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Joe Cawley

   

The city page: Seville
Fierce dancing, fiery food and operatic passion: Joe Cawley of The Sunday Times finds Andalusia’s sparkiest city ablaze with energy

Seville is not a city you dip a tentative toe into. You need to keep your eyes wide open and take a kamikaze two-footed leap. This is a place of flying heels and stomping hooves, full of noise, exuberance and knockout architecture — Spain on speed. 
There is the fiesta, the bullfight, flamenco, of course — and all under a big, blue Spanish sky. But Seville is much more than the sum of its clichés. Slow down occasionally and peek into its many open doorways. Behind them, you will find courtyards bright with Andalusian tiles, where families gather at dusk in Sevillana Sunday best and emerge to make their nightly paseo through the streets. 

The 1992 Expo bequeathed Seville a schizophrenic skyline. The modern bridges over the River Guadalquivir stick out like shark fins in a sea of fading ochre. The Maestranza bullring towers above a quiet riverside promenade. And the sound of mournful laments drifts through the alleyways, only adding to the spirited atmosphere of one of Europe’s most upbeat cities. 

Jump straight in: familiarise yourself with the Sevillian shtick by grabbing breakfast at Bodega Santa Cruz, between the cathedral and the old Jewish quarter. Here, overalled locals spill out into the street, consuming kick-start coffees and hot bread smothered in olive oil. It’s a frenetic spit-and-sawdust kind of place, ideal for taking the pulse of the city. For afters, stroll off into the calmer confines of Santa Cruz, with its whitewashed alleys and tiled courts. 

Get high: Seville’s tight streets and high walls make for tricky orientation. La Giralda (Plaza Virgen de los Reyes; £4), the cathedral bell tower, is your periscope, poking almost 100 metres above the confusion. Climbing it will help you piece together the city’s subtle jigsaw of white and ochre masonry. 

For a grandstand view of the river, head for Calle Betis, preferably at sunset, when the dying rays restore some high-carat glory to Torre del Oro (the Gold Tower). 

Tasty architecture: Seville is a layer cake of Muslim and Christian styles. One especially sticky slice is the Real Alcazar (Plaza del Triunfo; £3.50), stuffed with enormous tapestries and Mudéjar archways. Then there is Seville’s dauntingly gargantuan gothic cathedral (Plaza Virgen de los Reyes; £4), one of the biggest Christian temples in the world. 

The 18th-century Royal Tobacco Factory (Calle San Fernando 4) is an example of that old architectural adage: if it’s baroque, don’t fix it. This unspoilt edifice is now part of the city’s university. 

Interior motives: the artistry continues at the Museo de Bellas Artes (Plaza del Museo 9; £1.75), a former convent with an inspired collection, including works by Murillo and Goya, arranged around three patios. 

Bullfighting has an intrinsic role in Andalusian culture. Even if it makes you see red, don’t miss the Museo Taurino (Paseo Colon 12; £2), tucked under the tiers of the arena. You can tour the ring, the stables, and the surgery where they patch up matadors who come second. 

For a more sedate afternoon, immerse yourself in a soothing cloak of exotic greenery at Parque de Maria Luisa, about a kilometre south of the Alcazar, with its museums of arche- ology and art and folklore (each £1). 

Public on parade: Seville’s paseo, or evening stroll, is a long tradition punctuated only by stops for a tapa or two — and, fortunately, the city is littered with excellent punctuation marks. In the Santa Cruz quarter, a young set mingles at the Plaza del Alfalfa, while the Hosteria del Laurel (Plaza de los Venerables 5) offers a more intimate setting to down a few chilled sherries. 

One night-time must is La Carboneria (Calle Levies 18), a high-vaulted bar where the live events range from rock gigs to poetry recitals. Impromptu flamenco sessions often kick off in the back room. Later, chill out on the tree-shaded terrace. 

Fan base: Calle Sierpes is Seville’s pedestrianised shopping hub, where you can waft yourself silly with flamboyant fans at Casa Rubio or clock an array of antique timepieces at Enrique Sanchis. For fashionistas, there are twin catwalks - Calle Cuna and Calle Velazquez - which cater both for label slaves and flamenco wannabes. 

Getting there: there are direct flights to Seville from Gatwick with British Airways (0845 773 3377, www.ba.com), from £149; and from Heathrow with Iberia (0845 601 2854, www.iberiaairlines.co.uk), from £152. Travelselect (0871 222 3213, www.travelselect.co.uk) has flights from several regional airports with BA via Gatwick; from £149. Or try Flightcatchers (0871 872 8357, www.flightcatchers.com) or Opodo (0870 241 7051, www.opodo.co.uk). GoHop (01 241 2389, www.gohop.com) has flights from Dublin with Iberia via Barcelona; from €251. 

Tour operators: Inghams (020 8780 7700, www.eurobreak.com) has three nights’ B&B from £337pp, including flights from London. Or try Thomson (0870 606 1476, www.thomsonbreakaway.co.uk) or Bridge (0870 191 7270, www.bridgetravel.co.uk). In Ireland, Citiescapes (01 677 5533, www.citiescapes.ie) has two nights from €361, including flights. 

Further information: Spanish Tourist Office (020 7486 8077).

From The Times Online

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