Retail therapy

When you move into a new home, there are always a few things that you need, aren’t there? I wanted to explore two major new stores that have opened just over the border in Spain; my trusty friend Tess was more than happy to ride shotgun – who needs any more of an excuse than that?

The first place we found was LeRoy Merlin. This is a French chain that is now big in Spain. I am out of date with UK stores, but think Homebase and you have the idea. We had breakfast in Lepe, as you do, to get the flavour of Spanish coffee and toast and jam, and asked where the store was. “Ah yes,” the café crowd nodded knowingly – it is on the ‘old’ road (not the motorway) from Lepe to Huelva, and it looms up at you on the right-hand side. They have the same colours as Casa – bright, spring green, black and white, in a triangle, and you cannot miss it.

Well, I have to say that it puts similar stores here in the Algarve into the shade. The closest I have seen are the Aki stores around Lisbon. The layout was great, loads of space, helpful and efficient staff and stocked to the ceiling (except, inevitably, for the one shower curtain that Shotgun wanted). This is probably a good time to point out that I am not in the market for carpets that are hand-woven to match the exact shade of the curtains which were hand-woven… you get the idea. But I bought a beautiful pure wool shag pile carpet (my style consultant tells me they are back in fashion, so for once in my life, fashion and I are colliding!). Lighting, bathroom accessories, loads of useful bits – all for very, very reasonable prices.

Then onward towards Seville, pausing only for a motorway lunch. At nine euros each for a three-course meal including water, I reckon that was pretty good value. What was the magnet that drew us to Seville? Do you remember a few weeks back I said that IKEA was coming to the north of Portugal? A couple who live near Tavira told me that I didn’t have to go that far, that IKEA had opened a store our side of Seville in January of this year – even larger than stores in Holland and Belgium, they said.

Well, we drove towards Seville, passing the factory outlet complex on the right and then, all of a sudden, there it was on the left-hand side of the motorway, an enormous place with those four famous letters – IKEA. A new bridge across the motorway has been created for the thousands of shoppers coming to this mecca of retailing – and what an experience it was!

I am told it is like all other IKEA stores, which it would be, of course, but I give it full marks for logic, layout, presentation and prices. We were there for four hours, and it could easily have been more: no wonder there is a huge restaurant half way round the circuit in store! I bought white china, glasses, rugs, duvets, pillows, bed linen and more, at prices that are, I reckon, unbeatable. And I will certainly go back for shelving and storage units. We went mid-week, and as we waited to check out, at 7pm Portugal time, all 25 checkouts had at least 12 customers with laden trolleys waiting to be processed. My advice would be – don’t go at the weekend!

Coming back, I stopped to buy petrol and had another nice surprise – it is up to 10 cents per litre cheaper there than here! So all in all, it was a great day out. Interestingly, one of the ladies who is taking part in the Price Watch scheme e-mailed me to say that she had gone to Carrefour just outside Huelva a couple of weeks ago. Being an organised soul, she had the Price Watch shopping list with her, and noted down the relevant prices – it worked out at 20 per cent cheaper than the average supermarket prices here.

No, I am not knocking the Algarve. I am not saying we should abandon Algarve shops in favour of the competition across the frontier. I am merely pointing out the facts of life. The area across the border is developing fast. New homes are being built and these stores are servicing that market. But for sure they have also got one eye on the Algarve market too, and with good reason. It is a rich area for those with properties to furnish, decorate and maintain – and with Seville just 90 minutes away by motorway, with no tolls to pay, it’s a great day out into the bargain!

Still on the subject of shopping, I want to thank everyone who has sent me prices for the Price Watch survey. So far, there are people ‘on the case’ checking out branches of Modelo at Albufeira, Silves and Faro; LeClerc in Portimão; AliSuper in Silves and Praia da Rocha; Intermarché in São Brás and Ecomarché in Budens; Apolonia in Almancil and Pingo Doce in Loulé. If you live in an area that is not yet covered, and would like to take part, it would be great to have your input – the more, the better! The basic shopping list is in the box. All you have to do is check the prices each month, and send me the details with a note of the supermarket and date.

So far, what surprises me is, first of all, how prices can vary so much from branch to branch of the same chain and secondly, how much difference there is in prices of basic items among the major supermarkets. I will give you a run-down of the various prices gathered so far next week, but so far I can say that as a chain AliSuper still wins the prize for being most expensive (yes, even ahead of Apolonia, which I know some people think is pricey). Honours for most overall cost effective would go to LeClerc in Portimão and Modelo in Silves.

Happy Shopping!


• 100gm jar Nescafé coffee granules

• I litre meio gordo milk

• 500gm Kellogs Cornflakes

• 1 litre bottle Oliveira da Serra olive oil, 0.7

• 450ml jar Hellman’s mayonnaise

• 5 litre bottle Luso mineral water

• 400gm box Whiskas cat biscuits,

fish flavour

• Box of 8 Knorr chicken stock cubes

• 1kg Cigala long-grain rice

• 12 eggs, XL

• 75cl bottle Monte Velho red wine