The cultural, artistic and financial hub of Southern Spain, Seville is also the Capital of Andalucía. This monumental city, rich in museums, galleries and some of the best hotels in Spain, has a distinct style. The locals, known as ‘Sevillanos’ are considered the most sophisticated in Andalucía, and it is fair to say they enjoy the reputation. Dressing up and showing off is almost part of the city culture. When one considers what the city and province offers, then possibly this is understandable, as Seville is one of the most seductive and wonderful cities in Europe.
Home to the greatest ‘Semana Santa’ Easter celebrations in the nation and a local culture steeped in flamenco and bullfighting, a visit here is to be intoxicated by all things Andalusian.
Following the success of Christopher Columbus’ voyages, Seville was awarded the Royal monopoly of trade with the new Spanish colonies. Inevitably this led to a Golden Age for Seville in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Immense wealth was accumulated, creating the stunning city we see today.
As with the rest of Andalucía, the Romans and the Moors left a lasting impact. Seville’s huge Gothic and Medieval cathedral incorporates the original minaret from the Mosque that it replaced. It is now the Giralda tower complete with Christian bell tower, but its original architecture is undeniable.
The heart of the city on the banks of the River Guadalquivir, is relatively compact, so it is easily explored on foot, or one can take a ‘tricicleta’, one of the new designer rickshaw taxis. The city’s impressive architectural and historical sites, including the Alcazar Arab fort, the Torre de Oro watchtower, and Maestranza bullring can fill a guide book, but of particular note are both the Plaza de España and the ‘Metropol Parasol’.
Built less than a century ago for a world fair, Plaza de España’s crescent structure is a pastiche of Moorish architecture. It features tiled alcoves along the base of the building, each depicting in beautiful painted ceramics the individual provinces of Spain. The Plaza has recently been fully restored and the ceramic work is wonderful.
By contrast the latest addition to the city’s built environment is not really even a building. The ‘Metropol Parasol’ is a vast canopy structure that covers the La Encarnación square. Due to its organic-like structure the joined up canopy elements are fondly, or not so fondly, referred to as the Mushrooms of La Encarnación. The huge, multi-million euro sprawling organic structure creates an eye-popping focal point, bringing a degree of cohesion to the area, pulling together the mishmash of architectural styles in the square. Atop the Parasol is an elevated walkway that affords incredible views across the city. One can see the pavilions left behind from the 1992 Universal Exposition on the city’s Cartuja island; out towards the airport; as well as closer sites, such as the towers of the Plaza de España, and Seville Cathedral, the resting place of Christopher Columbus. There is even a bar at the top, allowing one to sit and sip a ‘rebujito’ sherry cocktail and soak up the city.
For something really unique, then a visit to Andalucía’s capital in late April guarantees to deliver an intense experience. During this time, the heart of Seville moves to the Los Remedios neighbourhood, just across the river in the south west.
Seville’s annual spring fair, the “feria de abril” is a passionate celebration of everything Andalusian. Over one and half million people make this week-long fiesta one of the world’s greatest parties, with all that is quintessentially Andalusian and Spanish. Even the most relaxed of party goers makes an effort with elegant clothes. Almost all women will be dressed in colourful, polka dot flamenco dresses whilst the many horsemen wear traditional costume, an interpretation of farm workers clothes, including a simple broad brimmed hat. Nowhere else in Spain is one promised such an extraordinary experience, rich in folk history, colour, music, gastronomy, dance, corridas and of course sherry.
Away from the feria, explore the old town and its delightful Santa Cruz district. Hunt out ‘Casa Morales’, an authentic local bar, edged by huge vintage wine storage jars called tinajas. Fresh tapas are served on rustic boards, including delicious tuna from Cádiz. ‘Las Columnas’ (Bodega Santa Cruz) is a cramped space, full of locals. One might need to push to find space at the bar, but it is worth it to enjoy the atmosphere, and tasty treats like the pork in whiskey sauce. The bill is written in chalk on the bar as it has been for decades.
For something more upmarket, there are plenty of posh restaurants catering to the discerning Sevillian palate. Take for example ‘Casa Monolo Leon’. It is in a smart nineteenth century house, complete with authentic Seville interior patio, perfect for summer alfresco dining.
It is hard not to full under the spell of Seville, seduced by the essence of Andalucía.
Below I list a few of my favourite hotels in the province. I update this list from time to time.
Alfonso XIII – The Hotel in the City
Hotel Posada del Lucero
The Hospederia de Monestario – Osuna – a part of ‘Hidden Andalucia’