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Posts from the ‘Shopping’ Category

Seville | Christmas in Seville

christmas market ayuntamientoArtisan market and City Hall lights

Yes, it’s that time of year again. And as the weather closes in and the shops fill up with too many people, maybe you should be thinking about doing Christmas somewhere else this year. Like Seville.

So why Seville? Well, for a start, it’s warmer. It’s not exactly beach weather, but it is one of the warmest places in Europe at this time of year. It’s also one of the most welcoming and festive, and whether you’re a resident or visitor there’s always something to see or do. In some ways it’s quite like many other cities. From early December the city lights up, with Christmas lights in all the major squares and thoroughfairs. The shopping districts are crowded, too, especially in the evenings, and the singers of Christmas carols are out and about, adding to the general hustle and bustle. Fresh roasted chestnuts are a big thing here as well, and you can see the sellers with their little charcoal stoves on handcarts on every street corner, providing a little something to overcome the gentle nip in the air.

belenBelén (nativity scene) in the Arqillo de San Francisco

Some things are just that little bit different, though. One thing you’ll notice is the popularity of Nativity Scenes, called Belens (Bethlehems). Not only does almost everyone have one at home, they’ll also queue for hours to see the best public ones, which can be impressive. Check out the ones in the Cathedral, beside the Ayuntamiento, outside Corte Inglés and in the Cajasol building in Plaza San Francisco.

setas marketLa Magia de Navidad

Perhaps because of the relatively mild, light evenings of southern Spain Christmas Fayres and markets are also a big thing in Seville. The annual Artesan market in Plaza Nueva and the Belen market next to the Cathedral are good for unusual presents, but there also the “Magia de Navidad” fayres around the Metropol Parasol and in the Alameda de Hercules, complete with donkey and rides, and fairground rides for the kids, as well as the stalls selling jewellery, leather goods and fast food. These last right through the holiday period to January 6, just before the children head back to school.

157-IMG_20131208_152238All the fun of the fair

Perhaps the biggest difference of all, though, is that in Spain, the day for giving presents is not Christmas day (although it’s becoming more common these days), but Epiphany (January 6). This is, after all, the day when the three Wise Kings – Los Reyes Magos, Caspar, Melchior and Baltazar – brought their presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the infant Jesus. The day before there is a big parade through the streets, the Cabalgata de los Reyes, with the kings and their assistants on floats throwing sweets to the children. It’s one of the year’s most popular events and draws huge crowds.

Christmas Eve (La Noche Buena) and Christmas Day (Navidad) are for the family, and on Christmas Eve even the bars and restaurants are closed so that staff can enjoy the traditional Christmas Eve family meal at home.

151-IMG_20131208_153512Anyone for a ride?

Other holiday season traditions include the Day of the Innocent Saints (December 28), the Spanish equivalent of April Fools Day, and the eating of twelve grapes while the bells chime for New Year. Finishing them before the bells stop brings good luck for the next year.

Whatever your requirements there’s still time to book a holiday apartment with us over the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Seville | El Centro

Often overlooked for the more obvious tourist neighbourhoods around the Cathedral, El Centro, the commercial hub and main shopping area of Seville, has a surprising amount to offer the visitor. It starts with the shopping, of course. Seville’s two main shopping streets, Sierpes and Tetuan-Velazquez run parallel from La Campana (the bell) to Plaza San Francisco and Plaza Nueva. They tend to be dominated by international names these days, but Sierpes still has a number of “Sevillano” shops like Juan Foronda, where you can pick up a nice handmade fan or shawl, and SohoBenita around the Metropol Parasol is the up and coming area for trendy boutiques. At weekends browse the street markets in Plaza del Duque or Plaza de la Magdalena. And of course there are always lots of shoe shops.

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The limits of El Centro are set in a rough triangle by three of the city’s most important buildings (after the Cathedral and Alcázar). The splendid and ornately carved (on one side) edifice with plazas to either side at the end of the Avenida de la Constitución is the Casa Consistoriales, which houses the ayuntamiento (city council). The original casa was built in the early 16th century along the outside wall of the Franciscan friary, which occupied what is now the Plaza Nueva, and gave its name to Plaza San Francisco. The archway at the end of the building was originally the entrance to the friary. When the friary was demolished in 1840 to create the new square a new facade and main entrance were built. The sculptures by the archway include the figures of Hercules and Julius Caesar, the “founders” of the city.

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To the west of El Centro is the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum). This is one of the most important collections of (mainly) classical age art in Spain, housed in the lovely old Merced convent. Outside is one of those pretty plazas that Seville is so good at, where you can relax in the shade of a pair of enormous fig trees. It also has a local art market on Sundays. Buy a painting, put it in your attic, and who knows – in a few hundred years your descendants might suddenly become very rich indeed.

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To the east is Seville’s contribution to modern architecture, the Metropol Parasols, the world’s largest manmade wooden structure. Completed four years ago, after a long period of gestation (the old Encarnación market that stood here before was demolished in 1973), there was a lot of controversy about both the design and the cost of its construction, but now it’s done it’s one of my favourite places in Seville. Come here during the day to visit the market and the Roman ruins in the basement, and take the lift up to the walkways on top for a bird’s eye view of the city. Come after dark to see it lit up like a scene from Close Encounters.

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Other things to see in El Centro include the Motilla Palace (you won’t find it in the guidebooks as it’s still a private residence, but it’s the Italian style palace with the tower on the corner just down from the Parasols), the elegant Baco 2 and the Casa de la Memoria just across the street, the Casa Palacio of Lebrija and the El Salvador church. This was built on the site of the old Grand Mosque (and the Roman basilica before that), and still has original Moorish archways and minaret (now the belltower).

Veoapartments have a wide range of apartments in this central neighbourhood that cater to all budgets and numbers, and give you an excellent central base to explore the historic centre of the city.

Barcelona | Food Markets

Whether you’re something of a “foodie”, or just a regular visitor seeing the sights, no visit to a Spanish city is complete without visiting at least one of its markets. Apart from its obvious practicality if you’re self-catering in an apartment (better than a hotel if you’re a group or family and staying more than a couple of nights), it’s one of the best ways of experiencing the day to day life and culture of the locals – what they buy and how they shop, and usually with an opportunity to sample some of it at a market cafe or bar. If it’s a bit overwhelming you could try one of the many market food tours such as The Barcelona Taste or Aborigens to get your bearings, or enjoy shopping and then cooking your purchases with an Eat With verified local host.

As you might expect, a city the size of Barcelona has quite a number of such markets, though the ones that the typical visitor is most likely to see are the three markets in and around the Ciutat Vella, the old city.

boqueriathe entrance to La Boquería market

La Boqueria

The most well-known of these is certainly Sant Josep de la Boqueria, located on the infamous Las Ramblas in the heart of the tourist neighbourhood between the Barri Gotic and El Raval. There’s been a market hereabouts since at least 1217, though the current building was constructed between 1840 and 1853, and although it’s still very much a working market it has now become a major attraction in its own right. There’s an impressive entrance, complete with a coat of arms surmounted by a bat*, but it’s set just a little way back from the street, so it’s surprisingly easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. The space inside seems huge, a cathedral of food, and with almost 300 stalls there’s plenty to choose from.

caterinaSanta Caterina is even more impressive when seen from above

Santa Caterina

Santa Caterina market, just off the Via Laietana in the La Ribera neighbourhood was the first of Barcelona’s covered markets to be renovated (in 2005), and is now most notable for its modernist undulating coloured roof, which you can get a good view of from the top of the nearby cathedral, and all that fabulous local fresh food of course. Less crowded than the Boqueria, with more space and light around the stalls and fewer bars, it nevertheless has a definite charm of its own, and it’s well worth taking the time to come here.

san antonitemporary installation for Sant Antoni Market

Sant Antoni

Sant Antoni is technically in the Eixample district, but really it’s right on the boundary with the old El Raval neighbourhood, where it was built in the 1880s to serve the new neighbourhoods of the growing city. Since 2009 it has been housed in rather shabby temporary accommodation on the Ronda Sant-Antoni while the original building is being renovated. Work should be completed, and the market restored to its proper home, in 2016, together with the famous Sunday collectors’ and books market. The original ground plan in the shape of a Greek cross,  surrounded by a circular covered gallery where the non-food stalls are housed, will be preserved, and the new building will also incorporate the medieval remains discovered during the works.

Other markets worth a visit include La Barceloneta, with it’s unusual roof, La Concepció in the Eixample which has a classic cast-iron and glass frontage, and Sant Marti in the eastern part of the city.

* The Bat is a heraldic symbol of the former crown of Aragon, and is thought to have originally represented a dragon. Officially it is no longer part of the coat of arms of Barcelona, but still appears on older versions and on some street furniture such as street lamps.

Seville | El Jueves Street Market

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Go down to Calle Feria on a Thursday morning and you could be in for a big surprise, as a long section of the city centre end of the street and some side streets are taken over by the stalls of the El Jueves (Spanish for Thursday) market. Officially it’s an antiques market, but though you can find antiques here, the range of things on sale is much wider and more eclectic. Ceramics, paintings and furniture jostle for attention with second hand books and toys, watches and accessories, CDs and recycled fixtures and fittings. As with all such markets, it’s this almost anarchic mix of products, the possibility of the unexpected, of never knowing when you’re going to stumble on that unmissable bargain or perfect souvenir, that draws the crowds. Looking for a pepper mill to match your salt cellar? A lava lamp? A console for your old video-games? You just might find them here. If not, never mind, half the fun is in the browsing, the wondering why anybody would ever by one of those, or even what one of those actually is. Feel like a break? Go and sit in one of the local bars with a coffee and toast – or a cheeky cold beer – and just watch the bustle outside.

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Time also to reflect on just how long people have been coming here on  Thursday mornings to buy and sell their wares. El Jueves is thought to be the oldest still-existing market in Europe, dating back to the 13th century, just after the Christian reconquest of the city (and there are rumoured to be one or two items from that era that have shown up every Thursday since then), when it was set up to help stimulate the economy Indeed, the very name of the street, Feria (Fair) reflects this history. Originally it would have been an agricultural and craftsman’s market. After the discovery of America it would doubtless have seen new exotic objects from overseas to add to the mix.

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In the 19th century, the farmers’ market moved into its own building, now the Feria market, and the street would have begun to look something like it does today, with its small shops and businesses. But through all the changes, it seems the Thursday Market goes on forever.

It’s lunchtime now, the stallholders packing up, the buyers drifting away. You’re hungry. There are lots of places to eat, but our favourites are La Cantina and La Cocinera Feliz, the little bars inside the provisions market. Taberna de Pasos Largos and La Duquesita are good too.

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If you want to stay in this authentically Sevillano part of town have a look at our Macarena and San Vicente apartment listings.

Seville | Feria Market


A visit to the Feria Market in Seville!

Calle Feria is one of the best known streets in Seville. It runs from north to south and is the official boundary between the neighbourhoods of Macarena and San Vicente. It’s named for the market/fair (El Jueves) that was instituted here way back in the 13th century, and which is still held every Thursday, making it the longest continuously functioning market in Europe. About halfway along – and not far from Veoapartment HQ – you can also find the Feria provisions market, the oldest and smallest in the city, with the Omnium Sanctorum church on one side, and the Algaba Palace (now the home of the Mudejar centre) behind. Like the neighbourhoods around it, it’s a bustling, friendly, down-to-earth sort of place, frequented by real, local people.

In our short video we visit the market with Toñi, who lives nearby, and listen in as she talks to the owners of some of the stalls, buys some provisions and has a bite to eat at the market bar, La Cocinera Feliz. If you look closely you’ll also see some of the Veo team!