What to do in Seville during the December Puente – and over Christmas

navidad, navidades, Christmas, Christmas lights

Typically understated lights on Avenida de la Constitucion.

Christmas, Navidad

One of the fabulous bell-stars (not to be confused with the 1980s all-girl pop group) on Calle Sierpes.

This weekend is a bank holiday in Spain – a double one, with two (legitimate) days off – today, Friday, and Monday. First, Dia de la Constitucion (6 December), celebrating Spain’s Constitution; then Dia la Concepcion Inmaculada (8 December) – a Sunday, which is carried over to Monday 9 December.

Traditionally, the Christmas buzz gets going after this puente, but in Seville it’s already happening now thanks to a broad range of events - some regular annual ones, and some new. In any case, the Christmas lights are already up, so make sure you make at least one visit in the evening to get the full festive effect.

Here I will list my pick of the markets and other attractions this puente, and in most cases, throughout the Christmas season until Reyes – 5 January.

MARKETS AND FAIRS

I love a good browse – especially when there’s so much variety on offer. You can get all your Christmas presents here – books, handicrafts, food, wine. Chatting to the owner/designer/maker of a piece is all part of the experience.

dulces, claustros, dulce, navidad

Convent pastries, made by nuns in Seville province.

Convent pastries market in the Alcazar – 6 – 8 December.
Get your Christmas yemas and lardy goodies - mantecados and polvorones – made by nuns from nearby convents. Some are available in vegetarian versions too. An essential part of the seasonal diet for many Spanish.

Antique book market – Plaza Nueva – until 9 December
Great for quirky presents for hispanophiles; as well as books, you can find postcards, prints, maps, posters and comics.

belen, belens, nativity scenes, nativity figures, nativity, feria del belen

Fish stall at the Feria del Belen (nativity scene fair). They’re half the size of your finger.

belen, belenes, nativity scenes

Colourful Mexican belen. Stand 14, Oscar Lazarte. He also has some wonderful Cuban and Peruvian figures, including Noah’s Ark.

belen, belenes, nativity

Houses for your nativity scene.

Feria del Belen – Nativity scene market – Avenida de la Constitucion – until 23 December
Come here for figures for your belen (nativity scene) – most homes, offices and shops have their own. Rivers with flowing water, all the complementary figures including the cagon (pooing man), and foodstuffs – mini-fish and legs of jamon (widely available in Jewish Bethlehem in 0AD), to complement Jesus, Mary and Joseph with the animals, shepherds, and three kings.

Christmas market – the Alameda – until 5 January
This market features children’s attractions, ponies, dromedaries, and a Grand Flea Circus. Slightly apprehensive about the animals’ treatment; have yet to see.

NAvidad, Christmas

The super-sparkly Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) in Plaza Nueva, where the book and handicrafts markets are held.

Handicrafts market – Plaza Nueva – 13 December – 5 January
Great for unusual Christmas and Reyes presents – stalls mostly belong to designer-makers. Good buys (though less portable) include handmade ceramics and wooden toys.

Gastronomy and Handicrafts of Seville Province Fair – Diputacion de Sevilla – 12- 15, 19-22 December
Find gifts here for foodie friends and family – look out for Ines Rosales tortas de aceite, Colonias de Galeon organic wines from the Sierra Norte, and extra virgin olive oil from Estepa (Oleoestepa) and Carmona (Basilippo).

Independent designers market – Muchomaskemarket – El Arenal – 14-15 December
This two-day event takes place at a co-working space in Cuesta del Rosario 8 (4o) and features 29 stands of fashion, gastronomy and interiors, including recycled materials and cakes. Also workshops – learn how to make baby shoes out of felt, and how to print textiles.

Christmas market with live Nativity Scene – Plaza Encarnacion – until 6 January
Go skating, buy some presents, visit the animals at the Belen Viviente.

SPORT

Whether you’re a wobbler like me, or an elegant glider, skating is fun. And when it’s in such beautiful surroundings as these, even more so. And when it’s followed by a well-earned copita or three with friends – well, that’s a top evening in my book.

Ice rinks – until 6 January
In the Prado de San Sebastian and Plaza Encarnacion. For opening times, see here. The one under the Setas is interesting because it’s ecological synthetic ice, made by local Sevillano company Xtraice.

CULTURE

The programme is less varied at this time of year, as the spotlight falls on seasonal concerts, but there are some star events.

Sara Baras in her flamenco show La Pepa - one of the many highlights in Seville this Christmas.

Sara Baras in her flamenco show La Pepa – one of the many events in Seville this Christmas.

Flamenco – Sara Baras – Fibes – 13 December
The innovative dancer brings her new show, La Pepa, to the Seville Conference Centre. Set in Cadiz city in 1810-1812 – the time of the historic First Constitution and War of Independence against France – it also stars bailaor Jose Serrano. More information: Fibes.

Handel’s Messiah – Maestranza Theatre - 19 and 20 December
The great choral work performed by local amateur choral associations – a “from scratch”. Humming along is positively encouraged. More information: Teatro Maestranza.

Quidam – Cirque du Soleil – Palacio de Deportes San Pablo - 18-22 December
If you’ve never experienced a Cirque du Soleil show, I’d highly recommend this – a unique combination of music, dance, theatre and circus acrobatics. Thrilling and great fun, and worth the hike to San Pablo. More information: Cirque du Soleil.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uc9lUuJQpE&w=560&h=315]

OTHER EVENTS
Finally, two free events/experiences to round off your Christmas visit to Seville, whether it’s a quick visit of a few hours, a weekend break, or you live here and want to try out everything that’s on offer. 

EVOO, AOVE, olive oil, extra virgin oilve oil

The four types of olive oil on offer, from smooth arbequina to strong picual.

Tasting the olive oil, at the mobile catas around the city this and next weekend.

Tasting the olive oil, at the mobile catas around the city this and next weekend.

Olive Oil Tasting Carts – all over the centre – 5-7, 12-14 December
Nothing to do with Christmas, but a great initiative worth mentioning. All around the centre, from Plaza Encarnacion down to Plaza Juan de Austria, you can find 50 carts each offering four types of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) to taste; the idea is to introduce people to the delights of distinct varieties. They’re in place from 10.30am to 2.30pm and you can see a list of all the carts’ locations here. I’m a big fan of picual, having seen it being made on a farm in Jaen where I stayed recently; you can also taste smooth arbequina, peppery cornicabra, and fruity hojiblanca. I love this mobile cata idea; you are also given a brochure containing recipes using each type of oil to try at home. I’m tempted by the buñuelos de bacalo.

Mapping – Plaza San Francisco – until 5 December
This fabulous laser show is projected onto the back of the Ayuntamiento building. Dates aren’t 100% confirmed yet, but this year’s show, “El Espiritu de Navidad” (The Spirit of Christmas), will probably kick off on Tuesday 10 December, until Reyes (5 January); last year they were every hour from 6pm to 11 or 12pm. One of the Christmas season’s most popular events, with 700,000 watching the show last year, which won a European Best Event Award. (No, I’ve never heard of them either – no matter. Awards are a Good Thing.) Here’s a taster from last year.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrHuF0Lyheg&w=420&h=315]

What do they do in your town or village at Christmas? Here’s a listing for Granada by Molly.

A to Z of Sevilla: Part One, A-F

The Alcazar, Seville’s Mudejar delight: a perfect example of the synthesis between Spanish kings and Moorish craftsmen.

What defines a city? What is that essence which gives it an identity all of its own – the strange, arcane customs? The architectural and historical span of its buildings? The eccentric characters? The flashes of colour at a local celebration? The mournful tones of music in a procession? Noone can capture a city like Seville, which has the strongest identity of any city I’ve ever lived in, but I’ve tried to single out the aspects which I think are unique to southern Spain’s main metropolis.

At first I was only going to choose one aspect or characteristic of Seville for each letter of the alphabet, but then I realised that would be unfeasibly limiting and would omit far too many integral features of my adopted home city. (How could you mention tapas, but not Triana?) So, instead, I’m splitting it into several parts. Here goes with the first section…

Abril, Feria de – The main social event of the year in Seville, when men and women in frilly dresses and horse-riding outfits drink and dance (sometimes at the same time – see photo above), day and night, for a whole week. You need serious amounts of stamina, something the Sevillanos are never lacking.

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Alcazar - the fortress-palace built by King Alfonso the Wise and his son, Pedro the Cruel, in the 14th century. With its dramatic castle walls (see picture above), beautiful gardens, hidden grottoes, and extraordinary Salon de las Embajadores with its gold-domed ceiling, Seville’s Alcazar is impossibly romantic. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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azulejos - glazed ceramic tiles, as seen in the Alcazar and countless other palaces, museums, pavilions, churches, offices and private houses around Seville. These ceramic tiles are made in Triana, and have been for centuries. Some of the more recent ones were made at La Cartuja (see below). The word, like many in Spanish, comes from the Arabic – zellige, meaning polished stone.

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Betis - the Phoenician name for the river Guadalquivir was Baits, later Betis. Hence the name for the Roman province of Hispania (Spain) – Baetis, within which Hispalis (Seville) was located. (Three Roman emperors were born in the city of Italica, outside Hispalis - look out in the next section, G-L). The city’s second (in longevity) football team adopted its name – fans are Beticos.

There’s also a lively bar-lined street by the river, in Triana, where everyone ends up at some point, on a night out, whether they like it or not. Note: don’t say Be-tiss, noone will understand you; say Be-teee.

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Casa de Pilatos – This is a palace in the eastern part of the old city, with Roman statues, exquisite tiling and peaceful gardens.

So-called because it is thought to resemble Pontius Pilate’s house in Jerusalem, where the Marques de Tarifa had been before setting about his magnificent mansion, the Casa has been used as a film location many times, including the mediocre 1492 (about Columbus), and The Kingdom of Heaven (about the crusades). Don’t hold that against it, though.

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Cartuja, La - A former Carthusian monastery (full name: Monasterio de Santa Maria de las Cuevas) which has enjoyed a strange and varied history: Columbus stayed there before setting off on his voyages (his tomb is in Seville’s cathedral); Napoleon’s occupying troops set up camp in its cloisters during the Peninsula War.

Then, in the mid-19th century, an Englishman called Pickman built the now-iconic tall, conical chimneys and turned it into a tile and porcelain factory;  La Cartuja de Sevilla tableware is still going strong, though now made in another location, and a set is still a sought-after wedding present for some.

3-D sculpture from BIACS 3, the contemporary art biennal held at La Cartuja in 2008.

Restored for Expo 92 (see below), for which major event it served as headquarters, the complex of buildings now houses a contemporary art museum and held three major art biennales in the 2000s. Sadly, the crisis put a stop to this welcome influx of cutting-edge creation. You can still visit the art exhibitions and permanent collection; chapels, refectory, patios and other rooms; outdoor concerts are held here in summer; and its outside spaces are a welcome haven from the city all year round.

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Duquesa de Alba, one of Seville’s most famous, and beloved, residents; she adores flamenco, bullfighting, Semana Santa and Feria. Could she be more Sevillana?

Duquesa de Alba  - one of Seville’s most popular and enduring (literally) characters, the twice-widowed Cayetana wed for the third time last year, to the suspicion of her family and the delight of her public. She has a priceless art collection, including a Goya of her antecedent, as well as works by Rembrandt, Titian, Renoir, Picasso and Dali; a good number of palaces; and about 50 titles (including Duchess of Berwick). I’ve interviewed her once, and seen her on two other occasions: at her wedding, and at a flamenco performance in honour of the Duchess of Cornwall.

Adoring fans – and the equally besotted press – wait outside the Palacio de las Dueñas, the Seville residence of the Duquesa de Alba, on her wedding day in October 2011.

Cayetana’s sense of dress is original, her sense of humour is sharp, and her sense of fun is irrepressible. Which is why this octogenarian is still the darling of the media, the fashion world, and everyone in Seville.

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Expo 92′s Pabellon de Europa, with the EU members’ 12 flags. Somehow I doubt they’d all fit on now.

Expo 29 and 92 - Both of these Exposiciones Universales (Universal Exhibitions, or Expo for short) left fascinating but sadly under-documented, under-publicised, and in more recent cases, under-utilised legacies.

Mudejar Pavilion in Parque Maria Luisa, from the Expo 29: now the Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares.

On each occasion, countries from around the world (Ibero Americano in 1929, with Europe and Asia  as well in 1992) built pavilions which represented their history, architecture or artistic heritage. Many are extraordinary buildings, a microcosm of their culture with amazing decorative detail, such as the Pabellon de Peru, now the Casa de las Ciencias. The city was modernised before each Expo, with whole areas being razed or radically cleaned up of undesirable elements. The 1929 Expo was located in Parque Maria Luisa – most of its pavilions now have a second life as museums or offices - and the 1992 on Isla la Cartuja. Some of the latter’s pavilions are still used, and tours of the site have recently started to celebrate its 20th anniversary this year.

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Flamenco - who can visit Sevilla without thinking of dark-eyed, foot-stomping gypsies in swirling dresses? The music, with its anguished wailing, makes your hairs stand on end, sends chills down your spine, and a host of other cliches. Its passion and pain, its staccato rhythms, its strong but graceful movements, make flamenco one of the most rewarding performances you’ll ever see (if it’s authentic), while its inestimable importance made UNESCO list it as “intangible cultural heritage” in 2010. Toque (guitar), baile (dance) and cante (singing) are the elements of this art form, whose roots go back to Morocco, India and Arabic countries. Everyone should experience it live at least once.

Nine things I’ve learned while living in Spain

 

 

If you live here too, you may have experienced some of these quirks – and learned how to deal with them; and if you don’t – well, it’s a little insight into living in this intense, upside-down part of the world.

Some of these may be peculiar to Seville, in which case I’d love to hear what experiences other people have had in different cities around Spain.

1) Sales assistants are not there to help you (as if!)

If you have the temerity to walk into a shop and interrupt the dependiente (shop assistant)’s in-depth conversation with her colleague about the new boots/haircut/boyfriend she’s got her eye on, don’t expect a welcoming smile. At best: a scathing glare. At worst: you’ll be ignored. Similarly, if you’re bold enough to ask them for assistance – availability of item in different size/colour – you’ll be met with a bald “No!” – As in, “No, I don’t know if we have it”, “No, I’m not going to look”, and “No, I don’t care if I’m being unhelpful. You interrupted Carmen telling me about her hot date last night. Now get out of my face, guiri.” One well-known department store (the clue is in the photo) is especially notorious for the baaad-assed attitude of its sales ladies.

What not to say: “So, what did you really want to be? Before you became a sales assistant?”

2) Read it and weep (and then call to complain)

Scour your bank transactions (they send you a little slip for each individual one here, rather than a monthly statement like in the UK – an environmental crime by any standards) for strange, inexplicable transactions or fees. Banks often trying to slip charges in unnoticed, relying on people not reading those little stashes of paper carefully. If you query such a fee, it will often be refunded immediately and without argument. The same goes for phone bills – you can be unwittingly signed up, and charged, for premium services which add tens of euros to your monthly bill. Call and they’ll cancel them, no problem. However with traffic fines, it’s a different story – they can be taken out of your bank account without your permission or even knowledge (embargar la cuenta), and it is virtually impossible to get them refunded. In short: watch all bills like a hawk, and if in doubt, call and query.

What not to say: “You’re doing this on purpose because I’m foreign and therefore rich, stupid and fair game, aren’t you?”

3) Thank you kindly

Social etiquette is very different here – don’t expect notes of thanks for presents or parties, or even replies to invitations. I’ve hosted barbeques where I’ve been expecting anything from 10 to 25 people -  an interesting catering challenge. And when I invited 25 school friends to my son’s fifth birthday, with an RSVP and phone number underlined, how many mothers do you think replied? One – and she’s German. If I do get a note/email/phone call to thank afterwards, I am overwhelmed with delight. (My own efficiency in sending thank yous to family back in the UK has become correspondingly sloppy.)

What not to say: “Oh, sorry, you didn’t reply, so I assumed you weren’t coming.”

Credit: Alan Cleaver under Creative Commons licence

Credit: Alan Cleaver/Flickr under Creative Commons licence

4) Be fashionably late

Don’t turn up on time when meeting people socially – you’ll be standing around for at least half an hour. The Andalucian idea of time is, to put it politely, elastic. And once you’ve been here for a while, you’ll know that if you’re meeting your girlfriends for tapas at 9pm, don’t even think about arriving until after 9.30pm, or you’ll be nursing a glass of wine on your tod and trying to avoid eye contact with the opposite sex (or not, depending). In case your friends are even later than anticipated, a book or smartphone will keep you from looking conspicuously stood-up (or just sad and desperate).

What not to say: “But we said 9pm! You’re half an hour late!”

5) Run that by me again

Don’t be surprised if people sneer at you with a contemptuous expression when you try to communicate in their language (“¿QUE?”) – such rudeness is, sadly, normal. I still haven’t got used to it. Now I’m not saying my Spanish is perfect, and my accent is not great either, but their inability to comprehend me is more down to their lack of effort in trying to do so, than in my poor command of the local language.

What not to say: “I’m sorry my Spanish is so bad, it must be terrible for you trying to understand me.”

6) Mama rules in la cocina. End of story

Don’t be shocked if, when eating in a family home, the mother doesn’t sit down at the table and eat her meal with you. She will make sure everyone else has their food, before eating herself. Extraordinary but true. The first time I ate at my suegra’s house, I got up after I’d finished, to take my plate into the kitchen. She looked at me and said, “I’ll do that,” in such a way that I realised I’d crossed a boundary, and so I didn’t make the same mistake again. And you certainly don’t offer to help with the cooking, which is taken as an insult about her abilities in the kitchen. And never, ever imply, even in jest, that a Spanish woman’s culinary skills are anything other than exemplary. Every Spanish man says his mother’s gazpacho is the best ever – don’t even bother arguing, it’s not worth it – it’s his sacred place.

What not to say: “Is it me, or is this a bit overdone?”

(Unfortunately us non-Spanish don’t get anything as snazzy as the electronic DNI – just a scruffy piece of paper.)

7) Copy copy copy, check check check

If you’re going to any government office – Social Security, Registry, Hacienda (tax office) - triple-check you have all essential documents before leaving, such as ID (DNI, passport, birth certificate), Certificado de Empadronamiento (recent). Similarly, whenever applying for any job/school/nursery/course/benefit take at least five photocopies of all essential documents (the originals will be signed in blue, so you know which they are). And a book. And a bottle of water. You’ll be waiting in the queue for a while. Also, when collecting an official document, read it carefully before you sign it, to make sure the essential information is correct. A friend had her baby’s birth certificate filled out with her husband’s two surnames, rather than his first one, then her own. So her baby’s name is legally wrong. This short film about someone visiting the Seguridad Social office to register as autonoma (freelance) is very funny. An exagguration of all the paperwork needed, perhaps, but you get the point. (Thanks to Ben for giving me the link, as I couldn’t find it.)

What not to say: “Oops, I forgot to bring a copy. Why don’t you take the original?”

Credit: Black Country Museum/Flickr under Creative Commons licence

Credit: Black Country Museums/Flickr under Creative Commons licence

During the eight years I’ve lived here in Spain, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been jaw-droppingly astonished at the unfathomably strange behaviour of people here in various everyday situations.

8) Pull on your red… boots, baby

In Spain, as soon as November arrives, there’s a little-known piece of legislation which dictates that all Spanish women must discard their shoes and put on boots. Long, short, flat, high-heeled – every female will have her legs encased in leather for the next four months. Even if it’s sunny and 20 degrees. No, it’s winter, therefore it’s “cold” (er, no it’s not), and therefore I wear my boots. That is all.

What not to say: “Don’t your feet get a bit sweaty in this heat?”

9) Don’t be a litter lout – even if they are

Dropping litter is a national sport in Spain. Watch any person – child, middle-aged or elderly – eating in the street, and I’ll bet you my local rubbish container they drop the wrapper on the ground. Not sneakily or with any shame, just straight-out. No bad conscience, because such behaviour is not ill-thought-of here – they’re used to dropping pistachio shells and those teeny weeny napkins on the floor of tapas bars. Litter bins are just for decoration.

What not to say: (Pointing to rubbish bin) “Ever seen one of those? Know what it’s for?”

Are there any aspects of Spanish customs which you find particularly strange, annoying or hard to understand? Tell me!

Eco Sevilla – part 2: for the grown-ups

Yesterday I wrote about the excellent and popular activities available for eco-kids at the first-ever eco show in Seville, held last week.

Today I’ll tell you about some of the more grown-up excitements which I came across, foodie and otherwise.

I love Manchego cheese, but I’ve never found any as good as the stuff my Dad buys in his local market in England – I guess they export all the best. But I tried some excellent organic Manchego yesterday at Eco Sevilla – it was a curado, firm, sweet and tangy, not too strong (pure sheep). There was another, called albala, flavoured with honey and rosemary, its crust coated in the herb. A big throng was milling around the seller’s little stall – like many small producers, Manchego Bio is a family business and there was only one lady to give out tasters, answer queries and sell the cheese. But I waited, with an impatient child, and bought some to take home.

Organic albala cheese - worth waiting for.

Being a sucker for bread and cheese, and organic gourmet options thereof when available, I thought it would be rude not to buy a loaf from a producer I’ve been meaning to try for ages, so I got a loaf of cheese and oregano bread from La Andalusi. The bread was disappointing – it tends to be dry, with an unpleasant texture here – I like my bread moist, if you know what I mean.

Now, men may want to skip this paragraph. Ladies: have you ever heard of a product called Naturcup? It’s used instead of, er, sanitary equipment at that time of the month, of you catch my drift. It’s plastic and is therefore washable and reusable – even more saintly than those hassly, smelly washable eco-warrior nappies. It makes sense environmentally, economically, hygienically, and yet the thought of it – for a squeamish labour-was-bloody-agony-not going-there mum like me – is just too unpleasant to contemplate. I’ll recycle my plastic, make shopping lists on the back of unwanted print-outs and put a brick in my loo cistern quite happily, but when it comes to this, I’m old-fashioned. Sorry.

Which takes me nicely to the next teenage-snigger-inducing moment of Eco Sevilla. There I was, innocently browsing a stall hanging with herbs that looked like a medieval apothekary’s, when I spotted a special blend for an ailment that made me chortle.

A modern-day apothekary.

Nature's answer to Viagra - bet you don't get spam from them.

Leaving my juvenile sense of humour behind, I reverted to more conventional organic produce – mangoes (some of the most monster specimens I’ve ever seen), bananas and avocadoes from Nerja.

Fresh organic fruit and veg from Nerja, on the Costa del Sol. My son was particularly taken with the banana branch - a nice touch by this producer.

These people had also brought sugar cane to press for juice – it was great to see an old machine like this being put to use. Not that keen on the juice, though, having tried it abroad before.

As you’d expect at an organic fair, there were a couple of food stalls, serving tofu burgers, veggie curries and the like.

Menu of one organic cafe.

I had a glass of mango juice – more like puree, really, but gobsmackingly delicious nonetheless. One of them even had organic beer.

But this drink was the one that really tickled me.

Fancy a quickie (cuppa, that is)?

All good, clean, green fun. I hope the fair does come back next spring, as the organiser told me it might. In a recession, people aren’t keen to shell out extra cash for items they can buy more cheaply, but for the odd treat – organic Manchego, in my case – it’s worth it.

Gorgeous gloves and design-your-own hats

It’s nearly the end of the week, and I think we all need a little light relief from dead dictators, stolen babies and oppressed women.

So I’m bringing you some clothes-related news I’ve spotted recently.

H&M and Versace have got together to do a new range, limited edition of course, which hits the stores on 17 November. Not being Gucci, you can’t put your name down on a waiting list; you’ll just have to fight your way into the Swedish on-trend mecca with all the other fashionistas. I’m guessing that in London it will get messy; possibly not quite so much here in Spain.

It’s a bit too rock star/leopard print/young for me, but I will definitely check it out when it arrives. IF studded leather is your thing, you will love it. Could work for a trendy niece or god-daughter.

Zara’s accessories store, Uterque (pron: oo-ter-kay), has somehow passed me by until now, not being much of a shop-window-browser these days. It has been around for a few years (although as yet doesn’t have any shops in the UK), and it’s big on leather, so the boots, bags and belts are what to keep a look out for; it’s more grown-up than Zara, which is quite, er, young (for me, at least) - think 20s party girl who cares about keeping up with the latest trends.

Insiders call Zara “fashion forward”, which means it catches the hottest looks and gets them on the shelves before other stores – I think. This one looks like Zara’s older sister, who’s got a serious job but still wants to look chic, though more elegant – Nicole Kidman rather than Nicola Roberts.

I covet these driving gloves, and the metallic bag – roll on the January sales.

These boots aren’t bad either – great for chilly winter mornings taking the kids to school.

And finally, getting ready for winter, some bright and colourful woolies, just like your granny used to knit – except these actually are knitted by grannies. You can either choose one of their designs, or come up with your own individual – choose a hat, scarf or snood and then let your inner Matisse out and go for it – their Merino wool comes in 24 colours, and five stitch styles, including my personal favourite, cable knit.

With lots of stripes, you can go mad with a multicolour number worthy of Dr Who, or just opt for a sophisticated plain one. You can then add a bow, flower or a pom-pom on a hat, or a fringe on your scarf. I love granniesinc.co.uk and will be ordering several Christmas presents from them – they do all sizes, from newborns to kids to adults.