The “Avenue of Diamonds and Rubies” (named for the steady stream of car headlights and taillights) is the ultimate shopping destination. From quaint patisseries to the world’s largest Adidas shop, anything and everything can be found along this stretch of the world’s most expensive real estate. It’s easy to see why retailers pay millions to set up shop; the history of this broad, tree-lined avenue, designed during the Renaissance by Marie de Medici, is that of the city itself. Parisians in 1940 cried on its sidewalks as Nazi troops celebrated the Surrender of Paris, only to rejoice in those very same spots four years later when Allied troops held their own victory parade. Today, the Bastile Day military parade – the largest in Europe – makes its way along the 2km avenue from the Napoleon-commissioned Arc de Triomphe to Place de La Concorde, as does the last leg of Tour de France. Cafés, croissants, cinemas and champagne – all of Paris is on display on the Champs Elysées, right alongside haute couture in its h ometown.
Everyone gives the gift of chocolate at Christmas, but if you visit Belgium first, you can upgrade your offering this year. With 175,000 tonnes produced in the country annually, the Belgians are the true masters of chocolate; even the Swiss got their recipe from them. Just like a winery-tour in France, you can visit Belgian chocolatiers to learn the techniques, find the perfect gift, or simply treat yourself. They invented the praline, they perfected the cocoa bean, and among their many other gourmet brands, Belgians proudly offer the world’s most exquisite chocolate: Godiva. Terry’s Chocolate Orange be damned! A trip to Belgium will give you something really impressive to stuff in a stocking.
No, you can’t afford to buy anything in Milan, Italy. But that doesn’t matter. Shopping is the whole point of Milan. You don’t need to be a millionaire to admire the posh shopping district where you’re surrounded by gorgeous Italians and their friends, Gucci, Valentino, and Prada. Via Montenapoleone, Via della Spiga, Via Sant’Andrea; all the beautiful people in the world pass through these streets, carrying big, bright bags past windows decorated with sparkling jewels and luxurious fabrics. If you’re expecting a gaudy Disneyland of shopping, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Milan’s demure, elegant scene. You won’t know whether to stare at the clothes, the people or the architecture, and you’ll love every minute of it.
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