Seville is Spain undiluted. Every image that springs to mind when you think of Spain, Seville not only provides, but revels in with theatrical abundance.
There are sun-drenched plazas, outbursts of flamenco, dusty barrelled sherry, all-night fiestas and orange tree-lined streets tangling beneath sharp, clear skies.
Clichéd? Yes. Over-the-top? Of course. But if you’ve ever longed for a full-on Spanish trip, then look no further. Here are five reasons why you should get your fix in Seville.
Sevillanos proudly claim that tapas was invented in their city. Arguments aside, Seville is packed with thousands of tapas bars, making it one of the best places in the county to tapear.
Wander between establishments stopping off for a bite every now and then – a slither of jamón ibérico, a paper-cone of oven-warm salt- and rosemary-flecked chicharrones, one-plate-too-many of gooey croquettas.
For a taste of tradition, head to El Rinconcillo, Seville’s oldest tapas bar (founded in 1670), where hams hang above a mahogany bar, and detailed tiles fight for wall space with rows of dusty bottles.
Another unmissable spot is Eslava, an award-winning tapas bar. Be prepared to wait, this place gets packed and rightly so, with its inventive (yet somehow affordable) dishes such as brie pastry cigars with cuttlefish and algae, and slow-cooked egg on boletus cake with caramelized wine reduction.
For over twenty years, ice-cream maestro Joaquín Lira’s innovative creations have been capturing the identity of Seville and Spain – and turning heads in the process. He has won the admiration of big-deal Spanish chef Ferran Adría (of El Bulli fame) and been featured in Rick Stein’s Spain.
As well as making ice-creams for top restaurants, Lira continues to run his own ice-cream shop, Heladería la Fiorentina, where you can sample some of the flavours, many of which are strongly rooted in Spanish, and particularly Andalucían, culture.
The crema de flor de azahar distills the smell of Seville in a springtime haze of orange blossoms; a lemon and basil blend pays tribute to the Moroccan heritage; a vinegar-infused ice-cream recreates the smell of walking through a bodega; the goats cheese, nut and apricot mix represents the Sephardic Jewish culture; and finally the dulce de palmera is inspired by a traditional Semana Santa sweet.
Flamenco is strongly associated with Seville and for good reason. Across the river from the old town, lies the Triana barrio, the historical heart of the city’s gitano community and once home to many great flamenco dynasties.
These days Seville is saturated with flamenco shows and memorabilia, so pick where you go wisely as there are a number of fixed show tourist traps lying in wait.
Flamenco at its best is an earthly, spontaneous expression but it can be a fickle creature – breathtakingly passionate if you manage to stumble across it, incredibly infuriating when you wait for hours and it never shows up.
Try your luck at Casa Anselma, in the historic Triana homeland. There’s no sign on the door, so head to the corner of c/Antillano Campos and look for the yellow building with a mosaic of a landscape on it. Inside, local flamenco enthusiasts squeeze into the smoky atmosphere and wait cheek-by-jowl for outbreaks of music and dancing.
Another good venue is La Carbonería, which is housed an old coal merchants building, which during daylight could be confused with a shut-up garage, but at night becomes a low-key tapas bar with live flamenco performances.
Few cities in Spain can rival Seville for its vitality and theatricality, which reaches fever pitch during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the Feria de Abril.
Easter’s Semana Santa celebrations are world-renowned, when the balconies overflow with spectators and the streets are lined with crowds, all waiting to see the solemn processions of pasos (floats) and eerie hooded and robed figures.
Pious duties done, not long after Semana Santa, the city’s lively flirtatious spirit explodes with Feria de Abril. For a week Spain’s largest feria takes hold, a seemingly ceaseless parade of quintessential Spanishness: girls in extravagantly frilled skirts, horse-drawn carriages rattling along the streets, crowds filling the city’s famous bullring, and dancers keeping time to the strumming of a flamenco guitar and sharp, rhythmic clapping.
History is etched in the architectural framework of Seville. At street-level a latticework of cobbled alleyways swell into wide plazas, and above, minarets and cupolas peep out from a sea of tiled rooftops.
Its illustrious history as home to the Christian monarchs, the second city of al-Andalus and the last real Moorish empire in Spain is paid tribute to in Seville’s three great monuments: La Giralda, the Catedral and the Alcázar.
Dominating the city’s skyline, the Almohad’s twelfth-century, 90m-tall La Giralda, now forms the bell tower of the Catedral – the largest Gothic church in the world and final resting place of Christopher Columbus.
Nearby, the Alcázar is also a melange of styles – occupied from the Roman times, transformed into a grand Almohad citadel, rebuilt by Christian monarch Pedro the Cruel – and rivals Granada’s Palacios Nazaríes with its intricate tile work, calligraphy-carved walls and palm tree shaded gardens.
If you want to get up close and personal with Seville’s architecture a stay at Corral del Rey shouldn’t be missed. Tucked away in the winding, medieval passageways of Seville’s Barrio Santa Cruz, this hotel has enveloped itself in a restored seventeenth-century palacio.
Hidden behind a heavy Mudejar doorway is a more accessible slice of history: a retreat of Roman marble columns, softly worn stone floors, and intricately carved beams holding up high ceilings.