48 Hours In: Seville
Saturday 04 December 2010
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Why go now?
The temperatures in this dazzling southern Spanish city are mild, the orange trees are laden with fruit, and the streets are full of seasonal spirit. A competition is held to find the best Nativity scenes in the city: look out for the living crib that will make several appearances at San Bartolome church (1). Christmas festivities begin in the early hours of next Wednesday, when a group of minstrels sings in the Plaza del Triunfo (2), and culminate on 4 January when the Three Kings parade through the city centre. In the villages nearby there are also parades on 5 and 6 January. Information is available from the Tourist Office (3) at the end of Calle Sierpes (00 34 954 595 288; turismosevilla.org), which opens 9am-7.30pm Monday-Friday, 9am-2pm at weekends.
Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies to Seville daily from Stansted and three times a week from Gatwick, while the Spanish low-cost airline Vueling (0906 754 7541; vueling.com) flies daily from Heathrow. An airport bus runs to Santa Justa railway station (4) every half-hour from 6.15am to 11pm. The half-hour journey takes 30 minutes and return tickets cost €4.
Get your bearings
The city centre is on the east side of the Guadalquivir river. It was once enclosed within the 12th-century walls that are still visible along Calle Munoz Leon. The skyline, best appreciated from the Triana district across the river, is dominated by Seville's impressive cathedral (5).
Most of the city is easily explored on foot, but a new metro system links the centre with the suburbs. Tickets cost from €1.35, and a day ticket is €4.50. At the Prado de San Sebastian (6), the metro connects with a tram, which makes several city centre stops on the way to the Plaza Nueva (7). The basic fare is €1.20.
The Corral del Rey (8) is a luxurious establishment in a converted 17th-century palace at Corral del Rey 12 (00 34 954 500 708; corraldelrey.com). Currently offering six rooms, it is set to expand into another traditional building across the street. Doubles cost €300, with an extra €12.84 for breakfast.
Providing a modern contrast, with its coloured neon lights and rooftop pool, the Eme Fusion (9) at Calle Alemanes 27 (00 34 954 560 000; emecatedralhotel.com) has doubles from €160.50; breakfast €21.40 extra.
Hotel Simon (10) is located in a traditional Sevilian house with central tiled courtyard, and combines an unbeatable city-centre location at Calle Garcia de Vinuesa 19 (00 34 954 226660; hotelsimonsevillacom) with reasonable prices: double rooms start at €74.90; breakfast is an extra €5.35.
Take a hike
Get a feel for the historic heart of Seville by starting your walk in front of the stunning gothic cathedral (5). One of the largest religious buildings in Europe, its highlights include the tomb of Christopher Columbus and, through a door on the north side, the Orange Tree Patio containing the Giralda. This ornate tower was the minaret of the mosque that once stood here. The Cathedral and Giralda both open 11am-5pm Monday-Saturday, 2.30-6pm on Sundays, €8.
As you exit the cathedral, follow the building around to the right, then turn left up Calle Mateos Gago and wander through the narrow streets and attractive squares of the Santa Cruz district, before returning to the Plaza del Triunfo (2) on the south side of the cathedral. In front of you is the Alcazar (11), a fortress complex containing Renaissance and Moorish palaces and some attractive gardens, open 9.30am-5pm daily; €7.50.
Emerging from the gardens through the walls on the far side of the Alcazar, you will see the University (12), housed in the 18th-century tobacco factory immortalised by Bizet in his opera Carmen. Then continue past the Alcazar walls, and on to the Avenida de la Constitucion to the Archivo General de Indias (13). This was a trading centre back in the days when Spain was a major power in the Americas; now 7km of shelves house the country's colonial archives, which are free and open 9.30am-4.45pm Monday-Saturday, 10am-1.45pm on Sundays.
Lunch on the run
There's no shortage of cafes in the Santa Cruz district, but for a different atmosphere, head over the Isabel II bridge into the Triana market (14). Inside at number 72, beside the entrance on Calle San Jorge, is a bustling cafe serving tapas from €2.50, and a €9 menu del dia.
Beside, and partially below, Triana market (14) is Seville's latest cultural attraction. The Castillo de San Jorge (00 34 954 332 240; elcastillodesanjorge.es; 10am-2pm and 5-7pm Monday-Friday, 10am-3pm at weekends; free) once dominated this side of the river. It was the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition for some 300 years from the late 15th century. The excavated site and accompanying displays provide an interesting explanation of the origins of the Inquisition and its impact. Among the artefacts in the castle are some fragments of pottery made locally. On leaving the museum, continue down Calle San Jorge to see some of the ceramic workshops that still operate in Triana.
An intriguing market is in residence in the Plaza San Francisco (15) until 23 December, selling all the figures and accessories that could possibly be needed to make your own nativity scene, many of them with a Spanish twist: think of Mary in flamenco dress. A Christmas craft market will operate in Plaza Nueva (7), 16 December-5 January.
For a drink and a selection of tapas to keep you going until dinner, head for Calle Mateos Gago. There are plenty of bars where you can choose your snack at the counter. If you prefer to see a menu, go to La Sacristia (16) where a list of what's available is posted on a blackboard.
Dine with the locals
Abades Triana (17) opened last year at Calle Betis 69A (00 34 954 286 459; abadestriana.com) and has quickly established a reputation on Seville's culinary scene. Expect to eat updated Spanish classics, while enjoying a panoramic view of the city across the river.
Sunday morning: take a view
The Torre de Oro (18) began life as a watchtower, but now houses Seville's naval museum. Climb the 91 steps to the top for a panoramic view of the city below, including the modern Alamillo bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, which is just visible on the horizon. The tower opens 9.30am-1.30pm Tuesday-Friday, 10.30am-1.30pm at weekends, €2.
Out to brunch
Robles Laredo, next door to the Tourist Office (3) at Calle Sierpes 90 (00 34 954 293232), serves a three-course brunch from 11am-3pm for a fixed price of €18.50. Choices include a mixture of regular breakfast dishes, Spanish specialities like gazpacho and a more substantial main course. For a lighter brunch, order ham and eggs, toast, orange juice and coffee from the Horno San Buenaventura (19) on Calle Garcia y Vinuesa (00 34 954 221819) for €7.50.
Take a ride
The Sevici bike scheme (00 34 902 01 10 32; en.sevici.es) offers red bicycles for hire to anyone who wants to explore on two wheels. Visitors can register for a week-long subscription, costing €5, at any bike station: there are four in Plaza Nueva (7), for example. The first half-hour of bike hire is free, the next hour costs €1, and subsequent hours €2 each. Registration gives you a pin code with which you can access bikes at any station in the city.
Go to church
Often eclipsed by the larger Cathedral nearby, the Church of El Divino Salvador (00 34 954 211679; colegialsalvador.org) (20) is Seville's finest baroque church and one of the city's most exquisite buildings, recently returned to its original glory after five years of restoration. Most striking is the figure of Christ carrying the cross, placed in front of a window to the Orange Tree Patio so that it is back-lit with natural light. The church opens 11am-5.30pm Monday-Saturday, and 3-7pm on Sundays; admission €3, although the €8 ticket to the cathedral also covers El Divino Salvador
A walk in the park
Maria Luisa Park is an attractive open space donated to the city's residents at the end of the 19th century. Planted to appear formal and naturalistic at the same time, it contains more than 1000 palms which guarantee a green landscape even in winter. At the eastern end of the park is the newly-restored Plaza de Espana (21), constructed for the 1929 Iberian-American exhibition and oriented towards the west in a symbolic embrace of the countries of Latin America. Film buffs may recognise it as a location in the films Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. The 48 tiled benches around the square represent the provinces of Spain, and in its centre is a boating area.
The icing on the cake
If you are looking for edible delicacies, several of Seville's convents sell typical Christmas confectionery and cakes, usually from a kiosk window, behind which the nuns remain unseen. Try the Convent of Santa Paula (22), which opens 10am-1pm and 4.30-6.30pm daily.
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