Sevilla, the capital of Andalucía. The city of sunshine, flamenco, and orange trees. Possibly the most Spanish of Spanish cities and the most exotic of European cities; the bullfighter is still adored and the multi-coloured streets lend an air of colonial Cartagena. The very name conjures images of sultry evenings spent picking at tapas and drinking vino tinto elbow-to-elbow in a packed bar down a winding side-street. The city of Carmen and Don Juan, of Sultans and Kings. Merely mentioning it evokes a sense of spirit, passion, and conflict.
It is with some excitement that we arrive at our apartment for a 3-day stay. It’s about 13 degrees and raining heavily. Believe it or not we are happy with this. Europe is currently in grip of the “Beast from the East” storm. It was touch and go whether we’d actually make it out of the country, with London with struggling from lows of -7 and snow. Little did we know though, that the weather is intrinsically linked to the spirit of Seville, much more so than any other city I’ve visited.
We step out of the apartment to explore and we find Seville to be very subdued for a city of almost 700,000. It is the 4th largest city in Spain but you wouldn’t have thought so when walking the streets. They are empty. There is no atmosphere. Even the magnificent Cathedral and La Giralda lose their lustre against the dull, grey sky. It is at odds to everything I’ve ever heard about or imagined Seville to be.
We pass two uneventful days wandering from one empty street to another. It isn’t all bad to be fair. The enormous cathedral is a gothic extravaganza and really is magnificent. Despite the monochrome hue blanketing the city, the views from La Giralda are impressive and the Real Alcazar, an exotic 14th-century palace with carved wooden ceilings, palm trees and arched doorways, is more Moroccan Riad than European palace. All are worthy of a visit. The dining and drinking options are good too, as outlined in the “See, Eat, Drink” section below.
Seville, however, doesn’t have the cultural clout to maintain interest on rainy days. There aren’t a slew of world-class museums, art-galleries and monuments to occupy your time and make up for the lack of atmosphere. It is only on our final day when we finally feel we have arrived in Seville. The sun is out and the city blooms from an uninspiring, subdued city into a riot of whitewashed alleyways with citrus coloured landmarks scattered throughout. The tapas bars and cafes are full of Sevillanos chattering to each other in rapid-fire Spanish. There is finally some life here.
“Why couldn’t it have been like this for the past two days?” I ask my girlfriend on our last day. We’re sitting in a bustling tapas bar in Plaza Alfalfa. The sun is fierce. So fierce in fact, that I need squint despite wearing my sunglasses. “This is such a different place when the sun shines”. “I know”, she replies as she grabs a piece of deep-fried white bait. We sit there quietly for a few minutes, reflecting on what our experience of Seville might have been.
I am slightly bitter about my time here. It’s a historic city with a truly show-stopping cathedral and a beautifully exotic palace. It’s a slice of North Africa and South America in Southern Europe but I’m leaving feeling as if I’ve only seen a glimpse of what the city can offer. To enjoy Seville to the fullest, to see the city at its best you need to visit when it’s warm and the sun is shining. At any other time it just doesn’t make sense.
Perhaps I expected too much and obviously we are unlucky with the bad weather throughout Europe but I don’t experience the city of Carmen and Don Juan. I experience a city that, without the sun, doesn’t have as much going for it as I had hoped. Without the sun, there is no spirit or passion. Without the sun, it’s a little dull. I still cling to the romantic notion of sultry evenings spent in a flamenco show in the old gypsy quarter of Triana. It wasn’t the city I found but maybe next time it’s the city I will discover.
Thanks for reading,
The Cathedral & La Giralda:
The Cathedral of Seville is a masterpiece. The scale of the nearly-500-year-old church is incredible. La Giralda, adjacent to the church, is scalable; it’s very tight and can be a little claustrophobic but the views are wonderful though and certainly worth the climb.
Entry: €9 with entry to the Iglesia de Salvador included.
A spectacular Mudejar palace showing the historical and architectural evolution of the city over the last 800 years. Within its walls are dozens of tiled and mosaiced rooms to get lost in. Remember to look up; some of the ceilings have intricate carvings. The gardens are beautiful too.
Entry: €9.50 and you can purchase in advance on the website: http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/english-version
Plaza del Triunfo:
Large, open square built to celebrate the survival of an 18th century earthquake. There are horse-drawn carriages available for hire here.
Archivo de Indias:
This archive of documents from the discovery of South America was a little underwhelming. Housed in a former merchant’s exchange, I was hoping for old maps on parchment paper and letters from Columbus detailing his discoveries. I found an exhibition on the Guadalquivir River and a short, subtitled video explaining the purpose of the building.
The town hall of Seville, it is located between the Plazas Nueva and de San Francisco. It is an impressive 19th century neo-classical building that functions as the administrative hub of the city.
Iglesia del Salvador:
The raspberry-hued Iglesia Del Salavador is a Baroque church converted from a mosque. Parts of the old mosque can still be seen in the patio. Housed in the Plaza del Salvador; a lively square with bars and restaurants crammed between its mixture of orange, yellow and white facades.
Entry: €9 but with entry to the cathedral of Seville included. Buy the tickets here as there are virtually no queues.
Plaza de Espana:
A beautifully ornate, crescent shaped square. First built in 1929 for Ibero-American exposition, it is probably the most photogenic part of the city. There are tiled alcoves around the square representing all the different provinces of Spain.
Parque de Maria Luisa:
The park was shut due to the weather but a walk alongside the railings made me wish we could have visited. The landscaped park looks beautiful.
Torre Del Oro:
A small, 13th century watchtower. It now houses a small maritime museum.
Known colloquially as Las Setas (the mushrooms), this structure consisting of 6 parasols opened in 2011 and is a completely modern addition to Seville’s skyline. You can take a lift to the top for views of the city.
Pan Y Piu:
A delicious sweet and savoury bakery with a large selection of baked goods. The coffee here is excellent and the staff are really friendly.
Pastry and a cafe con leche: €3.50
Confitería La Campana:
This place screams “institution”. The most famous cake shop in Seville first opened in 1885 and the interior doesn’t appear to have changed much since. The glass display cases present all the sweet (and some savoury) options and dark wood panels envelope the staff. The coffee and pastries are delicious.
Pastry and a cafe con leche: €4
Spanish and Caribbean restaurant with a large menu and plenty of vegetarian options: a rarity in ham-heavy Spain. The Habanita Aubergine (with Courgettes & Minced Meat) is good, as is the Garam Masala (shredded chicken and Rice). The portions are large.
Meal for two with water: €30
Bar Donaire Azabache:
Spanish tapas place with a modern twist. All the tapas classics were available, jamon Iberico, manchego cheese and gazpacho all feature here and are good.
A selection of 6 tapas and water: €40
A Lebanese restaurant a short walk from the Bullring. A selection of hot and cold mezes and a multitude of chicken and lamb dishes make this restaurant a good choice. The food is excellent and the portions are huge.
Meal for two inc. 3 meze starters: €50
I’ve saved the best for last. This isn’t only the best meal I had in Seville it may well be the best food I’ve ever eaten. The tortellini pasta filled with homemade sausage in cream is incredibly good. The tiramisu is good too.
Meal for two with 1 dessert: €50
This could have featured in the “Eat” list as they serve tapas but it was always packed so we weren’t able to eat there. I was astonished when I was presented with a bill for €2.70 for a small beer and a glass of the (good) house red wine. It is everything you’d want or expect a typical Spanish bar to be. Guitar music plays in the background and there is barely room to move as the locals crowd around the re-purposed wine barrels.