A rooftop view of Seville with the iconic Giralda tower illuminated in the background. :: A. FORBES
Intoxicate your senses this season in Andalucía’s capital city
The warm spring air is fragranced with citrus; a delicate, evocative orange scent that fires the imagination and transports to you other times and places. Walking the stone cobbled streets, my pace slowed to breath in the air. A little later the street narrowed and was cast completely in shade by a high wall, with just a single, leaning palm tree punctuating the expanse of clear blue sky visible above.
On my right, through the open doors of the bar, I hear chatter and laughter, and stepping inside I capture a timeless snapshot of Seville life. Cured Andalusian hams and dried peppers hang from the timber ceiling of cracked beams. A few wooden stools stand empty by the hardwood bar that sweeps through the space, whilst in alcoves under the windows are vintage tiled benches built into the wall. This is ‘Las Teresas’ and our stop for the first tapa of the day.
Expertly carved, paper-thin ham is served without complication on a simple plate, accompanied by a chilled glass of fino. The rich, melt-in-the-mouth jamón ibérico goes so well with the dryness of the sherry. Eating simple, artisan food with genuine provenance is a pleasure, but somehow even better here in an authentic bar in Seville’s historic Santa Cruz neighbourhood.
I’m immersing myself in the flavours of Seville, and taking a tapas tour with Shawn Hennessey, a Canadian who has made Seville her home since 1993. Her passion for the city and its unique interpretation of Andalucía’s ubiquitous tasty snacks led her to set up her own tour business, Azahar Sevilla Tapas Tours.
This city of palaces, churches, museums, galleries and some of Spain’s best boutique hotels offers an intoxicating experience for the visitor. The capital has an uncompromising culture where bullfighting and flamenco are as much a part of modern life as commerce and trade. One of the best ways to see, feel, and taste the richness of life here is to simply take a tapas tour. Wandering from bar to bar offers the opportunity to meet the locals, try contemporary and traditional dishes, discover characterful neighbourhood bars, see the historic architecture and allow yourself to be captivated by the atmosphere of this vibrant city.
A little later we are back out into the spring sunshine, walking to the next bar.
The Giralda, Seville’s iconic twelfth century cathedral bell tower greets us at the end of the street. As we head across the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, the sound of the tourist horses and carriages fill the air. Here, at the heart of Seville, one sees the monumental grandeur that reflects the city’s eminent past; from the middle ages through to its Golden Age in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when the city was awarded the Royal monopoly of trade with Spain´s new colonies in the Americas.
This was the time when immense wealth was accumulated and extravagant ‘casa palacios’ were built throughout Seville. Some of these mansions still remain private aristocratic homes, whilst others have now been converted into boutique hotels, such as the ‘Corral del Rey’. Located either side of a narrow cobbled street barely wide enough for a car to pass, Corral del Rey has renovated two historic properties, bringing them together as a stylish, chic urban escape.
Close to the Cathedral and Alcazar Arab fort, the hotel can be found in the Barrio Alfalfa, part of Seville’s labyrinthine old town. The main house, a seventeenth century mansion, has a classic Sevillano patio that is open up through all the three floors, surrounded by ancient arches, carved wooden ceilings and medieval Mudéjar doors. This gives it an atmospheric, ‘riad’ feel and is very evocative of the Al-Andalus period of Seville’s history.
The options for accommodation in Seville are immense from grand hotels to quirky B&Bs, but there’s something about staying in a genuine city mansion house that further adds to the Seville experience. Many of the rather plush rooms at Corral del Rey retain original architectural features, and are furnished with antiques, but the ambience is still on trend with contemporary art, and those modern essentials like an iPod dock, plasma TV and fast Wi-Fi! There’s also a rooftop terrace that offers a ‘wow’ view over rooftops to the Giralda, the place for breakfast in Spring or a night cap at the end of the day, under the stars.
By the time we reach the next stop, ‘Bodequito Romero’ lunchtime is in full swing, with the bar crowded and most of the seats taken. We find a place in the corner, and as the tapas menu is placed on the table so is a complimentary tapa, a plate of potato salad, homemade by the bar restaurant owner Pedro to a family recipe that uses olive oil and sherry vinegar for a distinctive and appetising flavour. Shawn orders for us a speciality, ‘pringá’. For the uninitiated, this is pork and chorizo, slow cooked until the meat is so tender it falls apart; served in a tasty bread roll, it’s a delicious, indulgent treat.
This leisurely way of eating is very sociable, sharing food and conversation. There is one more stop to make, a visit to La Azotea, a fashionable eatery that brings a more contemporary style to classic plates, whilst retaining the focus on quality. Juan, behind the bar, offers us glasses of fino, whilst Shawn orders a sharing plate of tiny clams, ‘coquinas’, in a garlic, white wine sauce with fried baby artichoke.
On the way back to Hotel Corral del Rey, we take a small detour to indulge ourselves with one of the best views in Seville, from the elevated walkway above the ‘Metropol Parasol’, the huge wooden structure that spans the La Encarnación square. From up here, on top of what the locals cheekily call ‘Las Setas’ or the mushrooms thanks to its organic design, one can take in a three-sixty view that seems a perfect way to complete our sensory-rich day.
Oh, and that citrus fragrance that seems almost everywhere at this time of year in Seville is called ‘Azahar’, the Spanish for orange blossom, taken from al-zahr, the Arabic word for flower. The Moors brought oranges to Andalucía almost a thousand years ago, and now evergreen Seville Orange trees (think British breakfast marmalade) line so many of the city streets that their perfumed white flowers have become the signature fragrance of the city.