Enjoy fiestas, siestas and your fair share of tapas in the thriving Andalucían city of Seville, with its Arab ancestry keenly evident in the iconic cathedral and grand palaces
For flamboyance, flamenco and fiery fiestas. Seville is a sultry show-off. Hunks of peppery ham hang from the ceilings of its tapas bars, guitarists strum on park benches and its whitewashed streets whisper bygone tales of bullfighters, dancers and gypsies. Wander around dramatic Moorish palaces, labyrinthine alleys and check out the colourful azulejos (tiles) that add sparkle to Seville’s facades. You are guaranteed a warm welcome whenever you visit, but go in spring for blinking blue skies, flower-filled parks and citrus-perfumed squares. Then head to a café for jamon and juicy green olives, washed down with a glass of chilled dry Manzanilla sherry.
What to do
Saunter over to the beautiful Cathedral Santa María de la Sede, which bags the title as the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. Its Moorish tower, La Giralda, is one of the few visible remains of the original mosque and a potent symbol of the city’s history. Climb up 40 floors to the top for great views. Afterwards, breakfast like the locals with a hot churro dunked in coffee - delicious.
Next door to the cathedral is Pedro the Cruel’s attention-grabbing Alcazar, a jewellery box of richly decorative rooms, Mudéjar patios and grand halls. Head out into its gorgeously green, fountain-filled gardens and pop your head over the eastern walls for a great view of barrio Santa Cruz. Hitch a ride on a horse and carriage, and trot off towards the Plaza de España and the elegant Parque de María Luisa. The semi-circular plaza and its majestic buildings are the epitome of the Moorish revival in Spanish architecture. It also has a moat, so hire a boat and row under its beautiful bridges.
Alternatively, stroll down the park’s tree-shaded avenues or wander along the banks of the Guadalquivir River, passing by the impressive Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza, the oldest bullring in Spain. Love it or hate it, Seville is bullfighting central. If you can’t stomach watching a fight, settle for a guided tour (www.plazadetorosdelamaestranza.com). Afterwards, pop into Museo de Bellas Artes (Plaza Museo 9) for an insight into Seville’s artistic heritage. In the evening, head to Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter, where flamenco grew up. Catch a performance at Los Gallos (www.tablaolosgallos.com).
Where to stay
A bell’s ring from the cathedral and La Giralda, Casa No 7 is a small and sweet boutique hotel. The 19th-century townhouse has just six rooms, each with its own unique decor. Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza is a heady mix of past and present, an 18th-century building with chic interiors and a rooftop pool. Slick and stylish, Alcoba del Rey is full of modern touches: glasswork, silk cushions and objets d’art abound. Or flash your cash and go to Hacienda Benazuza. Seven miles west of the city, this sprawling 10th-century Moorish farmhouse is home to La Alquería, the second outpost of Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adrià.
Where to eat and drink
Seville’s tapas restaurants are deeply rooted in the city’s history. Wait till late before heading to El Rinconcillo (00 34 954 223 183; www.elrinconcillo.es), which has been on the scene since 1670. Head to Kiosko de las Flores (00 34 954 274 576; www.kioscodelasflores. com) for Seville’s signature dish of pescaito frito, crispy fried fish and seafood. For delicious hams and meats then Casa Roman (00 34 954 228 483) on Plaza Venerables is an essential pit stop. Sol y Sombra (00 34 95 433 3935; Calle Castilla 149-151) do a mean migas – fried bread with ham, chorizo and solomillo de ajo (pork braised with cloves of garlic).
It is not all about tapas, though. Egaña Oriza (00 34 954 227 211; www.restauranteoriza.com) fuses Basque and Andalucian cooking with delicious results; try the ceviche of monkfish with clams, served in a conservatory nestled among the Alcazar’s gardens. Trendy and tasty Salvador Rojo (00 34 954 229 725; Calle San Fernando 23) cooks contemporary Spanish cuisine. Sit out on the terrace and devour garlic-fuelled gazpacho and delicious salt cod.
Time running out?
Click your castanets and head to the Flamenco Museum (www.flamencomuseum.com); there is a dance school next door.
Visit the convent of Santa Paula, where the nuns’ home-made jam is legendary. Pick up a pot or two; it is made from Seville’s bitter oranges, rose petals and quince (closed Mondays).
Currency is the euro. Seville is one hour ahead of GMT, and a two-hour 45-minute flight from London.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) has regular flights from Stansted to Seville. Iberia Air (0870 60 90 500; www.iberia.com/gb) flies daily from Gatwick and Heathrow to Seville via Madrid.
Seville Tourist Office: Avenida Constitución 21 (00 34 954 221 4 04; www.exploreseville.com). Also an office at Plaza del Triunfo.
This guide first appeared in Food and Travel magazine.