Spain: Spanish Street Markets
Bright, Loud, Gaudy and Fun
By John Towler
I love Spanish street markets. Where else can you enjoy the sights, sounds and flavors of Spain and buy clothes at bargain prices?
Spanish street markets boggle the brain, senses and pocketbook. They are bright, loud, gaudy and fun and you can outfit yourself from top to bottom at a cost far less than at the local shops.
There are shoes, socks, long pants and short pants, skirts, thongs and cotton briefs, T shirts, blouses, long and short sleeve shirts, sweaters, jackets, smart leather coats, hats of every imaginable style and accessories you never knew existed.
What’s more, you can choose from the latest styles or from a bewildering choice of inexpensive garments. Everyone loves a market, but if you want to see the real Spain, get close to the people, sample the culture and find a bargain, Spain’s street markets are for you.
They take over entire blocks and besides clothing they offer fruits, antiques of real and doubtful provenance, artwork, footwear, furniture, knock-offs of every imaginable product, music, flowers and even rugs. Bargaining is the norm and there is a pervasive party atmosphere. This is a perfect way to spend hours buying things you never thought you needed and for less than you dreamed possible.
Where Are They?
The answer is everywhere. Every town, village and city both large and small has a market almost every week. Any local in any pub, café, restaurant or hotel can tell you when and where they are and how to get there. Or you can consult the local tourist office or newspaper. There are several papers in English in the tourist areas. Try www.surinenglish.com, www.theolivepress.es www.euroweeklynews.com/ or search for your location on the internet.
The Markets of Andalucía
We live in Spain part of the year and have several favourites. We know the markets in Andalucía on the southern coast of Spain very well and visit them regularly. There are several on every day of the year.
Each one is different and they are not at all like the ones at home. There are permanent markets in special buildings in many towns but the street markets are temporary and the merchants set up their booths just for the day in neighboring streets or a field near the town.
Another difference is that they do not contain any food or drink that could be consumed at the market. There is not a coffee shop or a snack bar within sight. This is more than made up for by the variety of goods on sale.
The one we like best is located at the entrance to Almuñécar in a special area set off with impressive arches at t
he entrance to the town. It has more than 150 vendors selling everything from clothing, fruits and vegetables to music and electronics. The crowd is international but mostly Spanish. Market website
You will hear many languages and the vendors seem adept at all of them. However the signs are in Spanish as are the calls exhorting you to buy zapatos (shoes) and pantalones (pants). The smell of fresh garlic, flowers, teas, spices and coffee permeates the area and rival music stands compete with each other and the itinerant musicians playing at every corner.
People are friendly, helpful and quite unconcerned about trying on brassieres (over their clothes of course) and we have seen young women strip to their underwear to slip into wedding dresses. New fashionable and uncommonly ugly shoes are here by the hundreds and seem irresistible to my wife. I always head to the nut and candy stall where I ignore the gummy worms and chocolate while I get a bag of roasted or candy covered almonds.
We always stop at the olive booth to choose our favorites plus a selection of olives that are unknown at home. I’ve always been tempted to buy something from the tea stand but I’ve never had the nerve to try the ones that are said to cure colds, stomach upsets, gout, warts, skin disease or ingrown toe nails.
There are many markets nearby and we often visit the ones in Nerja, Motril and Torre del Mar. Nerja’s market used to be in the town center but is now in the streets a short walk away.
It’s not as convenient for the people in the town, but it is very international and contains even more than it did before. Motril’s market has also been moved from beside the market building and now covers several streets on the outskirts of town.
There are few tourists here and it is closer to the original old style markets. The one at Torre del Mar is where it has always been spread out along the main road and spilling into nearby streets. It seems to be bigger every year.
Another type of market is the flea market or car boot sale as it is called by the Brits. They cater to shoppers looking for used items and typically offer antiques, tools, clothing, electronics, knick knacks, artwork, books, CD’s etc. Everything is sold “as is” and may or may not work or be what you think it is. The merchants are a mix of permanent residents, ex-pats, backpackers and anyone with something to sell. There are often great bargains if you happen across something you want. Prices seem to be more flexible at these markets.
We prefer the street markets in Spain’s smaller towns and cites. There are lots of markets in the larger cities; so many that there will be quite a few on the same day in different locations. They offer a wonderful selection of things, but they are crowded and are frequented by pickpockets.
The smaller markets are safer, more fun and easier to handle. Police are often on hand looking for unlicensed fly-by-night operators flogging knock-off watches, CDs, sunglasses or T shirts. Vendors display colorful pottery, flowers, long pants, short pants, shirts, pots, baby clothes, jewelry, honey, belts, purses and even new and used flamenco dresses. The dresses are always in demand since Spanish women love to dress up and attend a fiesta in full costume.
When you tire of the crowds, the hawkers and cacophony of sounds you may want to escape for a quiet lunch. We often leave our car wherever it is and walk to a local bar or beach restaurant to enjoy a cooling drink and a leisurely Spanish meal. This is a perfect way to relax as we consider what we have seen and the bargains we are sure we have just bought.
John Towler lives in Canada and Spain. He has traveled to, lived in and written about more than 60 countries. His articles and photographs have appeared in more than 30 print and electronic magazines.
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