Four twenty-somethings with wanderlust in search of sun, fun, culture and gastronomy. One long weekend... Seville was the perfect choice for a Bank Holiday city break.
Seville is a city with something of a split-personality. It's a giant mish-mash of moorish, baroque and gothic architecture with a dash of the ultra modern thrown in there for good measure. Simply put, it's stunning. It's an incredibly walkable city typified by the small windy streets that sporadically open out on to beautiful plazas; walking is definitely the best way to get a true sense of Seville's soul. There's a church on every corner and even the graffiti is artful. The detailing on the buildings is something else; even the undersides of the balconies are adorned with beautiful painted tiles. Seville's Old Town is the third largest in Europe and contains three UNESCO World Heritage Sites; the Alcázar palace complex, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies.
The Reales Alcázar is a perfect example of this mish-mash of architecture and is quite incredible. At the risk of sounding like my mother (sorry Madre) the gardens were also beautiful. Parts of it felt like being in Jurassic Park with huge tropical trees exploding from the earth, while others were immaculately manicured to within an inch of their lives, and there was bougainvillea everywhere you turned. We could have spent hours exploring and, I have to confess, we spent a significant amount of time behaving like total children in the maze, but alas there are only so many hours in the day and we unfortunately didn't cover every corner.
Perhaps Seville's main tourist trap, however, is its vast and hugely impressive Cathedral. The queues tend to get very long over lunch time so we left it until quite late in the afternoon and waltzed straight in. Words can't really describe the awe-inspiring atmosphere inside the Cathedral but, needless to say, it left the four of us dumbfounded, open-mouthed and staring gormlessly up at the ceiling. It's one of those places that no photograph could ever do justice to and simply must be seen in the flesh. If you can make the hike to the top of the Cathedral's Tower, you get incredible panoramic views across the entire city.
Food Glorious Food
Where to even start? Oh yes, ofcourse, TAPAS! I really think everyone could learn a thing or two from the Spanish about eating; why choose one thing from a menu when you can have all of it in delectable mini portions? Fried baby squids, cold meats, croquettes, the best goats' cheese ever - the list goes on and on. Needless to say I definitely returned with my trousers feeling a little tighter around the waist band - totally worth it! In general, I found the food to be better in restaurants that weren't near the big tourist attractions; it's definitely worth doing some research and getting some recommendations. My culinary highlight was La Bodega Dos de Mayo in the San Lorenzo area.
Have I mentioned the ice cream yet? Well, it was amazing. Our daily cultural learnings were perfectly punctuated by helado stop-offs which never failed to rouse us from our sun-induced stupor. Although the Italians are generally considered to have the monopoly on this cold and creamy delight, Seville does it pretty darn well. Bold call but I'd go so far as to say the best dulce de leche I've ever had.
Seville is particularly famous for its traditional flamenco dancing but it is, unfortunately, a dying art. There are plenty of tourist shows that you can go to but we were after something slightly more authentic so after a bit of research and lots of asking around, we came across Casa Anselma in the city's gypsy quarter. This tiny bar only opens at midnight and for a couple of hours a night patrons are treated to live music and traditional flamenco by the locals themselves. As the only tourists there, we felt incredibly privileged to be party to such a deeply-rooted local tradition.
One startlingly refreshing thing about Seville is that they really don't speak a lot of English. I definitely got the sense we were seeing the real Spain and not another sterile European destination where the locals speak better English than what I do. I'd been advised by the one and only Pip O'Keefe to shy away from any restaurant that had English menus… challenge accepted! One minor problem: none of us spoke Spanish. Still, armed with one Italian (the languages are quite similar) and a GCSE in Spanish between the four of us, we managed surprisingly well (read: gallant attempts at rolling rrrrs, swiftly followed by slow, loud talking and gesticulating).
Hot, Hot, Hot
One thing that struck me about Seville was the relentless heat; they definitely don't call it the 'pan of Spain' for no reason. Our first two days were a balmy 31 degrees - heaven. But on the last day the temperature rose to 36 degrees which was, at the risk of sounding incredibly English, a shade (pun intended) too hot. It's not one of those places where the temperature peaks at midday and then gradually declines; in Seville it gets hot and stays hot. All. Day. Long. Now, don't let that put you off; you must bear in mind that I absolutely live up to the English stereotype - constantly bemoaning the lack of sun in the UK and then becoming a melty whinge-bag at the merest whiff of UV. We timed our trip perfectly (early May) for the weather but it does reach upwards of 40 degrees in July and August so it should be a consideration. It also absolutely depends on the kind of holiday you're after; if sunbathing by the hotel pool is the order of the day then look no further. Our weekend was more of a walking tour of the city… although with a Helado shop on every corner, we managed just fine.
While all the above made for a fabulous weekend away, my absolute holiday highlight had to be the Plaza de España in the Parque de María Luisa, a picture-perfect example of Renaissance Revival architecture. Not only was it free to view, it was immaculately maintained, not especially touristy and completely beautiful. The surrounding park is also well worth exploring and we chose to do so on a four-man Flintstone-style bicycle-mobile. As someone who is uncompromisingly childish, this may have had more to do with it being my holiday highlight than anything else but the party line is, as always, the cultural experience. We may or may not have got ourselves embroiled in a drag race with a couple of very well-dressed 10 year olds in a go-cart and spent an inordinate amount of time being followed by the park police but still, it was a great way of getting around!