48 Hours in: Seville

This elegant Spanish city is currently in the grip of flamenco fever, says Cathy Packe. But if that doesn't blow your skirt up, take a walk and admire its exquisite architecture

This elegant Spanish city is currently in the grip of flamenco fever, says Cathy Packe. But if that doesn't blow your skirt up, take a walk and admire its exquisite architecture

Why go now?

Because despite the recent torrential rain in the "frying pan of Europe" the mercury has started to rise again; in fact, the lowest winter average is 14c. Flamenco fans might also want to rush to the city to catch the end of the biennial flamenco festival (00 34 954 592 870, www.bienalflamenco.org), whose concerts continue all over the city until 6 October.

Beam down

Flights to Seville are operated by Iberia (0845 601 2854, www.iberia.com) from Heathrow, and GB Airways (through British Airways, 0845 77 333 77, www. ba.com) from Gatwick. Fares start around £150. It will almost certainly be cheaper, but a longer journey, to fly with easyJet (0870 600 0000, www.easyJet.com) from Luton or Liverpool to Madrid, and take the AVE high-speed train to Seville. It's two hours 25 minutes from Atocha station in Madrid to Santa Justa station. Book train tickets through Rail Europe (08705 848 848, www.easyJet.com).

Get your bearings

The city centre is contained within an area that is roughly diamond-shaped, enclosed to the west by the river and on its other sides by a ring road and traces of the old city walls. Most of the main sights are within this small area; on the other side of the river is the residential district of Triana, and further north are the remains of Expo '92, whose once state-of-the-art pavilions are now crumbling. The main tourist office is on Avenida de la Constitucion. Its inability to provide even basic information is breathtaking, so go instead to the one beside the bridge to Triana , where nothing is too much trouble.

Check in

One of the most elegant places in Seville is the Casas de la Juderia in the Callejon de Dos Hermanos (00 34 954 41 51 50), where doubles start at €133 (£84) and singles at €98 (£62). An alternative, but equally stylish option is its partner hotel, the Casas de los Mercaderes (00 34 954 225 858), built around an 18th-century courtyard. It's in a very central location between the Plaza del Salvador and the cathedral, but is tucked away on a quiet street at 9-13 Alvarez Quintero. Doubles cost €117 (£74) and singles €81 (£51). Cheaper, but just down the same street, is the Hotel San Francisco (00 34 954 5015 41); doubles are €68 (£43) and singles €55 (£35).

Take a hike

The most interesting part of the city is Santa Cruz, around the Alcazar. Meander around this medieval Jewish quarter, exploring the maze of streets to the east of the cathedral. This is a good starting point for an early exploration of the city, since the cathedral opens later (Mon-Sat 11am-7pm; Sun 2-6pm). But this magnificent structure is likely to prove irresistible – it is Seville's most important building, and the third-largest cathedral in Europe, after St Peter's in Rome and St Paul's in London. Inside is the tomb of Christopher Columbus, held aloft by four figures. Whether they are actually holding the remains of the explorer is a matter of debate: the cathedral in Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, claims that honour too. Now, two teachers are hoping to carry out DNA tests, to try to solve the mystery. Entrance to the cathedral costs €6 (£4) but is free on Sunday.

The icing on the cake

About five miles north of Seville, just outside the small town of Santiponce, are the ruins of the Roman town of Italica, so-called because its first inhabitants came from Italy; it was the birthplace of the emperor Hadrian. It is possibly the oldest Roman settlement in Spain, and its ruins include an impressive amphitheatre, about half the size of the Colosseum in Rome. It has some good mosaics, too, as well as a large bath-house. The ruins are open daily except Monday (Tue-Sat 9am-6.30pm; Sun 9am-3pm; 00 34 955 998 262) and there are buses every half-hour to Santiponce from the bus station (00 34 954 908 040) in the Plaza de Armas.

Take a view

In a corner of the cathedral is the Giralda, the tower that was once the minaret of the mosque that stood on this site, with its courtyard, known as the Orange Tree Court, outside. The view of the city is better from the top of the Giralda than from anywhere else.

Take a ride

There are daily river trips on the Guadalquivir, leaving frequently from the Torre de Oro. The basic cruise lasts for an hour and includes the main city sights and the Expo '92 pavilions on the island of La Cartuja. There is a departure every half-hour, and tickets cost €12 (£7.50).

Lunch on the run

The best place to look for lunch is in the old streets of Santa Cruz, where the rule is that the closer you are to the cathedral, the more touristy it will be. Further north, one unquestionable tourist haunt – but jolly none the less – is El Rinconcillo, on the corner of Calle Gerona.

Write a postcard

To get a feel for how the people of Seville used to live – the wealthy ones at least – visit the Casa de Pilatos, Plaza de Pilatos (open daily 9am-6pm; entrance €8/£5), a 16th-century merchant's house, with frescoes, Mudejar wooden ceilings, and an impressive collection of furniture and pictures. Outside are a courtyard, patio, stables and gardens where you can idle to write a postcard. Or head to Cartuja Island, a wonderfully atmospheric area, with its 12th-century chimney stacks, survivors from the Moorish pottery kilns, 15th-century Carthusian Monastery of Santa Maria (00 34 95 503 70 70), and, bringing it into the modern era, the Museum of Contemporary Andalusian Art. Christopher Columbus lived in the monastery for several years before he left Spain to discover America. The island is a short walk from the city centre, across Pasarela de la Cartuja bridge. The complex is open Tue-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-3pm; €5/£3 (free Tues).

Cultural afternoon

The Alcazar is a palace complex, with extensive gardens, opposite the cathedral (open Tue-Sat 9.30am-6pm; Sun 9.30am-2.30pm; entrance €5/£3). The site was first occupied by the Romans, turned into a citadel under the Muslims, and is still the residence of the Spanish royal family when they visit Seville. The exquisite workmanship of the Mudejar palace, built by Pedro I, completely eclipses the later gothic palace of Charles V, and the contrast between the two is striking. The gardens at the back of the palaces are a series of linked courtyards, with pools and fountains.

Window shopping

The stylish Calle de las Sierpes has everything the serious shopper could possibly want, from clothes, leather goods and jewellery to ceramic tiles, painted ceramics and traditional Spanish fans, but all of a high quality: this is not an area full of tourist tat. The shops spill over into several blocks of nearby streets, between the Plaza Nueva and Calle Campana. The whole district is pedestrianised.

A walk in the park

South of the cathedral is the lovely Maria Luisa park. It is popular with locals who go at weekends to enjoy the shade and the boating lakes around the semi-circle that is the Plaza de Espana. The extravagant brick and tiled building along its circumference is left over from the 1929 Iberoamerican Exhibition, and there are other pavilions in the park dating from the same time. Opera lovers will want to take a detour on the way to go past the old tobacco factory. Now part of the university, it was once the workplace of Carmen, in Bizet's opera of the same name.

Out to brunch

Idle away a long Sunday lunchtime sitting by the river, enjoying some of the fish and seafood for which the region is so famous. There are several restaurants along Calle del Betis, on the riverfront in Triana, on the west bank of the Guadalquivir, each with attractive terraces. The best of these is the Kiosco de las Flores (00 34 954 274 576).

Sunday morning: go to church

There are many beautiful baroque churches in Seville, one of the loveliest of which is San Luis. The most important, however, is the basilica of the Macarena in the shadow of the old city walls. The church itself is neo-baroque, rather than the real thing, built in the last century to house its Virgin, whose statue is very important to the city, and is paraded through the streets during Holy Week.

Dinner with the locals

La Juderia, at Calle Cano y Cueto 13 (00 34 954 42 64 56, www.grupomodesto.com) in the Jewish district from which it takes its name, is one of the best restaurants in the city. It has an extensive menu of Andalusian dishes, using a wide variety of local produce. One of the best dishes is fritura, the fried fish that is so popular in the area. An alternative is La Isla, at Calle Arfe 25 (00 34 954 21 26 32).

An aperitif

Calle Mateus Gago is lined with bars, all offering drinks and tapas at implausibly good prices. The Giralda, at number one, used to be an old Moorish bath-house, but the best bar in the street is the Bodega Belmonte (00 34 954 21 40 14) at number 24.

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