If ever there was a city to make us swoon, it would be Spain’s Andalusian capital with its diverse cultural influences and a vibrant spirit that puts Seville at the top of our must-see list.
Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city, is considered, along with Toledo, to be its most beautiful. Jacarandas and mimosas line the streets, cerise-coloured bougainvilleas climb the walls, and leafy trees drop huge, fleshy Seville oranges at your feet. Narrow cobbled streets house buildings painted white, terracotta and mustard with wrought iron balconies straight out of Goya. Sensual, flamboyant and steamy in summer, there are many reasons why Seville is Spain’s hot spot.
It’s deeply traditional
The Sevillanos are passionate about the corrida, unlike other Spanish cities where bullfighting is banned. In Seville, colourful tiles and stuffed bullheads appear on many walls, especially in taverns. One of the best is the Mesones del Serranto, Alfonso XII 9, just opposite the Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, one of the oldest bullrings in Spain. If you’re interested, the bullfighting season is usually Easter to mid-September with a hiatus in the hotter months of July and August. Even if you’re opposed to the practice, but interested in its history, there are frequent tours each day through the oval-shaped stadium. Or you can watch it on TV, where it is televised live.
Spain’s famous, folkloric music and dance form, flamenco was not originally meant to be a theatrical performance and if you want to experience the more spontaneous authentic version, head for one of the little flamenco bars along the river in Triana, such as Lo Nuestro, Betis 31. Shop for flamenco shoes, fans and shawls in the streets that run off Calle Sierpes in the Centro district. Or take a flamenco class in one of the many flamenco schools open to allcomers, such as Taller Flamenco, Calle Peral 49.
Seville is more than 2000 years old, with Phoenicians and then Romans ruling before the Muslim conquest of the 8th Century. In the 13th century the city became Christian, with Muslims, Jews and Christians living in harmony until the Inquisition. Evidence of all cultures still exist in the city’s ancient, narrow streets, from the remnants of a Roman aqueduct around which a main boulevard has grown to the many buildings constructed in the mudejar style, the Islamic aesthetic developed under Christian rule. There are three important UNESCO world Heritage sites in the centre of the city – the Santa Maria Cathedral, which took 500 years to complete and is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world; the General Archive of the Indies, which houses the second most important collection of historical archives after the Vatican, including Christopher Columbus’s diary, and the magnificent Alcazar Palace, the oldest palace in Europe continuously occupied by royalty, which features lush and romantic formal gardens. It is known to Game of Thrones fans as the Water Gardens of Dorne.
There are more tapas bars there than anywhere in Spain. From braised pork cheek to the hearty local version of gazpacho, Seville’s culinary offerings are legend. Avoid the bars around the cathedral where the tourists gather. Try some salmorejo, the garlicky, thickened version of gazpacho that is served with a topping of chopped acorn-fed jamon iberica and egg, battered and fried live ortiguillas (sea anemones) or mojama, salted and air dried tuna loin. What to drink? A local sherry is a good start, spritzed with soda and lemon or a glass of tinto de verano, the red wine-soda blend locals drink instead of sangria.
Seville’s produce market, Mercado de Triana, on the less touristy side of the Guadalquivir river, is situated on top of the ruins of an ancient castle. But the game-changer is the recently opened Lonja del Barranco, a gleaming two-storey building across the river, which features twenty stalls that represent the best of Spanish gastronomy, including a croqueteria serving bite-sized croquettes of bacalao and rabo de toro (bull’s tail) and a charcuteria selling cubes of jamon in paper cones. Bring your dishes back to high tables arranged under a glass atrium or sit outside along the river.
If you have a sweet tooth, this is the city for you. Start the day with the churros con chocolate at Churros El Postigo, the little outdoor stall on the river bank, favourite of the late king. Warm cups of thick cus- tardy chocolate are accompanied by two kinds of churros – a coiled sausage of doughy, hot donut-style pastry or crispy star-shaped tubes. You can’t go far in Seville without coming across a pasteleria, with windows full of traditional desserts, such as milhojas de crema (mille- feuilles), yemas (egg yolk and sugar) and torrijas (deep fried bread with sugar syrup). For the nest French pastry, visit Manu Jara’s cake shop in Triana, occupying an old grocery store at Calle Purity 5. His chocolate-dipped palmiers have been acclaimed the best in Spain. A visit to Seville isn’t complete without trying the spectacular ice creams and sorbet at Heladaria La Fiorentina, Calle Zaragoza 16. Master ice cream maker Joaquin Liria concocts recipes using the avours and perfumes of Seville, such as his famous orange ower icecream, textured with brioche and crystallised orange.
It’s all about the azulejos, the colourful painted ceramic tiles that have been produced in Seville since the 16th Century and decorate walls throughout the city. For centuries the factories of Triana produced vibrant tiles and pottery but the last closed its doors in 2012. The old Montalvan factory, the last of the workshops, has been transformed into the absorbing Centro Ceramica Triana, offering self- guided tours of the old kilns and the ceramic-making process. Galleries showcase beautiful examples of ceramics from Moorish times up to the 1950s. The display of historic photographs of the old gitano (gypsy) neighbourhood, also famous for its flamenco artists and festivals, is also particularly interesting.
The grand Hotel Alfonso XIII is the Ritz of Seville’s hotels but the city offers plenty in the way of atmospheric small hotels in converted palacios, mansions, convents and even one in an olive mill. The barrio Santa Cruz, the former Jewish quarter of narrow, winding streets, houses a number of charming accommodations, including the lovely Corral del Rey, a conversion of three historic casas on one of the narrowest streets, just five minutes walk from the Cathedral. Another of the advantages of staying in Santa Cruz is proximity to the Aire Ancient Baths, calle Aire, a luxurious hamman in a mujedar-style palace that is built on an ancient bathhouse, where visitors can float in sexy subterranean pools followed by a 30-minute massage in candle-lit rooms. It’s almost as much fun trying to find it as bathing there.