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Seville | The Macarena Neighbourhood

No, we’re not talking about the 1990s dance craze (though there’s a loose connection), or about the football stadium in Rio de Janeiro (it’s not even spelt that way). We’re talking about the neighbourhood of La Macarena that forms the northeast quarter of the historic centre of Seville in Spain. A largely residential area away from the main monuments – the Cathedral and Alcázar Palace – and its more touristy neighbour the Santa Cruz, the Macarena’s working class roots (it is said to have once been the poorest slum in Spain) give it an authentic local atmosphere with plenty to see and do.

macarena (2)La Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena

The name itself is thought to come either from Macarius, a wealthy Roman said to have owned a lot of land in the area, or more probably from Bab-al-Makrin, the Moorish name for the Macarena city gate that still stands at the northern end of San Luis street, next to the longest surviving section of the mediaeval city wall that was built to enclose the new northern extension of the city in the 11th century.

The Macarena’s greatest claim to fame is probably the statue of La Virgen de la Esperanza de la Macarena, the Virgin of Hope, the most popular of the statues of the Virgin that take part in the city’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions. She was created in the late 17th century, probably by the famous sculptor Pedro Roldán and/or his daughter Luisa, and is the patroness of bullfighters. Even today, her appearance in the pre-dawn hours of Good Friday draws huge crowds onto the streets. She can normally be seen in the Basilica of Macarena, beside the city gate.

macarena (1)the Macarena Gate

La Macarena is also home to the city’s oldest provisions market, on Calle Feria, and to the oldest street market in Europe, El Jueves, the Thursday market. This antiques/second-hand/bric-a-brac market got its charter in the 13th century, and is still a fun place to come and look for a bargain, or just to feel the vibe. The provisions market, mentioned by Cervantes, moved off the street into its current quarters next to the Omnium Sanctorum church in the 18th century. Come here for all that fresh fish and fruit and veg, and the little bars around the outside, especially La Cantina, which serves the freshest seafood tapas in Seville. Behind the market, in the Palacio Algaba, you can also find Seville’s Mudejar Centre, a small museum that celebrates the culture and achievements of the city’s Moorish period. Worth a visit to find out how the past has influenced the present.mercado feria entrance to the Feria Market

One of my favourite things to so, here as in other parts of Seville, is just to wander around the neighbourhood streets, and see what you stumble across. For me, surprise treats have included some of the artesan workshops, particularly Rompemoldes, the old San Luis church, the Garden of the Moorish king, and the faded splendour of the Pumarejo Palace. Rent one of our apartments in the neighbourhood as abase and just go exploring this whole other Seville.

Seville | The New Aquarium

I was rooted to the spot as the big shark turned lazily above me then dived swiftly downwards, a streamlined silhouette against the light shining on the surface of the water. Was this it? Was this how it was going to end?

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Fortunately not. The shark was inside the big tank at Seville’s newest attraction, the Acuario de Sevilla, and I was safely outside, along with what seemed like a hundred other journalists and bloggers who’d come to the press event to mark the grand opening last Tuesday. The dignitaries would arrive shortly for the announcements and photo ops, but me, I was just there for the fish.

And there were fish aplenty. According to the handouts about 7000 specimens belonging to 400 species, distributed through 40 specially built tanks. There were also crocodiles, turtles, crabs and other denizens of the deep to delight, and sometimes amaze the eye. There was also a display of some of the junk that gets fished out of the sea, just to get you thinking a bit.

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The sharks were the obvious stars of the show, but my favourites were some of the less obvious exhibits, such as the octopus and the cuttlefish, and those unfish-like fish the rays and skates. And the swarms of tropical fish. And the crocodiles. And – well, you get the picture. Or in this case, pictures.

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The new aquarium has been a long time coming, with not a few delays to the completion of the project, but now it’s here it’s a welcome addition to the activities and attractions that Seville has to offer, especially for children when the weather is either too hot or too wet. You can find it at the far end of the Las Delicias Wharf where the cruise ships berth, an area that has been undergoing a lot of renovation in recent years, and now boasting a riverside walk and a number of bars and restaurants.

If you’re looking for somewhere to stay veoapartment has a wide range of apartments nearby.

Seville Aquarium

Calle Santiago Montoto (Puerto las Delicias)
Opening hours Mon-Thur 10am to 7 pm (Nov-Feb)
10am-8pm (Mar-Oct)
Fri- Sun 10am – 9pm (10pm Mar-Aug)
Tickets €15 adults €10 children, disabled, pensioners. Discounts for families and groups.

Cordoba | The Palacio de Viana

About an hour and a half away from Seville by train, Cordoba is one of Spain’s great old cities, once the capital of Moorish al-Andalus and regarded as one of the most enlightened, sophisticated cities of the European Middle Ages. It was a place where Moslems, Jews and Christians lived for the most part harmoniously, creating a cultured, intellectual life that was not to be equalled again for many centuries. It’s famous above all for the Mezquita, the Grand Mosque of the Caliphs of Cordoba, but away from the monumental area it is also a city for people, and one of its most captivating aspects is that it is a city of flowers.

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This is best shown by the festival of the Patios of Cordoba, which is held every May, when the private patios of many buildings, with their plants and fountains, are opened to the public, but streets adorned with the typical blue flower pots of the city are common all year round. In the spring and summer months they are alive with flowers and I love to visit the city at this time of year to enjoy its colours and smells.

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viana cordoba (4)

Not surprising, then, that one of my favourite places to go in Cordoba is the Palacio Viana, also known as the patio museum. Now about 500 years old, it originally belonged to the Marqueses de Villaseca, and acquired its modern name when it was bought by the Marquis of Viana in the late 19th century. It was eventually sold to the CajaSur foundation in 1982, and turned into a museum. From relatively small beginnings it has grown over the centuries by buying up surrounding properties, and now boasts no fewer than 12 patios, as well as the main garden.

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The modern grand entrance into the Patio de Recibo was built to impress visitors with the wealth and power of the owners, and features a colonnade around the perimeter. To one side is the carriage house, where you can see the Marquis’s carriage and (a personal favourite) a sedan chair, which looks really heavy for four men to carry! From here you go into the older parts of the palace. The little Patio de Los Gatos, or courtyard of the cats, will certainly charm you as it always charms me. In mediaeval times it was a Patio de Vecinos (neighbours), where the common people lived, and to one side is the palace kitchen of the early 20th century.

viana cordoba (1)

Beyond that are the Patio of the Oranges (a Moorish style garden), the Patio de las Rejas, which means bars or gratings, which gets its name from the bars that separate it from the street, and allowed those outside to look enviously at those inside, and the Patio de La Madama (the lady of the house), perhaps the most picturesque of all the courtyards.

The two largest spaces come next. The Courtyard of the Columns is a modern addition, but its fountains blend harmoniously with the older elements. It is used for events such as concerts and theatre. Alongside is the garden, with a formal area of low, square hedges around a central fountain and a grand oak tree. The two interior patios, the Courtyard of the Chapel and the Courtyard of the Archives, are the quietest and most tranquil. Finally, you come to the courtyards where the gardeners worked, and stored their tools. These include the Courtyard of the Well, which was fed from an underground stream, and provided enough water for all the patios.

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You can also take a guided tour of the inside of the palace, though admission is extra, and see the living quarters of the aristocratic owners and their collections of art and books, and other historical items.

Although it’s outside the main monumental area, I always try to make time to come here when I’m in Cordoba, and I think you should, too. I don’t know anywhere else that’s quite like it.

Palacio Museo de Viana
Plaza de don Gome, 2
Tel: 957 496 741
Tues-Sat 10.00 am to 7.00 pm Sundays 10.00am to 3.00 pm Closed Mon
July and August 9.00 am to 3.00 pm Closed Mon
Price 5 euros to the patios, 8 euros with entrance to the palace.
Website

Veoapartment Goes to the Beach

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Over the last few years veoapartment has established a reputation as one of the leading holiday rental apartment providers for the major cities of Andalucia – Seville, Granada and Malaga. But now, for the first time, we are offering a superb beach front apartment for that perfect seaside holiday.

The Virgen del Mar Apartment is a fully equipped holiday home right on the beach in the resort town of Rota. With two bedrooms and two bathrooms it will accommodate four people in comfort. A large living-dining area with big picture windows that let in lots of light faces the beach, as does the L-shaped terrace, where you can enjoy a meal or a drink al fresco, or just enjoy the view across the bay to the ancient seaport of Cádiz.

0666_virgen-del-mar-sea-views-apartment-terrace-rota-cadiz-19enjoy sea views from the comfort of the spacious living room

Although Rota is primarily a seaside resort, famous for its long stretches of sandy beach, its history goes back to Phoenician times, and something of that past can still be experienced in Rota’s old town. The mediaeval Castillo de Luna (Castle of the Moon), which is now the town hall and tourist information office, is well worth a visit, as are a number of religious buildings, particularly the parish church of Nuestra Señora de la Expectación, the church of San Roque and the tower of the Convent of Merced (though the convent itself no longer exists). There’s a local museum, the Fundación Alcalde Zoilo Ruiz-Matos, and a botanical garden. Spend some time at the old Pesquero Astaroth fish market, and sample some of the local delicacies, such as Urta de la Roteña or Arranque Roteña (fish dishes made with freshly caught local fish), and the local red wine La Tintilla de Rota. For something more unusual the artificial fishing ponds of Los Corrales or the Bucarito pig and goat farm.

0666_virgen-del-mar-sea-views-apartment-terrace-rota-cadiz-20fully-equipped kitchen to prepare your market purchases

Rota also makes a great base for visiting other nearby towns and attractions. The three sherry towns of Jerez, Puerta de Santa Maria and Sanlúcar de Barrameda are all close by, and for anyone interested in wines a visit to at least one of the bodegas is an absolute must. They are fascinating places, full of the aromas of sherry and the sherry making tradition. All three towns have picturesque old centres where you can get lost in the winding streets and little squares. It’s also possible to take a catamaran ferry to Cádiz, and spend a day in this fascinating old city. My favourite places are the market, with its spectacular display of fresh fish, the old fortifications and the botanical gardens, though there’s lots more. Be sure to grab a coffee or a drink in the Cafe Royalty in Plaza Candelaria.

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On the other side of the River Guadalquivir from Sanlucar is the famous Doñana National Park, the oldest national park in Europe, and an area of great natural beauty with its sand dunes, lagoons and woods. Also nearby is the Cadiz bay nature reserve, an area of wetlands in the inner part of the Bay of Cadiz, a fascinating though rather desolate landscape of marshes and abandoned salt pans.

All in all, our Virgen del Mar apartment is a great location in any season to enjoy this very lively part of the the Costa de la Luz (coast of light).

Malaga | Alcazaba and Gibralfaro

This week we have another guest blog post by history buff, tour guide and long-time Seville resident Peter Tatford Seville Concierge. This time, Peter takes us to Malaga.

Malaga has long been one of my favourite Andalucian cities. It’s not just a place to pass through going to and from the airport, or a high-rise resort with so-so beaches. Though there is still an element of that, in recent decades the city has done a lot to change its image, and its heart is now very firmly in the right place, with a pedestrianised historic centre, a thriving food culture, some of the best parks and gardens I know of anywhere, a recently renovated harbour front with shops and restaurants, and loads of cool museums and art (from favourite son Picasso to the Contemporary Arts Centre).

alcazabaat the top of the Alcazaba

For me, though, one of the most important things is that this is a city with history. Founded by the Phoenicians, and occupied by the Romans, its most impressive monuments date from the long Moorish period. From almost anywhere in the city you can see its two fortresses, the lower Alcazaba (from the Arabic al-qasbah, a citadel) and the upper Gibralfaro (gebel-faro, the rock of the lighthouse; Gibraltar, the rock of Tariq, has the same derivation). From below it can be seen to best advantage from alongside the Roman amphitheatre, itself rediscovered by accident in 1951 when the houses on the hillside below the castle were demolished to make way for a planned garden. Although the Alcazaba was also the palace and royal residence of the local kings, its primary role as a fortress is most obvious from here. There is an entrance to the castle here, but there is a second way in (all will be explained later) which avoids the steep climb up from the bottom.

view from gibralfaroview of the port from the Gibralfaro

In the meantime, take a trip up to the top castle, the Gibralfaro. The Phoenicians had a lighthouse and fortified enclosure here, and the current Moorish building dates back to the 10th century, with a substantial rebuilding in the early 14th. Our tip for the Málaga novice is to avoid going up the steep path that connects the two castles, and instead to take a taxi, or a bus up the back of the hill, and walk down the path to the Alcazaba afterwards. One of the main reasons for coming up here, as you will see for yourself when you get there, is the magnificent view right across the city, from the bullring almost immediately below you, past the Alcazaba, Park Malaga and the harbour, to the mountains beyond. Enjoy it from the castle walls, the mirador (lookout) or best of all from the terrace of the Parador Hotel with a drink to go with it. It’s a magic moment.

From there walk all the way down the hillside path to the bottom of the wall of the Alcazaba that faces the sea to find the alternative entrance. This is, in fact, a lift that takes you almost to the top of the centre of the fortress. It’s always my preferred option, particularly in summer, to be carried to the top of things, and only to walk downwards. During the period of the Córdoba Caliphate this hill had a modest fortification to protect the city from pirates. In the more troubled times that followed it, the local ruler built his residence and the double-walled castle enclosure that still exists today. It’s considered to be the best-preserved of all the Spanish alcazabas, and although much smaller than its counterparts in Granada and Seville, the central palace area with its courtyards, pools and gardens, still gives some idea of the high level of civilisation compared to most of the rest of Europe.

alcazaba (2)inside the Alcazaba

Walking along the old battlements it’s easy to see why the siege by the Christian armies leading up to its fall in 1487 was the longest of the entire reconquest period. The castle has endured ever since, surviving abandonment, neglect, and even being occupied as a tenement slum by the city’s poor before being carefully restored during the 1930s and 40s.

I think Malaga is one of those places that always seems to have another side of itself that it only reveals gradually, so it’s well worth renting an apartment and taking a few days to explore what’s on offer.