‘Tis the season to be jolly! Unless you’re fighting your way around the shops before Christmas that is – then you might be feeling distinctly less merry. Don’t get me wrong, I love the spirit of giving at Christmas and nothing makes me happier than picking out the perfect gift for that special someone, I just wish I could do it without either cramming into a shopping centre or looking at an ambiguous picture online. I’ve got a friend who did most of her Christmas shopping while she was on holiday in Mallorca earlier this year at all the lovely little markets out there. That strikes me as a really great way of doing it, as you can find some memorable and unique presents traipsing the stalls. So if you’re just about to head off on a Christmas break or want to avoid the UK’s festive shopping hub-bub next year, here’s where you might want to consider…
Inca Market, Mallorca, Spain
Mallorca is a favourite destination of mine – it’s packed with things to do and the lovely markets there should be high on your Mallorcan bucket list. Some markets run during the week, and others take place only on weekends. In the principle resort of Pollensa there’s a lovely market every Sunday (and also in nearby Puerto Pollensa on Wednesday mornings) in the main square with local produce – veggies, wines, olives, cheeses and cured meats – great for cooking up at your villa, as well as leather goods and beautiful olive wood pieces that make wonderful gifts. However my particular favourite has to be the market at Inca, about 30 minutes from Pollensa. It’s one of Mallorca’s biggest weekly markets, and sells stunning leather goods such as bags, jackets and shoes, as well as ceramics, scarves and shawls, so there’s something to be had for any member of your family. If you have a friend who loves wine (or if you deserve a present too!), you’ll want to drive to Binissalem, a nearby town famous for its wine production.
Antiques Market, Lucca, Italy
For something more out of the ordinary, let me set a little scene for you… Located in Italy’s Tuscany region, the city of Lucca boasts a charming historic centre, surrounded by Renaissance walls designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. The cobbled streets and 17th century ramparts provide a beautiful backdrop for an amble along on a day out from your villa. If you’re shopping for souvenirs, you might feel inspired to get some truly special Christmas gifts at the same time. Time your holiday right then, and you might just get to take advantage of Lucca’s antiques market – one of the most popular events in the city’s calendar, held on the third weekend of every month.
Taking place in Piazzas across the city, it’s the second oldest antiques market in Italy, selling stunning items, textiles, prints and furniture. If you’re new to antiques or you’re just looking for a truly singular gift, you won’t want to miss this one.
Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech, Morocco
You can kill two birds with one stone in vibrant Marrakech at this time of year – grabbing some winter sun at a Christmas villa, while picking up some beautifully unique and exotic gifts at the many souks and bazaars. Famous for its bustling atmosphere, the shopping in Marrakech certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted and haggling is the rule of the day, but it’s possible to get some incredible items when browsing these fascinating souks. You can find a collection of stalls down the narrow streets, north of Medina Square, and many head to the busy Jemaa el-Fnaa, which is home to a variety of unique street entertainers.
Snack on some delicious dates, dried figs and almonds (which are freshly-picked in winter) for a burst of energy before heading to the souks just outside of the square and commencing the good-natured battle of haggling! Remember to show indifference when talking to stall-owners, whether you’re interested or not – and expect to haggle hard or get ripped off. You’re looking to offer perhaps a third of what they’re asking for on your opening bid and might settle at around half, although if you love a bargain and the cut and thrust of the sport you can go lower! Rest assured your efforts will pay off as you come away laden with wonderful gifts, including beautifully-crafted lanterns, handmade jewellery, carpets and leather goods, such as shoes and bags. With each section of this market specialising in a different type of product, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Central Market, Heraklion, Crete, Greece
Heraklion is the largest city in Crete and its worth the trip along the north coast from your villa for an interesting day out. It’s surrounded by picturesque natural beauty and the fascinating site of Knossos is also nearby – home of the mythical Minotaur. The city itself is a thriving hub of activity, and is a fun place to visit when you’re picking up treats for friends and family.
While the city is full of shops selling all kinds of gift-worthy products, you’ll find that the items at the Iraklio Market are particularly interesting. This is the central market in Heraklion and is tucked away up a small street – Odos 1866. Choose from a colourful selection of handmade jewellery, stylish hats, fine leather goods, souvenirs, honey, herbs, mouth-watering cheeses, olives and fresh bread, on top of a whole host of other goodies. If you need to keep your energy up while shopping, pop into a traditional Cretan coffee shop and enjoy a strong Greek coffee with the locals. Yamas!