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Seville | Town Houses

Glued to Downton Abbey? Big fan of Upstairs, Downstairs (at the risk of giving away your age)? Ever wondered what it would be like to live the lifestyle? Well, we can’t offer you the mansion in the country, but if you’ve ever wanted to live in a genuine Town House, we can offer you one of those (even if it’s only for a vacation), and in an exotic location in sunny Seville that will make it the holiday of a lifetime.

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For two hundred years after the discovery of the New World, Seville was the richest city in Europe, and wealthy merchants and aristocrats built themselves grand residences here, and some of these still exist. So here are six classic Sevillano town houses that are now available for holidays.

Betis Terrace is an 18th century town house on the Triana side of the river, complete with 3 bedrooms and bathrooms, and a split level terrace with views across the river to famous landmarks such as the Cathedral, Maestranza Bullring and Torre del Oro. Although refurbished to the highest modern standards, it still retains many traditional features and furnishings such as tile floors, wood beam ceilings and wrought iron work.

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Salvador Terrace is in a magnificent location in one of Seville’s main squares, the El Salvador, which has been an important centre of life in the city since Roman times. Luxuriously furnished, and with air conditioning and marble flooring throughout, its 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms will accommodate up to 8 people, and with two terraces overlooking the square and the El Salvador church it’s a perfect place to relax with a late night cocktail.

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Pedro Miguel is a superb 4 bedroom town house in the famous Macarena neighbourhood, with bright, modern interiors and a private terrace its perfect for large families or groups of friends.

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Also in the Macarena is Quintana Terrace, another 4 bedroom house with a private terrace and a central patio. With wood beam ceilings, exposed Moorish-style brickwork and colourful ceramics it retains its traditional feel while incorporating all the modern conveniences you look for.

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As its name suggests, Cathedral Terrace is right by Seville’s famous Cathedral and faces the Giralda Tower, the minaret of the Grand Mosque of the late Moorish period. The luxury of the interiors matches the perfect location, a combination of modern comfort and traditional high style that includes a patio, a cierro window (a glassed in or closed balcony) in the living room, and a split level terrace with a circular wrought iron staircase. It really doesn’t get better than this.

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Except…

Perhaps it does. Monsalves Terrace is a 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom mansion near the city centre, with 2 living rooms, 2 terraces and a patio, that will play host to up to 12 people. Every part of this house has been lovingly restored to include modern comfort and convenience alongside antique furniture and decoration. Wood beams, hand carved wooden doors and ceramic tiling in light, spacious rooms will make you think you’re living in a palace. Which you are. I could get used to this.

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To Beer or Not to Beer

A spell of warmer than usual for the time of year weather (which is to say, HOT) has got me thinking about my favourite hot weather tipples, especially for the middle part of the day. Wine is fine for the evening, and Spain has plenty of good quality wines to choose from at very reasonable prices, but during the day you may want something that’s a little more cooling, refreshing and hydrating to keep you going. So here’s a quick guide to how the locals do it.

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First of all, of course, drink plenty of water. Visitors are sometimes wary of the local water (everywhere), but the tap water (agua de grifo) here is fine, and of course it’s free – unlike mineral waters, which are generally rather pricy. Ask for un vaso de agua (glass of water) and whatever else you’re eating or drinking start with that. It’s not only good for you, it clears the palette and helps avoid overdoing it with other fluids. The other alternative to alcohol is soft drinks. Most of the international brands are available, as well as some local varieties.

Then there’s beer. In Spain, beer is loosely regarded as a soft drink and so is available pretty much everywhere. Local brews include Cruzcampo (Seville), Victoria (Malaga) and Alhambra (Granada), and people can be quite passionate about them, but they’re all lagers, and need to be drunk really cold. Beer is usually served in a small glass (ask for a caña) so it doesn’t get warm before you drink it. One or two of these will keep you going while you’re out and about.

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And so we come to the vexed question of sangria. Everybody’s heard of it, and for a majority of visitors it’s perceived as the quintessential Spanish drink. It’s a red (usually) wine based “cocktail” with a soft drink/fruit juice mixer and chopped fruit, often fortified with brandy or other spirits. Precise recipes can vary considerably, depending on who’s making it. But the truth is the Spanish regard it as something for the tourists, and rarely drink it themselves. It also often has a higher alcohol content and isn’t the wisest option for a hot weather drink.

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So, if you want to join the locals, go for our final option, the Tinto de Verano – red wine of summer. It’s simple and easy, being a roughly half and half mix of red wine and a sparkling soft drink with ice. Choose either tinto con limón (with sparkling lemonade) or tinto con blanca (a 7-up type Spanish soft drink). It’s light and refreshing, and the lower alcohol content won’t leave you feeling wrecked mid-afternoon.

All of these can be also bought or prepared at home, and consumed on the terrace of your apartment, a great way to finish one of those perfect Seville days.

Granada | Cruces de Mayo and the Feria of Corpus Christi

There are always good reasons to visit Granada. The best known is Europe’s most visited monumental complex, the Alhambra Palace, last refuge of the Moors in Spain, and capital of the Nasrid dynasty of Spain for 250 years until it surrendered to the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. There are also the historic neighbourhoods of the Albaicin, Realejo and Sacramonte to explore, and the bars and restaurants of San Matias to sample some of the local hospitality. But this time of year, as spring turns to summer, is when Granada puts on its gladrags and celebrates some of its major festivals.

granada cruz mayo (1)Cruz de Mayo at Mirador de San Cristobal [photo courtesy of John Sullivan]

The first of these is the Cruces del Mayo (May Crosses), held on May 3, although celebrations continue for several days around the official one. According to the stories this is the day when Saint Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, discovered the pieces of the True Cross of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, but this event has been assimilated to a pagan spring flower festival. The result is the appearance of flower-decked crosses in the streets and plazas of the city (this year about 80 of them), with a competition for the best. The festival has a special emphasis on children, who build their own crosses and parade them through the streets.

granada corpus (2)Dragon float

Undoubtedly the principal attraction of this time of year, and in fact Granada’s biggest annual festival, is around Corpus Christi (this year falling on June 4), and includes Granada’s feria, bullfighting, the Corpus Christi religious processions, and the essentially pagan procession of La Tarasca. The Feria of Granada starts officially at midnight on Saturday May 30 with the Alumbrao, the switching on of the lights, though people will start coming to the fairground earlier in the day. It ends at midnight the following Saturday with a fireworks display. Like most Spanish fairs the daytime is for the parades of horses and carriages, their riders and drivers in traditional costume, and everything and everyone at their smartest and shiniest. Night time is for eating and drinking and dancing flamenco.

From Thursday June 4 to Sunday June 7 is Granada’s main bullfighting season, with fights at the bullring each evening at 7 pm.

granada corpus (1)La Tarasca

At midday on Wednesday is Granada’s famous La Tarasca procession. The participants wear big papier-mache heads and fancy dress costumes (which are a closely guarded secret until the parade assembles in the Plaza del Carmen), but the centrepieces are the gigantes – statues of famous historical figures, and the traditional fire-breathing dragon. It’s colourful and noisy in the best carnival tradition and draws huge crowds of both locals and visitors, so arrive early if you want a “ringside seat”. This is the most popular day of the holiday, so afterwards the partying will carry on until the small hours, so you need plenty of stamina.

granada corpusCorpus Christi altar

The following day (starting at the Cathedral at 10.15 am) is the religious procession of Corpus Christi, the Catholic celebration of the Eucharist. This is the solemn and serious part of the holiday, and is still a popular day in the religious calendar, with large numbers paying their respects to the Sacrament as it’s carried through the streets.

granada cruz mayo (3)Cruz de Mayo at San Agustín Market [photo courtesy of John Sullivan]

If you’re coming to Granada for the celebrations we still have apartments for rent in locations around the city centre and old town.

Seville | The Real Game of Thrones

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You don’t really need any additional excuses to come to a city as beautiful as Seville for your holidays, or to visit its top tourist attraction, Los Reales Alcazares (the Royal Palace), but this amazing place is now being brought to a wider audience, courtesy of the block-busting TV series, A Game of Thrones.

In series 5 of the adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s books, A Song of Ice and Fire, the Alcázar plays host to the exotic Water Gardens of Dorne, seat of House Martell and the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Here are played out the intrigues and plots, murder and mayhem of the great houses (actually I’m just guessing as I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m betting they don’t just sit around knitting and playing whist).

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But the subtropical greenery, pools, fountains and lavishly tiled courtyards aren’t the only reason why the Alcázar is a fitting choice for the location of the high drama of A Game of Thrones. Still an official residence of the Spanish royal family, this is the longest serving palace in Europe, and has seen its fair share of drama and intrigue over the years.

In the year 913, by the order of the Arabic Caliphs who ruled Spain from their seat in Córdoba, the southernmost Roman-Visigothic suburb of the city was demolished, and a new palace for the governor of Seville was constructed in the area of the Plaster Courtyard and Patio de Banderas. In the 11th century, after the collapse of the Caliphate, the Almoravids, a Moorish clan from North Africa gained control of the city and extended and refortified the palace area. More buildings were added by the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century, including a covered way from the palace to the new Grand Mosque that allowed the rulers to avoid coming into contact with the common people.

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Apart from the impressive outer walls of the compound in the Plaza del Triunfo, little remains from this period – just a short section of wall between the Lion Gate and the Patio de la Montería, and the Justice Room and Plaster Courtyard to its left. The Gothic Palace was the first to be constructed by the new Christian rulers shortly after the reconquest of 1248. The palace was badly damaged in the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, and parts of the original ground floor were filled in and a new upper floor constructed. Some of the best views of the gardens, which you can see in Game of Thrones, are provided by the big windows in the upper galleries.

Also featured heavily is the tiled magnificence of the principal Royal residence, the Mudejar Palace, built for Pedro I (the Cruel) in the 14th century, mostly by those Moorish craftsmen who had stayed in Seville, and who are responsible for the “Arabian Nights” romantic appeal of its architecture and decoration, especially the long pool and sunken flower beds of the central Patio, the Patio of the Maidens

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Other favourite places which do (or should) appear, include the Baños de Doña Maria Padilla (actually rainwater tanks beneath the Gothic palace), the Pavilion of Charles V, and the Gallery of Grotesques (originally part of the city wall, but extensively remodelled in Italian renaissance style by Philip III), as well as the main gardens and garden courtyards in various styles.

For a place to stay while you’re here have a look at one of our wide selection of apartments in the neighbouring Santa Cruz, with its picture postcard streets and squares.

Seville | All the Fun of the Fair

Let it never be said that the Spanish don’t know how to party. And the place to party is at the annual local feria, or fair. Every town and city (and some city neighbourhoods) has its own, but one of the biggest and most famous is The April Fair (Feria de Abril) in Seville. Coming two weeks after Semana Santa, the big religious festival leading up to Easter, the fair is an almost pagan celebration of spring, and is all about having a good time. This year the official dates are from Tuesday, April 21 to Sunday, April 26, although in fact things really get going the day before, leading up to the alumbrado, the switching on of the lights, at midnight on Monday.

portada 2015putting the finishing touches on this year’s portada 

But the fair isn’t only about having a good time, it’s also about tradition – though like many traditions it’s not as hoarily ancient as you might think. The first April Fair was held in 1847 (okay, it’s old, but not as old as El Jueves or the Vela de Santa Ana) on the Prado de San Sebastian, and was initially a horse and cattle fair that was a kind of modernised version of mediaeval fairs. It moved to its present location, a purpose-built site on the southern edge of the suburb of Los Remedios, in 1973 (within living memory, so barely a tradition at all), by which time the cattle were long gone, and the fair had developed the character it has today.

feria horseshorse carriages and casetas

So, what’s it all about, and what are some of the traditions that make it so beloved by most Sevillanos? Well, first of all there’s the fairground itself. Even before you arrive, making your way towards it among the hurrying crowds generates a sense of expectation and excitement. You enter the fairground through a specially constructed gateway, the portada, which is rebuilt every year to represent some aspect of Seville (this year it’s the facade of the Bellas Artes Museum). Inside, especially at night with the strings of light bulbs and paper globes, everything is hustle and bustle and that strange combination of the tacky and the magical that is the hallmark of fairs and circuses the world over.  The streets are lined with small marquee style tents, called casetas, where people congregate to eat, drink and socialise, though the fact that most of these are private tends to exclude outsiders. You can, of course, get something to eat at one of the fast food stalls, or treat yourself to candy floss or some other sugary concoction.

feria dressescolourful flamenco dresses

In many ways there are two fairs. Daytime is for the horses and carriages that parade around the fairground, with the men dressed in the traditional traje corto (short jacket and tight trousers), and the women in traditional flamenco dresses, a time for society folks to  see and be seen, so if you like horses and spectacle this is the time for you.

At night is the second fair, the fair of lights and noise, the drinking of many rebujitos (sherry with 7-up) and dancing of Sevillanas  (a folk dance with flamenco style music) in the casetas, with traditional fried fish and  puchero to ward off hangover, that often carries on until dawn. You should also pay a visit to the Calle del Infierno (Hell Street) funfair, where the younger element can mostly be found, and scare yourself to death on one of the rides. On your way home stop for churros and chocolate, the breakfast for those who haven’t been to bed yet. The fair always ends (officially) with fireworks at midnight on the last day.

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The feria is also bullfighting season. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you want to experience the atmosphere of a bullfight, tickets are available here.

To get to the fairground you can take a taxi, one of the regular bus services 6 or C1/C2, or the special Feria bus service that runs from the Prado San Sebastian. It’s also possible to walk, especially if you’re in the southern part of the city.

If you’re here for Feria, renting an apartment will give you the flexibility and do-as-you-please freedom to enjoy late nights and sleeping in, as well as seeing more of Seville.