The true heart of Seville emerges on Sundays. As locals gather for mass, I spend my morning strolling northwards from the former gypsy quarter of Triana to the soulful Macrena barrio via neighbouring Alameda. Along the way, I happen across contrasting architectural feats like the Metropol Parasol and ancient Alameda de Hercules, a broad avenue lined with trees awaiting their leaves on this late February weekend.
The Macrena and Alameda barrios have been rejuvenated in recent years but retain an undiluted authenticity – the perfect anecdote to more touristy streets. Art galleries, local boutiques, hip bars and restaurants abound but a level of edginess remains, fuelled by the area’s happening nightlife scene. And despite the burgeoning trends of a more cosmopolitan Seville, Spanish heritage is visibly ingrained. Each square I pass through buzzes with families, friends and neighbours, all chatting, relaxed and at ease as they emerge from church. It’s a reminder that Seville does tradition with aplomb and it’s uplifting to witness, to align with its effortless ways and easy-going nature.
While the out-of-towners flock in their droves to the central Santa María de la Sede, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, there is something more original to be discovered amongst the locals at smaller, but no less stunning churches further from the centre. Buoyed by what I see on the less travelled path, I visit some of the quieter attractions like Palacio de las Dueñas, the colourful 15th-century home of the famous aristocrat Duquesa de Alba and Casa de Pilatos, where sublime Italian Renaissance style affirms its place as one of Andalusia’s finest palaces.
Later that evening I dine at conTenedor, where the slow-food menu has successfully tapped into a thriving modern food scene. Late dinners are still the norm here and I arrive just as they open their doors at 8.30pm. Two hours later, as I pay my bill and call it a night, the restaurant still bustles and I’m reminded of how my day began – observing locals conversing over the simple, ubiquitous rituals of life in Seville, something which is unlikely to change anytime soon, even with the most contemporary of additions. Trends come and go, but Seville’s true heart is in it for the long haul.
Until next time…
Seville’s crown jewel is its sprawling UNESCO-listed royal complex, originally built around 913 and subsequently expanded upon by numerous Spanish kings. At its core is the Mudéjar Palace, or Palacio del Rey Don Pedro, which displays some of the best-known surviving examples of Mudéjar architecture. Other highlights include the Courtyard of the Maidens, also known as Patio de las Doncellas, with its reflective pool and lush sunken gardens and the magnificent Ambassador’s Hall, Salón de Embajadores, with its exquisite ceiling dome patterned with stars and other shapes. The grounds are a magnet for tourists so it’s advisable to book your ticket online beforehand to skip the queues and try to visit earlier in the day if you can.
CAAC (The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo)
Housed in the former Carthusian monastery, Santa María de las Cuevas founded in 1400, this gallery boasts refreshingly cool spaces to explore contemporary art. The permanent collection features work by Spanish artists like Luis Gordillo and Pablo Palazuelo, alongside international names such as Candida Hofer, Rebecca Horn, Joseph Kosuth and Louise Bourgeois.
This gastro tapas bar has a buzzing atmosphere on any given night, attracting a sociable young clientele. It’s first come, first served and you’ll probably have to add your name to the chalkboard wait list for a table, but the food is worth your patience. This solo diner ordered a simple but intensely flavoursome fresh tomato, pesto and silky buffalo mozzarella salad, followed by meltingly tender pork cheek with creamed potato and gravy – food for a satisfied soul.
Mercado Lonja del Barranco
Formerly a fish market from the late 1800s to the 1970s, this building was designed by Gustave Eiffel and is now home to an up-market amalgamation of food and bar counters that attracts tourists and locals alike. All under one roof, you can wander from stall to stall trying a selection of small plates and its location right by the river makes it the ideal place to have a drink by the waterfront.
A less polished but more authentic food market can be found across the bridge in Triana. The market is busy with trade during the day as merchants sell fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish and it’s peppered with tapas bars that attract a lively local crowd. It’s a great place for a quick bite while watching the characterful Sevillano world go by.
EME Cathedral Rooftop
Getting above street level in central Seville is one of the best ways to take in the cityscape and the sophisticated surrounds of the EME Cathedral rooftop bar is the ideal place to elevate yourself after a day of sightseeing. The terrace rewards visitors with unparalleled views of Santa María de la Sede which looks particularly glorious around sunset and when lit up at night-time.
The Art Deco Bar Americano is nestled within the iconic Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville’s foremost luxury hotel originally built to host international dignitaries attending the 1929 Spanish American Exhibition. It’s a stylish location for an early evening aperitif or post-dinner cocktail from an equally stylish drinks menu. You’ll also be serenaded with the mellow tunes from the resident pianist who sits in the San Fernando restaurant situated nearby in the Andalusian-style courtyard that forms the decadent heart of the hotel.
Dulcería Manu Jara
This tiny patisserie is a gem of a find in the Triana neighbourhood. As soon as you set foot inside you’ll be transported to another lifetime with its dark wooden interiors and traditional tiling. Behind the counter, an exquisite array of freshly made sweet treats demand to be eaten and spoil customers for choice. If you need help swaying that choice, the mille-feuille are a work of baking art.
Torch coffee roasters
Seville has not been immune to the arrival of the artisanal coffee shop phenomenon and Torch is one of the newest openings. The single-origin coffee is indeed beautifully roasted and they serve and an array of scrumptious cakes, sandwiches, pastries and bowls of fresh fruit and granola for breakfast.