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Seville | Bellas Artes Museum

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Bartolomé Murillo – The Immaculate Virgin

It may not be as grand and prestigious as the Prado or the Pompidou, but Seville’s Fine Arts Museum still houses one of Spain’s most important collections of works of art (mostly paintings, but also sculptures and engravings), and does so on a human scale that can be enjoyed without having an in-depth knowledge of art.

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Statue of Murillo – Plaza del Museo

The Museum can be found about five minutes walk away from the commercial centre, not far from the river, in the Plaza del Museo, a charming formally laid out square with marble benches, orange trees, two giant Moreton Bay Fig trees, and a statue of Bartolomé Murillo, probably Seville’s most famous painter. On Sunday mornings there’s a local art market here. Come along for a browse, and maybe you’ll be able to buy an early work by the next Michaelangelo (well, we can all dream).

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Courtyard – Bellas Artes Museum

The building itself is stunning, and is almost as much a reason for coming here as the artwork. It originally belonged to the Convent of the Order of the Merced Calzada de la Asunción, founded on the site by Saint Peter Nolasco shortly after the reconquest of Seville by the Christians in 1248, but the building we see today, with the galleries arranged on two floors around three quiet courtyards and a central staircase, dates back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, and was largely the work of Juan de Oviedo. The garden courtyards are a great place to just sit and relax a while before or after seeing the collection.

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Alonso Vazquez – The Last Supper

The Museum was founded in 1839, following La Desamortización (Ecclesiastical Confiscations – the Spanish version of the English Dissolution of the Monasteries), and many of the artworks in the Museum originally came from religious buildings seized by the government at that time. The emphasis of the collections is on Spanish, and particularly Sevillano, painters and sculptors, from the late Mediaeval period to the early 20th century, including the Golden Age of Seville in the 16th and 17th centuries, when the wealth generated by trade with the New World encouraged the flourishing of arts and the intellectual life in general. The Museum has works by over a hundred artists, including such luminaries as Murillo, Zurbarán, Valdés Leal, Goya and the Herreras.

If walking’s not your thing, you can rent a holiday house or apartment in the next street. Relax and enjoy!

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Monsalves Town House

Paella Explained

In my line of work I get asked a wide variety of questions by visitors eager to get the most out of their stay in Spain. Everything from “Is it worth seeing the Alhambra?” (Duh), through “Do they still do bullfighting?” (Yes, except in Catalonia, and yes, they still kill the bull) to “How does the washing machine work?” One of the most common subjects of enquiry, perhaps surprisingly, is paella (pronounced pie-aiya, the Spanish double-ll always being pronounced as a y). It seems that outside of Spain, where it’s just part of the furniture, paella is regarded as the Spanish “national dish”, and it comes as something of a surprise that in many parts of Spain it’s not particularly common. People are also quite hazy about what a paella actually is (it’s a specific dish, not just rice-with-things-in-it, which covers everything from risotto to kedgeree and exists in pretty much every country in the world), so today’s post is a kind of paella 101.

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What you can expect

Firstly, paella is not really a Spanish dish, but a regional dish from Valencia on Spain’s east coast, where rice was first cultivated by the Moors, who improved and adapted the Roman irrigation systems of the area for this use. By the 15th century rice was an important staple, often eaten as a casserole with fish and vegetables. Modern paella was developed by farmers around the Albufera lagoon near Valencia during the 18th and 19th centuries, and was traditionally cooked on open fires of orange and pine branches, whose aroma infused the dish. Initially the principle added ingredients were water voles, eels, snails and beans, but as living standards improved rabbit and chicken became the norm, and are regarded today as proper Valencian paella.

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What to avoid

The name of the dish is a Catalan/Valencian derivative of old French paelle, meaning a pan, but now referring to the wide, flat metal pan (a paella) in which the rice is cooked, and whose shape allows the distinctive light crust, the hallmark of paella, to form on the bottom. Classic paella is made with a short grain rice, usually calasparra or bomba, chicken and/or rabbit, snails (optional), green beans, artichokes (in season), garlic, olive oil and saffron. It is a matter of some contention as to whether other varieties, made with fish, seafood and other ingredients should be classed as paellas. Purists say no, but there doesn’t seem to be any other convenient way of referring to them, and the usage has become so widespread that it’s no longer possible to hold back the tide. But apparently adding chorizo to a paella is the ultimate sin.

paella classChef Victor at Taller Andaluz shows us how it’s done

So where can you get a good one? For the most part, the answer seems to be Valencia or Barcelona (and places between). Sevillanos don’t seem to have mastered the art, although they do have fabulous rice dishes of their own. Look for arroz del día at bars, only served at lunchtime and often made with long grain rice. Avoid places with pictures of lots of different paellas, they’re always tourist traps, and the paella preprepared/frozen. Good paella should be fresh and takes at least 40 minute to arrive at your table.

There is another alternative, though. By far the best paella I’ve had in Seville was at the cooking class in Triana market (we made three traditional Spanish dishes, all excellent, and had lots of fun, too). And if you’re renting one of our self-catering apartments you can practice the recipe yourself (though you will need a proper paella pan).

Seville | Ice Cream

So, it’s August, and officially high summer, and everywhere from Blackpool Promenade to Bondi Beach (yes, I know it’s winter in Sydney and in England you can’t tell the difference, but I like my alliterations) a young person’s fancy turns to – Ice Cream.

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Spain, and my own city of Seville, is no exception. Now ice cream may not be the first thing you associate with this part of the world (flamenco, bullfighting, paella and sangría probably top that list), but think about it. Today is set to top out at 37ºC, which is normal for this time of year, but in the city, and with the sun directly overhead, it’s going to feel hotter. You want to dance? Fight a bull? Eat lots of carbs? Drink sangría? (Well, okay, maybe that one). No. When venturing forth from the air-conditioned comfort of your apartment, you need an ice cream.

Now these days there are plenty of places in Seville where you can buy ice cream, and new ones open up every year, but more of that later. First, the burning questions of the day. Just how did people survive summer in places like Seville in the days before air-conditioning and refrigeration (and therefore ice-cream)?

For most people, of course, thick walls, shade and a long siesta were the only recourses available. In the cities, narrow streets and plenty of trees also helped to shield people from the worst of the sun. For the wealthy things were a little better. Exploring the tiled rooms and patios of the Alcázar Palace, for example, shows how clever building design, greenery and fountains, and no doubt a few fan-wielding servants, can take the edge off the summer heat. More surprisingly, perhaps, frozen “desserts”, usually a mixture of ice and fruit, have been known for at least two thousand years, and the Arabs had started adding milk to these delicacies, so a kind of proto ice cream has been known in Spain for a long time. It would have relied, however, on supplies of natural ice stored from winter or transported from high mountains, and would have been an expensive rarity in a city like Seville. It was only with the invention of refrigeration in the 19th century that ice cream developed its modern form, and took its first hesitant steps towards global domination.

In Seville ice cream is mostly sold by specialised shops, many of whom make their own onsite, and comes in a wide range of flavours from standard vanillas and chocolates to exotic fruit and nut combinations. It’s thick and creamy, like an Italian “gelato”, which is surprisingly lower in calories than the “soft-serve” ice cream standard in northern parts of Europe. Below are some of of our favourite places for ice cream in Seville.

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Heladería Rayas
Almirante Apodaca, 1
Tel: +34 954 221 746
website

Widely regarded as the best, and one of the most venerable, the first Rayas opened its doors at this location opposite the Plaza Cristo de Burgos in 1980, and still does a roaring trade. There is now a second shop near the Puerta de Triana.

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Freskura
Vulcano, 4
Tel: +34 645 859 198
website

Freskura is just off the Alameda de Hercules, and as well as a full selection of ice creams also has desserts and pastries.

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Heladeria La Fiorentina
Zaragoza, 16
Tel: +34 954 221 550
website

Another well-known and popular stopping place, La Fiorentina has both traditional and modern flavours, and also does excellent granizadas (half-frozen fruity drinks).

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Amorino
Granada, 2
Tel: +34 954 227 428
website

Amorino, part of an international chain, recently opened a Seville branch just off Plaza Nueva in the city centre, and there is also one in the Gourmet Experience in El Corte Ingles (Plaza del Duque). It has a nice ambiance, and some great ice-cream.

Seville | River Guadalquivir

The old city of Seville lies nestled in a bend on the east bank of the River Guadalquivir (the name derives from the Arabic, and means big valley or big water) in a wide valley about 80 km from the sea. It’s Spain’s only river port, with a history that goes back to the Phoenicians. The river is the fifth longest in the Iberian peninsula (567 km) and flows from east to west across most of Andalucia. From Córdoba down to the sea the valley is Spain’s most important agricultural region, but it’s also prone to flooding, usually when heavy spring rains coincide with winter snow melt in the mountains where the river rises.

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The Moorish Dock in Triana

Nowadays the river and riverside are one of Seville’s major tourist and leisure resources, with everything from river cruises (for the tourists) to sailing, rowing and windsurfing for the locals. On the Seville side it’s now possible to walk beside the river all the way from the Puerto de las Delicias (where cruise ships coming to Seville are berthed) to the Columbus statue in San Jeronimo at the northern edge of the city. Most of this walkway owes its existence to the 1992 world exposition on the Cartuja (celebrating the 500th anniversary of Columbus discovering America), though the final section, the New York Wharf, only opened a couple of years ago.

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Torre del Oro

Before that, however, use of the riverside was almost entirely commercial, and long stretches were not accessible to the public. The first port of Seville, that of the Phoenicians and then Romans, was actually located on the now vanished secondary branch of the river that ran through the Alameda, alongside Calle Sierpes and the Avenida de la Constitución, as attested by pilings for wharves found near Sierpes and in Plaza San Francisco. The Moors built the distinctive stone dock on Calle Betis on the Triana side, the Torre del Oro, and the first bridge across the river, the “bridge of boats” which was only finally replaced by the Isabella II (Triana) bridge in the mid 19th century. In the 15th and 16th centuries, when Seville had the monopoly of the trade with the New World, the stretch of river on either side of the Torre del Oro was the most important port in Europe, until the river silted up and the trade moved to Cadiz. The 20th century saw major changes, with a totally new port constructed in an artificial “short cut” waterway below Las Delicias, and a new channel for the river’s main flow on the far side of Triana that finally ended the problem of flooding in the city.

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View from the Seville Eye with the Aquarium in the Foreground

Start your exploration of the river by taking a ride on the new Seville Eye, the panoramic ferris wheel that gives a view up and down the river and across the Maria Luisa Park. The bridge between this and the port is a bascule bridge – it opens to allow cruise ships and sailing boats to pass through. Next door pay a visit to the aquarium, another recent addition to Seville’s list of attractions. Plenty of places nearby for refreshments, but look out especially for Seville’s only foodtruck La Cayejera. Then head back towards the city centre. Pay a visit to the naval museum in the Torre del Oro, then go on to the Isabella II bridge. See if you can spot our “Betis Blue” apartments across the river. On the Seville side you can stop for a drink or a snack in the Mercado Lonja del Barranco, a modern food court in the 19th century cast iron fish market building. Alternatively, cross the bridge to the main Triana market and the ruins of San Jorge Castle (former headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition).

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View of Triana Bridge from the Torre del Oro

Beyond the Triana bridge you can find the only grassy bank beside the river in Seville; if the weather’s right it will be full of Sevillanos taking the sun, eating, drinking and socialising. Go further and you’re on the long walkway beyond the touristy areas that’s the territory of runners, cyclists and dog-walkers. Less to see here, although some of the buildings left over from the ’92 expo are weirdly interesting, and in the summer season there’s always the screams from the people enjoying the Isla Magica theme park floating across the water. For those who are interested in such things you’ll also come eventually to the two modernist bridges, La Barqueta and the Amarillo.

Seville | Top 4 Must See Sights

Although different people have different priorities for the kind of holiday they want, and what they want to do (or not do) with their time, there are enough reasons for choosing Seville to suit most of them. First, there’s the weather. Spain has long been a popular destination for sun-seeking northerners, and although July and August are actually too sunny for some (including me, and I live here), the spring and autumn are as near perfect as you’re likely to find anywhere. Warm enough to be out and about (or lounging by the pool, if that’s what you’re after) in shorts and T-shirt without being uncomfortably hot or cold, and for eating al fresco. And Seville is the perfect place to come for both those things. Beautiful, colourful gardens and neighbourhoods of picturesque narrow streets and small squares to wander through, and lots of little tapas bars to stop in for a glass of wine and a snack.

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But although these are some of my favourite things to do, and in general beat the usual sightseeing type of activities, a city as venerably old and culturally important as Seville is going to have a few places that you have to go and see – both because they are actually well worth seeing, and because you don’t want to have to admit when you get home that you went to Seville and didn’t see them. So this is my list of the 4 things you have to see in Seville, in between the things that are actually important.

The Reales Alcazares (Royal Palace) is number one on the list, especially since being used for the filming of one of the locations in Game of Thrones. With origins dating back over a thousand years, and Europe’s longest serving official Royal residence, the 13th century palace of Peter I is regarded as one of the finest examples of Mudejar architecture in Spain, and the gardens are stunning too.

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The Mudejar Palace

The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See is the world’s largest Gothic Cathedral, and was built during the 15th century on the site of the Grand Mosque, of which the Giralda Tower (former minaret and now bell tower) and the wall and outer gate of the Courtyard of the Orange Trees still remain. Inside the Cathedral are the world’s largest gold altarpiece, the tomb of Christopher Columbus and a crocodile. The highlight, though, is the view from the top of the tower, reached by a ramp, not stairs, and the highest point inside the historic centre.

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Courtyard of the Oranges

The Plaza de España in Maria Luisa Park was built as the Spanish pavilion for the 1929 Spanish American Pavilion, and is a magnificent colonnaded semi-circular building in a mix of styles from Mudejar to Regionalist surrounding an open space with a fountain and boating lake. It features wonderfully colourful tiles and bridges, and illustrations of scenes from the history of each of Spain’s forty provinces. An breathtaking backdrop that’s been the setting for a number of films, including Star Wars Episode II.

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Plaza España

The Metropol Parasol is the world’s largest wooden building and Seville’s contribution to modern architecture, completed just five years ago. Apart from being unique in itself it houses one of the city’s provisions markets, has Roman ruins in the basement, and a walkway on the top with views across the city.

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Metropol Parasol at night

Stay in one of our range of self-catering apartments to give yourself a base for all these activities. Happy holidays!

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Teodosio Terrace Apartment