I knew before I slipped on my first pair of espadrilles (jute rope soled shoes that typically hail from Catalonia) that they were nothing like my reliable Mammut hiking boots, but that didn’t stop me from breaking my first pair of espadrilles during a multi hour hike around the epically gorgeous and rugged Montserrat monastery.
Normally I’m a stickler for being well prepared for a hike knowing full well that you ought to be armed with the correct footwear, water supply and gear, but in Spain I encountered an exception to the rule. Our original plan was to hop on a train from Barcelona to Montserrat, ride the Cremallera from the bottom of the mountain to the monastery, mosey around the monastery a bit and then ascend to the top of the mountain via Funicular de Sant Joan, but Joan wasn’t having any of that. The day of our visit, she was being repaired, so we either had to commit to just seeing the middle portion of the mountain or hike our way to the top. Being under the impression that we were mostly training and funicularing our way up the mountainside, I had brilliantly decided to sport the brand new fresh out of the box not broken in yet La Manual Alpargatera espadrilles I had bought the previous day.
Surely I wasn’t hiking today in brand spanking new fashionable shoes, right? Wrong. When a girl has got to hike, a girl has to hike!
Despite only wearing my espadrilles for a couple of hours, my feet were feeling even more comfortable than they are in my typical side street wandering travel shoe of choice, my faithful white Converses. Plus my bright pink espadrilles certainly stood out a whole lot more than my trusty Connies. My husband and I mulled our options for a moment before deciding that we’d forge ahead, but turn back if the new shoes started giving me the blues.
Hours later we’d canvased a network of hiking trails that took us past beautiful flora and ancient monk caves (some of which date back as far as the ninth century).
Not a single blister developed on my feet, but my espadrilles did reap heaps of compliments from other hikers on the trail.
My hip hiking footwear was procured at La Manual Alpargatera in Barcelona. La Manual Alpargatera’s army of artisans has been stitching gorgeous handcraft shoes since 1941.
La Manual Alpargatera’s espadrilles typically consist of a sole made out of a combination of hemp, jute and esparto wedded to insteps that are made out of cotton, linen or another type of fabric. Once you consider that the oldest form of an espadrille is thought to have been found alongside human remains that date back some 4,000 odd years ago (see Newsweek, “Humble Origins to Classic Footwear, Espadrilles Endure“), perhaps it isn’t so surprising I was strolling through the Spanish countryside with such ease in my fancy footwear.
Like many businesses in Barcelona, La Manual Alpargatera closes in the afternoon for a lunch break. Queues generally begin lining up as soon as they reopen at 4:30pm. Once you walk through the doors, you’ll be given a number (typical to the system we have in the United States at meat and deli counters). Once your number is called you can let the store employee assigned to you know which pairs you’d like to try on and what sizes you need. If you’re on the hunt for stylish footwear you can easily walk a mile (or two) in, these shoes are definitely worth it. As an extra added bonus, you can entertain yourself by watching the cobblers hard at work in the back of the shop crafting new kicks while you wait for your turn.
La Manual Alpargatera carries a wide array of footwear for men, women and children. Women’s shoes range in price from about 20€ to 60€ per pair depending on the type of material selected and your desired heel height. If you opt for a minimal heel, the shoes pack pretty flat making it easy to bring a pair (or two) home for yourself or as a gift for someone special.
Though the espadrille may come from humble beginnings (it was once considered the de facto footwear choice for countryside peasant workers), over the decades since it first threw open its doors, La Manual Alpargatera has found a way to keep this humble shoe hip and prices low making espadrilles a wonderfully unique souvenir you can comfortably wear back home. Who knows, they might even become your go to hiking heels.