Andalucía 1: Spring and Semana Santa in Seville
First stop on our Andalucía ‘road trip’ was stunning, sunny Seville. We arrived late on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday!) and the madness of Semana Santa was just setting in. We booked the trip knowing that we were hitting Spain in ‘holy week’ but didn’t quite grasp what that meant. The taxi dropped us about a 10 minute walk from fab airbnb (more on that in a bit…) as it was the closest it could get due to road closure. We dragged our suitcases along the cobbled streets through the throng assembling for the first of the processions that would continue all week. I kind of knew what to expect from the Spanish textbooks but James’ face as he weaved through ‘capirotes’ who, at first glance, look scarily similar to the Klu Klux Clan (I should stress they have no link whatsoever), was a picture!
Our apartment was an airbnb winner (link below) and was smack bang in the middle of the city near to Plaza Afalfa. I’d picked it as it’s walking distance from everywhere and, crucially, super close to the tapas centre of the city – Santa Cruz. Blanca, who met us on arrival, shared pages of recommendations and we spent the first evening sipping chilled beer and gorging on our first plates of tapas – croquetas, jamón, manchego, albondigas – around and about Plaza Afalfa. Bar Manolo and La Bodega were particularly buzzy and scrummy. We had planned to go further but the processions were now in full swing (capirotes carrying candles, marching bands and the first of the ‘pasos’ which are huge floats with life size Jesus and Marys carried by what seems to be nothing but trainer clad feet as the carriers' bodies are hidden under the intricate structures). We couldn't make it beyond the square without feeling we were committing a serious cultural faux pas, barging through the crowds of locals who'd guarded their spot for hours!
We were up bright and early the next morning for café con leche and pan con tomate to fuel us ahead of a bike tour of the city. It was totally hungover and dead until about 11am so this was a great time to squeeze in the ‘touristy’ stuff. Despite paying just 20 euros each, it ended up being just the two of us so I felt no constraint asking Luis, our fab guide, ALL the questions! We cruised round in the spring sunshine ticking off the big sights and filling up with geeky, cultural facts. The tour covered, amongst others, the cathedral, the Giralda (the big tower by the cathedral that used to be a minaret until they plonked a Christian bell-tower on top), Plaza de España (just STUNNING), the old tobacco factory (weirdly beautiful and amazing), the María Luisa park and the more trendy, developed area down on the river bank near to the Triana bridge, including Mercado Lonja del Barranco. At the end of the two and a half hour tour Luis took us for a drink in the shade and whipped out a map to share hints and tips for the rest of our time in Seville (which was only about 14 hours!). We then ended up eating lunch and drinking wine with him for a further two hours sat up at the bar at his favourite lunch spot, La Azotea (Calle Mateos Gago). It was absolutely delish and would be my top recommendation for tapas in the city. If you go alone for lunch I’d try and book as it sounds like it gets rammo. Sadly they don’t take bookings for dinner or at weekends.
3pm quickly came round and we had entry booked to El Alcázar. It was absolutely worth the visit but paled in comparison to La Alhambra in Granada which somewhat dwarfed its splendour. If you’re just visiting Seville though, it’s a fab way to get a fill of Moorish architecture with stunning arches, beautiful fountains (one of which has singing gargoyles…super cool and actually a lot classier than it sounds!) and calming gardens. We then whizzed round the cathedral (the line was gigantic but quickly dissipated and we used the wait as ideal tanning time!) and up the Giralda for views across the city. Despite being full to the brim from lunch we wandered up to Covento de Santa Agnes (Calle Doña María Coronel) for the novelty of buying cakes from nuns through a hatch in the wall. It’s a closed order so the nuns can’t interact with the public; you ding a bell, hear a cheery ‘buenas tardes’, place your order, pop your money into a swivvely device which turns round and there are the scrummy magdalenas. Novel and tasty!
Whilst the tempting idea of a siesta crossed our minds, we powered on and hopped over the river to wander down Calle Betis and enjoy Triana, the old gypsy quarter, in the late afternoon sun. We had drinks with a view (and yummy free prawns!) at El Mero and I lusted over the interiors of this perfectly located spot. There is a stunning roof terrace but we sadly hadn’t booked for dinner. With it being Semana Santa, they were chocabloc. We ended up eating at the un-reservable tables outside and the food – tapas again! – was fab. After a glass of wine and (more!) ham at a moody looking bar further down Calle Betis we were beaten and went back to crash…after navigating through all the processions. By now we were being much more Spanish about it and just ducking through the crowds and walking right through the proceedings!
Our final morning in Seville was a stunner of a day and we went for a 5km run down through Plaza de España and the park and then along the river. It was an absolute delight and the city was, once again, deserted pre 11am. We also needed to make some room for the marathon tapas eating we were managing… All that activity warranted a decent breakfast so, following Luis’ suggestion, we went to Pan y Piú and gorged on more café con leche and big, flaky croissants. After a wander around the (free) Inquisition Museum and the Mercado de Triana we made our way up to the main train station (Estación Santa Justa) to hire our car and head out to the countryside. Boring and practical but this was WAY easier than schlepping out to the airport and the drive out of town down Avenida de Kansas City (so weird…) was super easy.
We packed a ton into about 38 hours in Seville but I felt like we got a great feel for the city. It’s very do-able in a weekend and in full bloom mid-spring it was particularly delightful. October is also apparently a blissful time to visit.
· Apartment: https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/12692624
· Bike Tour: http://www.reallydiscover.com/
· El Alcázar tickets: http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/english-version/
· Swanky tapas bar La Azotea: http://laazoteasevilla.com/es/
· Riverside bar and restaurant El Mero: +34 955 27 11 61 (website no longer seems to exist!)
· Trendy market on the river Mercado Lonja del Barranco (again, no website): https://www.facebook.com/mercadolonjadelbarranco