June 02 2010
For the long hot summer days in southern Europe, the best things to wear on your feet are, in my view, espadrilles. These centuries-old shoes popularised by such effortlessly cool characters as Picasso and Salvador Dalí are piled high in the big supermarkets in Spain, Italy and the South of France at the beginning of the season, though many sizes are likely to be sold out by the time August comes around.
But last year a friend who lives in Barcelona introduced me to La Manual Alpargatera, which regards itself, justifiably I think, as the best espadrille shop in Europe. The beautiful old store, situated on a narrow street in the Barri Gotic, started out as an espadrille workshop in the 1940s post-Spanish Civil War era. Today its cool and rather old-fashioned interior stocks hundreds of hand-made espadrilles for men, women and children. (Scarlett Johansson was a regular customer when she was filming Vicki Cristina Barcelona here with Woody Allen.)
The espadrilles are all made from natural materials, mainly cotton or linen insteps and rope soles, so they are wonderfully cool on your feet. They come in bright and restrained colours, plain and patterned and in myriad styles to take you from beach to lunch in a harbourside restaurant to drinks party. The courteous but formal assistants will expect you to sit patiently and be measured in order to ensure you have the right size. I bought three pairs there last year and now that another southern summer is beginning, I’m ready to buy three more.
Espadrilles cost from €8 for a simple pair to around €40 for more elaborately designed versions.