. There is also a wonderful food area where you can, if you are sharp enough, find some terrific bargains in caviar. Otherwise stick to the Turkish Delight in its many flavours, from rose, to mint and pistachio.
And then of course, there are the carpets. If you want to buy one, allow plenty of time for bartering is the national sport and you must join in, no matter how bad you are. Antique carpets are difficult to find and fiendishly expensive, so remember that before you part with your plastic. Better by far to buy something you like at a price you’re happy with. For, no matter how charming the seller, nobody gets the better of a Turkish carpet salesman. But at least you will have something you love, with great memories
After a hard day’s sightseeing or shopping, the best way to recover is in a traditional Turkish bath house or hammam. Most hotels have one – the Kempinski Ciragan Palace and Four Seasons all have their own versions and it is a great way to unwind.
If you are feeling adventurous, go for the real thing and try the Cagaloglu Hammami just a two-minute walk from Aya Sofya, and more than 300 years old. Here, in a vast marble room with a highdomed ceiling, you can steam and scrub for hours, but my advice is opt for the Complete Oriental Luxury Service where you will be scrubbed until you squeak and pummelled until you glow by Istanbul’s very own grannies from hell. They will lather you with horsehair whisks and clean you off with huge urns of warm water before giving you one of the most vigorous massages you will ever experience. It’s worth it!