It’s often said that even the best of mothers have a favorite child, for us, Seville was the favorite child- The best city of our trip. The place where we truly experienced Spain and Andalucía.
First a bit of history (Yes with me history is obvious) Seville was once the most important city in Spain. Ships from here would facilitate trade between Europe and the entire new world of Americas. As its river silted up, access to the ocean dried up and better port cities opened up Seville went into a slowdown- But its culture and enterprise still thrived. But even before this there were interesting events in Seville. Most of Spain was under Muslim rule and called as Al Andalus ( thus the name Andalucía) for many centuries leaving their imprint which is visible even today. (It is said that this was a golden age of enlightenment where scientific knowledge and tolerance co-existed- Barrack Obama too referred to the same during his historic speech in Cairo) However, the catholic kings slowly over the course of many centuries defeated the Muslim Arab rulers and finally united all of Spain only in 1492.
Everyone travels for different reasons—luxury, de-stressing, history, adventure and more. But at a very simple dumbed down level the travels that we enjoy the most are the ones that make us feel something. Something special, something memorable. Seville was exactly that. Made us feel special. It charmed us with its streets, caressed our taste buds, delighted us with its small quaint villages and impressed us with its historical monuments.
So let me start recounting the days in Seville and around.
Kuch Meetha Ho Jaye ( lets have something sweet) That’s how Indians celebrate and that’s how our trip in Seville began ( well before that we had an early morning flight, a pleasant drive and meeting our wonderful host – the most friendly among all our AirBnB hosts – Susanna )
The beginning was the Spanish specialty of Churros and Chocolate. These are fluffy and lightly flavored fried dough sticks had by dipping in thick rick chocolate.
We had these at the cafe at the Hotel Puerta de Sevillea a historic boutique hotel. But the Churros were made not by the hotel but by a local guy who comes and sets up shop there. We noticed a bunch of locals enjoying as well as packing churros after their Sunday morning mass. Generally, a place where locals visit is a great spot.
Churros done we proceeded to WALK. Yes, the best way to explore small cities and towns is to just walk these quaint roads and soak it all in. And Seville has many of them..…. Small cobblestoned streets –no vehicles and interspersed with cafes and souvenir shops. As you walk on these pretty parts you are transported to medieval ages—you can imagine, knights, common folk walking, conspiracies being hatched, succession wars. Getting lost here is part of the fun.
Streets of Seville
Charged up with coffee we continued towards the central square to come across this historic fountain. From there we moved to one of the prettiest parts of town—The Jewish quarter. Almost all Spanish cities and more so in Andalucía have the three things a church/ cathedral, an Alcazar (or fort/palace) and a Jewish Quarter. The Jewish quarter here was quaint and pretty— again small streets but really well decorated with really friendly people. (In Spain people really really love their floral decorations) what struck me here is how these streets remain so clean and pretty despite so many restaurants. It’s one thing to build clean cities like Singapore, Dubai but doing so in a place which is 500+ years old is surprising.
Done with the Jewish quarter walk we went into the cathedral and what a cathedral it was – The world’s 3rd largest cathedral and the largest Gothic one in the world! You walk in and see the stunning nave and altar.
As with many cathedrals in Spain, this was originally a mosque, which was first chrisitianized ( by installing an altar and changing the orientation ) and then destroyed and converted into a cathedral. But in Seville , they didn’t want to build just another cathedral– In their words “Lets build a church so beautiful that those who see it, think we were mad”. No wonder it took them more than 100 years to make.
Facets of the Cathedral
Among the other important delights here – The tomb of Christopher Columbus – the man who discovered America. Apparently, his body traveled as much as he did till finally resting in the city where his ambitious plan to find a sea route to India was approved. Other important things here are brilliant pieces of art such as and in the treasury a jewelry box from Gujarat, India.
Monuments done we move to a unique Spanish experience- A Blood Sport- Bull Fighting
Indeed, Bull fighting is very very controversial – Animals are used for entertaining slaughter, it’s barbaric and possibly medieval. But Spain is also one of the only 3 countries where it still happens and is very popular here. So we just had to experience it. The pageantry, the pomp was brilliant. In a moderately big stadium with an evening sun –it did feel like a roman arena. In the course of a typical bull fight, 6 bulls fight one by one with different types of matadors with the chief ones finally killing it off leaving behind blood and gore on the ground. I wouldn’t go into the details of the kills and the sport. The sight of locals enjoying an evening of sport and admiring with rousing applause flourishes in style, deft moves and the final plunge of the sword– It was surreal. It is practically like you being in Lords and giving a gently clapping to an elegant flick for a boundary, only here with a flick the matador dodges a multi ton beast trying to save himself…. Majestuoso
Day 2 began with a trip out of Seville into the countryside for what is called the white villages. This was the only “guided tour” we took and were a bit disappointed- My advice avoid guided tours where possible. In this tour, we covered 2 white villages (Zahara de la Sierra and Guadalquivir), views of a stunning lake and finally the historic Ronda
The villages are the small ones with populations of around 7 to 10k. But are completely white washed and decorated with flowers everywhere. No monuments to see but just experience the views, stroll the pretty streets, sample local delights like a peculiar goat cheese and pastries and pause and reflect….
The final stop Ronda, an old village city occupied since roman times is famous for its iconic bridge( actually there are 2-3 of them-built by romans, then Arabs and then Christians). It was great to go search for this old bridge through narrow winding medieval stairs. In the process, we also discovered the age old Arab Baths of Ronda
Also on the trip, we stopped at a dilapidated castle. As with most castles this too was purely for military reasons, however, this was not to guard a territory but to secure the underground natural water reservoir. The ramparts tempt you to act as archer protecting this arid region’s gold—its precious water.
It’s time to go to the “Pig Cheeks” mentioned in the title—that is time for gastronomy which was incredible here. Now is a time to give a shoutout to one of my favorite food bloggers Kalyan ( http://www.finelychopped.net/2013/02/in-shawn-hennesseys-seville.html ) whose blogs helped me zero in on some great dining options in Seville. His blog also led me to another one due to which I discovered Los Galondrinas 2 (http://azahar-sevilla.com/sevilletapas/2008/02/las-golondrinas-ii/ ) where I had the aforementioned pig cheeks. Also an exquisite squid.
This highly recommended restaurant is frequented by locals enjoying their evening tapas and drinks. (The concept of Tapas are just small portions, ideal for doing bar walks – a drink, a small meal conversations and then off to the next stop.) This restaurant is located in Triana a lovely suburb of Seville famous for its ceramic tiles which are used all over Seville to decorate streets to royal houses. To reach Triana one has to cross a pretty bridge over the local river.
Coming back to the food despite sounding weird, it did taste good –soft and flavorful meat carved from the cheeks obviously.
Other great gastronomy delights were a light and lovely pig stew at La Teresa paired with Spanish champagne. Great seafood at Café Gusto—we had an intense black pasta, roast chicken, and lobster pasta too. A special mention for the flavorful oxtail at Vineria San Telmo. The first day we were too late to this restaurant—it shuts at midnight on weekdays ( How un-Spanish ) So we made it a point to be on time the next day and we were not disappointed—Succulent meat in filo pastries and we also sampled that piece of forbidden heaven known as Foie Gras. Simply Brilliant. But still, the oxtail was the winner of the night.
It was also in Seville that I sampled for the first time the Tinto Verrano – this refreshing Spanish wine based cocktail. The Spanish, unlike the French, are not in uptight about their wine and love to play with it enhancing it to another level much more suited to its relaxed vibe and weather.
The only major major disappointment we somehow missed out on food pics (we compensated in other cities) and thus no food porn pics
Enough of gastronomy- let’s look at our final day with the most important of places in Seville – Its royal fort and palace known as Alcazar. Also, the place where Dorne of Game of Thrones is shot.
Having the same view as the royals of House Martell
The Alcazar also has the royal quarters where the current royal family stays when they visit Seville. The quarters make for an amazing 45 minute tour. But make sure that you book it in advance as you can never just walk in and get the ticket. Though highly controlled with no photography allowed, it was good to get a close look at how the royals of the past lived, the changes in furnishing which went in sync with their political condition and beliefs.
Parts of the Alcazar
Once the royal tour was done we started with seeing the different amazing parts of the Alcazar and its fabulous gardens.
It was here that we saw the hall where Queen Isabella agreed to fund Christopher Columbus’ journey and a replica of Columbus’ ships that discovered America. Also the medieval palaces and wonderful rooms at times ostentatious at times functional never boring.
We then moved to the beautiful open public space of La Esapana and Maria Lucia Park. But not before watching talented street performers enthralling us with a rendition of the famous flamenco dance.
La Espana was a pavilion built for an expo in the 1920s. The pavilion –just like our very own Pragati Maidan.
It highlights the different architectural styles of Seville from the Islamic Mudejar to the gothic and interspersed with the famous ceramic.
Adjoining it is the lovely gardens of Maria Lucia —
Cool green park with fountains and occasional animals makes for a wonderful place for picnic or cycle rides or just romantics walks…
To conclude our sevillian sojourn we had a nice walk in the main tourist district and admired the cathedral and its tower one last time—this time at night.
Seville will forever remain with me. In school, I had read a phrase—Like a perfume so hard to describe so easy to recognize. That’s what Seville’s charm for us was.
Bye bye Seville