A totally “adorbs” pair of pointy, midnight gloss Jimmy Choo slingback pumps at La Vallee Village near Paris are almost half of what you’d pay in SoHo. A Burberry trench at Kildare Village outside Dublin might set you back $800, but that’s $400 less than retail in America. Men’s Camper shoes, which sell in U.S. stores for over $200, cost $140 at Las Rozas Village outside Madrid.
Do we have your attention? Good, because you’ll be wanting to tell your fashion aficionado clients about these “villages,” or outlet malls, located on the outskirts of major European cities, all operated by Chic Outlet Shopping. Unlike many outlet malls in America, however, these are travel destinations with a touch of romance in their own right. They’re calm, spotless, devoid of teenagers, and easy to navigate with one lane winding through the luxury and lifestyle boutiques.
That’s only half the story, though. Chic Outlet provides the services of a full-service, commissionable tour operator packaging the breathy retail experiences with VIP transportation, exceptional restaurants, and customized half-day cultural tours in the cities and surrounding countryside. And later this year, the company is going to begin integrating commissionable hotel packages into its GDS.
“The villages provide commissionable shopping packages, including tourist information centers and ‘shop-and-drop’ hands-free shopping, to make it beneficial to the trade to bring their clients to the villages,” says Ian Stazicker, tourism director, global marketing for parent company Value Retail.
When you book with Chic Outlet, your clients are automatically dialed into the most fashionable, insider-y places in each destination. The company culture is all about what’s hip and trendy for both millennials and boomers, without a hint of pretentiousness among anyone we met the entire trip.
“We know all the best hotels, restaurants, spas and attractions in the area, so we love to share that with travel agents,” says Lee-Ann McCarthy, tourism manager at Kildare Village outside Dublin. “We can customize any guest experience—that’s how we market the brand.”
Agents can book a private luxury car rental with a driver, or your clients can hop aboard fancy black coaches for the multiple-times daily shuttle service from each city-center. The best part, you can reserve the services of personal shopping assistants who know the best deals, explain who received the latest shipments, point out hot emerging designers, and commend your clients on their fabulous taste.
On our recent trip with Chic Outlet Shopping, we hopscotched across Europe to get a feel for this shopping vacation experience—mixing high-end shopping and luxury stays with culinary delights.
There are about 200 brands represented at Las Rozas Village, with about 40 percent of those based in Spain. Coach and Michael Kors are about 30-40 percent lower than what clients would pay at home. Designers range from hip and colorful Custo Barcelona to the incomparable Carolina Herrera.
For a rest from the heady retail, there are numerous indoor and outdoor bistros like the British rally car-themed Natalie’s Cafe.
“American visitors love the local designers from Madrid and Barcelona because of the vibrant colors,” says Mercedes Blanco, business development manager, Value Retail. “And it’s always fun when everyone is done shopping and we can sit around with a glass of wine comparing what everyone purchased.”
Chic Outlet partners with the best hotels in Europe, as well, such as Hotel Ritz Madrid by Orient-Express. The national Prado Museum is next door, showcasing classical art by Spanish painters Velasquez and Goya. Across the street, Thyssen Museum is the best museum in the world to learn about art history with a chronologically arranged collection from pre-Renaissance to Rauschenberg.
Opened in 1903, the Orient-Express Ritz property was originally built because King Alfonso XIII needed a place to honeymoon, and he wanted a belle epoque palatial hotel like the Ritz hotels in London and Paris. He also wanted brunch and afternoon tea, which had never existed in Spain before. To this day, the sumptuous Sunday brunch and daily afternoon tea at the Ritz are legendary.
New this year, Chic Outlet will be packaging a fashion-themed tour through the Thyssen highlighting 15 paintings that showcase the evolution of fashion through the 18th to 20th centuries. Another tour, one that’s ideal for soccer fans, includes a visit to the Atletico Madrid Football Museum.
About 30 minutes outside Dublin, Kildare Village is one of Chic Outlet’s fastest growing venues. For 2013, attendance was up 38 percent over 2012. Presently there are 64 shops, with another 34 scheduled to open by 2015, and some of these are very high-end. For example, London-based Mulberry opened here last October, the only standalone Mulberry store in Ireland.
There’s a strong showing of English-owned lady and menswear brands, including Hackett, Anya Hindmarch, Radley, Savoy Taylors Guild and Ted Baker, along with international labels from Boss to Ralph Lauren.
As customary at all Chic Outlets, we arrived in a luxury black coach and were welcomed in the VIP salon with champagne and finger sandwiches. Tourism manager Lee-Ann McCarthy sat with us while explaining how she works with clients booking Dublin’s best properties, including Four Seasons Dublin, Clift Townhouse, The Morgan, The Marker, Shelbourne, Fitzwilliam Dublin Hotel, Merrion, Westbury and the Dylan, owned by rock band U2.
For casual bites, L’Officina is a warm Italian restaurant serving afternoon tea and dishes such as truffled mushroom-filled ravioli with parmigiano chantilly. That goes well-paired with a German Hugo Boss suit.
Facing posh St. Stephen’s Green (Dublin’s Central Park) next to the central shopping district along Grafton Street, the Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin offers a decidedly modern design experience, but one no less lacking in artistic flair. The lobby has pale slate gray floors and gray/white walls to showcase a museum-quality mix of classical and contemporary fine art paintings. At the back of the lobby, the Inn on the Green is a relaxed pub popular with the fashionable locals; it serves astonishingly good fish and chips.
For fine dining, the Michelin one-star Thornton’s Restaurant is considered one of Dublin’s finest contemporary kitchens. Above the lobby on the mezzanine level, the more casual Citron restaurant was voted “Best Hotel Restaurant in Ireland in 2012” by Food & Wine critic Paolo Tullio.
In the heart of Dublin, the upscale French bistro Pichet was our favorite restaurant during this trip.
The aforementioned La Vallee Village is located next to Disneyland Paris, 45 minutes outside central Paris. It’s one of the largest Chic Outlets with over 120 shops, and it’s extremely popular with the locals. As expected, the selection of fashion is utterly mind-bending, as are some of the discounted prices, with exclusive boutiques operated by Diane von Furstenberg, Burberry, Jimmy Choo, Armani and other luminous brands.
Chic Outlet day packages include a visit to Reims in the French countryside for the 1-hour tour through the Mumm Champagne cellars and museum. It’s a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of one of the world’s most iconic houses of bubbly.
In Paris, Chic Outlet works with various museums like the Palais de Tokyo where we toured an exhibit celebrating the shoe and accessory design genius of Roger Vivier.
For restaurants, Chic Outlet hosted a dinner at the incomparable Mini Palais restaurant inside the Grand Palais des Champs-Elysees museum and exhibition hall, home to some of the greatest fashion shows in Parisian history. Highly recommended for anyone visiting Paris.
Located a couple blocks back from the Champs-Elysees next to the George V, the historic Hotel De Sers bore witness to a steady stream of 19th century Parisian society life upon opening as a private residence in the 1880s. Today, the five-star hotel offers 45 rooms and seven suites, around the corner from a gauntlet of international headquarters for iconic fashion/perfume labels.
While the building and interior architecture have all been dutifully preserved, the interior design on the ground floor blends both the old and new, combining oil paintings in the classical oeuvre with modern furniture. Small in size but big on drama, the hotel feels very much like a private apartment as it was originally created.
The restaurant is a charmer with a small outdoor courtyard and a straightforward menu serving ossetra caviar to farm pigeon to a wonderful pan-fried mushroom salad.
Some of the deluxe rooms have views of the Eiffel Tower, just a 10-minute walk away. The rooms are contemporary in design without being too slick, decorated with lovely Art Deco furnishings and large black and white or color vintage photography.
For a super fun tour of Paris, book a ride in one of the vintage convertible Citroens operated by 4 Roues Sous 1 Parapluie. As the guide, usually a history student, drives the tiny car seating three passengers past all of the major landmarks, he or she explains the history of each with interesting anecdotes.
We ended our whirlwind retail rendezvous through Europe with a dinner cruise aboard a 2-decker Bateaux-Mouches boat. The 3-hour experience explores the center of Paris ending below the Eiffel Tower light show.
A Shopping Day Experience package at La Vallee Village includes Shopping Express—return tickets on the luxury coach service from central Paris to the Village; 10 percent savings with a VIP Card providing a further savings on purchases in six boutiques of one’s choice in the Village; 2-course lunch at Natalie’s Cafe; and a €50 (approximately $68) gift voucher that can be used in the boutiques of one’s choice in La Vallee Village (gift voucher available for adult packages only).