David Whitley takes to the laneways and alleys of an old city offering great bargains.
WHAT Shop and the City deal
WHERE York, England
HOW MUCH From £150 for two nights a couple, plus whatever you spend in the shops.
WHY GO Shopping in British cities is often a grim experience. Most towns boast high streets that feature exactly the same shops in pretty much the same order. Individuality and character are sadly lacking.
York is one city that bucks the WH Smiths, Boots and Primark trend. The popular tourist city still has an impressive array of privately owned specialist shops, many of which are hidden down cute little lanes and alleyways. York is about two hours from London by train and is fast becoming a favourite location for a weekend shopping break.
The smart cookies, however, will take advantage of the Shop and the City deal. Essentially, this is a team effort between the local tourism authority, a selection of hotels in the city and a number of the shops.
Visitors booking a two-night stay in York with this promotion are given a themed shopping trail leaflet, which details the best experiences for different personality types, be they fashionistas, luxury lovers or men that like to look after themselves. More importantly, those taking advantage of the deal are given a booklet of vouchers - the gateway to some significant discounts and a whole host of freebies.
The bargains vary wildly from shop to shop. Some shops offer discount rates - the fair-trade responsible fashion store One gives 10 per cent off everything to voucher holders, for example.
Meanwhile the contemporary crafts and jewellery shop Pyramid offers 10 per cent off to anyone spending £50 ($110) or more and the York Designer Outlet is offering the same percentage off. Given that there's already up to 50 per cent off labels such as Armani, Paul Smith and Ted Baker, this represents a massive saving on the usual high street price.
Other stores give away freebies. Lingerie store Boudoir Kiss offers a free glass of wine and complimentary bra fitting, while Tulliver's Herbs & Wholefoods has your feet at heart, with free foot cream or bamboo socks with any purchase of more than £5.
The most valuable freebie on offer is the free bottle of Vivienne Westwood fragrance worth £47 from the Vivienne Westwood store on Blake Street.
The catch is you need to spend £250 in store to get it, but the true shopaholic is unlikely to be put off by that.
The city's boutique hotels and guesthouses have come to the party as well and, as part of the promotion, all those that have signed up are offering something above and beyond the standard deal.
At the upper end of the scale, the Hotel du Vin (£250 for two nights) is offering a free Molton Brown pampering therapy session plus a bottle of wine for the room.
Hotel 53 (£220 for two nights) is giving away a two-course dinner and Hotel Noir (£240 for two nights) is chipping in with a free bottle of pink fizz and a back or foot massage.
Even the cheaper joints are offering surprisingly enticing extras.
The Queens Hotel (£150 for two nights) is upgrading people taking the river-view room package and giving away chocolates, while the Coach House (£160 for two nights) is offering complimentary afternoon tea.
FREE STUFF There are a few eating and drinking deals thrown in with the voucher book. The Living Room restaurant and cocktail bar whips up a free cosmopolitan cocktail, Italian eatery Tuscany has buy-one-get-one-free on main meals and Cafe Concerto provides a free glass of wine with all main meals.
ADDED BONUS The "And The City" part of the deal comes with vouchers, too.
There are discount entries to tourist attractions and 2-for-1 packages. This applies to walking tours, castles, gardens and golf clubs and makes the package worth it even if you have no intention of shopping.
Also, for those not fancying a walk, two all-day bus tickets across the First route network cost just £4.50 with the deal.
DETAILS The deal runs until the end of September 2009. See www.shopandthecity.org or www.visityork.org.