Rushing between Spain and France, Ireland and Hong Kong is a gruelling odyssey for shopaholics, but someone has to do it.
As the white sands of the Costa Brava snake across the blue horizon behind us, our helicopter edges over the jagged peaks of Montserrat mountain, the spiritual and cultural heart of Catalonia. Squinting through the rays of the Barcelona sun, I make out the sand brown structure that is the 12th century Verge de Montserrat Monastery, nestled between craggy, towering dolomite-like peaks.
As the propellers beat past this ancient holy site, the other side of the mountain reveals flat shrubby greenery of vineyards and countryside. The Circuit de Catalunya, which hosts Formula One and MotoGP races, comes into view as does our destination, the reddish-brown rooftops of La Roca Village.
The heliport is next to the Chic Outlet Shopping village and it's a grand way to arrive. I was apprehensive about the ride, but Salvador, a former airline pilot, assures me: "You may be nervous before your flight, but you will be smiling by the time you land." "With relief on reaching terra firma," I quip. He is correct, my first helicopter journey is a great adrenalin rush, only equalled by the prices of designer clothing in the village.
Excited by the huge reductions on shoes, bags, clothing and household accessories, my shopping companions are raring to go. Spread before us are more than 100 designer outlet stores with familiar luxury brands - Burberry, Loewe. Tommy Hilfiger, Coach. La Roca Village also houses Spanish designers, such as Adolfo Domingez, Bimba & Lola and El Ganso. Local designer outlets differentiate each of the nine Chic Outlet Shopping villages across Europe.
Heading for Vans, in search of casual cool for my teenage son, my HK$100 finds of a hoodie and T-shirt are appreciated later, as is the backpack from the FC Botiga Barcelona Official Store - which is not discounted. I go on, nevertheless, to score bargains at the L'Occitane en Provence and the Chocolate Factory - the chocolates make great gifts. "You must take some jamon (ham) back home," enthuses one of the foodies in our group who hustles us off to the Gourmet Market outlet, where a good selection of local food is available at discount prices.
Comparing buys with my fellow travellers over a lunch of tapas and grilled salmon at Andreu restaurant later, I realise my restraint to the lure of bargains is not common as brand-bearing bags clutter our dining space with designer shoes, clothes and handbags flying enthusiastically across the table for approval.
Two days earlier, we had spent a good four hours in the hot Paris sun at La Vallee Village, about half-an-hour's drive outside the French capital. We were not as upbeat. Granted we'd just visited the Pannier wine cellars and savoured several more Champagne vintages than we'd meant to. After a deli lunch at Natalie's Cafe, we were set to shop. But it was one of those summer afternoons where it seemed the whole of Paris had had the same idea.
The main street was teeming with people, so we escaped the crowds by ducking into Polo Ralph Lauren. Inside, there was a frenzied buzz of enthusiastic shoppers rummaging through bins and rails. Even if you wanted to bag a bargain, the queues snaked the length of the shop. Off to Armani and things were not much better, so I decided to try my luck shopping for myself - Jimmy Choo and Salvatore Ferragamo were calling my name, but it was a HK$3,048 Versace bag that won my heart. Browsing through the children's prêt-?porter later, I bought a few Nike and Diesel items before heading to the home accessories shops.
La Vallee Village has more than 90 designer boutiques and will be adding an extra 30 when its new extension opens soon.
Later that week, we are in Dublin in time for the Summer Festival launch at Chic Outlet Shopping's Kildare Village. British model Daisy Lowe is on hand as is photographer John Minihan who made his name in the 1960s photographing such icons as Al Pacino and Andy Warhol. These and other famous portraits by the Kildare native are on display at the Gallery Space for the summer. Mannequins adorned in seasonal flowers decorate the street as we stroll around the outlet stores one more time. This is my favourite destination as, finally, there are clothes to fit curvier women. I head for Jaeger where I soon become the proud owner of several outfits and a handbag, spending about HK$3,556.
One excited Hong Kong friend raids Tods and Churches, emerging with enough shoes to last years. "These are expensive in Hong Kong," she beams, having paid less than half price.
We have plans to sightsee the following day, but have to fit in one last visit to Kildare Village. We promise to meet outside after an hour. I keep to the plan, but my Hong Kong friends are sidetracked, yet again, by bargains. Two hours later, we head off to the National Stud and the Guinness Storehouse.
Back in Hong Kong later that month, and my 15-year old niece Anjuli has arrived from Britain and outlet shopping is top of her to-do list. We head to Horizon Plaza and although the surrounds - a converted warehouse in the industrial area of Ap Lei Chau Island off Aberdeen - are not as glamorous as the outlet shopping in Europe, there is still the excitement of a great find among the rails of end-of-line outfits. Most of the fashion outlets are from the 19th to 27th floors of the 28-storey building filled with furniture stores.
Our first port-of-call is to the Lane Crawford Warehouse on the 25th floor, which is brimming with clothing, bags, shoes by Stella McCartney, Lanvin and Chloe, with up to 80 per cent off. Pompei Warehouse, on the 22nd floor, features Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Galliano jeans and See by Chloe. Hong Kong designer brand Moiselle is next door with an array of women's day and evening wear and accessories. We stop at neighbouring Sift cafe for a tea and cupcake break which ends up including macarons as Anjuli has not tried them before.
Half an hour later, and there is a buzz around the Jimmy Choo bags and shoes at Bluebell Fashion Warehouse on the 19th floor as discounts in this outlet, which also carries Moschino and Paul Smith, can be up to 95 per cent. My personal favourite Salvatore Ferragamo shoes can be found at Imaginex Outlet next door.
Days later we head for the other must-go outlet destination, Citygate Outlets in Tung Chung near the airport. There are three mall floors filled with designer brands with more on the 10th floor. Most of the women's clothing brands fit the slimmer woman, but if you are larger than a British size 14, then head to Laura Ashley Outlet on the ground floor where a British size 16 is an average fitting. Most of the shops here discount up to 60 per cent, but if you buy three or more items, more discount is given. Women's fashion brands include Diane von Furstenberg, DKNY at Club 21 Outlet and Vivienne Tam.
There are lots of men's outlets, too, including Brooks Brothers Factory Store, Gieves & Hawkes and Coach Men's Factory. I can never resist going to the Lancel, Kate Spade and Coach outlets for bags, but there is also a Samsonite outlet with up to half-price off suitcases. A mall food court, with a selection of fare from Singapore, South Korea and Macau, is where we choose to dine, but there are other restaurants and cafes, including in the nearby Novotel Hotel.