Seville: Spain’s tastiest city
- Credit: Archant
Charlotte Smith-Jarvis takes some downtime with girlfriends in Seville and discovers more than a few gastronomic delights.
Shaded from the mid afternoon sun by a retractable canvas, feet propped on a mountain of women’s magazines and armed with glass of iced, lemon-spritzed water, “this is the life,” my friend Debbie proclaimed, the 42C sevillian breeze having already bronzed her cheeks.
“Oooh yes,” I agreed, slumping further into my seat as the bells of the cathedral chimed amongst a clip clopping of horses and the seductive wails of flamenco singers – carrying on the air the unconducted melody of Spain’s hottest city.
This was a little oasis of calm from our hectic, often stressful lives. A holiday unlike the others we’d shared together. One where there was an unwritten, unspoken agreement that, as a group of girls who often take on the world and all it’s problems, this time we would adopt a continental pace. No rushing to ‘tick boxes’ and see the sights only to return home more harassed than when we’d set off from Stansted.
Our apartment was rented from Genteel Home (thankfully not a retirement village as we’d been ribbed by colleagues).
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The two bedroom (one hilariously bunk bedded) penthouse boasted not one but two terraces overlooking the Giralda, cathedral and Archivos de India.
By no coincidence (after all, I was the one doing the booking) there was a tapas bar below and an artisanal gelato café around 30 seconds from the door. A girl’s got to eat, right?
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Oh, and the shopping district was just a hop and skip too.
The area immediately around us was Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarter. A labyrinth of film set-esque alleyways, piqued by romantic courtyards of fountains, follies, vines, orange and lime trees. Beautiful.
We wound up on evening one at Las Teresas - one of the hottest tapas spots in the city – where people spilled out onto the alleyway from the thronging interior, hung with conker coloured Iberico jamon.
“What’s that?” My mate Karen asked a waiter passing by with a plate of some delicious stew as we eyed up the menu, simultaneously guzzling down sangria.
He looked puzzled. Not many locals speak English. She pointed at the plate he was holding, “Meat” he proclaimed boldly. “Okay,” she replied in her thick Dublin accent, “I’ll have one of those.”
Needless to say as Sarah, Debs and I tucked into our gut-busting plates of ham and tortilla, Karen’s meat (pig cheeks) didn’t materialise. With a bit of pointing, my cobbled together Spanish and a dusting of luck she got what she wanted in the end though and it was delicious.
The rest of the night was balmy, dreamlike and dare I say it romantic as we strolled in the moonlight, happening across courtyards, fragrant gardens and loads of giant, fairytale sized doors.
The evening ended more like a horror film however as a family of Aussies leapt at us when we opened the door leading to our terrace. Turns out we’d accidentally left it open while preening ourselves and they, thinking it was a communal space, had wandered up and been locked on the roof for four hours while we had a considerably nicer time enjoying Seville’s nightlife.
I have to say, they were quite good humoured. I’m not sure how I’d have coped without anything to nibble on for that amount of time, the scent of garlic and paprika pluming up from the restaurant underneath.
Starting the next day anew we sauntered to Cafe Genova for fresh fruit salad to mop up the sins of the night before, and for the speciality of pringa - a crusty roll filled with rillettes of Iberian pork, ham and chorizo. Delicious and cheap as chips - as most food in the city is.
It’s worth noting that food is consumed around six times a day in Seville - a habit we didn’t find it too difficult to adopt.
After a couple of hours ‘tat shopping’ we found ourselves eating miniature pastries at La Campana. They were ultra sweet (even for me) and definitely needed coffee alongside.
Just up the road (nothing’s too far in Seville) is the Metropol Parasol, referred to as a mushroom due to its otherworldly and, frankly, fungi-like appearance. The construction hosts a market during the day and for 3 Euros you can take a lift to the top, winding around the roof over pathways that bounce under your feet for some of the greatest views of the city.
I don’t have a head for heights but I managed it - just don’t go too close to the edge!
And more eating.
Do not miss the Mercado Lonja del Barranco on the (a little bit dodgy looking but perfectly fine) riverside. It is to use a more polite phrase than the one at the time, the bee’s knees.
While the setting doesn’t have the charm or beauty of say, Prague or Paris, the pavilion building is uber cool, spreading to two outside terraces and a bar.
Inside are around 20 artisan food stations from where you can buy various bites to enjoy in situ. Like a posh street food party.
Baked tiny new potatoes with mojo and verde dipping sauces. Pesto, ham, gorgonzola and saffron flavoured croquettes. Plates of the finest Spanish charcuterie. Gelato. Grilled garlic langoustines. Vegetarian tarts. It’s all there for your delectation.
After stuffing ourselves silly, thus missing the closing time of all major attractions, it was time for a siesta.
We couldn’t be bothered to get off our butts in the evening and whiled the night away on our terrace, the night chorus buzzing below, with girl chat, card games and chill out music streaming through Spotify. Dare I say there was a bit of karaoke as well?
With the best intentions to actually do some sightseeing and with Debbie’s trusty map (nicknamed Raymond after her box ticking father), our following day in sunny Spain was spent regarding the Plaza de Espana, built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition World Fair. What a place? The plaza is one of the largest destinations in Seville and gleams in the sun (take a fan and loads of water). At a brief glance you’ll be astonished by the sheer size of the place, its decorative tiled bridges arching over a faux river where you can hire boats - please as if we had the energy?
Look closer and you’ll discover every aspect of the semi-circular building is astounding and it’s so open and big you never feel crowded. This is where locals come to while away a Sunday afternoon. We even saw newlyweds popping up here there and everywhere having their album snaps taken. Opposite is Maria Luisa Park. Aside from one of the viewpoints where graffiti slags off some poor girl called Barbie, the park is a lovely spot to escape the sweltering heat and has an abundance of wildlife and plants to admire.
We hot footed it over to the Mercado one more time afterwards - just to make sure it was as good as we recalled, you see. And it was. We loved the fried gram flour pastry pizzas (coco) topped with sautéed vegetables. Debbie ingested the best part of perhaps the biggest bowl of hummus ever and Sarah, Karen and I ate tiny bright red chorizos from a paper cone. Beware of the fishbowl-sized sangria from the bar outside. I was away with the fairies after sniffing the concoction (heavily fuelled by around four spirits).
From here we took a different route back to the city proper, walking through a residential area.
Hand on heart, at one point it felt like we were in a Broadway musical. We happened upon a street where beautiful young ladies were fanning themselves on one side, while a bunch of Spanish stallions serenaded them from the other with a bit of a singsong and flamenco guitar.
Trying not to stare like tourists, we bypassed the show and decided to do a little bit of culture by popping into the cathedral – the third largest in the world.
Religious or not you cannot fail to be impressed by the cavernous space with its elaborate gold altar, ornate carvings and remarkable rose window. You won’t need long in here but do put it on your itinerary.
Dinner - yes we managed to squeeze it in - was chicken stuffed with dates, pistachios and ham, a risotto type thing and Iberian pork steak solomillo in the gorgeous Plaza de Dona Elvira. It was all going so well until the food arrived. A maestro was serenading the square with a few chords on the guitar. There was (kind of) cold cava. Lovers sat snuggled up to one another. Upon presentation of our meals the flamenco guitar was replaced by some dude wandering about singing Bob Marley! To be fair, he wasn’t half bad, but come on, talk about a way to spoil the atmosphere!
Our final day in Seville before our rush home was to the Alcazar, positioned two minutes from our apartment.
It’s the one thing you have to see.
If you’re short of time head for the middle building Palacio de Don Pedro with its central reflection pool, lapis stained carvings, jewel like studded doors and craftsmanship that will seriously wow you.
Then revel in the sublime, scented gardens with various ponds, a grotto walkway and gorgeous plantlife.
Afterwards make like a tourist and take a 45 minute tour of Seville by horse and carriage from the area immediately between the cathedral and Alcazar. Prices are set by the state at 45 Euros for four people and the horses seem to be well looked after, happy and groomed.
Your guide will stop to explain key features of the main sights and will even take a few holiday snaps for you.
A brilliantly relaxing way to end the trip.
Just don’t do as I did and go mad at duty free at the airport after all that chilling. Did I really need a few kilos worth of wine, turron, biscuits, chocolate and Toberlone? Yes, well I kind of did, but trying to carry hand luggage, a handbag and two finger-cutting carrier bags is not very elegant at all!
Stay at: Luxury Alcazar penthouse apartment, www.genteel-home.com
Metrapol Parasol www.metropolsevilla.com
Seville cathedral www.catedraldesevilla.es
Plaza de Espana www.andalucia.org
Las Teresas, Calle Santa Teresa
La Campana, Calle Sierpes, 1, 41004 Sevilla
Mercado Lonja del Barranco, www.mercadolonjadelbarranco.com/en/
Café Genova, www.genova-cafebar.es
1. Avoid July and August unless you want to get fried. We went in early June and the barometer was constantly in the high 30s or low 40s.
2. Do factor in a siesta. Most things shut early afternoon anyway and even if you can’t sleep, it’s a good chance to dip into that book you brought with you.
3. Brush up on your Spanish before you go, and a phrase book is essential. You will rarely come across a good English speaker, even at restaurants and tourist attractions.
4. Tapas should be priced at around 2Euros to 6Euros, Don’t get ripped off at pricier tourist traps.
5. The tram that runs through the heart of the city is a quick (and air-conditioned) way to get to and from the Plaza de Espana area.
6. Factor in at least half a day for the Alcazar. We spent just a few hours there and barely touched the surface.