Now this may come as a surprise, but back in 2014, according to the observant people at ABTA, city breaks officially overtook beach holidays as the most popular getaway for Brits. Over 53% of the population took a city break in 2017, compared to just 38% who hit the beach. For many city breakers, one of the main motivators in their decision, along with the culture, food, nightlife and sheer joy of visiting somewhere new, is shopping. For those whose local high street leaves a little to be desired, the attraction is even stronger.
Thousands of people every year head off to a new destination in order to pound the pavements and their plastic. With their own bi-annual fashion weeks, London, Paris, New York and Milan are the couture capitals, but always keen to be different (and because I’ve written about 3 of those in recent issues) I’ve gone freestyle for the Vogue issue and bring you a selection of shopping hot spots you might not have considered.
I know what you’re thinking. Leeds?!? Most of us Islanders seem to pick London, Southampton or perhaps Liverpool for our retail therapy, but 20 years of residency and regular return visits qualify me to tell you that Leeds should not be overlooked. The compact and easily walkable city offers just about everything you could wish to purchase, from high fashion to high street.
The Trinity Centre opened in 2013 to much fanfare, transforming a formerly unloved area into a stylish home for 120 popular brands, along with restaurants, street food trucks and cocktail bars. A short hop across bustling Briggate, main artery of the town centre, brings shoppers to the architecturally stunning covered arcades of Victoria Quarter and Victoria Gate. Home to Harvey Nichols, Louis Vuitton and Vivienne Westwood among a host of others, this is where to splash some serious cash.
If, like me, you’d prefer NOT to bump into someone wearing the same dress (Memories of the Mourant Summer Ball 2006 haunt me to this day) then head to the balconied Corn Exchange, or twin historic arcades of Queens & Thorntons where indie boutiques, vintage shops and local designers abound.
Once you’re all shopped out, refuel at one of the city’s overwhelming choice of restaurants, before sampling the vibrant Northern nightlife and smart new Victoria Casino – just please don’t paint the town red; we’re still smarting over that 2011 defeat to Man Utd.
Getting There: Jet2 operate from Jersey to Leeds 3 times weekly between May and September. Flights from £75 return.
Not exactly a ‘secret’ destination, receiving 250 million visitors a year, but whilst most flock for the culture, cathedrals, clubbing and Catalan cuisine (all perfectly decent reasons to visit), the shopping in Barcelona also takes some beating.
On the famous Passeig de Gracia and intersecting Avenue Diagonal, Spanish high street favourites Zara, Mango, Pull & Bear and Springfield sit comfortably beside luxury international brands such as Jimmy Choo, Chanel and Rolex. There is no visible divide here between budget and blow out. Perhaps this goes someway to explain the relaxed yet polished Spanish style I covet?
Those looking for something a little more unique should head for the El Raval area, just off La Ramblas boulevard, where boutiques and vintage shops line the narrow lanes. This is authentic Barcelona, where hip locals hang out in record stores, or sip cortados at street cafes. On a Saturday afternoon the atmosphere ramps up a notch, when stores spill out onto the street, to be joined by neighbourhood residents hosting pop up stalls.
No visit to Barcelona (or indeed any Spanish city) would be complete without a visit to El Cortes Ingles; the expansive department store that makes the local offering look positively bijou by comparison, and evokes memories of Spanish exchange trips, buying make up and short skirts to smuggle back home. The Barcelona flagship branch is 9 stories high, and packed with potential purchases.
Bear in mind when planning your Spanish Spendathon that, much like home, most shops stay shuttered on a Sunday, and independent retailers often honour the traditional siesta.
Getting There: Short breaks to Barcelona are available direct from Jersey in September and October. See www.flydirect.je for details.
Mix retail therapy with a real experience in Marrakech. Far from the orderly and air-conditioned shopping malls of the UK, dive into the bustling Souk and test your haggling skills over silk caftans, quality leather goods and traditional babouche slippers. A suggested starting point for the first timer is to go in 60% lower than the asking price, and work your way back up from there, to a price that leaves both shopper and seller smiling.
Intoxicating, fascinating and perhaps at times a little disorientating, the shopping experience here is like nowhere else on earth. Feast your eyes and ears on the endless array of goods, watch artisans at work, sip mint tea over negotiations, and enjoy the endless sales patter and banter of countless enthusiastic traders. Aside from some small concessions to modern taste, the souk has operated largely unchanged for over 1000 years, and it’s easy to imagine you’ve slipped back in time.
Just a few steps away from the throng, the narrow maze-like alleys of the medina hide a plethora of trendy boutiques and design led concept stores, offering everything from loafers to lanterns, from soap to soup bowls. Prices are higher here, and likely to be fixed, but bargains are still to be found for this level of craftsmanship and quality.
To complete the experience, stay in the cool oasis of a central riad rather than an out of town resort hotel, and soothe your aching legs with a vigorous steam and scrub at one of the many hammams; a word of warning to the bashful, bathers are rarely required, however a short period of public nudity will be worth it to emerge relaxed, radiant and glowing. Probably.
Getting There: British Airways and Easyjet operate from London Gatwick to Marrakech regularly. Prices from around £80 return.