During the Crusades, the swordsmiths of Toledo were renowned for the quality of their weaponry, and a few still practice the ancient craft. Kitchen cutlery upholds the same high standard. One good bet for knives that will last a lifetime is Artesanía Morales (Plaza de Conde 3; tel. 92-522-35-86).Toledo was equally renowned for its damasquinado, or damascene work: the Moorish art of inlaying gold, copper, or silver threads against a matte black-steel backdrop. Today Toledo is filled with souvenir shops hawking damascene, much of it inferior machine-made work that can still serve as a cheap souvenir. You canfind fine handmade damascene jewelry at Damasquinados Suárez (Circo Romano 8 (tel. 92-528-00-27; www.espaderias-suarez.com).
Marzipan (called mazapán locally) is often prepared by nuns and is a local specialty. Many shops in town specialize in this treat made of sweet almond paste, although we think the best is Santo Tomé.
The province of Toledo is also renowned for its pottery, which is sold in so many shops at competitive prices that it’s not necessary to single any out. Over the years we’ve found that the large roadside emporiums on the outskirts of town on the main road to Madrid offer better bargains than shops within the city walls.
If you want to delve deeper into the Spanish ceramic tradition, consider a trip to Talavera la Reina, 76km (47 miles) west of Toledo, where most of the best pottery is made. Since Talavera is the province’s largest city, it is hardly a picture-postcard little potter’s village. Most shops lie along the town’s main street, where store after store sells distinctive pieces in the characteristic multicolored designs. Make a point of visiting the “ceramic Sistine Chapel,” as the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Prado, Los Jardines del Prado 6, is known. The stunning Museo Ruiz de Luna, Plaza de San Agustin 13 (tel. 925-800-149; www.patrimoniohistoricoclm.es; free; Tues–Sat 10am–2pm and 4–6:30pm, Sun 10am–2pm), is built on the site of a 10th-century convent and traces the design evolution of Talavera wares from the 16th through the 20th centuries. From February (when they arrive from Africa) until August (when the chicks fledge), you’ll also see storks nesting on Talavera buildings.