December 31, 2017
Seville is a city drowned in tradition. We visited the week before Christmas, and the athmosphere was as merry as it can get. Everybody is doing their Christmas shopping, buying Christmas sweets from the monasteries and famous bakeries and buying lottery tickets. Choirs are singing in the streets, brass bands are playing on the plazas, there are multiple Christmas markets, and because the temperatures are mild and the sun is out, everyone is outside. And the Spanish know how to party. Every evening after work the bars fill up, the terraces are crammed with rowdy groups of friends having a drink and some tapas or a coffee and some pastries. Dinner is only from 9 PM onwards, so they need something small to fill their stomach. On Friday and Saturday night it all becomes even more enthousiastic. There are always guitar players dramatically airing their love of Seville and its flamenco tradition. Even when they are not playing for money, they just walk the streets strumming and singing. Terraces are out year round here, one needs only the sun to have a drink or bite outside, for the cold one can dress and many terraces have heaters. So even in December Seville feels like a warm place!
We stayed at the romantic hotel Las Casas de la Juderia. The hotel is actualy a whole neighbourhoud of old Jewish houses restored into hotel rooms, preserving the numerous patios and underground tunnels that connect the different houses. There is a spa underground and the swimming pool on the roof. The lobby has a covered patio where you can have a drink, and there is a piano bar on the first floor consisiting of several connected sitting rooms, all decorated in the same romantic style.
The decoration of the rooms is plain, but has all the necessities like a mini bar, a hairdryer, a safe, toiletries, a TV, wifi and comfortable beds. In some rooms wifi connection is poor and you have to move into the patio to get connection. Our room was next to a patio so we had wifi connection in the room. The rooms are thin walled, and you hear it when others pass in the hallways or patios. Best take some earplugs, or ask for a room on the upper floors or away from the front desk. The rooms are cheaply priced if you choose to go in low season, but can be become quite expensive when travelling on popular moments like Easter, late spring or early autumn. We only booked a economical room and no breakfast. We enjoyed tea in the afternoon in the piano bar, and loved strolling through the different parts of the hotel.
It is easy to get a decent and cheap breakfast outside the hotel. We had breakfast at Bar Alfalfa, a cosy local bar, where a breakfast for two costs less than ten euros. Do not forget to look up at the facade when you leave, the bar is located in a beautiful building.
We also tried Jester just 50 m away from the hotel. You can have a bagel with egg and bacon an acai bowl or a croissant, with a smoothie or a coffee. The seating is outside under the orange trees.
And another great local place was Café-Bar Los Alcázares on calle Regina, just behind Metropol Parasol. Here we had breakfast for two for seven euros and the great local atmosphere was included!
Sevilla is a medium sized city and most sights can easily be reached on foot. It is easy to get lost because the city plan is an intricate maze of small streets. So always take a map with you or use google maps on your phone.
We found some great tapa bars on our five day trip. We can higly recommend all the following. We ate three times at La Bartola. It was just two steps away from our hotel, the kitchen is open all day, so you can have an early dinner here, their tapas are original, diverse and really yummy, and the place has a great informal and cosy style. The waiters are fluent in English, so the place is a favourite for many tourists.
Another great place but a bit more stiff is El Pasaje Santa María la Blanca. Also two steps from our hotel, and their tapas are real gems in taste and colour. The atmosphere is a bit cold and the service a bit too formal.
The most expensive place we ate was at La Azotea Santa Cruz close to the Cathedral and Real Alcazar. The food is good, but a bit overpriced. The place seems very popular with Asian tourists, and the restaurants clearly markets to tourists.
Another restaurant in the area of the Cathedral and the Real Alcazar is Mamarracha Tapas y Brasas. They specialize in meat on the grill and seafood. The food is really good, the service very friendly and the place is very popular. We arrived a bit befor 2 PM for lunch and half an hour later a huge queue was already lining up for a table. Best come early or make a reservation.
The best an cheapest place we had tapas was at Sal Gorda. The dishes are very tasty, original and really cheap. The service friendly and swift. And we had the typical Sevillan dessert ‘tocino de cielo’ with a twist with passion fruit crème on top!
We also had lunch at the oldest bar-restaurant of Seville: El Rinconcillo (since 1670). Get here on time because the place is popular with tourists and locals alike. Here you get the traditional style tapas. Try the spinach with chick peas and enjoy the warm old style decoration and noisy atmosphere.
If you are looking for something else than tapas, La Gallina Bianca is an Italian restaurant with a varied menu also located in the Jewish quarter.
Sevilla has many beautiful sights, the Real Alcazar and the Cathedral as the most famous among them.
Just next to our hotel is one of the many churches of Seville: Iglesia Santa Maria la Blanca. This church was originally a mosque, that later became a synagogue, and was converted into a catholic church in 1391, when the jewish community was forced to convert to christianity. The baroque church holds a painting by Murillo.
Since our first day predicted to be cloudy with rain, we decided to visit the Musea de Bellas Artes – museum of Fine Arts of Seville. The museum mainly shows works by important Spanish artists from the medieval period to the 20th century. The museum is housed in a convent built in 1662 in mudéjar style. The building alone is worht a visit. The entrance is free for European citizens and costs 2,5 euro for all others. At the time of our visit there was a beautiful exhibition of the works of Murillo: Murillo and the Capuchin order of Seville. It brings together a vast number of restored paintings by the Sevillen painter in the chapel of the museum. During 2018 Seville has a Murillo itinerary through the city. In front of the museum stands a statue of Murillo.
In the evening we visited Plaza de Espana in Parque de María Luisa built in 1928 for the Iberico-American exposition in 1929. It is a landmark example of Regionalism Architecture, mixing elements of the Renaissance Revival and Neo-Mudéjar styles of Spanish architecture. Tiles depict each province of Spain and in the middle of the Plaza is a lake and a large fountain. We took pictures of the iluminated Plaza and returned two day later to see it in daylight. It was a quiet place in the evening and a very busy one during the day.
We were delighted by the street flamenco performance on the plaza in front of the Central building. It is so much nicer to see flamenco informally outdoors, than to have to book a seat for one of the evening performances.
Next day we visited the Real Alcazar. This is the royal palace in Seville, originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. The palace is renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as their official Seville residence. It is the oldest royal palaces still in use in Europe, and was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The Alcázar, which started as a Moorish fortress in 913, expanded into a palace in the mid 14th Century. Not only the palace and the baths but also the gardens are of a fairytale quality. It has been used several times as backdrop for films. The most famous are Lawrence of Arabia and the series Game of Thrones. The Alcazar is a must see!
Only 50 m away from the Alcazar stands the Cathedral which we visited the next day. It was a Sunday and before lunch there was mass, so you could only visit a small part of the Cathedral. We went for lunch first and returned around 2 PM to visit the Cathedral. Christopher Columbus has a beautiful tomb in the Cathedral. The cathedral is built on the rmains of a mosque of which only the tower remains. The original mosque was built in 1182. In 1248 the mosque was converted into the cities cathedral. In July 1401, city leaders decided to build a new cathedral to replace the grand mosque that served as the cathedral until then. Construction continued until 1506. It is the third-largest church in the world, the largest Gothic church, and the largest cathedral in the world. The builders preserved some elements from the ancient mosque and some original parts can be seen in the Patio de los Naranjos. The minaret of the mosque is now the Giralda or the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville. Seville Cathedral has fifteen doors on its four facades. On the plaza next to the cathedral a christmas market selling nativity figurines is held in December.
On the fourth day I decide to buy convent cookies. Seville is famous for its convent cookies. There are numerous convents all over the city and many are famous for their tasty pastries and cookies. In many convents nuns live secluded and you do not get to see them when buying sweets. They use a kind of turnstile to give you the cookies. We first walked over to the convent de Santa Leandro on plaza de San Idelfonso.
We visited the place but did not buy anything. We visited Metropol Parasol, a huge wooden construcion locally known as Las Setas de la Encarnación – Incarnación’s Mushrooms – resembling huge mushrooms. On top you have fantastic views over the city center. Underground is the Antiquarium, where Roman and Moorish remains were discovered during the construction of the structure.
We continued to the convent de Santa Ines. Here we pushed the bell next to the turnstile and ordered two kinds of cookies from the hidden nun behind the door.
Before lunch we visited the Palacio de las Duenas, a beautiful city palace that belonged to the duke of Alba since 1612. Built between the 15th and 16th centuries, Las Dueñas was named after the currently dissapeared monastery of Santa María de las Dueñas, placed in the adjoining plot and demolished in 1868. You can visit the ground floor and the gardens.
After lunch we continues to the convent of Santa Paula which was unfortunately closed. We eventually bought naranjitos in the convent of Madre de Dios close to our hotel in the Jewish quarter. In the evening we walked to the Alameda de Hercules, which was a bit of a dissapointment.
On our last day we walked in the direction of the river and crossed into Triana district where we visited the Mercado de Triana, with stalls filled with fresh produce and where you can also eat something. We walked back on the shore of the river past the Torre del Oro – Golden Tower (13th century) built in order to control access to Seville via the Guadalquivir river. Its name comes from the golden shine it projects on the river, as a result of the building materials used.
In between our visits we did some shopping. Seville is a great place for shopping. The main shopping streets are calle Sierpes and calle Tetuan. Here you find all the main chain stores. On Plaza del Duque you find El Corte Inglés, the most famous department store of Spain. Soho Benita is a collective of conceptstores where you can find local design, art, antique, fair trade, restaurants and galleries.
Seville is a great destination for a city trip. It has art, architecture, shopping, food, bars and nightlife, tradition, is great for walking and wandering, it has a river, a mild climate, friendly people and is reasonably priced. It can easily compete with Madrid or Barcelona as destination. You should visit but try to choose the low season to avoid crowds and queues.