October 11, 2017
There are times in life when, unless you’re the properly athletic type, you wish you’d been to the gym a little more often, writes Eddi Fiegel. As I climb the 319-foot Giralda Tower in Seville, this is one of them. It’s not that the steps are steep - the 34 flights of cobbled ramps were originally built so horses could be ridden to the top, so they’re wide and shallow - but it’s still a quite a climb.
‘When are we getting to the top?’ asks my four-year-old daughter Georgie, as she drags her little legs up the last few steps.
The spectacular views from the top, however, are worth the trek.
Laid out beneath you lies Seville in all its splendour. There are Moorish palaces, a vast medieval cathedral and parks and patios. Alongside them, the Guadalquivir river cuts down the middle straddled by celebrity architect Santiago Calatrava’s 21st-century, white cats’ cradle bridge.
Andalusia’s capital is arguably Spain’s most romantic city with its patios filled with orange blossom, fiery flamenco and tantalising tapas. But it’s not all horse-drawn carts and tradition either.
The Calatrava bridge flies the flag for the city’s new modernity and you’re now just as likely to find hipper-than-hip boutique hotels and designer tapas in with the mix.
The Giralda still dominates the skyline nevertheless and, although originally built as the city mosque’s minaret, it was later refashioned as the cathedral’s bell tower, once the Christians had grabbed the reins from the previously conquering Moors.
The adjoining cathedral is Seville’s top attraction and its sheer scale is as impressive as anything else. With the longest nave in Spain, it’s also Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral, with no less than 80 separate chapels. (If you want to avoid the queues, head first to the nearby Church of El Salvador on Plaza del Salvador and buy a joint ticket for the cathedral.)
Christian conquistadors may have reinvented La Giralda, but Seville’s Moorish past is still alive and well at the Alcazar Palace, just a short stroll from the cathedral. (Buy tickets online in advance for €9.50).
With its intricately-carved latticed marble arches, ornately patterned tiles in vivid blues and greens and cooling fountains, you feel like you’ve wandered into a story from the One Thousand and One Nights.
After a climb, a cathedral and a palace, it’s definitely time for a break and where better than Seville’s legendary tapas bars? The narrow lanes around the cathedral and Alcazar are heaving with tourist-trap tapas aplenty, but if you know where to go, you can bypass all that and I nearly always head for the same place.
Less than 100 yards from the cathedral itself is one of Seville’s best, and most economical bars – Bodega Santa Cruz, known locally as ‘Las Columnas’ (Calle Rodrigo Caro, 1A;.00 34 954 21 16 94).
With its carved mahogany bar, giant hams hanging from the ceiling and bar staff chalking your order on the bar as they shout it through to the kitchen, this is about as authentic as it gets.
You’ll be jostling with locals who come here for super fresh dishes like calamares and pavia (fingers of crisply battered, succulently salty white fish, often hake) all at knock-down prices (less than €3 a shot). There’s also my other half’s favourite: pringá (a mishmash of chicken, chorizo and pork fat slow-cooked so the meat falls apart at the touch).
This is somewhere for a quick but atmospheric pit-stop rather than a lingering lunch, and the afternoon lull between 2pm and about 5pm, when the shops and museums re-open, is a great time to slow down the pace.
If you’re here in summer, you’ll want to do as the Sevillanos do and escape the heat. Either with a siesta or, if you’re staying somewhere with a pool, lounging by the water.
Otherwise, if you’re feeling more energetic, amble through the narrow warren of streets which make up the Santa Cruz district (the old Jewish quarter). Afternoon is a great time to peep through open doorways to the private patio Andaluzes which the city and indeed Andalusia is famous for, filled with bougainvillea-laden planters, fountains and ornate tiles.
Alternatively, head south to the Parque Maria Luisa (around 10-15 minutes’ walk from the centre or about five minutes on a rented bike).
Created at the turn of the last century, this grand park stretches across half a mile of the city centre and makes for a wonderful escape from the heat and crowds.
This was my late Sevillana mother-in-law’s favourite place in the city and it’s also perfect for children. Georgie was in her element splashing in the fountains and playing hide and seek in the bushes.
When it comes to dinner time, if you think the only food options in Seville are spit and sawdust bars, you’ll be in for a shock. Over the last few years, a new wave of hip tapas bars and restaurants has emerged to easily rival Barcelona or Madrid.
I love the bijoux but fabulous Eslava (Calle Eslava, 3; +34 954 906 568) in the San Lorenzo district for dishes like their prize-winning slow-cooked egg served on boletus cake with caramelized wine reduction or the more traditional, honey-coated ribs - but be sure to get there early or you’ll be queuing for hours.
By 10pm, the night is still very young by Seville standards. New York may have its reputation as the "city that never sleeps" but hardy Sevillanos have been serenading the night for centuries.
If you’ve never seen proper flamenco, the Museo del Baile Flamenco is one of the best bets (C/Manuel Rojas Marcos 3) with regular nightly shows, or try Bar Flamenco Los Martínez in Triana (Calle Salado 7).
Otherwise, if you just want to chill-out with some Ibiza-style sounds, head to one of the rooftop hotel pool bars, such as Los Seises by Fontecruz hotel (Calle Segovias 6). With a mojito in hand, sit back and admire Seville’s night-time skyline. La Giralda takes centre stage.