Amazing historical sights, warm and welcoming people, passionate dance moves and a thriving social scene – prepare to be seduced by Seville, says PA Life editor Colette Doyle.
The scent of oranges pervades Seville – in fact, there are more than 14,000 bitter orange trees in this most delightful Andalucian city, and each springtime the glorious fragrance of orange blossoms (azahar) fills the air. Its name has its origins in Arabic, dating back to the time of Al-Andalus, when Spain was ruled by the Moors and Seville came under the jurisdiction of the Caliphate of Córdoba.
The city was later governed by the Muslim Almoravids and the Almohads, until finally being incorporated into the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III. Its links with the Islamic world are still very much prevalent today in its architecture, language and culture.
Seville is unabashedly proud of its storybook attractions, taking immense pleasure in displaying them for all to see. Try a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Plaza de España, located in the magnificent Parque de María Luisa, which was built for the great Ibero-American Exposition, a world fair that took place in 1929. Meanwhile, groups of university students wearing traditional 17th-century dress pass through the streets, playing guitar and singing serenades in an age-old custom known as a tuna band.
Visit the historic Triana district with its brightly decorated buildings and even more colourful past (sailors, bullfighters and gypsies once congregated here) and you’ll discover that it’s home to some incredible local festivals, such as the Semana Santa religious processions that take place during the week before Easter. Later on in the year is the Velá Santana, which commemorates Saint Anne (the mother of the Virgin Mary, ubiquitous in this devoutly Roman Catholic city) between 21 and 26 July, with celebrations taking place on Betis Street.
Here you’ll find people sampling the local sherry wines, from the light versions such as Manzanilla and Fino to the darker, sweeter variations of Amontillado and Oloroso and, in a not entirely unconnected sequence of events, taking part in the local folk dance – the thrilling, vibrant spectacle that is the sevillanas.
Sevillanas is an unmissable local phenomenon – Andalucía is home to flamenco and the Museo del Baile Flamenco is where to experience it. At this lovingly curated museum, there’s a major exhibition charting the history of the gypsy music from its origins in the 18th century, as well as twice-nightly performances when you’ll see genuine flamenco dance and songs performed. The dancer’s body contorts into incredible shapes and the singer’s plaintive lament makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up; this is the real deal and has nothing in common with the shoddy imitation you’ll find in tourist bars on the Costas.
Opera is another classic musical staple of Seville and the city has inspired more than 100 different plays and numerous unforgettable characters, chief among them of course Carmen, Don Juan and Figaro, otherwise known as The Barber of Seville. But if a visit to the opera house at Teatro de la Maestranza seems too heavy-going and opera-lite is more your thing, you might like to check out Sevilla de Ópera in the Arenal Market. This dinner show with three singers performing a number of well-known arias makes opera more accessible in convivial surroundings.
Seville’s exotic blend of Roman, Jewish, Christian and Islamic history means there are monuments galore – in fact, more than 300 buildings have been officially designated as being of cultural interest. If it’s your first trip then prioritise a visit to the cathedral; this awe-inspiring structure is the third largest in all of Christendom, containing no fewer than 80 chapels, and is also the final resting place of renowned mariner and explorer Christopher Columbus.
The Giralda is the cathedral’s bell tower and if you’re feeling energetic you may want to climb the 35 ramps to reach the top; even if you’re the kind of person who always takes the lift, it’s worth it to see the spectacular view of the city with the Guadalquivir river glistening in the distance.
The Real Alcázar, too, is another magnificent testimonial to Seville’s rightful place in the annals of history. Built in the 1360s, this is the oldest royal palace currently in use in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The intricately designed carvings and murals are a wonder to behold, especially the tapestries that depict the route Charles V took to conquer Tunis, but it is the gardens that make the most lasting impression. The splendid water features evoke the style of the Arabian Nights and peacocks casually strut around this exquisite oasis of tranquillity.
The Alcázar is just one of many historic buildings in the city that can be hired out for corporate events and that much over-used phrase “the wow factor” comes into its own given the richness of Seville’s cultural offering. The Palacio de Exposiciones y Congresos is the place to head, meanwhile, if your company has serious conferencing requirements.
The centre’s three pavilions each offer a colossal 7,200m2 of open space and then there’s the capacious central building, the Dome, which houses the recently inaugurated conference centre where as many as 3,200 attendees can meet in stylish comfort. Plus, the stunning sequence of waterfalls as you approach the building is bound to impress even the most jaded delegate.
When you need to unwind and relax, Seville doesn’t disappoint. Take a stroll through the Santa Cruz district, the former Jewish quarter, which is packed with quaint little squares and authentic bodegas. Enjoy a delicious selection of tapas, including the much-loved and well-travelled tortilla, jamón ibérico (cured ham), ensaladilla rusa (the Spanish take on potato salad), espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas), or chipirones en su tinta (squid in ink). As befits the warm climate, the chilled soup gazpacho is probably one of Andalucía’s best-known culinary exports, but try its close relation, salmorejo, and you’ll find it to be both creamier and tastier.
As you sit and watch the world go by, you may be lucky enough to witness the pageantry that is the Romería del Rocío, a pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin of El Rocío (represented by a carved wooden statute that resides in a monastery in nearby Huelva) with the participants decked out in all their finery from bygone days. That’s when you realise that culture in Seville is not something confined to a dusty museum, but is actually the lifeblood of this captivating city.
HILTON GARDEN INN – MIXING BUSINESS WITH LEISURE
Colette Doyle stayed at the newly opened Hilton Garden Inn, located in the Torneo business park – extremely convenient for the airport and close enough to the historic city centre that you can clearly see the famous Giralda landmark.
It’s apparent from the outset that this is a hotel expertly geared up for business: the 140-room property offers around 300m2 of event space, with five state-of-the-art meeting rooms, all with natural daylight, able to cater for groups of up to 200, plus a spacious outdoor terrace ideal for cocktail receptions virtually all year round. There’s also a 24-hour business centre and free high-speed wifi.
In each room you’ll find an extra-wide desk, an ergonomic chair specially designed for long stints, a plethora of plugs for electronic equipment and a safe big enough for a laptop. The only caveat is the Serta mattress – it’s so comfy you might be in danger of oversleeping and missing your meeting. If your expenses won’t cover dry cleaning, there’s an on-site laundry room and if the procurement department has vetoed use of the mini-bar that’s not a problem, as the self-service pantry is an economical way to purchase drinks and snacks.
When you feel like something more substantial to eat, then the all-day dining Grill is on hand to whip up a great blend of tasty international and Spanish dishes.
At breakfast time you must try the American-style waffle complete with HGI logo or, if you prefer something healthier, then tomate triturado (finely chopped tomato) with a dash of olive oil, accompanied by some of the local bread, is surprisingly delicious.
Any gaps in your schedule can be spent lounging by the outdoor pool, or for a sportier option, playing a game of paddle tennis, (a cross between tennis and squash) or using the fitness centre. Whether here on business or pleasure, the friendly staff are bound to make your stay enjoyable.