Explore a civilised city in Southern Spain
Benidorm, booze, and sunburn sum up the stereotypical view of Southern Spain. Whilst this represents a small corner of the country – thanks Brits – it unfairly taints the vast swathes of the region which bask in the joys of great food, superlative weather and fascinating history. The jewel of the region is arguably, Seville. It’s the capital of Andalusia in the south east of Spain and is a great way to open your eyes to all that’s good about the country. Whether you’re going for an impromptu weekend or using it as a starting point to travel to the region’s cities and beaches, it’s a difficult place to get bored in.
What to see
The best way to kick off your holiday in Seville is by doing a walking tour. We chose Pancho Tours which operates a ‘pay what you think it’s worth’ policy. I’ve taken their tours before and their guides have always been lively and well informed. The highlight was the stunning Gothic Cathedral, the third-largest church in the world. We admired the outside as the entry price isn’t included in the ticket, but it was so impressive that we went back later that day and paid to get in. You don’t need to be a history expert to appreciate the blinged up gold and silver interiors and sheer magnificence of the surroundings on the lower floors. The fee also includes access to the tower and you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views of the city.
Another must visit is the Plaza de España, a huge square built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. It’s a big, bold and beguiling mash up of exposed brick, ceramics and wrought iron and has starred in loads of Hollywood films including Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode II and The Dictator. Absent from that list is Pirates of the Caribbean – but you can recreate the film yourself by forking out a very reasonable six euros for a boat to row under the bridges and around the gentle bends of the beautiful little waterway meandering round the monument.
One of the real joys of Seville is the possibility of discovering a bustling tapas bar hidden down an unassuming side street or a gelateria overflowing with mounds of homemade cold treats. With its winding alleyways and smart shopping areas, Seville is a great place to explore and whether you’re in the market for a new Flamenco outfit or just fancy an obscenely big ice-cream, you can easily spend a happy afternoon mooching around.
Where to stay
There are loads of options from fancy boutique hotels to hostels but we went for a self-catering option in the historic Macarena district in the north of the city. It was an easy walk into town but far away enough for it to feel local and homely. Our rather lovely one bedroom apartment in the Peral 56 building had all the facilities you’d expect plus a few nice extras – there were lists of the owners’ favourite tapas bars, loads of books and guides to the area and best of all, a great little roof terrace. There’s a smattering of sun loungers and easy chairs, so pop down to the supermarket and get a few cans or a bottle of the (very) reasonably priced local wine. When the temperature stays at 35C to the end of September, a cold beer sipped whilst watching the sun go down is a pleasure you can’t overestimate.
What to eat
Spain in inextricably linked with tapas and armed with our list from the apartment and a few taxi drivers’ recommendations, we tried a few each night. Our picks were:- Sidonia a few minutes walk from our apartment and a great place to eat and chill after a day’s travelling. Tapas is somewhat underselling it; expect small/medium plates of loveliness such as beef carpaccio, salmon with black tempura asparagus and some spectacular puddings. Although in some Spanish cities, notably Granada, tapas is free, you pay for it in Seville. However, pretty much everywhere we went was more than reasonably priced.
Five (very generous) small plates and a few drinks only set us back around £20 in Sidonia and it was a similar story at the renowned Eslava, a smart but inexpensive bar where we had to queue for an hour in order to enjoy such delights as slow-cooked egg served on boletus cake with caramelised wine reduction and roast pork ribs with honey. If you want something more traditional and sherry is your thing, go to what claims to be the oldest restaurant in Spain, El Rinconcillo. The tapas are basic but good quality, expect a lot of meat, cheese and other tasty morsels.
What to drink
Spain is a country where sherry is not just for Christmas and it’s a great place to begin a life long love affair with the stuff. Try a few, starting with the light, dry fino and ending with the gloriously sweet Pedro Ximenez. Wine especially, red is also abundant and at most places a glass of something decent won’t be above £3. The regional beer, Cruzcampo was ok, but not the best; I’d go for a San Miguel or the Granada favourite, Alhambra if you can get it.
Getting to Seville and getting around
Flights are pretty frequent, we went from Gatwick with BA but Ryanair also flies there; you may as well just go with what’s cheaper.
There’s a good variety of accommodation from big hotels, to chi chi boutique pieds a terre but if you want a bit more privacy and like to do you own cooking, I’d recommend an apartment. We stayed in a one bed, one bathroom apartmentwhich had everything we needed but if you want something bigger, Spain Holidaywho we booked through has a good range of sizes and prices.
Seville isn’t a huge city, it’s very walkable but there are also buses and local trains. Taxis aren’t too pricey and from the airport there’s a set fee for the journey into town so do a bit of research to make sure you know what you should be paying.
Seville is a brilliant city from which to explore other places. There are direct, cheap and reasonably fast trains to the lovely historical beach city of Cadiz and the sherry mecca of Jerez. Both are worth at least a day’s excursion.
The falling pound means that travelling to Europe certainly isn’t as cheap as it used to be, but Seville is still a good value option and you’ll probably be surprised by how little you spend for a top quality week or weekend away.
Words by Elizabeth Hotson