Sun, Sangria and Semana Santa in Seville

Gazing at my pin map of Europe one rainy afternoon I was drawn to Spain, I don't know if it was that saying  'the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plane' and the fact it was raining outside that made me notice there were hardly any pins in that country in comparison to some of the other countries on my map of Europe. I decided there and then that I was going to plan my next trip to Spain.

I had no desire to go to one of the popular 'Brits abroad' destinations. I wanted more authentic Spain. Somewhere where we could learn something new about the country's values, cultures and traditions. Both me and my partner had visited Barcelona and we were keen to discover somewhere new. I also have a Spanish friend in Valencia and have been educated on Valencian history, culture, religion and traditions by her. It was time to cultivate my knowledge of Spain in an new area of the country.  We were torn between Granada and Seville, both cities exhibit Moorish influenced architecture. However we felt we knew less about Seville and fewer people who had themselves visited this area and so we settled upon Seville for our next adventure.

Plaza de Espana, Seville

The capital of Andalusia and also known to be one of the hottest cities in Europe (hence why we chose to visit at the end of March, with my pale skin and red hair I would have burned to a crisp in a matter of minutes if we had gone during the warmer summer months where temperatures can easily reach up to a scorching forty degree!).

We found reasonably priced flights with Ryanair for around £60 return, flying out Friday afternoon and returning to Manchester Monday evening, allowing us to have almost three full days to explore the city.  A bus from the airport takes about thirty minutes into the centre of Seville and costs three euros seventy for a single trip. We then walked for about twenty minutes to our hotel in the Santa Cruz district which forms part of the old town. 

Rooftop Pool at Hotel Fernando III

We stayed in a hotel called Hotel Fernando the Third, for a very reasonable price (for 352 euros to be exact) but there was no breakfast included. We used, which enabled us to book the hotel but not be charged for the room until we checked out. Breakfast was an additional fifteen euros per day, so instead we ate in the main square almost directly facing the hotel, outside the restaurant Altamira, which cost us less than half the price and was still absolutely delicious (they serve breakfast all day here as well which is good news if you aren't really an early riser, like myself).

Drinking sangria on our hotel's rooftop bar

On the evening we arrived we promptly checked in and headed into the Santa Cruz area to find tapas and sangria. We walked for about five minutes and took a chance on one of the first tapas bars we saw called Bodega La Parihuela. We were encouraged to eat here by a waiter standing on the door step. It was around 9.45pm and it looked fairly quiet so we knew we wouldn't be waiting long for food. We went along with our (hungry) gut instinct and headed inside. We completely made the right decision. Looking back it was the best food we had during the trip. The service was prompt and was also reasonably priced. 2.50 euros for a tapas dish, 2.50 euros for a beer and 3 for a glass of sangria.

Tapas at Bodega La Parihuela

The waiter was friendly and he spoke a good standard of English, to our relief, as we made a feeble attempt to order our tapas dishes in Spanish. It's important for me to mention that they did not speak English everywhere in the city so every effort should be made to at least try and speak a little basic Spanish. We heard other English tourists saying 'dos cervezas' (two beers) so if you can at least learn this phrase, I guess you can always point to the waiter which dishes you would like to order from the menu. I'm ashamed to admit I let my boyfriend speak most of the Spanish. I really need to brush up!

We settled the bill and headed round the corner to a little bar called Bodega Santa Cruz. It was a small bar with not many indoor tables and a lively outdoor area where locals would stand around chatting and supping on their two euro Cruz Campo's, at this point it definitely felt like we were spending time doing what other young locals in the area did on a Friday night (except we were probably about ten years older than some oh them, oh well you're as young as you feel as they say!).

Bodega Santa Cruz

My priority on our first full day was to head over to Plaza de Espana(Spanish Square), straight after Breakfast. I had seen so many amazing Instagram shots of this place I just had to see it for myself and try and get an instagram worthy shot of my own!  En route to the Plaza de Espana from the hotel we past La Giralda (the Bell Tower) and Seville's outstanding Cathedral.

La Giralda

We stopped to take some photographs and find ice cream (for me, obviously and I have to say the ice cream here was just as nice as the gelato I tried in Italy). We were already surrounded by palm trees, swaying beneath the beautiful, ginormous (the third biggest in the world, to be exact) Cathedral and there were horse and carriages escorting tourists around the area and adjacent streets.

Seville Cathedral

A further fifteen minute walk and we reach the lavish Plaza de Espana. The entire main square is saturated with tourists so we take a few pretty photographs and have a glance at the tribute to every province in Spain which lies around the outside of the square (I was looking for Valencia so I could send a photo to my friend). Each province displayed a coat of arms, a location on a map on the ground and a picture made from tiles portraying that particular town or city and some of it's land marks. Each province was divided using a unique tile pattern, resulting in a vast and vivid array of colours. Very appeasing to the eye, you can see why so many people go there to photograph it.

Plaza de Espana showing the different provinces of Spain
Plaza de Espana

We took a stroll around the quieter Parque de Maria Luisa which is essentially adjacent to the Plaza de Espana. The park is quite extensive and see we didn't explore all of it. However it was a pleasant experience to break off from the crowds of the main square for an hour to wander around the peaceful park and immerse oneself in the nature and tranquillity of it all.

Parque de Maria Luisa

That evening we head out to another tapas bar called Las Teresas in the Santa Cruz area, not far from the one we ate at the night before. This place had been recommended by another blogger. They highly recommended the spinach and chick peas. So we ordered this, apparently a local speciality, accompanied with solomillo (pork steak) and a glass of rioja each.  On another note, having visited Valencia on several occasions and having a Spanish friend, Spanish people generally go out for food at 9pm or thereabouts. You will struggle to find a table at this time. If you head out around 7 or 8pm you won't have this problem. Although, you'll probably find yourself surrounded by like minded English tourists instead. But, hey at least you won't be competing for a table.

Spinach and chick peas at Las Teressa

Afterwards we headed to a free flamenco show we'd heard about. It turned out it was literally behind our hotel at a venue called La Carbonaria, so we were really looking forward to it. We headed down, but the place was empty. The next free show was at 9.30pm it was only 7.45pm so we head back to the hotel bar for an hour and returned at 9pm. The venue looked like an entirely different place now. It was practically packed out. There was no where left to sit by this time, turns out we weren't the only people to hear about a free Flamenco show on a Saturday night in Seville. So we ordered drinks and stood by the tables waiting for the show to start.  A jug of sangria set us back 9 euros. If I'm honest it was probably the worse sangria I tried on the trip. It was pre mixed with lots of ice and no fresh fruit and for the price I was expecting something a little better. But hey, i guess that's the price you pay for a free flamenco show.

The show finally started and even more people came and stood in front of us, almost blocking our view. We were told not to take photos, although some people clearly were. The first performance was a song by a male singer with the other performers clapping along. He was a good singer, but where was the flamenco dancing? Next came what we thought was the start of something amazing, finally, a flamenco dancer and she was pretty good. Everyone was clapping along, getting into the spirit of it all. Then oh wait, after less than five minutes of dancing the show ended and it was all over, after one dance!

We came to realise that they cram everyone in by promoting a free flamenco dancing show, over charge for poor quality drinks (we didn't try the food and I dread to think what that was like) and make a huge profit from it all. I honestly think it would be better value for money if you paid fifteen euros for a professional one hour show. This was all over in fifteen minutes. Even better, there are often flamenco dancers on the streets in the busy tourist areas. They were just as good as in the show we watched at La Carboneria and you aren't being coaxed into buying anything.  My personal opinion is to give this show a miss, there are better alternatives.

Street Flamenco outside the Híspalis Fountain

Sunday was a very interesting and culturally enriching for us. It was the start of Semana Santa (Holy Week) across Spain and celebrates the week leading up to Easter. It seemed to be a very important event for the people of Seville. It felt like almost the entire population of Seville were there and they were all dressed up for the occasion. There were several different parades with different church congregations and marching bands.

Distinctive cloaks and hood of the Holy Week processions

The traditional dress of people who participate in the parade is very unique. They wear a habit with a distinctive pointed hood. We spotted the habit in blue, black and white and assumed the colour was exclusive to the congregation (or brotherhood). It is fascinating to watch these parades as it's completely different to any of the religious parades we hold in the UK and it seems to hold so much more importance to the people of Spain, particularly in the Andalucia region.

Nazarenos carrying wooden crosses as part of the procession

The parade also consisted of what is called a 'Paso' which is a sculpture made from wood depicting scenes of the grieving Virgin Mary or sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. We spotted men wearing sacks around the top of their heads who would be positioned under to Paso to make it look as though it was floating along by itself (we weren't sure how many were under the one we watched but apparently it could be as many as 54 men!).

One of the Pasos at the Semana Santa parades

At the parade we came across, near the Puerta de la Macarena (one of the gates of the ancient walls of Seville) there were spectators watching the parade from balconies in the buildings along the street. At one point the procession came to a halt and a man began to sing a flamenco style song from one of the balconies down to the crowd in the street below. It was very heart warming and emotional as complete silence fell among the crowds. I really wasn't expecting it either, it was incredible to watch and listen to. I felt quite lucky to be at the heart of something that was a sacred and significant tradition to the people of Seville.

The red balcony where the man sang down to the procession
Puerta de la Macarena (one of the gates of the Walls of Seville)

On the final day we embraced the queues outside the Real Alcazar. Considered one of Spain's most beautiful palaces and is known for it's Moorish influenced architecture. We queued for around twenty minutes, the temperatures weren't too high, around seventeen degrees. It was almost midday, if it had been the warmer months, we may have had to reassess our options. One of the options was to pay extra (22 euros as oppose to the 11.50 euros normal entrance fee) for a personal tour guide and skip the queue. I must admit, had the wait been any longer and had it been any hotter than I think it would have been worth paying the extra money to skip the queue alone.

Entrance to Real Alcazar

Once inside we were greeted with room after room of the most astounding decor. Colourful tiles adorned almost every wall. Grand rooms with tall ceilings and extensive gardens with an abundance of palm trees, wildlife and lavish fountains. I somehow managed to snap an image of the Patio de las Doncellas without anyone stood at the foot or along the side of it. The courtyard is famous as it was apparently named after the one hundred virgins that the Moors demanded every year from the Christians (the name translates as The Courtyard of the Maidens)

Patio de las Doncellas (courtyard of the maidens) Real Alcazer
Gardens of the Real Alcazar

For a moment, I felt insanely jealous that parts of  this palace were still a residence for the Spanish Royal Family. It took us just over an hour to look round, including a small museum dedicated to ceramics. However you could easily spend two or maybe even three hours in here if you really wanted to take your time and so is definitely worth the 11.50 euro entrance fee. This along side Plaza de Espana should be on your 'must see' list if you ever visit Seville.

Inside the Real Alcazar

Seville is the place to go if you want to experience authentic Andalucia. The people have passion and they wear it with pride. From the music and the tapas to the history and culture of the city. It is really unlike anywhere I have been before. The best parts of the city for me were definitely the small back streets of Santa Cruz close to where we stayed. You'll find pleasant surprises and hidden gems around every corner,whether is be a beautiful little square, a Bodega or a cute little tapas bar. You won't be disappointed. The only problem you'll have, like we did, is that you won't want to go home!

Sarah xxx


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