There’s no resisting Seville’s Spanish seduction
Let Madrid keep its noble plazas and majestic avenues. Great city that it is — and for sure, the Spanish capital has the allure and trappings of a self-important European city, with its bustling crowds and grandiose architecture — you can’t truly love Madrid. Oh sure, you can love what Madrid has to offer, but if you’re looking for your Spanish crush, turn your attention 500 kilometers to the south, where Seville beckons sweetly.
And who could resist falling head over heels for Seville? It is, after all, the hometown of Don Juan, the world’s most famous lover.
The Casco Antiguo district is the heart of Seville’s old quarter and home of the Alcázar, the Cathedral of St. Mary of the See, the Archivo de Indias and the Palace of San Telmo. We stayed at Hotel Casa 1800 in the district’s Santa Cruz’ neighborhood, literally in the shadow of the Giralda — a former Moorish minaret that was converted into the cathedral’s bell tower after the Christians reconquered southern Spain, known as Andalusia, during the Middle Ages.
While our room had no view (the window opened onto a narrow, interior atrium), it was well-appointed with a four-poster bed, beamed ceiling and unfinished brick wall — perfectly in character with the historic nature of the Santa Cruz neighborhood. The staff was friendly, attentive and fluent in both English and Spanish. Billed as a former “palace-house converted into a luxury hotel,” Casa 1800 was the perfect accommodation for a romantic Seville getaway.
From the hotel’s front door, it’s only a few steps to Bodega Santa Cruz where there’s almost always some kind of action at the open-air bar. To the delight of the tourists (but to the annoyance of our front desk receptionist) local street musicians dressed in traditional Spanish garb often hold court at the bodega.
Start your evening there with tapas and a tinto de verano, sort of the everyday man’s sangria, a red wine and lemon soda concoction that translates literally to “red wine of summer.” During our Spanish holiday, tinto de verano, jamón serrano and queso manchego were the basic building blocks of every meal.
But don’t spend all night at the Bodega Santa Cruz, no matter how tempting it might be. There’s plenty of other bars and restaurants worth checking out within just a few blocks. And while it’s easy to get lost in Santa Cruz’ narrow, winding streets, Just go with the flow and hop from one tapas bar to the next — you’ll find yourself back on course soon enough. If not, just have someone point you back in the direction of the cathedral. Or better yet, get directions to La Carboneria, a dive bar with cheap drinks (despite the high tourist quotient) and free Flamenco performances.
Flamenco is one of the great Andalusian contributions to the rest of the world. There seems to be some disagreement on Flamenco’s origins, though its widely accepted that it is heavily influenced by the arrival of the Romani people who came to Spain from North Africa in the 15th Century.
I’m no musical expert and certainly can’t critique the quality of the performance at La Carboneria, but as pure theater, it was impressive. The booming vocals were rich and filled with passion. My Spanish wasn’t nearly good enough to understand what was being said, but it sounded like a song of tragedy and despair. The staccato hand clapping and foot stomping were mesmerizing.
While I’d recommend spending a couple days in Seville, if you’re short on time, the “must see” attractions are the Seville Cathedral, the Alacazar and the Plaza de España. The Seville Cathedral, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, is a true architectural masterpiece, as well as the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. The cathedral, long with the Alacazar and the Archivo de Indias, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Built on the site of a mosque, the towering pillars and arches and ornate stone work are breathtaking. While we can thank the Christian Reconquista for leading to the construction of the cathedral, it might have been divine providence that the powers-that-be decided to leave the Giralda tower standing. Instead of tearing the minaret tower down, they built it even higher and converted it into the cathedral’s bell tower. The view from the top of the 343-foot tower is worth the climb.
If you’ve timed it right, after you’re done touring the cathedral, you’ll have time to go across the street and head for the rooftop bar at the Hotel Doña María. There, you can savor a cocktail and a nice view of the city. The afternoon we were there, we were the only non-Spanish patrons. The table next to us was filled with beautiful Spaniards who looked like they all came straight out of central casting for the latest Almodóvar film. I’m sure Don Juan would have approved.
Seville’s wily charms will delight you and leave you swooning. Don’t resist. Just enjoy.
All photos by Joe Newman.