The rain in Spain stayed mainly at the mall and I escaped—off to London for an overnight and then onto Oxford, with its university, High Street and yup, the factory outlet mall.
The pound may be high these days, but that’s why they invented outlet shopping.
Don’t miss the Spanish leg of Sarah’s shopping adventures in Bargain Shopping in Europe: Madrid, Spain.
LOCK ME UP AND THROW AWAY THE KEY
It was late when I arrived at the Malmaison Hotel (), but I couldn’t wait to explore. Eat your heart out, Harry Potter.
The hotel began life as the prison of Oxford Castle, which was built around 1070, and has now become a stunning new escape destination. Honest.
Former cells were combined to become spacious guest rooms and suites, and the luxe accommodations all retain the original heavy, metal-studded doors and barred windows.
My room was located in the debtors’ tower, which I found both amusing and a bit foreboding; after all, I was on a shopping quest.
Was my VISA limit at risk?
Looking for savings? Check out this Video Travel Tip: Cheaper European Travel and Are City Cards Worth It?
I planned to run grab a couple of Krispy Kremes for breakfast, as there was a franchise built into the castle wall, about 50 meters from the hotel entrance. (Was it in William the Conqueror’s 1000-year plan to install a doughnut vendor in his castle?)
Unfortunately, this branch keeps strange hours, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., so donuts weren’t available for breakfast.
It was a gorgeous day, so I checked out of the hotel (loved doing time at the Malmaison) and took an early morning walk. After a brisk stroll through the college quads, I spotted my favorite Boots on Oxford’s High Street (#10). To the locals, Boots is a chemist; to me, it’s a drugstore, a must-do, a way of life. No day in England is complete without a dose of Boots. I’m addicted to their No. 7 mascara and eye pencils, and I always stock up on Protect & Perfect skin creams when I’m in town.
When the serum was introduced a couple of years ago, queues formed daily to buy this magic potent as supplies were sold out within hours. The product is now more readily available, but only at Boots in the UK. I was told that the local demand is still so great that online sales of Protect & Perfect have been postponed indefinitely, and Boots in other countries are not allowed to sell it.
Don’t miss more travel information in our European Travel category. Get unusual ideas for London in our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to London. Or try a Traveling Mom’s Tips for Visiting London With Kids.
The second stop on my tour of Europe’s Chic Outlet Shopping Villages was Bicester Village (say “Bista”), located in Oxfordshire about 20 minutes by car from Oxford, and an hour away by train from London.
Chiltern Railways offers frequent train service from London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street to Bicester North station, where shuttle buses from the outlet village are available.
Like its sister Chic Shopping Outlet properties throughout Europe, Bicester hosts a mix of big-name local designers and international labels. British heroes include Anya Hindmarch, Gieves & Hawkes, Mulberry, Temperley, Thomas Pink and, of course, Burberry; you’ll also find international big names like Bonpoint, Furla, Gucci, Max Mara, Theory, Tod’s, and Zegna.
Don’t miss our International Shopping section for more travel tips.
The good news is I finally found shopping in the UK to be affordable! Using an exchange rate of £1=$1.65, there were great buys in every shop in the village. Beginning at Starbucks, I found my collectible City Mugs for £6.45 (a little more than $10), much less than the $18 I’d paid for one in Madrid. Since I already have a mug from London, I didn’t buy.
At Wolford, I bought tights and leggings for about $15 each, half of what I’d pay in the U.S., and fancy undies were marked down 80 percent at La Perla.
Tod’s had a new collection of styles by Ferrari and I bought some shopping totes at Cath Kidston to give for holiday gifts. Gift wrap designed by Paul Smith was available, but I like to make my own.
That’s why we have shopping bags, right?
Pounds of hugs,
Get more London travel tips & information:
- Off the Brochure Travel Guide to London
- Traveling Mom’s Tips for Visiting London With Kids
- Sleep Cheap In London
- London’s Airport Mess: Plans, Problems, Solutions
By Sarah Lahey for PeterGreenberg.com. Join Suzy Gershman & Sarah Lahey on the road this spring on the “Born to Shop” trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam from March 10-15, 2010, with an optional Bangkok extension. Guests will stay at the InterContinental Asiana and participate in “In the Know” shopping experiences filled with authentic local experiences and off-the-beaten path venues. For more information, contact Sarah at srlahey @ gmail.com.
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