Barcelona Shopping: Great deals at La Manual Alpargatera and Massimo Dutti

by Alison Cummings

May 2009
[ Barcelona, Spain vacation photos ]

Alison: What trip is complete without some shopping?  I say this with no hesitation: Travel shopping is a cultural experience. And Barcelona shopping did not disappoint.

Luc: I don’t know about that. Having 3-hour session of looking at women’s clothes is not precisely cultural in my view. I wonder why Alison likes to travel. When we get in a new city, the first thing she spots that has the most interesting cultural curiosities are shops. And she’s right, “Barcelona shopping did not disappoint – her,” not me!

Alison: You know I have an amazing radar … We can be out in the boonies and I will somehow sniff out the one farm in miles that not only makes goat’s cheese but also sells a line of specialty skincare products – or that one store in the rural town that sells handmade soaps and balms. What can I say?  It’s a gift.

And I tried not to drag you all over Barcelona shopping … but I am sure I tried your patience at the espadrilles shop…

La Manual Alpargatera

Alison: This shop ranks right up with the Gaudi museum in terms of a must-see in Barcelona.  La Manual Alpargatera has some history behind it, having started as an espadrille workshop in the 1940s, just after the end of the Spanish Civil War.  And by the look of it, so do the nanas who pass back and forth from the client to the stockroom, quietly serving each customer one at a time.

Luc: Magic word here: ONE at the time. And that lasted hours before we eventually got out of there with 20 Euros’ worth of purchases. <roll eyes>

Alison: At first glance, the shop appears, well, a bit colorless by Barcelona standards.  But that misperception was soon dismissed. Coming in from a brightly lit day, it took only a few seconds for the contents of the main display cases to come into focus.  And there they were, in all colors of the rainbow: pink, purple, orange, red, green, bright turquoise and baby blue. And in all styles, from the classic flat and wedge heel with ribbons to ankle strap.

There isn’t a foot –man, woman or child — that can’t be fit by the expert eye of the sales ladies. And if you ever wondered where good service went, you will find it at La Manual Alpargatera.  These women are in no hurry.  And that’s a good thing when you are faced with so many choices. A word of caution: Plan to spend an hour or more if there are more than two customers in the store.

Once settled on one of the wooden benches, I was quickly measured and my color choices vetted by my salesperson.  No black for you, she said, with a decisive shake of the head.  Then lifting a long hook from the wall behind me, she swiftly brought down selections from a wall crammed floor to ceiling with espadrilles.  Apparently the flat ones are stored here, the fancier ones in the stockroom.

At the reasonable cost of  7 and 12 euros, I picked up three pair of espadrilles: aqua and purple flats and baby blue wedge laceups.

After seeing this video on the making of La Manual Alpargatera espadrilles, I have an even greater appreciation for my purchases.  The attentive service I experienced at the front end  mirrors the craftsmenship that goes into each pair of shoes.

Massimo Dutti

Alison: I love, love, love this store and issue a formal plea for Massimo Dutti to open in Montréal.

Apparently, Massimo Dutti is the high-end sibling of Zara, which does have shops here (sigh).  Massimo Dutti offers style and quality at a reasonable price. Even Luc was inspired to pick out items for me to try, and only lost patience toward the end of two hours of marathon shopping. I bought a beautiful white peasant shirt with intricate detail, a cool tooled leather belt, butter-soft suede shorts and my first pair of great skinny jeans.

Shameful as it sounds, part of the reason I want to go back to Spain is just to go back here again. There are several Massimo Dutti stores worldwide. Again, just not in Montréal (sigh).

El Corte Inglés

Alison: El Corte Inglés is comparable to Les Galeries Lafayette or in Berlin’s legendary Kaufhaus des Westens (KaDeWe), but perhaps not quite as upscale. I went in an emergency search for leggings, as it was getting cold  and rainy, and I had not packed more than one pair of pants. A wonderful salesperson recommended Wolford velvet leggings. These leggings are amazing and a real wardrobe travel staple.  Well worth the investing a few more dollars when you consider the quality.

Luc: Dang, you got a good memory for stores Alison. How come you always ask me where this photo or that photo was taken…? Is it what one may call “Selective memory”? ;)

Art Escudellers

Barcelona's Art Escudellers brochure

Alison: We had been looking for a place to buy gifts for our cat-sitting friends, and luckily happened upon Art Escudellers, a shop packed with beautiful ceramics, tiles, decorative glass, gardenware and jewelry.

Luc: Also bought a men’s leather and silver bracelet there.  Very nice.
Alison: You can easily come away with affordable gifts, no problem.  What’s hard is not loading up on the beautiful pottery and dishes.  Art Escudeller locations map: La Rambla 96, Escudellers 23-25 and Escudellers 12.

Barcelona Airport Shops

If you have any euros and/or energy left, the Barcelona Airport shops are well worth your time, including La Perla, Lacoste, Diesel, Adidas Nike, and, yes, Massimo Dutti and Zara.

Shopping Tips:

We missed a number of great options for Barcelona shopping, some which would have made valuable additions to our many wonderful souvenirs (literal and figurative). We were disappointed by the recommendations in the Lonely Planet book.  Best advice: Do online research in advance and intersperse between site-seeing and museum outings.


1 Tara March 4, 2013 at 1:12 am


Your information about La Manual Alpargatera is very helpful. I’m writing an article about the shop for Alpine Living magazine, and I would love to interview y’all for the article. Alpine Living is an award-winning American travel magazine ran by students at The University of Alabama. If you’re interested in answering a few questions, either by email or phone, please let me know.


2 Alison July 31, 2013 at 7:56 am

Hi Tara,

I tried to contact you – we were actually on vacation. Please send me a link to your article.

Again, my apologies.


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