On Sunday, we visited Orihuela’s Mediaeval Market. With over 400 stalls, it’s the largest mediaeval market in the world, with spectacular displays of archery, jousting, falconry, jesters, musicians – you name it, it’s there at the market, meandering through Orihuela’s atmospheric Old Town. We even saw a witch being led in chains to her demise!
As if the spectacle of the market isn’t enough to keep everyone happy, all the museums in the Old Town are open for extended hours over the weekend, and they are either free entry or just a Euro or two, so you can enjoy all the culture and history you could possibly want. We went by coach, although it’s less than a 30 minute drive from Algorfa, because we didn’t want the hassle of parking the car and having to walk a good long way to get to where the action was. It was just €12 with David’s Coach Trips, and they delivered us right into the heart of the Old Town, just a few minutes walk from the stalls.
After browsing stalls with crystals, dragons, spices, ceramics and all sorts of other goodies, and soaking up the past in several museums, we were ready to eat. As we rounded a corner into one of the many large squares, the smell of barbecues was really enticing. So we sat down and chose our food. Pinchos (marinated chicken skewers) for me, calamares for my friend, chips to share and red and sangria to wash it all down.
The food was good, but not particularly memorable or well served, but that was understandable, given the crowds they were catering for, and the portions were generous. We expected to pay more than in your average Spanish cafeteria, but what we didn’t expect was to be presented with a bill for €64. Yes, you read that right – €64!
Of course we queried it, but our waiter showed us the tab – €20 each for the calamares and pinchos, €8 for the chips, €6 for the wine and €10 for the sangria. I asked to see the price list and was shown to a dark corner at the back of a very large tent where a solitary menu was pinned up. According to this, the pinchos should have been €14, the sangria €5, the wine €3 and the chips weren’t even listed.
I pointed out the discrepancy of €14 on the already inflated bill, but the waiter insisted we had been charged the right price and two or three of his colleagues came and crowded around us, asking what the problem was. We’re both in our 70s, so we felt very intimidated and put it down to experience, although we did raise a dispute with the bank regarding the overcharge, sending photos of the bill and the menu and detailing our concerns. Not holding our breath on that one though!
If you’re reading this and thinking ‘Why wouldn’t you ask for a menu before ordering?’ well, you’re absolutely right. It was on us to check on prices before we ordered, and we’ve learned our lesson, big time! However, there were little signs all around the tent listing the choices, and of course you could see everything cooking. Also, you don’t expect to pay so much over the odds for simple barbecue food without salads, dressings and sauces.
It’s all part of the plan to get you feeling hungry and relaxing into the atmosphere. And if you think that’s just sour grapes from me, I can tell you it’s absolutely not! Since Sunday I’ve spoken to several friends who also got stung. A Norweigian group of 6 was overcharged by €100 at the same stall, and had no success querying it – just more waiters surrounding them and telling them the bill was right and they had to pay. Two Belgian friends were charged €30 for two chorizos in bread and two small beers.
Spanish friends have since told me that it’s a regular problem at big fiestas like this, and they can’t understand how these people are able to keep getting away with it. The solution is to vote with our feet, and refuse to order from stalls which do not clearly display their prices. Don’t fall for the friendly, welcoming waiters, keen to make you comfortable, because when you dispute the bill, it can become very threatening, very quickly.
Someone suggested we should have called the Police, but who wants that sort of unpleasantness on a day out? And would the Police be able to do anything about it anyway? Orihuela’s market may be over, but there are many more themed markets coming up during the year, and these stalls will be at all of them. We didn’t let it spoil our day, but we’ll be much more careful where we eat in future, and so should you.
Share this with your friends, because after all, forewarned is forearmed! If enough people realise how these sharks operate, they will have to develop better business practices. Or maybe the organisers of the event will do something to put a stop to it. We can but hope!
Despite our experience, we can thoroughly recommend Orihuela Mediaeval Market. There really is something for everyone. It’s over now, but be sure to keep the first weekend of February 2025 free.