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Bargain hunt - shopping and people watching in La Vila's markets

Why go shopping in a soulless supermarket when you can buy from a Spanish mercado? They’re lively, great for people-watching and you never know when you’ll pick up a bargain.

Villajoyosa has two markets; a sprawling mercadillo held every Thursday, and the daily Mercado Central.

The mercadillo (loosely translated as “street market”) is big. As in the size of an entire block on Avenida de Bernat Sarriá, a short walk from the Creueta tram stop. You’ll find around a hundred different stalls offering everything from pants to pomegranates, t-shirts to tomatoes.

They don’t sell fresh meat or fresh fish here…but they do sell just about everything else and usually at a much cheaper price than you'll get on the high street. Leather goods are a speciality.

Join the crowds and stroll along the lines; cloth is stretched overhead between the stalls to give you some welcome shade. Don’t be shy about haggling over price; everyone does it, and the stallholders are all keen for a sale (sometimes a bit too keen). Don't worry if your Spanish is less than fluent; the language of haggling is international and plenty of the stallholders on the clothing side aren't native Spanish speakers either.

Towards the back of the market, fresh fruit and vegetables are piled high; the walkways crowded with local housewives and their shopping trolleys, stocking up for the week. Be prepared to move sharply if you get between a determined local and her bargain buy. Listen to the traders inviting you to try or buy; “pasa y prueba” (come and try) or “barato hoy, mas caro mañana” (cheap today, more expensive tomorrow).

The atmosphere is a little different over at the Mercado Central on Carrer Canalejas. It’s not as noisy and full of life as the weekly mercadillo, but this is where you can buy fresh fish, meat and vegetables every day. You’ll also find stalls selling dried fish, cheeses and embutidos (delicatessen) in its cool, modern interior. It's normally open from 8am to 2pm Mon-Sat, usually with a late session (5.30-8.30pm) on Fridays.

Try Ca Barto, one of our favourites, which specialises in produce from the València region. Sample Valencian oysters with a glass of Valencian cava, made 40 kilometres up the road in Jalón (we reckon every bit as good as the traditional cava from Cataluña). Barto does a good line in craft beer too.

Right by the market entrance, you’ll see Cantina Gallina. Take what you’ve bought in the market, and they’ll cook it for you on the spot. Food doesn’t get much fresher than that!

If La Vila's markets have given you a taste for this kind of shopping, it's worth heading down the coast to Alicante. The elegant Mercado Central on Avenida Alfonso Sabio is a real treat. The tram from Villajoyosa stops outside, or you can park in the underground car park on Alfonso Sabio.

The market is spread across two floors, full of life and bustle, with stalls offering an eye-popping selection of fresh meat and embutidos (delicatessen) on the upper floor and all the fresh fish, fruit and vegetables you'd ever want to eat downstairs. Also on offer: cheeses from all over Spain, dried fish (salazones), bread, olives and local delicacies.

Once you've had a stroll round, head out the back and order breakfast in the open air cafes on the market square. Pan con tomate (toasted baguette topped with grated tomato and olive oil), freshly squeezed orange juice (zumo de naranja) and a cafe con leche will set you up nicely for rest of the day.

The square is formally named Plaza 25 de Mayo after a particularly bloody day in 1938 at the height of the Spanish civil war. The Italian air force, fighting for Franco's rebel forces, unloaded their bombs over the Republican city of Alicante, hitting the market and killing more than 300 civilians in the process. There's a memorial on the square and plaques on the market wall.

Around lunchtime on Fridays and Saturdays, the square fills up with young people enjoying the afternoon tardeo: a chance to drink beer, snack on food bought in the market, meet friends and generally have a good time.

© Guy Pelham 2017

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