Seville… the city of Christopher Columbus, bullfighting, flamenco, and tapas. And the place where I escaped for 43 hours on my days off from volunteering at a hostel near Granada. I decided to go less than 24 hours before leaving, and so, with no expectations and no plans (except a bus ticket and a hostel), I set off for a weekend adventure.Free walking tours have become my go-to when entering a new city. Not only do you get your bearings around the city, but the tours are often filled with other solo travelers. I’ve had some of the best conversations and post-tour city exploration moments with people I’ve met on free tours. (Just don’t forget to tip your guide!)
The Cathedral de Seville was incredible. Not many man-made structures have the ability to take my breath away, but this cathedral is spectacular. It’s the third largest cathedral in the world and the largest gothic cathedral. Most of it was completely rebuilt, replacing a mosque that once stood there, but some parts of the mosque are still there today. The bell tower, for example, used to be a mosque spire. Interesting fact: there are no stairs in the tower, nor is there an elevator. When it was a mosque, the muezzin who would recite the call to prayer had to go up and down 5x/ day, and so when they built it, they constructed ramps so that a donkey or horse could be ridden up and down for the call to prayer. Today, there are bells to wake us up and remind us to pray.
Be sure to look for the ancient graffiti on the outside back wall of the cathedral. The graffiti was only recently discovered when the walls, black from pollution, were scrubbed clean. My tour guide said that the graffiti was written in bull’s blood to celebrate the completion of a doctorate degree (can you find V-I-C-T-O-R in the graffiti?).
The Plaza de España was another must-see. It was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 very intentionally with all provinces and ancient kingdoms represented. There’s also a man-made river where you can rent a rowboat. Fun fact: Star Wars, Lawrence of Arabia, The Dictator, were all filmed in part at this location.
Another tour I joined was the Plaza de Toros (Bullfighting ring) and museum tour. It was interesting and I’m glad I saw it, but after hearing how adamantly anti-bullfighting many Spaniards are, I hoped to hear more of the why behind the fight. The ring is the only one in the world that’s not completely round due to an error in building, and has been around since 1765. We also visited the museum to see different costumes, the horse stables, and the chapel where all bullfighters go to pray before the fight. The horses are covered with protective gear, but the bullfighter has no protection. My curiosity has been satisfied, and the paintings were enough for me to decide that bullfighting is probably not for me.
Triana claims to be the home of flamenco. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend a performance, but was given some advice from a local on picking a non-touristy flamenco show. 1. If they offer a meal during the show… just say no! Flamenco is very emotional, and you must pay attention to the dancer and singers’ expressions. If you’re eating, you’ll miss it. 2. There shouldn’t be too many performers. A guitar player, singer, and one or two dancers should be plenty.Although I didn’t see a flamenco show, I did make it to Triana to see the beautiful painted houses and the Triana Market. It’s worth a visit to see all of the colorful fruits and vegetables, jamón hanging, and fish of all shapes and sizes being purchased by locals.Tapas: If you’re indecisive like me and want to try a little of everything, tapas are the dream! Small plates for around 3€ allow you to try a few different things instead of committing to one large portion. Also— in most places, when you order a drink, they’ll automatically bring free tapas (anything from olives to a sandwich or calamari!).
The highlight of my weekend was a Tapas Tour with Peter, the Seville Concierge, who visited on holiday from the UK 11 years ago and decided to stay. A 3-hour affair, Peter planned the best tour and showed us great spots all around town. His itinerary changes based on his guests’ preferences, but for our tour, we visited Casa Morales, Bodeguita Romero, and Vineria San Telmo.
Casa Morales was a perfect place to start— the restaurant’s been in the family since 1815, and the history’s evident as soon as you walk in the door. The restaurant is lined with giant clay tinajas, which used to hold wine. We tried sherry (which is made in Jerez– if it’s not from this region, it’s not sherry), and learned all about how it’s made. It was paired with a Spanish staple, Iberico ham. This type of ham comes from black-footed pigs who feed on acorns. The ham is cured for 2-5 years after being buried in salt for around 40 days. (You may remember this as the $200/lb. ham from my dinner at FRANK Underground.)
Bodeguita Romero is another restaurant that’s been in the family for generations…and WOW have they perfected the art of food! I was thankful to Peter, who pushed me out of my comfort zone to try some new items, because everything that he ordered was incredible! The pringá montadito was a pork sandwich made from 3 different parts of the pig… and is definitely the best pork sandwich I’ve ever eaten. And that’s saying something coming from this Texas girl! The potatoes marinated in sherry were great– like an upscale Spanish potato salad. I also loved the carrillada, which is pig’s cheek. Ok… If we’ve ever eaten together before, I hope you’re not completely passed out. I’m still a little in shock that I’m trying (and LOVING) all of these new foods!
The new experiences didn’t stop there! At Vineria San Telmo, I tried squid ink spaghetti with scallops.
And Peter saved the best for last! Dessert at Vineria San Telmo was fantastic! We had the lemon meringue pie and Tocino de Cielo– translated as pork fat from heaven, heaven’s little pig, bacon of heaven, sky bacon…. and the list goes on. What it actually is, is a heavenly custard made from only eggs, sugar and water. Who knew 3 simple ingredients (none of which come from a pig) could yield something so wonderfully rich?
If you visit Seville, I cannot recommend the Seville Concierge tapas tour more highly. Peter knows exactly where to go, what to order, and every restaurant had a table reserved just for us. I left full but not uncomfortably so– every stop had at least 2 tapas to try (sometimes 3-4!) and a drink included.
Pizza: We were on the hunt for tapas after our walking tour when we passed a restaurant with giant pizzas and calzones. I know… Seville is not Italy. But according to a new friend, the pizza that we tried at l’Oca Giuliva was better than any she’d had in Italy.
We ordered the Gustosa (tomato sauce, mozzarella, arugula, Parma ham, and shavings of parmesan cheese) and Boscaiola (mozzarella, mushrooms, homemade sausage and extra virgin olive oil— ask to add tomato sauce). They were both incredible, and between the three of us, we almost polished them both off. For only 11€, you can get an entire pizza, drink and dessert. Add this place to your list!
Ice cream: Guys— my job is hard sometimes. I went to two ice cream shops back to back just so I could report back on the best ice cream Seville had to offer.
A sweet friend sent me the address to an ice cream shop in Seville and because of my spidey-senses when it comes to ice cream, I had noticed that place two blocks earlier, and I about-faced for some dessert. Bolas Helados Arte-sanos ranks in my top 3 ice creams worldwide. Their flavors were creative (think pineapple mint, cream cheese and figs, goat cheese with quince jelly, and Moorish Seville— ice cream with walnuts, raisins, glazed orange peel, spaghetti squash and cinnamon, which tasted like Christmas). When you order your ice cream, they serve it with a tasting spoon filled with an additional bonus flavor. It worked because I went back on day 2 for the ‘teaser flavor’!
Next up was Helados Rayas, which was good, but after the greatness that was Bolas, I had a hard time being impartial. Rayas also had some great flavors— I tried tocino de cielo (remember that pork fat from heaven dessert?) and mascarpone, which were both tasty, but not worth the extra .70 over Bolas.
If you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to stay, I highly recommend Hostelworld.com. Through their website, I was able to find the Grand Luxe Hostel, which was incredibly affordable, and incredibly well-located. Check out my breakfast view:
Unfortunately, I had to leave Seville so soon after arriving. Hopefully it’s an hasta luego instead of an adios!