A Humble Seville Servant
A Guide to the Brilliant and Perfect Andalusian City of Seville
I always wanted to go to Seville, ever since all around here was nothing but green fields - When Spain was little more than a couple of Monty Python sketches, a football team that played in white, and a funny little waiter called Manuel. That was in my youth of course. As soon as adulthood reared its tiresome, wrinkled head, I became all too aware of more important things such as Civil Wars, Goya, Dali and Picasso, Religious persecution, Moorish conquest and more moreish Sangria.
I can't really tell you why this was my first choice; my first edgy dip into warm Spanish waters. I love marmalade... More than Paddington Bear likes Marmalade, although to be fair, he's probably done more to enhance the reputation of this delicious and zesty preserve than I have, although I've tried. I even make it myself, but that's a story for another page. Seville oranges must play a part in the story somewhere however. There's something about citrus trees... I'm a sucker for them. If you've ever been to Amalfi you'll know what I mean. The colour, the fragrance, .. the fruity dangliness and the inability for countries like chilly old Britain to be able to sustain their growth... So, the novelty perhaps? There must be more to my curiosity than just how this beautiful Spanish jewel came to sell off its bitter sweet symphony of inedible citrus to the much culinarily maligned Brits.
Firstly, Seville is without doubt, one of the finest cities you could ever imagine visiting. It has everything but the sea, and that’s not very far away at all. A quick journey south will see you at some of the most beautiful coastline around the Bay of Cadiz to be found anywhere. Inland and you arrive at some of Spain's most beloved landscapes and prettiest of towns such as Ronda and Carmona, and even the city centre is bustling and attractive.
From its central business hub to the tranquil and picturesque old town, from local food and drink to sparkling entertainment and unique Andalusian hospitality, it's a special place indeed. If you add to this the fact that it is safe, warm, romantic, colourful, friendly, compact and cheap, then it’s hard to look past this welcoming and languid city of gold when choosing a weekend away, or even something a little more drawn out and relaxing. 5 day’s here flew by and we have a return trip planned for an upcoming summer.... early summer, I might add. Late spring to early summer is probably about right as it can get brutally hot during High Season, and I won't be held accountable if my brilliant advice goes unheeded, your scalp falls off, your digits swell up like cheap sausages and your eyes are full of salt and suntan lotion.
Moving on.....We made our home quite centrally in an apartment overlooking the cathedral in Puerta de Jerez and couldn’t have been happier with our choice. Perfectly suited for three - We had brought along the mother-in-law for a bit of daughterly bonding... I know, I’m a saint, and many a joke was levelled at both my sanity for attempting a three week European vacation with my wife’s mum, and at my steely, unshakeable nerve. I wouldn’t ever say I’m the calmest of people when debating nouvelle cuisine or the price of a vermouth in Sydney, Australia, but when it comes to soaking up minor irritations and other people’s idiosyncrasies, I’m pretty good... Unless, of course, they aren’t themselves very good at it. - That is deeply annoying but that’s any other myriad of stories right there, so sod them. Renting an apartment seems like so much the logical thing to do when travelling in groups that I hardly even bother to check out local hotels. Apartments for cost, views, terraces, pools, familial togetherness.... maybe, location, privacy.... The list goes on.
The Puerta de Jerez Penthouse was booked through Spain Select and I couldn't have been happier with the whole process. It was spacious, clean and light with stunning views out over the rooftops and Seville Cathedral. A tiled terrace was the perfect place to enjoy a homespun breakfast, usually comprising in mountains of locally grown fruit. Cherries this time, and apricots, and peaches. All of which are well worth stealing if thats your disposition but we took the more formal approach and bought them in a little market downstairs downstairs. What's the point in going out for breakfast with this sort of view to hand. There's plenty of time to eat out in Seville so you cant go wrong. So much time in fact that they only go to bed 3 minutes before its time to get up, before going back to bed 7 minutes after getting up in the first place. I really don't know where they find the energy to sleep this much. Actually I do. With such great food so plentiful and wine and sherry so cheap, I'd sleep very well here too, thank you very much. As a little bonus, the energetic and shining trams hurry along beneath us, and make it almost impossible to get lost and unable to find our way home... unless you are my wife's mother, obviously, but it was a nice idea when planning the trip.
The maze-like Jewish Quarter is only a few steps away, as is the Real Alcazar and to be truthful, this is where we would spend a lot of our time. There are so many traditional and 'old school' places to eat along these burnt orange lanes that you quickly learn to not worry about dining, or where to dine to be more precise, as you might in other larger cities. This is tapas land remember, and a small bite here and a small bite there, alleviates any need for foodie fretfulness. Compiling a mental note on the best dishes in each place makes the last night or two especially eventful and bellyful, as getting to your favourite bars and restaurants to savour the pig cheek stew or beef croquetas one last time, become paramount in your thoughts.
I hate to think what I might have done here as a younger man, with my mature palette and acute drinking problem. If you could combine youthful stamina, a sated wallet and a healthy, knowing appetite, it is truly hard to imagine just how much might be gorged upon and supped contentedly in the early evening's amber light and beyond. It’s all so cheap, especially coming from the land down under, where you are ripped off at every turn and hospitality is so trained and lightweight that a free drink from mien host would be treated very suspiciously indeed and probably only ever saved for the bank manager or celebrity food blogger, and don’t even get me started on free appetisers such as an olive or two or a stale crisp. Beers anywhere here are at least a sixth of the price compared to the bright, shiny new bars of Brisbane, Byron Bay and the like, and with the accompanying plates of Iberico ham and Manchego cheese coming in just at only a few Euros, spending the day building up a well deserved appetite should be a primarily goal. 'Do not waste this opportunity to feast' keeps flashing across your mind like a neon traffic signal. "EAT, DON'T EAT, EAT!"
Spain is fashionable again, and although it still suffers from the stigmas attached to being the Briton's place of choice when it comes to egg and chips in the sun, popular tv shows like Game of Thrones, the country’s financial struggles and its value for money have created a born again travel destination which is richly deserved, and without the patronising pamphlets and Sunday meetings..... much like Greece in fact - When its troubles became more widely known, instead of a reluctance to travel, Northern Europeans arrived in force to help out with their holiday cash as best they could, happily sun drunk amongst the bougainvillea and bouzoukis
When I first picture Seville I do think of oranges, as previously mentioned - both the fruit and the colour, and on both counts it never disappoints. The fruit hangs from almost every tree like the decorations for an alternative and fragrant Christmas pageant and when not suspended like sun drenched baubles, they fill the gutters and parks with their forlorn, richly scented and rotting fall from grace. Truck loads of council workers spend their days scooping them up like empty plastic water bottles after a Coldplay gig.
The air is rich with their scent, even in decay, and I will forever now associate the smell or ripe oranges with this Seville. Obviously a few thousand dangling oranges don’t make for a perfect holiday, but something so identifiable to a single place, something so everyday yet remarkable because of its abundance, transcends the individual normality of the object itself - Much like Holland’s tulips, Normandy’s apples, Scottish heather or Eccles' ... cakes.
The Jewish Quarter, bordered by parks, the Alcazar Palace, Cathedral and on it’s Northern edge, the city itself, is a labyrinth of colourful streets, small ornate squares and meandering laneways, and makes for a perfect escape from the busyness of the city and from the searing Spanish sun. Shade can be found at every turn as can a refreshing cerveza or tinto de verano.
I once again implore you to try the manzanilla and fino sherries whilst your here. It makes a remarkable difference to your trip if you take in the local delicacies and specialities. That dry sharpness is the perfect foil for the rich fatty hams and enables a larger intake of both, which is the whole point surely? The same can also be said for the excellent local wines and vermouth too, often served straight from the barrel. The trick here is to put your guide books down, or 'Trip Advisor' as they're now more commonly called, and just let your senses and instincts take over. You really don't need a guide to tell you where you need to go, for the most part anyway. Just let loose.
Seville has a very famous bullring - Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla - And when I say famous, I've never actually heard anyone mention it and I can understand why. What a mouthful. No matter what your views on Bullfighting are, and I think it a hideous and archaic form of entertainment, a nod towards the past, Ernest Hemmingway and a country's heritage should be enough to encourage a visit when there are no actual fights on.
It's the last bastion of the form left in Spain and will undoubtedly go the way of its blood stained cousins in the years to come, so make use of your time here and go. You can't argue with the process as a two dimensional art form however: the posters, advertisements, photographs and paper cuttings that adorn almost every stuccoed wall here are testament to that: They are certainly of a place and time, and to lose this artistic acknowledgement of a city's past would be a tragedy indeed. Just don't harm the bulls.
Seville is also famous for its horse drawn carriages. Not some modern touristy 'ring-in' but something a little more traditional. Long enough established to make it part of Seville’s sun-sprayed make-up. For about €40 to €50, you can clip clop your way through the streets and take it all in at a very gentle pace. Again though, I can’t recommend strongly enough that this is done away from the midday heat and that a little bit of a barter may do you well regarding the price.
The horses, although not seemingly ecstatic about their existence and life choices, do a least look healthy and well nourished. This can’t be said for Santorini’s donkeys whose plight only ever saddens me and whose hammocked backs I will never stoop to utilise. Several routes can be chosen, much like the Gondolas of Venice, but through as much of the old town and Parque de Maria Louisa and Plaza America are my particular choices.
When walking these parks, by the way, please take some refreshments as watering holes are few and far between and i'd hate for you to get woozy with life loss. Well worth a stroll through after taking in the breathtaking majesty of the Plaza de España.
The Alcazar is resplendent and another must see, and an early or late arrival will include again serve you well. If arriving as the gates open, you’ll do well to hang back once inside, to let the initial rush get their selfies in so you can enjoy the blissful surrounds at your leisure. Not quite the Moorish brilliance found at the Alhambra further up the road in Granada but beautiful and serene nonetheless, and size isn't everything, I'm often told. Truly beautiful gardens as well, and it truly is a gentle alternative to the magnificence of the latter.Tickets are about 10 Euros for Adults but this drops significantly to about 2 Euros if you are of a forgetful age, have only just got out of bed or are Welsh. 'Professional' Welsh speakers will need to pay more by way of a forfeit, however.
As far as recommendations go, there are far too many tapas bars and restaurants to truly say are the best. It really is a case of what suits when. It's hard to go wrong so once again just follow your nose.
The most famous and oldest
tapas bar in Seville, El Rinconcillo, is well worth a visit for atmosphere, sherry, wine, cheese and ham plates. Here they still practise the art of using the the bar top to chalk down your bill. An utterly wonderful place that is firmly part of the Seville tourist scene but it doesn't appear to be suffering from it. Bar Alfalfa is a short walk back towards town and this tiny watering hole is also well worth a visit - Standing room only, mind you.
Back in the old town, the equally tiny Cafe Bar Las Teresas is great for traditional tapas and drinks which I would implore you to visit, and opposite this, Casa Placido is a bar I'd love to watch a football match in, on tv not between the table legs.
Not in a modern sports bar stylee but in one of those earthy locals in action types of environments that we onlookers with cameras and long memories love so much - Authentic tapas and vermouths etc all very good and close at hand here too, although I would choose to stick to the booze and football if I were you. All of these places are packed not only with history and atmosphere but also with beautiful and colourful tile work so evocative of Andalusia and I absolutely adore them.
Further in amongst the delights of the old town Casa Carmelo and the pretty little restaurants attached are lovely places, both to people watch and to gorge with a manzanilla on plates of chick peas and spinach. The service and food was very good, belying the lowish rating on that infernal travel review site. You may be craving such things as spinach to cut through the fattiness on your tongue, after eating so much jamon and cheese, so it's not as bad an option as it may first appear. The Restaurante de Cueva in the Rodrigo Caro is a great place to end up and watch both the evening descend and the deeply contented meander their way back home, after many hours of peaceful overindulgence. Beware the terrible place next door though. It looks like part of the same business but its not and a very poor choice given the myriad of other options available. Tourist trap was the name of it, or something similar. I think that's what the sign said.
Bodega Belmonte nearer the potentially touristy area of the Cathedral does great tapas but with a more contemporary bent but is delicious nonetheless, but the wonderful Taberna Alavaro Peregil next door is a cracker. Homely, simple and small.
Nothing more than a walk-through really but I could have spent hours here just being.... When I ever say "just being", I actually mean 'just drinking ... and eating and watching'. The rooftop terrace bar at EME Cathedral Hotel isn't a bad spot in which to imbibe, by the way - with stunning views out over the rooftops and the cathedral itself, and I also really enjoyed Bar Cairo closer to the city, with its businesslike bustle and urban energy.
Outside of Seville, day trips to Cadiz, Córdoba or Jerez are easily doable by train or car, as are a host of other places pencilled in on the tourist map to be fair. Seville really is a perfect destination at every level, and although popular, the crowds here in late May were heavy enough to give it some atmosphere but scarce enough to give you vast areas of space all to yourself.
Once again, travelling just out of season presents itself with so many benefits that it’s hard to see the attraction of mid summer travel. If you are confined by travelling with children and during school holidays, I really do feel for you. Places really aren’t the same amongst the densest of crowds (Yes, I do mean densest) and there are many, many places that suffer because of this, somewhat unfairly, obviously, as it's the sweaty masses that are causing the problems in the first place and not the towns themselves. It’s a perennial problem and one that I don’t have an answer to. The now infamous "Tourist Go Home" Spanish graffiti recently, was a stark reminder of how our presence can impinge on the lives of the locals and it's up to us to love what they are, where they live and to treat them with the utmost respect and affection. Seville is one of those places that it's hard not to embrace.
What would you need to change here anyway? What is there to complain about? Absolutely nothing. Seville is perfect. Seville is sublime. Seville met every single one of my childhood expectations and satisfied all of adult desires. What more can I say about this magical, perfect city, apart from please, go there.... with respect. What a joy it truly is. Sevilla.
..... and I haven't even touched on the Cathedral, the Metroplex Parasol, The Almeda de Hercules, the Golden Tower..... That's your job. Please, go.
Thanks for reading,