Riding a bike round Seville, a city famed for its Andalucian heat, may sound like hard work, but it’s actually cooler than sightseeing on foot. Follow these tips for the best two-wheeled trip
Seville and bicycles are in many ways the perfect combination. Admittedly, the old town, with its cobbled streets and lost tourists, is best explored on foot, but other parts of Seville seem made for bikes. Beautifully marked cycle paths run alongside several roads, and the traffic in the central areas is gentle and respectful of cyclists. The Spain of matadors, conquistadors, Hemingway and flamenco can all be explored with minimal effort.
Bikes are also easy to find, as Sevici, Seville’s growing network of bike-hire stations, allows visitors to rent them for as little as €1 per hour. The bikes are sturdy and ever so slightly granny-like, and can be ditched at any station whenever a tapas bar becomes too irresistible or a tucked-away church too interesting. In other words, they're perfect for spontaneous souls exploring on a whim.
On your bike
Bike stations are everywhere, so you can be creative with your route, though Station 75, at Plaza de San Francisco, is an ideal starting place. Make a stop at Horno San Buenaventura, the popular bakery behind the cathedral, to pick up some picnic fodder for your basket, and head down Calle San Fernando towards Parque Maria Luisa. Along the way, you will pass Hotel Alfonso XIII, built with Moorish opulence in 1928 to be the most luxurious hotel in Europe.
The park and the adjoining Plaza de Espaňa stem from the same period, built for the Ibero-American exhibition of 1929, and blending Art Deco with mock Mudejar architecture. Cyclists, pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages happily cohabit under the palm trees, the scent of oranges drifting down the grand boulevards.
The Plaza de Espaňa is an open space flanked by a moat and an impressive semi-circular building accessed by a succession of pretty bridges. Leave the bikes for a moment, and take a walk along the colonnade to follow in the footsteps of Anakin Skywalker and Padmé Amidala – Plaza de Espaňa served as a set for Star Wars II, as well as Lawrence of Arabia.
Along the river
From the park, the Guadalquivir is just a few pedal strokes away. Seville’s elegant river parts artisans and tapas bars to the west and monuments, Mudejar architecture and matadors' haunts to the East. Starting at the Torre del Oro (Gold Tower), the broad cycle path follows Seville’s rich history from the 13th century to the present day, with famous landmarks like the Maestranza bullring merely a pedal push away.
The Torro del Oro, now a naval museum, once oversaw the arrival of precious metals from the West Indies, and now overlooks the comings and goings of the river cruises from the quay below. Apart from the odd kayaker, river life is mostly of the leisurely, slow kind. With the midday heat emptying much of Seville’s streets, its inhabitants take to the river instead, tourists joining in on rented pedalos and rowing boats.
Leaving the broad, airy spaces of the east bank behind, cross the river to the narrow, elevated road parting the river from the Triana area behind. Calle Betis enjoys stunning views to the Maestranza bullring and the centre of Seville, and with a string of tapas bars overlooking the river, it is the perfect place to study river life over a light lunch.
Seville is known as the party city of Spain, which is, of course, not so easy to experience from the seat of a bike. But Calle Betis gives some sense of it – not because it is lively during the day, but rather because it gives the impression of being thoroughly exhausted. Perhaps it is the result of a long night of sangria and merriment, as this is, in fact, the area locals recommend for salsa.
Calle Betis does seem to retain a cheerful outlook on life, however, with terraced townhouses in warm pinks, mustard, sky blue and crisp white belying the generally rundown charm of the old sailor’s district they are hiding. Now famous for its arts and crafts environment, Triana is the sort of place that begs to be explored, with whitewashed churches and hidden tapas bars sure to reward those who point their wheels that way.
Picnic in the park
Cross back to the east bank and old Seville slowly gives way to the new as you head north. Many of the bridges of the Guadalquivir were built for Expo ’92, and cyclists can also thank that event for the cycle path that runs all the way into the Alamillo park, offering a bird’s eye view of the Expo area opposite. The 21st century is represented by some rather innovative graffiti, both of the legal and the illegal kind.
The green bank is the perfect place to stop for a light picnic snack whilst studying the Expo structures and plotting your next move. A leisurely roll back down the river, or perhaps a detour via the bohemian Alameda district? Then all that remains is to decide where to hand the bike back, before heading into the warm night in search of sangria and tapas, smugly bypassing exhausted pedestrians as you go.
Where to stay
The four-star Hotel Dona Maria has Seville’s best location, and is the perfect base for seeing the city sights. Overlooked by the cathedral, the romantic rooftop swimming pool also has a bar perfect for a sangria or two. Double rooms start at around €120 per night.
Designed to be Europe’s most luxurious hotel in 1928, Hotel Alfonso XIII is a Seville landmark, and a stay here is an unforgettable experience. The style is opulent, Moorish and typical Seville, and each room has an individual design. Double rooms start at around €230 per night.
Sevici (the city's bike hire programme) is available on short-term or long-term subscription. Visitors can take out a one-week subscription for €5. The first half-hour of any trip is free; after that, it's €1 for one hour, then €2 for each subsequent hour. Hire stations are located throughout Seville. Sevici’s website is in Spanish, but the map of the hire stations is easy to read - www.sevici.es/estaciones/mapa.