The great Sevilla. Byron said it was ‘famous for oranges and women.’ V.S. Pritchett in his lovely book ‘The Spanish Temper’ claimed that ‘Seville is a city of shadows which tunnel under a dense foliage that is dead still, and pleasure seems to walk with one like a person’. That great travel poet Jan Morris spoke of the ‘dazzle of Seville’. It is not a city in need of writings. Less a hidden treasure like medieval Caceres or handsome and green Oviedo, and more a celebrated star of the south. A name synonymous with fine buildings, gorgeous women, plump oranges and searing heat. But it was also Seville where the now internationally famed tradition of tapas was allegedly born. Two days is never enough time to see a city, but it is enough time to gorge oneself silly and revel in the simmering heat and glow so unique to that part of the world.
El Kiki II: disappointing caracoles, Cruzcampo - that most terrible of beers, montadito de pringá
Los Coloniales: delicious chicken in almond sauce, wild mushroom croquetas, manzanilla sherry
El Rinconcillo (oldest tapas bar in the world 1670): cured sheep cheese, chickpeas with spinach and oloroso sherry
More than a decade of waiting to return to Seville. Memories had dissolved into a remembrance of bridges and towers and un-English winter warmth. Seville is as much about the visual as the sensory. Bars, hundreds of years old, hide; gastronomic halls of wood and bottles, down streets you could almost span with your arms. They bustle with tourists clutching cameras and maps, young locals in smart shirts and old gents tucked into their trousers and drinking sherries with focus. People are everywhere in Spring. They spill out of the cafes and eateries into the sun and you imagine that work is not a concept in which the city is well-versed. It seems hewn out of sunshine and colours in order that it be a playground for gluttons and good-timers.
For any hope of walking off lunch one must abscond to the much-peopled but still highly pleasant Alcazar, Seville’s Alhambra in miniature. A fortified complex of patios, palm trees, ponds and gardens that offers an aromatic space in the centre of the city. An old playground of Moorish kings, now one for the world. You leave through the charming patio of young orange trees by which painters paint and guitarists strum. Tiring of the tourists and the density of human nonsense one heads to that great charming Spanish river, the Guadalquivir. Over the bridge, past the lonely Moorish outpost of the Torre del Oro, one arrives at an affordable riverfront of restaurants and bars. A chance to drink sherries and beers and reflect on the beautiful cage you have just squeezed out of.
La Casa Blanca: ortiguillas (deep-fried sea anemone)
Some forgotten bar: carrillada al cabrales, solomillo al jerez, albóndigas
La Carbonería: manzanilla sherry
The evening is where Seville’s spell truly finishes binding. From a gin and tonic terrace the spotlit bulk of the absurd and monstrous cathedral could be viewed soaring up above the city’s low skyline. Sherry-addled and fuzzy, one bumps along silent dark streets where the tourists have chosen not to traverse. The glow of alcohol mixed with the gentle warmth of the Andalusian night causes one to relax fully and follow one’s leader without hesitation. In a high-ceiling room of white-washed bricks and wooden furnishings a man in a floral shirt claps his hands and wails mournfully from his throat. Beside him a guitar strums spasmodically and on his other side a piano jabs and tinkles in bursts. In front of him, sat on low wooden benches, locals and a few pale white and burnt faces sit; some enthusiastically clap in response or mutedly shout ‘olé’. Cante jondo, not born from frilly dresses and stamping boots, but the songs that rose from those ancient gypsy quarters and spread out from the lungs and the soul. Then a blizzard of thoughts struggling to be understood through the fifteen hours of consumption, and then sleep.
En la espero te esquina: mantecao de solomillo al whisky, salmorejo
Bolas: cheese, figs and Pedro Jimenez ice cream
Sunday in Seville is where the city fully embraces its stereotype and shows off its personality. A muscular warmth promised ferocious heat in the months to come. The winding cluster of streets, though predominantly white, are surprising for their colours. Pinks, reds, and yellows shared space with the bone-white walls so typical of the south. Bougainvillea crawled down the walls and marked the city’s difference to Cordoba and Granada. The sound of horses clipping by signalled the arrival of the beasts of burden that careened around the centre bearing visitors.
The river, moss-green, glimmered and the sevillanos, wearing their Sunday best, took drinks in the markets and bars or sat out on the banks. A well-heeled and somewhat over the top parade of pastel-coloured shirts, pressed chinos, blazers and gelled-back hair. Little girls ran around in pretty dresses, sometimes flamenco. Little boys were dressed up like shrunken middle-class fops. The prim Maestranza, that most elegant of bullrings, was busy with posh locals, dressed to the nines, renting little cushions and adjusting their Cordoba hats.
The world, in that April heat, shone and the city, a varied spectacle of grandeur and show, did not disappoint. The cathedral, that majestic hanger of Catholic power, though still decorated and excited with Moorish towers and frills, commands the city. Then perhaps the most beautiful square in Spain, the Plaza de España, built to entertain the whims of visitors in the 1929 Expo and still performing that function today. A Renaissance Revival arc of spires, bridges and water channels full of rowing boats. Tourists posed for photos, families splashed in the sun, gypsies forced rosemary on the uninitiated and the sevillanos promenaded past beautiful flamenco street dancers stomping on their wooden podiums.
Las Golondrinas: pork loin, muhsrooms with a spicy garlic créme
Freiduría Aloboreà: generic fried seafood platter
Time was not of the essence and after one ‘completes’ the surge through the sights it is nice to abscond even further from the crowds and head over the river to Triana. This is where that gypsy blood took hold of the spirit of Spain. Potters, sailors, and artisans mingled on the almost-island with bull-fighters, Romani people, flamenco singers and dancers. All Spain’s art mixed up in one neighbourhood. Deep in the belly of the area one still finds the places where the traditions - the songs and the dances - explode into life. For the weekend break it is enough to simply cross the bridge, gaze lovingly at the riverfront, which could be the Nile, and enter the bars. For that is what the normal, modern Spaniard does. After the promenades and the horses, the orange trees and the winding streets, Seville is still a Spanish city. Strip away the beautiful coat of history, climate and time and you are left with those central tenets of all Spanish settlements: food, conviviality, noise, vivacity, grace, relaxedness and life. This coat just happens to fit Seville better than most.