The tangle of streets, the slow rhythms, the scent of oranges, the exotic vibe, the mix of Christian and Arab culture… Seville was love at first sight. There is something magical about this city. Bullfighting, religion, flamenco. Every aspect of life seems ruled by passion. The sun shines almost 300 days a year. The light is warm, so as to make the city look golden.
Arabs, Romans, Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians left their distinctive mark in Seville’s architecture giving birth to one of the most unique cities in the world. Here, Christopher Columbus was getting ready to leave for what he thought would be the Indies and Spanish fleets were bringing exotic treasures from all the colonies (don’t miss a visit to the Archivo General de Indias, Av. de la Constitución).
But, to fully understand the city you must start from its beating heart, the Royal Alcázar of Seville, World Heritage Site by UNESCO. This palace, with its stratifications, witnessed centuries of histories and sovereigns, from Romans to Moors and Catholic kings. Walking through its gardens it seems impossible that here there was a harem of eight hundred women and that the cruel and ruthless ruler al-Mu’tadid decorated the terraces with flowers planted in the skulls of his enemies.
Leaving the walls of the Alcázar you will arrive in front of the Cathedral and the Giralda, a perfect symbiosis of different styles and different civilizations, a tower born as a minaret and ended up becoming a bell tower. Back in the days, the Giralda was the tallest tower in the world. Built in 1184 by order of Abu Yaqub Yusuf and destined to be the minaret of the Seville mosque, it was built without stairs to allow the sultan to climb it on his horse back to admire the beautiful panorama. Even today, climbing the tower you can admire the whole city, the Orange Patios and the largest existing Gothic cathedral.
For a breathtaking view over the cathedral and the Giralda try one of the many rooftop bars of Seville. We went to the Terraza EME, breathtaking views, good vibes, but prices are above average. Other rooftop bars are Maria Hotel, Terraza PuraVida, Hotel Inglaterra e Gourmet Experience.
A few steps further along the Callejon del Agua, a whitewashed alley that runs along the Alcázar walls, you enter the Barrio Santa Cruz. A maze of narrow streets or calle – like the Venetian ones – squares decorated by small fountains, orange trees, green patios and azulejos, the glazed ceramic tiles introduced by the Moors. We are in the old Jewish quarter, the most fascinating of Seville. Walking through the narrow streets of Barrio Santa Cruz you can reach the Jardines de Murillo, once part of the gardens of the Royal Palace. Not far there is the Maria Luisa Park, with its fascinating Plaza de España. Built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, the square represents the embrace of mother Spain towards its ancient colonies. The small canal is navigable by renting rowing boats at €6 for 35′.
Seville. Tapas & flamenco
Now stop and close your eyes.
There is some gipsy music coming from somewhere in the distance and the scent of oranges fills the air. You are in the beautiful Plaza de Doña Elvira, our favourite. You are just a few steps from the delicious tapas of Casa Román, one of the few authentic bars in the barrio. Find a table in the sun and order a few tapas and a vino tinto, claro!
In Seville, tapas are more than just a taste of local specialities, they are an experience to be enjoyed in company, they are a fundamental part of the Sevillians’ life, they are passion, slow rhythms, tasting and chatting with friends. These small delicacies are a succession of flavours of sea, land, Iberian and Arab influences. The cost? From € 2-3 per serving. The best way to enjoy them is by following a ruta de tapeo – gastronomic tour tasting tapas – in search of the best tapas bars in Seville, from the best known to the most hidden and rustic, perhaps even including a covered market!
Tapas not to be missed:
‘Salmorejos’, a delicious cold soup made with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and bread
‘Boquerones fritos’, small fried and crispy anchovies
‘Tortilla de patatas’, traditional Spanish omelettes‘Rabo de toro’, stewed tail
‘Solomillo al whiskey’, pork loin
…and the most classic: Queso de Cabra – goat cheese, Jamón Iberico de Bellota – Iberian ham, Chorizo, croquetas and olives!
For a sweet snack try the churros, fried dough sticks covered with melted chocolate.
To drink: forget about sangria – like paella, it is not local at all – and try the tinto de verano, the red wine in the summer (€ 3 per glass). The basic ingredient of this fresh and thirst-quenching drink is always red wine, to which must be added a light lemonade and ice. Other local sweet wines are sherry, Jerez’s brandy and Vino de Naranja, the typical orange wine from Seville.
If you want to know more about Seville’s people you have to know more about flamenco. It is impossible to define it. Its origins are lost in the history of Andalusia and in the most troubled and persecuted peoples who crossed the country in the past centuries. Flamenco has influences of Andalusian folklore, Arab heritage, Jewish culture and gypsies, with Indian origin, who settled in the countryside around Cadiz in the 1700s for life. Little by little flamenco emerges from the private world of the family, the courtyards, from the taverns, reaching the Cafés in the mid-19th century. Today it is possible to see authentic and free flamenco performances in a few bars of Santa Cruz and Triana, the gypsy quarter. Our favourite place is La Carboneria (Calle Céspedes 21). The food here is not the best, but wine, music, dance and passion will conquer your heart!
Orange trees in Seville
Oranges are also part of the long Andalusian tradition. They were introduced by the Moors as ornamental and auspicious trees. According to an old saying, these trees brought happiness to those who planted them. Thus, century after century, orange trees have spread through the alleys and squares of Seville.
The smell is inebriating, the desire to taste a fresh fruit is unstoppable. You wonder why nobody eats them then, like a twenty-first century Eve, you approach a tree, pick a fruit … aaaaaand bitter!!! That’s right, Seville’s wild oranges are bitter and they are only used for perfumes, jams, liqueurs such as Cointreau or Curaçao and sweet wines. Do you remember the Vino de Naranja I mentioned before?
Practical tips to visit Seville
When to go.
The Seville we love is the one invaded by the scent of oranges. Plazas, streets and patios would not be the same without trees overflowing with fruit. The fruits are harvested in February, so the months of January and February are ideal.
Where to sleep.
The district of Santa Cruz is undoubtedly the most picturesque and the most central of Seville. We stayed at the Hotel Dona Lina, a few steps from the Alcázar and the cathedral, the romantic Plaza de Doña Elvira, the restaurants and the lively nightlife. Simply perfect!
Some extra tips.
Real Alcázar. To avoid endless queues (more than 2 hours) at the entrance, buy the ticket online. The surcharge is only € 0.50 and you will have priority access from a reserved line.
Horse-drawn carriage. Romantic as it may seem, this attraction is a form of violence towards these magnificent animals. The horses are dirty and malnourished, exploited without respite until late in the evening, even on summer days when temperatures exceed 40 ° and the asphalt is hot.
Basilica de la Macarena. This church is located in the homonymous district, perhaps the most characteristic of Seville. Even if it is quite far from the touristy part of the city it does deserve a visit. The basilica houses the Virgen de la Macarena, a representation of the Madonna covered with a huge carmine and gold cloak, which is carried around the city during the Semana Santa.