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Seville, Spain 72-Hour Vacation

Savor Seville
On Tapas the World
By Elizabeth Bucceri

The Cathedral in Barrio de Santa Cruz
The Cathedral in Barrio de Santa Cruz

Few cities evoke the history, romance, beauty and passion of Seville. In the heart of the southern region of Andalucia, Seville conjures up images of swirling flamenco dancers, valiant bullfighters and labyrinthine stone passageways. Every plaza, courtyard and patio is enveloped in the rich scent of orange blossoms, while the distinct clap of castanets and classical guitar can be heard around every corner.

Seville may be known for its flamenco, bullfighting and history, but it is the people that carry the city's spirit. Every night, Sevillanos flood the city's bars and restaurants to eat, drink and be merry. To make the most of your trip, we suggest you do the same: slow down, sit back and take pleasure in all Seville has to offer.

Flamenco Dancer

Seville is a walking city, so all you really need to get around are your own two feet. While rental cars are available, parking is scarce and expensive, and besides, many streets in the central district—the Barrio de Santa Cruz—are too narrow to accommodate vehicles. Public buses are available but aren't really necessary as most of the tourist sites are within close proximity to one another.

Seville has a wide range of accommodations. At the upper end, the luxurious Hotel Alfonso XIII, just steps from the Alcazar, offers expansive guestrooms in Baroque, Castilian or Moorish design, high-speed Internet and Wi-Fi, butler and chauffeur service and a swimming pool. Another high-end option is the Hotel Casa Imperial, a 16th-century palace that features suites with individual indoor patios, private terraces and access to the Club Antares sports center, complete with saunas and a heated pool.

More modest choices include Hotel Alcantara, a basic, modern hotel in the heart of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, just minutes from shops, restaurants and major attractions. Around the corner is Hotel rey Alfonso X, boasting terraces with views of the Cathedral. Another option is the Taberna del Alabardero, a small 19th-century house near the Plaza Nueva renowned for its prestigious Andalucían restaurant, wine shop and cooking courses.

Those on a budget don't have to sacrifice amenities or style in Seville. The Hostal Goya, a centrally located hotel designed in Spanish style with traditional ironwork and ceramic tiles, features clean, basic rooms and private bathrooms. The Hotel Simon, once a private 18th-century mansion, has an antique-filled central courtyard and tiled rooms.

DAY 1

Rio Guadalquivir at Night
Rio Guadalquivir at Night

The Rio Guadalquivir runs through the center of Seville, dividing the city into east and west. You're likely to spend most of your time in the eastern sector, which is where the Barrio de Santa Cruz is located. This medieval Jewish quarter is one of the city's most charmingly atmospheric neighborhoods.

But first, begin by fueling up with a hearty breakfast at the Horno de San Buenaventura. There are half a dozen locations around town, but the one on Avenida de la Constitucion is conveniently located and overlooks the Cathedral. On the ground floor, you can grab a quick bite—toast, pastry or coffee—while the dining room upstairs offers full English, American or Spanish breakfasts; we like the tortilla Espanol, or potato omelet.

After breakfast, stroll through the maze of narrow, winding, picturesquely set alleyways and streets lined with white houses and bougainvillea-bedecked balconies. You'll pass a number of charming cafes and a plethora of petite public squares gracefully shaded and exotically scented by orange and jasmine blossoms. Don't worry about choosing a specific destination; explore randomly, take your time, and you'll discover all sorts of fascinating sights.

The barrio's El Centro, the geographical center of the city, houses the most popular landmarks: The Cathedral, Giralda and Alcazar. We don't recommend visiting them all on the same day, so instead start with the Cathedral and Giralda tower, the latter of which has spectacular views of the city and can help you get your bearings.

La Giralda Tower
La Giralda Tower

Located east of the main thoroughfare, Avenida de la Constitucion, the cathedral was built on the site of a former mosque. At the time, the Christians decreed: "Let us create such a structure that future generations will take us for lunatics." When the Gothic building was completed in 1507 (with some Renaissance touches added a few years later), they had indeed succeeded in putting together the largest cathedral in the world—an art, architecture and history museum rolled into one. Some of the church's stained glass windows are the originals set by Enrique Aleman in the 15th century, the golden age of stained glass design in Spain.

La Giralda, "The Rose of the Wind," looms on the northeastern side of the cathedral. Constructed during Islamic rule at the close of the 12th century, Giralda formerly functioned as the mosque's minaret. Identified by the bronze weather vane on top (known as giraldillo, or "little spinner," from which La Giralda takes its name), this is considered the loveliest building in Seville, and one of the most stellar displays of Islamic architecture on the planet. The crown jewel of the grounds is the Mudejar Palacio de Don Pedro, the intricacies of design rivaling Granada's Alhambra, though some view the orange tree courtyard as being just as majestic. The ascent up the bell chamber to the top of the Giralda is made easier by a series of ramps—built so guards could ride up on their horses. The panoramic vista afforded from this height is well worth the climb.

By this time you will no doubt be ready for a siesta. Though some say it's a dying tradition, the siesta is an important element to the life of Sevillanos, and we recommend following it as well. Most stores close from 2-5 p.m., and while many major attractions remain open, the heat of the day can be stifling. Instead, shift your schedule: opt for a late lunch and savor a much-needed afternoon break. That way, you'll be rested up for some Sevillian nightlife.

Calle Santa Maria La Blanca
Calle Santa Maria La Blanca
Begin by lunching at one of the many restaurants in the Santa Cruz district along Calle Santa Maria La Blanca. While popular for early evening and late night tapas, many are also open for lunch. Try Cafe Bar Carmela and order up one of the daily specials, such as seafood paella with shrimp, calamari and whitefish. Sharing several small plates is also a good bet; try the cheese torta with fresh tomato or the tortilla Carmela with potato, onion and pepper. After lunch, return to your room to avoid the midday heat and rest up for the busy night ahead.

Now that you're refreshed and rejuvenated, it's time to hit the town for a tapas crawl. Tapas, or small plates, are a practical solution to the fact that most Sevillanos—and Spaniards in general—eat much later than the rest of the world. In fact, many restaurants don't even open for dinner until 8 p.m. at the earliest. To hold you over until dinner, traditional tapas bars in the Barrio de Santa Cruz are Bar Entrecalles or Cafe Bar Las Teresas, both tiny places popular with locals. There are also dozens of places along Calle Mateos Gago; our favorite is Cafe Bar Patanchon. Try the ham cigars with mushrooms and cheese, the garlic prawns or the fried Camembert with raspberry sauce. Wash it all down with a glass of Spanish wine or sherry from the neighboring Cadiz province.

If you're still hungry, head to one of Seville's most renowned restaurants, Taberna del Alabardero, located in the hotel of the same name. In a 19th-century house, the restaurant features a seasonal Andalucían menu with local products. Appetizers may include such delights as red peppers stuffed with Iberian ham, couscous with tuna or scallop carpaccio, while mains include saffron monkfish, roasted wild boar or duck breast with fennel. The restaurant also boasts its own wine shop, with dozens of wines from throughout Spain. For a true insider's look into Andalucían cuisine, sign up for one of its evening cooking classes, focusing on topics such as traditional Lenten specialties and pastries.


MORE SEVILLE INFORMATION

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Virgen de la Macarena

* Cathedral photo from sevillaonline.es. Flamenco dancer photo from www.sol.com. Rio Guadalquivir and La Giralda photos from www.turismo.sevilla.org. Calle Santa Maria La Blanca photo from www.sevilla5.com.

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(Updated: 09/11/08 LH)

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