Madrid: The traveller's guide to what's in store

Madrid has more to offer fashionistas than just Zara and Mango, says Cathy Packe
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The Independent Travel

There are so many shops to choose from in Madrid these days that it is difficult to know where to start, but if you want to narrow down your retail focus to a single street it should be Calle Serrano, which shoots due north from the Puerta de Alcala, at the north-west corner of the Retiro Park. Along here are plenty of international designer names - Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Tommy Hilfiger - as well as mainstays of the Spanish fashion scene like Adolfo Dominguez, Caramelo and, of course, Zara.

Among the highlights is Farrutx at number 7 (00 34 915 769 493; www.farrutx.com), which sells classy leather goods - jackets, boots, shoes and bags - although don't expect any bargain prices. On the corner of Calle Jorge Juan is Loewe (www.loewe.es), with separate stores for men and women, selling a range of bags, accessories and fashionable clothing.

A couple of other places to look out for are Camper (www.camper.com), selling shoes that combine high fashion and comfort, and Hoss Homeless (www.hosshomeless.es). The name may be strange, but this is a contemporary women's brand with a great range of smart and casual clothes, which this season are in lovely browns, pinks and aquamarine.

ANYWHERE ELSE TO SHOP NEARBY?

Serrano is part of a lively, upmarket district known as Salamanca, an area that covers the blocks from Calle Serrano east roughly as far as Calle Nuñez de Balboa, and from Calle de Villanueva north about as far as Calle de Ortega y Gasset, taking in all the cross-streets in between. These contain plenty of stylish boutiques, stocking the latest Spanish and international labels.

The entrance to Ekseption, at Calle Velázquez 28, is filled with TV screens showing clips from the latest fashion shows, and customers walk in along a catwalk before reaching the main sales area. This shop, and its sister store, EKS, next door, specialise in labels like Miu Miu and Chloe.

One little street not to miss is the Callejon Jorge Juan, a small alley off the main Calle Jorge Juan, which is crammed with fashion stores. These include Scooter, which stocks the clothes of some of the new, young Spanish designers.

WILL I RECOGNISE THEIR NAMES?

Several of the most popular Spanish designers have their own stores in the Salamanca district. These include Josep Font, at Calle Don Ramón de la Cruz 51; Angel Schlesser and Antonio Pernas, who have shops side by side at Calle Claudio Coello 46; Victorio and Lucchino at Calle Lagasca 75; and Amaya Arzuaga on the same street at number 50. Kina Fernandez is another up-and-coming name - and watch for Carmen March and Juanjo Oliva, who have set up their own shop, Egotherapy, at Calle Nuñez de Balboa 9 (00 34 91 426 14 33).

HOW CAN I FIND OUT WHAT'S HOT?

A great showcase of contemporary Spanish fashion, and a good place to go if you want to find out which are the names to watch, is a small shop called the Deli Room at Calle Santa Barbara 4 (00 34 91 521 19 83). It can take much of the responsibility for turning young designers like Ailanto and Miriam Ocaliz into the popular names they are in Spain today. The stock is limited, and the labels available change from season to season; this winter look out for clothes by Domingo Ayala, Marlota, and Lucia Blanco, an Argentine designer working in Madrid. The Deli Room is in a side street off the Calle de Fuencarral, the western boundary of the trendy, although relatively inexpensive, district of Chueca immediately north of the Gran Via.

For rock-bottom prices look at Fuencarral Market, three floors of small shops in a tatty building on Fuencarral at the junction of Calle de Augusto Figueroa. It opens 11am-9pm daily except Sunday. The market is on the corner of a small square, and opposite is Fun and Basics, a modest shop which has great range of lovely shoes, bags, scarves and jewellery.

WHAT ABOUT DEPARTMENT STORES?

Spain's leading department store chain is El Corte Ingles (www.elcorteingles.es), which has branches all over Madrid, although many of them specialise in one type of merchandise - fashion, for example, or books - rather than the full range. The free maps given out in many of the city's hotels are sponsored by Corte Ingles, and all the company's outlets are clearly marked so you won't have any difficulty in finding the nearest. The largest is next to the Nuevos Ministerios Metro station, at the point where Paseo de la Castellana and Calle de Raimundo Fernandez Villaverde meet. The series of interconnected buildings sells the full range of products, including clothes, food, electronic goods and items for the home.

The quality at Corte Ingles is high, and prices are reasonable; there are often some good bargains to be had when you compare prices with those back in Britain. Corte Ingles stores open 10am-10pm Monday-Saturday, and 11am-9pm on the first Sunday of each month.

ANY GOOD SHOPPING MALLS?

The Principe Pio centre is easy to find: it's part of the Metro station and main-line rail terminal of the same name, on the north-west of the city centre, on Paseo de la Florida. Part of its attraction is that this is one of few areas where the shops open every Sunday.

More attractively laid out, though, is the ABC Centre (00 34 91 577 50 31; www.abcserrano.com), on Paseo de la Castellana 34 at the point where this main avenue meets Calle Serrano. It contains more than 80 shops, among them a branch of Natura, which stocks soaps, a range of cotton and linen clothing and a selection of gift items; and a large branch of Zara. The centre opens 10am-9pm Monday-Saturday, noon-8pm on shopping Sundays.

SHOPPING ON SUNDAYS?

Sunday shopping is not a weekly event for most shops in Madrid. The majority of stores only open on the first Sunday of the month, although there may be open an occasional extra holiday weekends, too; these include every Sunday in December.

Most shops open at around 10am and close at 8.30 or 9pm Monday to Saturday. Smaller stores often close for lunch, usually between 2.30pm and 4.30-5pm, although the larger ones will stay open all day. Look for a notice, either on the door, or, more likely, framed in the window, giving full details of each store's opening hours.

THE WORLD ON SALE: RASTRO MARKET

By Simon Calder

Rastro means "slaughterhouse". The name of the market that straggles south from the Plaza de Cascorro on Sunday mornings refers to the trade that used to be carried out here. Today, a flood of locals and tourists infuse the warren of streets in an area that has been cleaned up in every sense recently. Even so, at times it seems as if half of Madrid's three million citizens are trying to sell all of their worldly goods to the other half.

The street market is one of the biggest in Europe. Its main artery is Calle de la Ribera de Curtidores, which resembles a three-lane pedestrian highway between 9am and 2pm each Sunday. The central lane is a gauntlet for customers to run, through stalls piled high with cheap clothing, kitchen utensils and even one selling nothing but adhesive tape. The outer lanes are quieter and are lined by some permanent retail establishments.

Increasingly, the Rastro market caters for tourists. If you are desperate for one of those "your name here" bullfighting bills, a miniature cast of the Last Supper tableau or a poster showing the Mona Lisa smoking a giant spliff, you're in luck. You will also find some interesting pottery and glass, and you might strike gold by discovering some Art Deco trinkets. You are unlikely to be tempted by enough stuff to exceed your baggage allowance on the flight home. But with barrel organs and boistrous vendors, a carnivalesque spirit prevails, making the Rastro a part of the ideal weekend in Madrid.

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