As a travel writer for a company with a thick tire tread in hundreds of international locales, I’ve written myriad publications, brochures and flowery copy about Spain, and I’ve become entranced with Southern Spain in particular. The tantalizing themes of passionate flamenco dancers, storied matadors and delightful indulgences of tapas and vino tinto worked their way into my mind’s file of must-see destinations, which are usually marked by less common sites such as Mt. Everest or Myanmar. So I traveled to Seville.
Located in the Andalusian area of Southern Spain, Seville, or “Sevilla,” is a storied city with rich Jewish, Islamic and Christian influences. Signs of its fascinating history and religious inspirations are everywhere, from the medieval castle walls and mosaic-lined windows to elaborate church facades and climbing minarets. We stayed in the Santa Cruz neighborhood where winding streets are lined with tapas bars and beautiful Andalusian patios spill into the streets. Rows of cafes, boutiques and terrace-adorned apartment buildings are punctuated with bright flowers, pretty courtyards and orange-tree-decorated plazas. Just walking along the cobblestones to take in these quaint touches is enough!
With only a few days to explore Seville, of course, we spent a morning at the iconic Cathedral. This Gothic 15th-century architectural masterpiece is one of the world’s most elaborate churches, and the Giralda Tower offers fantastic city panoramas. We spent an hour or so wondering through the massive interior and admired the ornate choir, Christopher Columbus’ memorial and art by Goya. It was a pretty fancy, impressive place!
The Real Alcazar, which was modeled after the famous Alhambra in Granada, is another highlight in the heart of Seville. I honestly wish that I loved architecture more. I appreciate it. I really do. But I don’t get overly excited about exploring acres and acres and room after room of intricate carvings, elaborate painted ceilings and tile-covered facades. It was very intriguing and, perhaps if I had a guide to tell me more about what I was seeing instead of a single Lonely Planet chapter, I wouldn’t have lost interest after the first hour. However, I’d be upset if I hadn’t see the world-renowned property, so I’ll accept it as a morning of enhancing my character and helping me become a better teammate at Trivia Pursuit. Check! The Real Alcazar is done.
Aside from the cool architectural sights of Seville, one of the best things about this city is its incredible food culture. Lively and authentic tapas bars are everywhere: tucked into alleys, perched above shoe stores, nestled in corners of desolate alleys. I’ll admit that I popped on Yelp to find one of the more popular neighborhood hangouts, and my mom and I found ourselves tucked over a tiny table on the crowded terrace of Bodega Santa Cruz. This famed tapas bar is a true, original Seville experience. The menu is written on a chalkboard, the beer and wine are cheap and the tapas are tasty. (Word of warning – tapas are not vegetarian friendly so we ate a lot of cheese and breaded tapas.)
Another awesome attribute of Seville is the abundance of flamenco dancers and performances. Whether tapping away on a street corner, swaying through tight corridors of a packed restaurant or dancing on a lone stage, the influences and sounds of this seductive dance seem to be everywhere. This bewitching and passionate dance was popularized in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and, through the centuries, it became infused with sounds of Levant, North Africa and India.
Perhaps our best evening in Seville was watching flamenco at La Carbonería. This lively bar is located in an old coal storage warehouse on the edge of the Santa Cruz neighborhood. Packed with locals and tourists alike, the atmosphere of this hangout is invigorating, welcoming and unpretentious. While drinking pitchers of cheap beer, we were rewarded with an engaging flamenco performance. Elaborately dressed calales twirled, sweated and clicked their castanets on a dirt floor stage to the lone strains of guitar music.
Then we also paid to see a much larger, highly publicized flamenco show. It was indeed impressive, flashy and entertaining, complete with a dozen or so dancers, many costume changes and about two hundred other viewers. The show was flashy and fun to watch, but I prefer the more laid-back environment at La Carbonería.
No, I don’t support bull fighting – in fact, it disgusts me – but when I travel, I try to immerse myself in the culture and learn about their local traditions, especially those that span centuries. So, against my better judgement, we went to the Plaza de toros de la Real Maestranza bullring. The architecture of the bullring was remarkably beautiful, and the very detailed museums offered tons of insight into the sport’s history. Our guide showed us decorative costumes from past matadors, as well as an array of espadas, or swords, and daggers. Many Sevillanos think of bullfighting as an art form entrenched in their culture even though it has been criticized by animal rights groups around the world. I tend to agree with the animal rights organizations.
I spent a few hours lazing in the sun at Plaza de España, one of the most picturesque panoramas in the city. This 540,000-square-foot Plaza de España features a giant, neo-Moorish building, a canal, fountains, cute foot bridges and a sprawling mosaic patio. It seems to be an afternoon hangout for locals. Kids ran free, lovers cuddled in horse carriages and families sailed miniature boats along the canals.
Finally, we spent a few hours meandering through Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes, which features art from the Middle Ages through the 20th century. Originally a convent, the museum has three tiled patios adorned with gorgeous mosaics and courtyards infused with lemon treas. The art itself became monotonous as much of it was religious based, and I certainly got my fill of Madonna and Child themes in Italy. But, the mosaics were breathtaking!
Three days passed much too quickly. I could easily spend another week exploring Seville’s diverse neighborhoods and trying out more tapas bars. I think this was also one my mom’s favorite destinations during our Spain trip.