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Posts from the ‘Tapas’ Category

Seville | A Tapear

Not everyone’s a foodie, but pretty much all of us like to eat, and to enjoy ourselves in the right surroundings while we do it. Many of us also want to do our eating out the way locals do it, and to try some of those typical dishes that everybody knows about (or has at least heard of). So this is a kind of everyman’s guide to eating out in Seville, and getting a feel for what tapas is all about, not a gourmet guide to the best restaurants.

morales-beer-chicharronesBeer and chicharrones (pork scratchings)

First, just to clear the air, there are a few common myths that have to be dispelled. To begin with, tapas is not a kind of food, it’s a social custom. The answer to the question, “What Spanish foods have you tried?” is not “We’ve had some tapas”, it’s “We’ve had some calamares and tortilla de patatas.” Next, Spanish food is spicy. It’s not. You’re thinking of Mexico. The Spanish have put up a wall to keep spicy food out (who says travel writers don’t do satire?). Paella is the national dish. Actually, it’s a local speciality from Valencia, and a proper one isn’t made with seafood. Not that you can get a proper one in Seville. Lastly, the Spanish are always drinking sangría. In fact, for everyday purposes the Spanish prefer a tinto de verano – red wine with lemonade and ice, which is more refreshing and less intoxicating.

bodeguita-romero-pringaPringá Montadito 

So, to business. Given that tapas bars can be crowded and noisy, and that there are a lot of them, just deciding which one to go into can be bewildering and intimidating. Doing a bit of homework before you arrive will help. Look for those bars that crop up on lots of lists, not just one. Most important, though, don’t be intimidated. In some bars tapas are only available at the bar itself, and at tables or on the terrace you have to have larger plates, but there’s no general rule, so you have to check. If there are just two or three of you, sitting or standing at the bar puts you in the thick of things, but four or more it’s easier to talk if you’re sitting at a table. You can get media raciones (half-plates) para compartir (to share). Don’t overdo the ordering. One tapa per person per round is usually good. You can order more if you’re still hungry, stop if you’re full. If you’re not impressed with the first round, you can move on. In any case, moving on is essential to a proper tapeo (the Spanish equivalent of a pub crawl, but more civilised and with proper food.

las-teresas-solomillo-whiskySolomillo al whisky with Amontillado

And speaking of food, what should you be eating? Pork is king, and there are lots of fantastic pork dishes, from carrillada (braised cheeks) to solomillo al whisky (pork tenderloin), as well as blood pudding and tripes for the more adventurous. Cod and tuna are the most common fish, or boquerones al vinagre (marinated fresh anchovies) as a starter. Prawns, octopus and squid are also universally available. I’m often asked if the Spanish eat vegetables, and of course they do – spinach with chickpeas and marinated potatoes are essential. For me, though, the one thing you have to have is our unique Spanish jamón, washed down with some Fino or Manzanilla sherry. If you haven’t tried it yet I guarantee an epiphany.

las-teresas-jamon-caña-quesoJamón Iberico de Bellota, Caña de Lomo and Queso Manchego

We have lots of holiday apartments to rent as a base of operations, in all neighbourhoods of the historic centre.

Seville | San Vicente Neighbourhood

For the typical visitor to Seville the San Vicente is probably the least well known and most under appreciated neighbourhood in the historic centre of Seville. Lying northwest of the city centre between Calle Feria, with its provisions market and the famous El Jueves (Thursday) street market, and the River Guadalquivir, it’s the furthest away from the main monuments, and the least obviously touristy part of the old centre. Nevertheless, it has its charms, and is well worth taking some time to explore, especially if you’re renting a holiday apartment in this essentially residential neighbourhood.

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San Vicente apartment building

Historically, it’s part of the Moorish new town, the northward expansion of the city built during the 10th and 11th centuries, as is shown by its relatively regular layout compared to the warren of narrow twisty streets immediately behind the Metropol Parasols in Plaza Encarnación. During Seville’s Golden Age following the discovery of the New World in 1492 the riverside here remained undeveloped, being above the “bridge of boats” where Triana bridge now stands, and inaccessible to the ships that plied the Americas trade. After the building of Triana bridge in 1861, and the coming of the railways (Plaza de Armas shopping centre, as can easily be seen from its design, was originally a train station), this part of the river bank could not be reached from the city, as it was walled off for security. Major redevelopment only came with the 1992 expo in the Cartuja across the river, when the rails were torn up and a new walkway built along the riverbank. Now you can walk or cycle all the way from Las Delicias near the Plaza España to the northern edge of the modern city. Great for anything from a gentle stroll to a serious morning run.

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Alameda de Hercules

On the other side of San Vicente you can find the Alameda de Hercules, one of Seville’s best places for nightlife, with lots of bars and clubs. Until a couple of decades ago it was something of a red light district, and although it’s been renovated and gone upmarket it still has an edgy and bohemian feel to it late at night. During the day it’s a popular spot for a stroll or a lunchtime drink.

It’s also an area with some of the oldest churches and convents in Seville. The convent of San Clemente, near the Barqueta Bridge, was founded in 1248, immediately after the Christians reconquered the city, and the convent of Santa Clara soon afterwards. After a period of disuse and neglect this latter has recently been reopened as an arts and cultural centre. The Torre de Don Fadrique, within the a convent precincts, is now also open to the public. Also worth visiting are the church of San Lorenzo, in the pretty little square of the same name, and the Basilica of Jesus de Gran Poder next door (and not in the street of the same name), the home of one of the most popular of the Semana Santa statues.

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Plaza San Lorenzo, the church, and Basilica de Jesus de Gran Poder

There are also lots of good places to eat, and lots of argument about which are the best, but three that are on almost everyone’s list are Al Aljibe in the Alameda de Hercules, Eslava (a popular neighbourhood bar that’s a personal favourite of ours) and La Azotea, which is a bit more expensive, but definitely worth the extra.

Seville | 7 Secret Corners of Seville

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fountain in Plaza Cabildo

Chances are that if you come to Seville you’re going to do all or most of the standard tourist sights – the Cathedral, the Alcázar, the Plaza de España and the Metropol Parasol are my personal big four, and are worth a few hours of anybody’s time, and there are other well-known attractions, too. But there are other places, each with their own special charm or story, that you quite probably wouldn’t find, or whose significance you wouldn’t realise, unless they were pointed out to you. They’re not really secret, of course, but some of them are hard to find (others are hidden in plain sight), but I think they’re all worth making the effort to visit. There are a few others that didn’t make the final cut for one reason or another, such as the Atarazanas, Plaza Doña Elvira or the Corral del Conde, and other locals could probably add some more, too. But here are my personal seven favourite secret corners of Seville.

Roman Pillars in Calle Marmoles

On the corner of a couple of quiet residential streets between the Barrio Santa Cruz and the city centre you might stumble across three pillars that are all that’s left of a Roman temple. These are the oldest structures still in situ in Seville, though two more columns from here can be seen at the entrance to the Alameda de Hercules. Their rather humdrum location just makes their age all the more impressive.

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pillars of Roman Temple

The Judería Wall in Calle Fabiola

Okay, it’s just an unremarkable short section of ten-foot high wall, with no plaques or memorials to tell you what you’re looking at, but this is, in fact, the only remaining section of the wall that once enclosed the late mediaeval Jewish quarter, separating it from the rest of the city. A good place to stop and ponder on human stupidity for a moment. Then go and have a beer.

 

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the Wall of the Juderia

Plaza Cabildo

The Plaza Cabildo is a half-moon shaped square that can be reached through a covered passageway directly opposite the main entrance to the cathedral on Avenida de la Constitución. The flat side is part of an old internal city wall, but the semicircular building with the decorated “eaves” is from the 1930s. Of interest is a little shop that sells confectionary and other items made in some of Seville’s convents, named El Torno after the little turntable that kept you from seeing the nuns, and on Sundays there’s a collectors’ market.

cabildo

 

detail – Plaza del Cabildo

Plaza Santa Marta

This is another little square that you probably wouldn’t find if you didn’t know it was there. It’s at the end of a little alleyway behind the statue of the Pope in the Plaza Virgen de Los Reyes, which in less time than it takes you to say “Where does this go?” leads you from the bustle of the city centre to a quiet, secluded nook shaded by orange trees. Purely coincidentally the collectors´market was held here before it relocated to the Plaza Cabildo.

Baths of Doña Maria Padilla

This is one of my favourite places in the whole of Seville. They can be found in (or at least under) the Alcázar Palace. They’re rather inappropriately named, being neither baths, nor belonging to Doña Maria Padilla, although she was contemporary, being the mistress of Pedro I, who built the main palace. They are, rather mundanely, rainwater tanks storing water for the gardens, but the long vaulted chambers, the play of light on the water and the muffled quiet make this quite unique.

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Baths of Doña Maria de Padilla

Casa Moreno

This little abacería (a small specialist food shop with a bar in the back) in Calle Gamazo has an atmosphere all its own. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it looks semi-private and is full of locals, it’s really very friendly. Just go in, and have a beer and a couple of montaditos, and come away with that feeling you’ve touched the soul of Seville.

Plaza de la Escuela de Cristo

This tiny square, not much more than a patio, between the Santa Cruz church and the seminary, is the closest thing to a real secret on this list, as it’s only semi public, the entrance door (at the end of an alley off Calle Ximenez de Enciso) being locked at night. But with its cobblestones, orange trees, fountain and a cross in one corner it has an undeniable special charm.

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Plaza de Escuela de Cristo

In addition to these there are hundreds of buildings with charming courtyards or ornate decoration. Many of our apartments in the historic centre can be found in such locations, making you feel a part of this beautiful city.

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Patio San Isidoro apartment building

Seville | Spanish Lifestyle

1-IMG_20140216_133811street life in Seville

Although the notion of a Spanish national character can easily be overdone, there are some cultural biases that people from the English-speaking countries will probably pick up on. The Spanish are generally ebullient, noisy and outward going, with a smaller personal space than you’re used to, and this combination can make them seem a bit “in-your-face”, especially given a widespread lack of foreign language skills (the Swiss and the Belgians can look smug at this point; the Brits and the Americans should probably keep quiet). But really, they’re by and large friendly and hospitable.

Timetables. Partly as a product of climate, and partly because Spanish clocks are an hour out of kilter, everything happens later in the day than you’re used to. A lot of people don’t start work until 10, lunch starts at 2 not 12, and carries on through siesta until 5. Then everything opens up again until 8 or 9. Dinner (usually tapas if you’re eating out) is after that, and may carry on until midnight, especially in summer. In school holidays and at weekends you’ll also see lots of quite young children out and about at this time.

There’s a good reason why “siesta” is the most widely understood Spanish word in the non-Spanish speaking world – it’s just such a good idea. Although a long afternoon break is anathema to the corporatist work ethic of much of Northern Europe and America, it actually conforms to the natural rhythm of the human body. And in the days before aircon, or if you’re working outside, what else could you be doing in the heat of the summer sun? It also allows you to stay up late and get up early.

jamonjamón Ibérico de Bellota

When it comes to eating out the hustle, bustle and sociability of the tapeo is an essential part of Spanish culture in general, and Sevillano culture in particular. Despite the buzz, it’s essence is laid back and informal, with lots of sharing and conversation, and at the end of the evening, lots of lingering over a final drink. People often go from bar to bar, but no one ever tries to move you on to clear the tables for the next shift. Visitors often remark on how civilised this way of eating and drinking feels.

Before the tapeo, if work schedule and weather permit, is the paseo, the evening stroll. The Spanish live outside more than their northern counterparts, and on a warm spring or autumn evening what could be finer than a walk out of doors and perhaps a bit of window-shopping?

arenal (2)Bullfighting is still very popular in most of Spain, though not, of course, as popular as football. They still kill the bull, and the ritual and symbolism are part of every Spaniard’s repertoire, even if they’ve never been to a bullfight. These days the social, see and be seen, aspects of attending a bullfight are as important as the fight itself (unless you’re a bull).

Religious processions are very popular throughout Spain, though not, of course, as popular as football. Although strict religious belief and observance are in decline, Spain is still very much a Catholic country, and in Seville participants prepare all year for major events such as Semana Santa (Holy Week) which still draws huge crowds.

Even if (unfairly) the Spanish, especially in southern Spain, don’t have a reputation for working hard, they do have a reputation for knowing how to party. Every locality has its annual fair where they dress up in flamenco costume, dance the night away and drink lots of rebujito (a cocktail of sherry and 7up). In Seville the Feria is in April.feria flamenco dresses

All this, of course, just scratches the surface, and if you want to find out more about why so many people love Spain and its relaxed lifestyle, you need to come and stay in one of our holiday apartments and experience it for yourself.

Seville | Holiday Tips

Have you ever been somewhere on holiday, and discovered something near the end of your stay that makes you say, “I wish I’d known that before I came on holiday”? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, as it happens to all of us, and however much planning we do will probably continue to do so. Nevertheless, here are some tips that will help you avoid at least some of those moments when you’re in Seville.

First off, when is the best time to come to Seville? Spring and autumn have the best weather – warm enough for shorts and T-shirts, but not oppressively hot. On the other hand low season (winter and summer) means cheap deals on flights and accommodation. Try to avoid Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the April Fair unless you’ve come to Seville specifically for those events; the city is extra crowded and hotel and apartment prices are often double the normal rate.

If you’re staying more than a couple of nights (which you need to to do Seville properly), and particularly if you’re a family or a group, consider renting an apartment rather than staying in a hotel. It gives you more freedom to come and go, as well as self-catering and laundry options, and often works out cheaper. These days there are lots to choose from in all size and price ranges.

Seville is a fabulous city for just wandering around, and if you’re in the centre (if not, the buses and taxis are cheap and easy to use) everything is within walking distance. It’s very easy to get lost in the mazes of small streets, though, so get a map from the tourist office. You could also try starting your stay with a walking tour, which will not only help you find your way around, but also give you an insight into the city’s past, and how it came to be what it is today. Principle must-see sights include the Reales Alcazares (royal palace), the Cathedral (there are often long queues, but you can avoid them by buying a combined entrance ticket at the El Salvador church), the Plaza España (González’s masterwork built for the 1929 Spanish-American exhibition) in Maria Luisa Park, and the modernist Metropol Parasols (the world’s largest wooden building).

Seville is famous as the birthplace of tapas, so get to know this typically Andalucian way of eating. It’s informal, and the bars are often busy, but don’t be put off or intimidated – really, the locals are friendly. If there’s no space, wait; people often go from bar to bar and don’t stay long in one place. Don’t order everything at once, just one or two tapas each to start, and order more as you need it. In some bars tapas are only available at the bar, so check before ordering. The bill is “la cuenta” and is usually paid at the end. There are also lots of tapas tours available if you want someone to show you the ropes, explain the food and give you helpful tips and suggestions. It’s also worthwhile visiting one of the local food markets to see how the locals shop.

Although the audiences are mainly tourists, the best way to see flamenco is still at a proper show – The Flamenco Dance Museum and the Casa de la Memoria are among the best. Book an early evening show and you’ll have plenty of time for tapas afterwards.

For the little things. It’s worth going somewhere high up for an overview (literally) of the city. The Giralda Tower and the Metropol Parasol are the best. Also try and catch the deep, dark blue of dusk over the Cathedral from Plaza Virgen de los Reyes. This is also the time when the swallows come out to hunt insects, and can be seen swooping around the tower and nearby streets. This is a magical time of day to be out and about.