NH Sevilla Plaza de Armas
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Seville, the fiercely proud capital of Andalusia in southern Spain, owes much to its Roman, Muslim and Christian history. These distinct influences are noticeable in the stunning buildings, wonderfully exemplified by Seville Cathedral, which combines Moorish and Catholic architecture. Seville also lays claim to the origins of Spanish cultural exports tapas and flamenco, and bathes in a warm Mediterranean climate. Indeed, it can get quite hot during the summer (locals nickname their city ‘El Sartén’, meaning ‘the frying pan’!) but the lower spring and autumn temperatures are much more comfortable making these months a great time to visit on a last minute holiday.
Part of the charm of Seville comes from its diverse neighbourhoods, or ‘barrios’, which offer visitors a wide range of experiences within a relatively compact space. In the historic centre (‘Casco Antiguo’), Santa Cruz contains many of the city’s world-famous attractions including Alcázar Palace and Seville Cathedral as well as numerous hotels and tapas restaurants. Alameda, formerly the location of Seville’s port, is home to Torre del Oro (‘Tower of Gold’) a Moorish military watch tower, and the bullfighting stadium Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza. A pleasant stroll over San Telmo Bridge, which spans the Guadalquivir River, is the independent-minded Triana district. It’s a working-class area traditionally associated with the city’s fishing industry and its pottery and tile-making heritage is celebrated in the Ceramica Triana museum and shop. Flamenco is said to be more visceral and emotional here too. To the north, Macarena is an increasingly popular tourist destination with Feria Market a great place to buy local food and drink.
Those on a short visit to Seville usually head straight for the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Santa Cruz. The magnificent Seville Cathedral, built in the Gothic style, houses a golden altar and the tomb of Christopher Columbus. The bell tower is a particular curiosity, previously having served as the minaret of a mosque that used to occupy the site. It’s called ‘La Giralda’, meaning ‘she who turns’, in reference to the weather vane at its peak. A short walk from the Cathedral is the General Archive of the Indies. Formerly a merchant’s exchange, it now archives the documents and maps relating to Spain’s conquest of the Americas. Leaving perhaps the best till last, Alcázar Palace is a real treat for the senses. Built for the Moorish rulers and still used by the Spanish Royalty, it features intricate Mudéjar architecture and beautiful gardens complete with orange trees. Fans of Game of Thrones will recognise it as the Water Gardens of Dorne!
Not far from Alcázar Palace to the south is Plaza de España in the Parque de María Luisa. The Plaza, built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exhibition, is flanked by a semi-circular building showcasing Art Deco, Renaissance Revival and Neo-Mudéjar architecture. It’s adorned with ornate azulejos (‘tiles’) depicting the regions of Spain and located to the front of the building are a delightful canal and bridges which represent the ancient kingdoms of Spain. The centrepiece of the square is Vicente Traver fountain and a popular time to come here is at night when the whole area is illuminated in a stunning fashion. The surrounding gardens offer the opportunity to take a relaxing walk or hire a boat and at the far end, near Plaza America, the Museum of Arts and Traditions and the Archaeological Museum of Seville are well worth a visit. Just outside the park, Hotel Alfonso XIII, one of the best hotels in Seville, offers high-end accommodation, three restaurants and a bar.
Seville loves to hold a festival! The most famous is Semana Santa, or ‘Holy Week’, which is celebrated on the days leading up to the Easter weekend and features processions of pasos (‘floats’) depicting scenes from the Bible. Just two weeks later, Feria de Abril (‘April Fair’) springs into action in the Los Remedios area near the city centre. Depending on the dates of Easter, it sometimes falls in May and offers the chance for everyone to eat, drink and make merry with sherry, tapas, flamenco and fun fair rides. In the last week of July, Triana’s inhabitants honour their patron saint Ana and in early December Christmas festivities start with ‘La Inmaculada Concepción’ (‘The Immaculate Conception’) in Seville Cathedral. So, when booking a flight to Seville Airport and a hotel room, it’s important to bear the dates of festivals in mind, since hotels and aviation tickets won’t be as cheap during these periods as they might be at other times of the year.
Seville is very proud of its cultural heritage. Perhaps foremost is flamenco, the art form that mixes dance, guitar, singing, clapping and stomping to produce an emotional and uplifting performance. One of the best times to visit Seville for flamenco is during the Bienal de Flamenco, which is held every two years in September. Flamenco performers from all over Spain gather to show off their particular variations of the craft. At other times, Casa del Flamenco near Alcázar Palace is recommended for its intimate performances and Museo del Baile Flamenco, a short walk from the Cathedral, features a museum as well as live shows. Seville’s other passions include bullfighting, with the season running from March/April to October, and food and drink. El Rincincillo on Calle Gerona, established in 1670, is said to be the oldest restaurant in Spain. It serves delicious treats such as Espinacas con Garbanzos (‘spinach and chickpeas’), Secreto Ibérico (a succulent cut of pork) and Manzanilla sherry, the local tipple.