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Seville | How to Tapear in Seville

Considering how interested most of us are in food, and in particular good food at reasonable prices, and considering how often we’ve mentioned the subject in passing, or to direct visitors to suitable eating establishments, it came as something of a surprise to discover that we have no blogpost on the noble art of the tapeo.

What is it?

tapaTapa literally means a lid or cover. In this case a small dish of food, or even just a piece of bread that you could put over your glass of wine to keep out the dust and flies, which would then be topped with a piece of jamón or cheese. To tapear (verb) is to go from bar to bar having tapas. Tapeo (noun) is the journey that results – a kind of civilised pub-crawl, with food. Both the cuisine and the custom are thought to have developed in the taverns of Seville and other parts of Andalucia in the 18th and 19th centuries. In recent years the concept of the tapa has been spreading abroad, and the cuisine gaining increasing international recognition.

Why do it?

Well, firstly, because you’re in Seville, the home of the tapa, and there are few better ways of getting to know about another culture than through its food and eating customs. Secondly, because it’s fun. It’s a social event with family or a group of friends, sharing food, taking your time, talking, meeting people. It’s informal, often noisy, and often done standing up at the bar. The best bars are usually crowded and busy, and to the uninitiated can seem chaotic and intimidating, but don’t let that put you off – the natives are friendly.

Some tips

tapasIt’s a good idea to have a list of recommended places, so that you don’t end up wandering aimlessly around, wondering which bars to go into. There are said to be around 3,000 in the city, and though many are very good, there are also plenty that are mediocre. You should also have a few things that you know you want to try, but be flexible.

In some bars you can only get tapas at the bar – at the tables or on the terrace you may have to buy raciones (big plates), but there’s no set rule. If in doubt ask (“hay tapas en las mesas/la terraza?” “Are there tapas at the tables/on the terrace?”) There’s usually waiter service outside, and often at tables, but watch what other people are doing. You may have to go to the bar to order.

Don’t order everything at once. There won’t be room on the table, the food will go cold, and you may find you’ve ordered more than you want (the size of a tapa can vary). As a rule of thumb order one tapas per person per round. If you’re still hungry order more. There’s no rush. If you see something you like go past, you can add it to your order. When you’ve had enough, stop. The bill is La Cuenta. There’s no rule for tipping, but I generally leave around 10%.

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The Cuisine

For practical reasons most of the dishes have a short “final preparation” time, so lots of fried or lightly grilled fish and seafood and lean meat cuts, and marinated or cured meat and fish. Must sample tapas include the famous Jamon Iberico de Bellota (cured free range ham from the black foot pig), carrillera (slow-cooked stewed pork cheeks), and marinated anchovies. What you won’t find is much in the way of spicy food. Patatas bravas is about as hot as it gets.

Sleeping it off

You are, of course, going to need somewhere to sleep it off afterwards. Veoapartment has a great range of holiday apartments in Seville where you can get your head down, ready to do it again the next day, or even the evening following a serious lunchtime tapeo.

 

Seville | Day Trip to Triana

The neighbourhood, or barrio, of Triana lies across the River Guadalquivir from the city of Seville, and is often regarded, especially by the people who live there, as a separate city, quite distinct and different from its big sister Seville, and so if you have the time it’s worthwhile spending a day “across the river” soaking up some of its special atmosphere.

0131_betis-blue-1-01view of the Isabel (Triana) bridge from our Betis Blue apartment

The name is thought to derive from the Roman emperor, Trajano (pronounced Trahano in Spanish), who was born in Italica, the Roman city a little to the west of Seville. While it’s not known exactly how long there has been a settlement here, it’s certainly the oldest of the barrios outside the old city walls, dating back to at least Moorish times. It was in the late Moorish times that the first bridge across the river, the famous bridge of boats, was built (where the Isabella II bridge – usually referred to as Triana bridge – is now), with the original Castillo San Jorge, Saint George’s Castle, at its western end. It was then known as the Gypsy quarter, the Gypsies, or Gitanos, having arrived there sometime in the 15th century. As a poor neighbourhood it supplied many of the sailors who explored the New World, and was intimately connected with the worlds of flamenco and bullfighting, which offered a way out of what was effectively a ghetto.

manu jara dulceria (1)Manu Jara’s “dulcería”

Start your day out with churros and chocolate at the Seville end of the bridge, or some tasty pastries at Manu Jara in Calle Pureza (opens 10am, closed Mondays). Once properly fortified, it’s time to pay a visit to Triana market. Although this was substantially renovated some ten years ago, it still retains much of its traditional charm, with decorative tiled stall fronts (though the names now often don’t correspond to the business of particular stalls), and the colourful displays of fresh fruit, fish and other produce for which Spanish markets are justly famous. I rarely come to Triana without coming here, just for the enjoyment of strolling around until it’s beer o’clock and time for a little refreshment at one of the many market bars.

triana chapelThe market is built over the ruins of Saint George’s Castle, once the headquarters of the infamous Spanish Inquisition, and now a museum of tolerance. Emphasis here is on reflection of man’s inhumanity to man, so you won’t see any instruments of torture or other sensationalist displays, but rather an invitation to reflection on the cost of intolerance. Entrance is free, and for me it’s an interesting window on the past. Outside, stop and admire a different aspect of the religious impulse, the chapel of the Virgin of the Carmen designed by Anibál González.

Behind the market is what’s left of the old ceramics district. Although only a shadow of its former self, there are still some craft workshops and you can pick up a nice decorative piece or two as souvenirs. It’s also worth visiting the newly opened ceramics museum (in Calle Antillano Campos, next door to the famous Santa Ana ceramics shop), which I found fascinating, with examples of the old kilns and the equipment that was used, and something of the history of the industry.

castillo san jorge (2)Saint George’s Castle seen from the Isabel bridge

For lunch, walk up the main street of San Jacinto to Las Golondrinas (Pages del Corro, 76), or if you’re feeling adventurous check out Puratasca (Numancia, 5 – almost impossible to find) for innovative tapas in a wonderfully kitsch 70′s ambiance. For something more traditional try Sol y Sombra (Castilla 151) and their famous “solomillo al ajo”, with almost as many slow-cooked garlic cloves as pieces of pork tenderloin.

ceramics trianaceramics shop in Triana

In the evening the place to be is Calle Betis, the street that runs along the bank of the river opposite the bullring and Torre del Oro. It’s one of the best nightlife spots in Seville, with lots of bars and restaurants with terraces looking across to the old city where you can enjoy a beer or a glass of wine and some traditional seafood as the street gradually comes alive around you. My own favourite place is the Primera del Puente (Betis 66), which serves some of the best fish and seafood around. Tapas at the bar, or raciones on the riverside terrace, the quality is always excellent. Finish the evening at Lo Nuestro, a popular flamenco bar on Calle Betis, or at La Anselma on Pages del Corro.

0131_betis-blue-1-apartment-14view of Betis street from the “other side” of the river, Seville

Of course you could live like a local in one of our excellent holiday apartments in Triana, and take day trips across the bridge to Seville. Take a stroll with us through Triana on our short video.

Antequera | Day Trip

Most of you will be familiar with the names of the major cities and tourist destinations of Andalucia, even if you have never been to them yourself – Seville, Granada, Cordoba, Malaga, and probably Cadiz, Ronda and Marbella. But this region of Spain is full of less well-known towns and cities with their own charm, place in history, culture and things to see and do. So hands up if you’ve heard of Antequera, and a gold star if you can point to it on the map.

centre of andaluciaplaque in Plaza San Sebastian

For the rest of you, Antequera is the small city that is officially the centre of Andalucia (there’s a plaque in the Plaza San Sebastian), owing much of its importance to being at the crossroads (and crossrailways) of Seville, Malaga, Granada and Cordoba. This means that it’s easy to get to from any of these places, either by car or by train, compact enough to see on a day trip, and interesting enough to be worthwhile making the effort.

Antequera’s most important monument and tourist attraction is undoubtedly the Alcazaba, the Moorish fortress built on a steep hill on the southern edge of the town in the 13th century to protect the city from the Christians. After the city was conquered by the Christians in 1410 it served a similar purpose, only in reverse. Take the audio guided tour to learn about the history of the site (which goes back to Roman times), which although a bit hokey, featuring the voice of the prince who led the Christian forces, is still a mine of interesting history and anecdote. One of my favourite things, though, was watching the city being gradually revealed below me as I climbed the winding streets that lead up to the fortress. The strangely shaped mountain that you can see from up here just outside the town is the Peña de Los Enamorados (Lovers’ Rock), where two young lovers from rival Moorish clans are supposed to have thrown themselves to their deaths while being pursued by the girl’s father.

antequera from castleview of Antequera from the Alcazaba

The other thing you’ll notice is the profusion of churches and other large religious and civil buildings (look especially for the Golden Angel on top of the tower of San Sebastian, which is more or less invisible from ground level) for which the city is rightly noted. Most of them date from the period of prosperity that followed the fall of Granada and the discovery of America by Columbus (both in 1492). We discovered that opening times for these seem to be rather limited and random, but on any walk through the town centre you’ll discover at least a couple that you can go into, enough to give you a taster.

You should also make a point of visiting the Antequera Museum, one of the largest in Andalucia, which covers every aspect of the history and culture of the town. Find it in the Palacio Najera in the Coso Viejo Square.

If you have a bit more time you might want to visit the dolmens (burial mounds) of Viera and Menga, which are around 4,000 years old, and the most ancient evidence for the presence of people in this part of Spain, and the nature reserve of El Torcal, famous for its unique limestone rock formations.

porrathree versions of porra at Arte de Cozina

Antequera is also the home of the mollete (a soft flat bread roll), and porra (a local variant of the more famous salmorejo). For a great breakfast of toasted molletes or churros try Cafe La Fuerza near the bullring. You can find good traditional tapas at Rincón de Lola near Plaza Coso Viejo, and 5sentidos (recently opened by former Lola chef) offers trendy tapas, including a spicy Bloody Mary with cockles. At Arte de Tapas and Arte de Cocina (tapas bar and restaurant respectively), the menus feature revivals of old recipes, some dating back to medieval times, and chef Charo Carmona will also give you the recipes for you to try them at home. The tasting menu at Arte de Cozina is spectacular but be sure to book ahead.

Seville | Tourist for the Day

Here at veoapartment blog we pride ourselves on the invaluable information and advice about visiting Spain that we give our readers and guests, as well as all those insightful historical and cultural tidbits to help you understand what you’re seeing. We were just busily patting ourselves on our collective back when it occurred to us that we haven’t actually “done” the tourist thing for a while, and we should actually remind ourselves what it’s like to be a visitor. The obvious choice was to revisit Seville’s three main monuments, which are all UNESCO Heritage Sites: the Alcázar Royal Palace, the Cathedral and Giralda Tower and the Archivos de India. Despite the daunting prospect of being out of the office for several hours* a crack team of investigative reporters (myself and a colleague) was rapidly assembled, and we set off into the sunshine.

tourist in sevilla (1)the Cathedral and Giralda tower seen from the Plaza Triunfo

Tip 1. The first thing a serious tourist needs is, of course, a good breakfast. We had ours at the excellent La Azotea Santa Cruz (coffee, ham and tomato on toast, and delicious fruit smoothies) in Mateos Gago, the street going up from the Plaza Virgen de los Reyes behind the Cathedral. For a more traditional coffee and tostada try the Horno San Buenaventura on Avenida de la Constitución, across from the Cathedral.

Tip 2. There is often a long queue for tickets to the Cathedral. Avoid it by buying a combined ticket at the El Salvador church (worth having a quick look inside while you’re there too), which will allow you to by-pass the Cathedral queue.

Tip 3. The Cathedral is normally open from 11am to 5 pm (last entrance 4.30), but closes early on Mondays (3.30 pm). It’s a working Cathedral so Sunday mornings it is not open for tourist visits. In the afternoons it’s open 2.30 to 6 pm.

Fun Cathedral Facts: It’s the third largest church in the world, and the largest Gothic cathedral, as well as having the most ostentatious (sorry, biggest) gold altarpiece. The Giralda tower and the outer walls of the Patio de Naranjas (Courtyard of the Oranges) are from the Moorish period (12th century), the main body of the Cathedral is Gothic (15th century), the Royal Chapel and anything with bells in it is Renaissance (16th century), and the sections with rectangular windows are Barroque (17th century). It contains the tomb of Christopher Columbus (probably).

Fun Cathedral Things to Do: Look in the angled mirror that allows you to look down at the vault of the cathedral roof. Play Hunt the Crocodile (yes, there is one – not alive fortunately). Climb the Tower. This is actually the most fun thing. It’s a ramp, not stairs, so it’s not too arduous, and you can look out of the windows on the way up and watch the city spreading out below you. The view from the top is worth the exertion.

Tip 4. If you want to know more, get the audio guide.

tourist in sevilla (3)a fountain inside the Alcázar Palace gardens

Tip 5. The Alcázar and the Cathedral is a lot to do in one sitting (allow 2 hours for the Alcazar and 1 for the Cathedral, but you may want longer), so either do them on successive days, or do lunch in between. We just had a cold beer, and it wasn’t really enough, but we weren’t on holiday, and you are, so don’t worry about the time. In summer do the Alcazar in the morning before it gets too hot. Opening times are 9.30 am – 5.00 pm (October – March), 9.30 am – 7.00 pm (April – September).

Fun Alcazar Facts: Originally the site of a 9th century Moorish fortress, the oldest remaining parts – the outer walls and the Yesio Patio – date to the 11th century. The main palace was built by Peter the Cruel in the 14th century in the Mudejar style, and further additions and modifications continued through the Golden Age into the 17th century. It’s the oldest Royal Palace in Europe and is still the official residence of the King of Spain in Seville. It’s shortly to be used for filming part of season 5 of “Game of Thrones”. The Baths of Doña Maria de Padilla are actually rainwater tanks, but are still one of my favourite bits.

tourist in sevilla (4)baths of Doña María de Padilla

Fun Alcazar Things to Do: Read the English translations of the information signs (can they really not afford a professional translator)? Although the Palace is awesome, the main fun things are in the gardens. Visit the maze, the Pool of Mercury (a fish pond with an airial fountain), and the Wall of Grotesques.

Tip 6: Get a map (it’s surprisingly easy to get disoriented) and an audio guide, and remember to look up at the ceilings as well as horizontally at everything else.

tourist in sevilla (2)Archivos de India entrance on Avenida de la Constitución

Our final stop was the Archivos de India, the big square building between the Cathedral and the Alcazar Palace. The document boxes are actually empty (the main archive is now across the street), but they give an idea of what the building looked like in use. You can see some of the old documents in display cabinets and there are often exhibitions, so check to see what’s on. When we were there it was hosting a gold and silver model of Columbus’s ship the Santa Maria. Admission is free. Opening times are 8.00 – 2.30 pm (Monday – Friday ).

Fun Archivos Things to Do: Watch the little film about the history of the building, including its connection to the Americas’ trade (in Spanish with English subtitles). Fascinating.

*Bear in mind this was July and the office has air-conditioning…

Seville | The Crocodile in the Cathedral

This week we have another guest blog post by history buff, tour guide and long-time Seville resident Peter Tatford Seville Concierge. As usual, Peter has a story to tell.

cathedral giralda

It is only to be expected that a city as old as Seville, that at different times has had close connections with many other parts of the world, will have acquired its fair share of unusual objects. One such is the Lagarto, or lizard, actually a stuffed crocodile, which hangs from the ceiling in the corner of the Courtyard of the Oranges beside Seville Cathedral, and gives its name to the Gate of the Lizard, the old Moorish gate with the typical Visigothic horseshoe arch next to the Giralda Tower. Despite its size and location, it’s surprisingly easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. But when you do see it, the obvious question springs at once to the mind. “Why is there a crocodile just outside the Cathedral?” There is, of course, a story…

Once upon a time (in the Middle Ages) there was a king of Castile (the central region of Spain) called Alfonso X, also known as the Wise because of his love of learning, especially esoteric learning. His father, Ferdinand III, had conquered Seville from the Moors in 1248, and made it the capital of the kingdom, which Alfonso inherited in 1252.

Now, this being a once upon a time story, Alfonso had a beautiful daughter, named Berenguela. Actually, we don’t know if she was beautiful, but we do know she was illegitimate, so it’s as likely a reason as any for why the Emir of Egypt wished for her hand in marriage. To this end, the Emir sent a magnificent embassy to Seville with rich and exotic gifts for the king and princess. Among these gifts was a live crocodile, whose size astonished the Spanish. I’ve heard it said that the crocodile lived for many years and converted to Christianity, but a second version of the tale, that the crocodile languished in its captivity and shortly died, seems more likely. In either case, a wooden model of the beast was carved, and covered with its skin, and this was hung in the corner of the Courtyard of the Oranges, where it can still be seen today. And the Emir never got the girl.

cathedral crocodile

Charming though the tale may be, there are those who see a deeper meaning in the crocodile. In ancient Egypt the crocodile God, whose name was Sobekh, was of great power, as a savant like Alfonso would certainly have known. He was important to the cycles of fertility and vegetation through his connection to the Nile, and devourer of the souls who failed to pass the judgement of Osiris after death. More importantly, he was able to protect against the evil eye, and the placing of a crocodile over the entrance to the cathedral was probably intended to help to keep the forces of evil at bay.

And there he has been ever since, through several earthquakes and the complete rebuilding of the cathedral in its modern form, a kitsch oddity and surprise for the eyes of children.

Right nearby are our Giralda Terrace apartments, three superb modern apartments in a fantastic location next to the cathedral.