After adopting the euro, the Spanish economy initially benefited from sharply lower interest rates, spurring a property bubble. However, with the onset of the global financial crisis, property prices collapsed, causing widespread layoffs, and pushing unemployment to more than 26 per cent by the end of 2012. Spain received a bank bailout from the European Central Bank in 2012.
Calle Sierpes, Seville
Seville's main shopping zone comprises plazas Nueva, Magdalena, Encarnacion and San Francisco, with Calle Sierpes at its heart. The narrow, pedest-rianised street is packed with outlets selling conventional souvenirs as well as high-quality representations of modern, stylish Spain. As the city's most famous street it is also lined with bars and cafes, which are useful for keeping dedicated shoppers refuelled. The street still contains several tiled walls, one of which was the facade of the city's medieval prison.
Would-be Carmens - Bizet's classic opera of the same name was based in the city - flock to Molina
at No 11 Calle Sierpes, where prices for frilly flamenco dresses start at Euro99 (HK$1,000) and exceed Euro200. Like many of the shops on Sierpes, Molina is open from 10am to about 1pm then opens again at 5pm for four hours. Sevillanos shop with the best of them ... but definitely not during the afternoon siesta.
El Cronometro at Nos 19 and 21 is a double-fronted watch shop. No 19 (below left) is all dark wood with traditional ceramic tile designs; No 21 is much more modern. Beautiful watches abound in both, which is hardly surprising given prices range from Euro3,450 to Euro11,000 and beyond. El Cronometro is for the serious collector and the seriously wealthy.
More conventional souvenirs can be found at Zadi (No 48), Diaz (No 69) and Dizal (No 75). Ceramics are traditionally associated with Seville and small brightly coloured tiles costing about Euro1.50 each make excellent paperweights. Many shops offer a variety of shawls. Dizal's selection ranges from Euro27 to Euro89 and would provide useful protection against Hong Kong winters and icy air-conditioning. And if the air-con breaks down, Zadi sells delightful fans from a mere Euro3 (undecorated) to a hefty Euro45 (plum-blossom design).
Like the Italians, the Spanish love their footwear and Seville is a shoe paradise. The quality is high and prices are reasonable. Calle Sierpes is jammed with shoe shops, notably Nicolas (No 49), which is designer heavy and consequently expensive. Look out for the Muxart brand and expect to pay from about Euro200. Paco Rodriguez, at No 37, has a wide selection of classy, elaborately patterned shoes suitable for a night on the town.
Hermes Govantes, at number 60 (tel: 349 954 501 100; www.hermesgovantes.com), is the place to splash the cash on suits of splendid cut and quality. The prices, from Euro200 to Euro400, are not extreme. Also unmissable are the shop's formal shirts, at little more than Euro60 each.