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Try a shop-over en route to relaxation

Story highlights

  • Work at shopping in a big city, then unwind with a quiet retreat nearby
  • Check out homegrown design in Mumbai before a few days on the coast in Goa
  • Navigate the souks of Marrakech, then drive to laid-back Essaouira

Could the shop-over be the new buzzword for addicts to serious retail therapy? This delicious term has been coined by a tour operator that is packaging two-destination holidays with great shopping cities at their core.

Many itineraries put hundreds of miles between the closest shopping mecca and the beach, but Western & Oriental's Rome-Amalfi combination is one of many possible pairings in which a world-class shopping capital and a legendary vacation playground are linked by just a few hours' drive.

Rome and Amalfi Coast, Italy

Western & Oriental suggests a shop-over in Rome before chilling out on the romantic and glorious Amalfi Coast. And the Eternal City is not all about Gucci, Prada and other Italian designer stores lining the Via Condotti; Western & Oriental puts up its guests in Monti, a hip neighborhood with some great little boutiques, happening bars and cool restaurants. In Amalfi, it's back to tradition at the Monastero Santa Rosa, converted from a 17th-century monastery. Like all the most desirable hotels along this coast, it offers fabulous mountainside views over the sea.

From $2,635, excluding international airfare, for the four-star Rome and Amalfi combo: www.wandotravel.com

New York and Vermont, United States

    No one disputes that the Big Apple is the shopping capital of the world, but it's less well-known that certain hotels have close links with the personal shoppers in Manhattan's most desirable stores. The Waldorf Towers concierge can arrange for personal shoppers from Barneys or Bloomingdale's to come to the hotel, or you can have your in-store purchases delivered to the hotel at any hour, leaving you unburdened as you head downtown to shop the boutiques of SoHo and other areas. Not to mention that the Towers apartments have the heady 1930s ambiance of a Fred and Ginger movie.

    From Shop-Till-You-Drop Central, peaceful Vermont is only a four-hour drive. The Blue Horse Inn in Woodstock is a serene place to stay in a beautiful village -- and there is more retail therapy not far away at the tony outlet town of Manchester, Vermont.

    Mumbai and Goa, India

    You can fly direct to Goa's beaches on the west coast of India, perhaps the most laid-back and eclectic coastal paradise in the world. But it's more fun to take a couple of days to explore the country's most cosmopolitan and vibrant city, Mumbai -- not least because it's home to so much great homegrown design

    The best way to explore the boutiques is to hire a car and driver for half a day and hand over a list of hot addresses. These should include Anokhi, Abraham & Thakore and Le Mill, but at a top hotel like the Taj Mahal Palace, the concierge will know the names of even newer, hotter places shoppers may want to add. The hotel has one of the world's best urban outdoor pools, perfect for post-shop chilling in a hectic town.

    Paris and Normandy, France

    Paris is such a brilliant shopping city, you'll be footsore by the time you've combed the Rue des Francs Bourgeois and other shopping streets of the trendy Marais, not to mention the Rue Napoleon on the Left Bank and the designer haunts of the Faubourg St. Honore. A hotel designed specifically for ladies who shop is the Sofitel Paris Le Faubourg, with fashion murals in the corridors and in-room macaroons on request.

    Kitted out in style, head for the Gare St. Lazare station and follow the chic Parisiens taking the train to the twin resorts of Deauville and Trouville on the Normandy coast. They're as different as chalk and cheese; Deauville, with its upscale boutiques and boardwalk emblazoned with the names of Hollywood stars, looks like a location for a Ralph Lauren resort catalog. Trouville is laid-back, charming and family-friendly; don't miss the fabulous brasserie Les Vapeurs for a dinner that could turn into a wild night. You can walk from one town to the other.

    Shanghai and Zhou Zhuang, China

    Shanghai has some of the most exciting shopping in Asia: Head for the boutiques of Xintiandi, a redeveloped neighborhood of beautiful old buildings retaining a 1920s ambiance, to find some of the most inventive fashion and accessories in China. Many international designer brands are housed in Maison Mode on Huaihai Road, but it's more fun to hunt down local designers like Mary Ching, whose shoes are China's Louboutins, on Ferguson Lane. Fashionistas can now stay within a few steps of the boutiques in The Langham hotel in Xintiandi.

    Less than two hours' drive away, the old China lives on in Zhou Zhuang water village, dubbed the Venice of the Orient for its canals. The highlight is a picturesque double bridge, with Chinese gondoliers standing by to ply the waterways. The tiny town also has gardens to rival the more famous ones of nearby Suzhou -- but the bigger city has the better hotels. A non-cookie-cutter choice with one of the most famous Suzhou gardens on its doorstep, as well as greenery of its own, is the Garden Hotel.

    Marrakech and Essaouira, Morocco

    The souks of Marrakech are a shopper's paradise for everything from embroidered kaftans to punched-metal lanterns to the pointy-toed slippers known as babouches. You don't need a guide, but you do need a serene place to escape to after a frenetic round of shopping. Choose one of the riads -- lovely old houses built around courtyards -- within the medina, or old city, just a five-minute stroll from the souks. Riad Farnatchi offers good insider info and has a great hammam for soothing sore feet with steam and massage.

    On the next leg, drive to Essaouira, a dazzling little blue and white town on Morocco's west coast with a medina of its own that's light, bright and laid-back, a complete contrast to crowded Marrakech. Essaouira's original guesthouse, the Villa Maroc, offers traditional decor, bags of atmosphere, a popular restaurant and the odd celebrity sighting.

    Melbourne and Daylesford, Australia

    A day at Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa in Hepburn Springs, Victoria, offers a soothing follow-up to Melbourne shopping.

    From high design to vintage fashion, resin jewelry to aboriginal art, Melbourne is Australia's shopping mecca, thanks to a diverse and creative population. It's more about the neighborhoods than downtown; check out tony South Yarra (Chapel Street), edgy Fitzroy (Gertrude Street and Brunswick Street) and eclectic Prahran (Greville Street and the fabulous Prahran Market). You can stay among some of the best boutiques at the Olsen Hotel on Chapel Street.

    Within a 90-minute drive is Daylesford, whose mineral springs make it Melbourne's spa bolthole of choice. The village of Daylesford itself is charming, and if you can't linger overnight, there are day spas, including the historic Hepburn Bathhouse in nearby Hepburn Springs. But it would be a shame to miss a stay at charming properties like the Lake House, which boasts an award-winning restaurant as well as a state-of-the-art spa.

    What are your favorite shopping destinations? What do you recommend purchasing there?