Welcome to Catavino’s Gourmet Guide to Sevilla, where we focus as much on the food as the flamenco. If you too travel with your tastebuds, bookmark this page the minute you book your flights…
The largest city in southern Spain, Seville is on the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir River about an hour’s drive from the coast. Although this is a relatively dry region, the river makes it one of Spain’s most productive agricultural regions, growing a wide variety of cereal crops, vegetables and fruits, and it is especially famous for olives, sunflowers and the bitter oranges that are everywhere in the city itself. The hills around the valley are where they breed the Iberian blackfooted pigs, the pata negra, perhaps the best-known Spanish gourmet food; westwards is the sherry triangle, and from the coast comes a wide variety of fish and seafood.
As everybody knows, Sevilla (as it’s known in Spanish) is famous as the home of tapas, those little dishes that come with your drink and which are the preferred way of dining out here, and the city is reputed to have three thousand tapas bars, catering to what seems to be an almost insatiable demand that is now fed by a growing number of gastronomic tourists. Pork, fish and seafood figure prominently, but there are many other popular dishes with a range of historical roots in Europe and Moorish North Africa.
Not to Miss Seville Delights
- Jamón Iberico de Bellota – is the cured meat from the free range, acorn-fed Iberian pig, and can be seen hanging from the rafters of almost every tapas bar in the city. Sweet and nutty, it’s a treat not be missed.
- Pringa – a mix of tender stewed pork shoulder, chorizo (spicy sausage) and black pudding, served in a hot toasted bun. A perennial local favourite.
- Carrillada – a slow-cooked pork cheeks. In Spain they use every part of the pig. This is one of the best.
- Gazpacho – is the traditional tomato based cold soup of Seville, gazpacho is eaten in summer as a snack or starter. Also try Salmorejo, a thicker local variation from nearby Córdoba.
- Seville Oranges – Along the lush green city streets, you can smell the sweet perfume of bitter oranges of Sevilla. These local delicacies are worth tasting, especially as a compote spread over a freshly toasted piece of bread.
- Manzanilla is the light, dry sherry from nearby Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Savour a glass of manzanilla with your jamón and other starters.
There’s generally not much distinction between bars and cafes, as almost all of them serve both coffee and alcoholic drinks, and most serve tapas too. And there’s so many of them! You’re rarely more than a couple of minutes from somewhere to sit and enjoy a little refreshment while you watch the world go by.
Great areas for bars and cafes:
- Calle Betis (Triana) – the riverside street across from the old centre, and has bars and cafes almost nose to tail along its whole length, where you can sit out on terraces overlooking the river. A favourite spot is Primera del Puente, which serves up some of the best fish and seafood in Seville, either on its riverside terrace or in the tapas bar across the street. Venture a bit further into Triana to Las Golondrinas – to sample a tapa of radishes – and lots of other goodies. Puratasca is a terrific little bar featuring traditional tapas with a twist in the heart of the neighbourhood.
- The Alameda de Hercules – the largest open space in the old centre of Seville, is lined with bars and cafes, with a reputation as a place to go for nightlife. Lots of great spots, but head first to Al Aljibe for one of their risottos and a langoustine burger. A bit south and west of the Alameda you will find Eslava on the street of the same name, one of Seville’s favourite spots for tapas, that does innovative versions of traditional dishes. Be sure to try the honey roast pork ribs.
- Puerta de la Carne – on the edge of the Barrio Santa Cruz has lots of bars with terraces for al fresco dining. Go to Modesto for traditional and seasonal fish and seafood, and the Vineria San Telmo for a more eclectic menu and the best desserts in town. Venture a bit deeper into the Santa Cruz to find Las Teresas, a great traditional bar with a typical Sevilla-style menu.
- El Arenal – has some of the best tapas bars in town. Go to Bodeguita Romero for some homestyle cooking, or La Brunilda for a more up market tapas experience. At La Azotea you’ll find some of the best gourmet tapas in town.
Although tapas is the name of the game in Seville, if you’re looking for a more formal, sit-down type of dining experience, there are some great restaurants too. At the top of the tree is Seville’s only Michelin-starred restaurant, Abantal. Take a stroll down Calle San Fernando for a handful of exceptional restaurants including Oriza and Salvador Rojo, or go a bit trendy with Perro Viejo on Calle Arguijo.
Dining in Seville: Dos and Don’ts
- Don’t order everything at once: Just order one or two tapas at a time until you’ve had enough. This also gives you the chance to see what other people are eating; if it looks good order one for yourself.
- Do share dishes with family and friends: Tapas is a social occasion just as much as a culinary one, and you will get to try a variety of food.
- When to Eat: Seville (and Spain in general) functions much in the same way as hobbit’s village. There are approximately 6 meals a day, or more, depending on what your objective is. As a basic guide, you can assume the following: 8:00 coffee, 10:30 coffee and toast (tostada), 14:00 lunch; 17:00 coffee and a sweet; 21:00 dinner. Although dinner may be later than you’re used to, most places close earlier than in Barcelona or Madrid.
- Be Assertive: Understand that assertiveness is the key to success in any restaurant, bar or cafe. Whether you need to order food, grab a drink or simply pay your bill, don’t hesitate to make a bee line straight to the server; otherwise, you may be reaching retirement before your needs are met.
- Dress Code: Here I am only referring to the restaurant scene, but just about anything goes. I would suggest avoiding a t-shirt and shorts for a nice dinner, though you won’t be denied entrance. Sevilla is lovely in its informality, but try not to abuse its flexibility.
Seville has four food markets in the city centre, run by the city council. All of them have a great selection of fruit and veg, fish and seafood and fresh and cured meats, and bars that serve up food that comes straight from the market stalls.
- Feria market, in the north of the city, is the oldest and smallest, with a real neighbourhood feel to it. Bar La Cantina, sandwiched between the market and the church next door, is a great little place to stop for some fried calamares and a cold beer.
- La Encarnación, in the plaza of the same name, has recently returned to its original home after 37 years in “temporary” accommodation. It can be found on the ground floor of the Metropol Parasol (known to locals as the Mushrooms), Seville’s most avant-garde new building.
- Arenal is down near the river. It’s looking a bit run down these days, which is a shame, because it’s a lovely building. It’s also home to Opera at the Market, which puts on performances based on Seville operas.
- Triana, just across the river from the city centre, is the most traditional looking, with lovely tiled nameplates on the market stalls, and an unpretentious oyster and sushi bar that features live music on Thursday evenings.
- Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the city’s world famous religious festival, with a whole week of processions, music, floats, and penitentes and nazarenos in pointy hoods. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but often strangely moving, and an unforgettable experiences.
- Feria de Abril (The April Fair) two weeks later, is the secular counterweight to Semana Santa, a week of drinking, dancing and socializing, with horses and carriages during the day, fairground rides, and fast food stalls.
- Bienal de Flamenco Held every second year in September, the Bienal is a month-long festival that attracts the elite of flamenco performers from around the world. Aside from the concerts there are other activities and events such as workshops, courses and seminars. The next one will be in September 2014.
Seville has been important since Roman times, and in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was the richest city in the world, so not surprisingly, it’s full of places to see. Our four must-sees:
- The Alcázar Palace – was once a Moorish fortress, and is still surrounded by the 11th century walls, but the palace complex inside is mainly from the early Christian period. It’s one of the best examples of Mudejar architecture in Spain, and has fabulous gardens too.
- The Cathedral – is the third largest church in the world (after St Pauls and St Peters) and the largest Gothic cathedral, and was built in the 15th century on the site of the former Grand Mosque. You can also climb the Giralda Tower, Seville’s most famous icon, and enjoy the views out over the rooftops of the city.
- The Plaza España – was built as the centerpiece of the Spanish-American exhibition of 1929, and is the masterwork of Anibal González. The splendid semi-circular building represents all the provinces of Spain, and is a riot of colorful tiles, with a boating lake and central fountain. The sharp-eyed may spot it as a scene from one of the Star Wars movies.
- The Metropol Parasol – demonstrating that the spirit of architectural daring is still alive and kicking in Sevilla, the Espacio Metropol Parasol (or the Mushrooms, as they are known locally) were completed in 2010, and are the world’s largest wooden structure. Worth seeing just for its gracefully swooping shape, it’s also home to the provisions market, has Roman ruins in the basement and a bar complex and walkways on the top.
Seville has seen a big increase in the number of hotels to choose from over the last few years, especially in the boutique hotel sector, so here are three of the best.
- Hospes Casa del Rey de Baeza is a converted Sevillano townhouse with beautiful rustic-looking courtyards and lounges with terracotta-tiled floors. But it also has rooms with modern bathrooms, a swimming pool, sundeck and spa. It’s in a quiet location, but still within reasonable walking distance of the monuments.
- Casa 1800 is a little gem of a hotel in the heart of the Barrio Santa Cruz. With its individually decorated rooms, including original and restored brickwork and tiles it’s the place to choose for that romantic getaway. The best rooms even have private jacuzzis. It also does an excellent complimentary afternoon tea to refresh you during that siesta downtime.
- Hotel Adriano is an unpretentious family-run 2-star in the Arenal neighbourhood close to the bullring and the river, and gives good value for money for the less well-heeled traveller. Comfortable and friendly with helpful staff and an all-day cafe with a terrace.
- Alfonso XIII – Just as Paris has the George V and London The Ritz, Seville has the Alfonso XIII. Since the eponymous King Alfonso built the hotel for VIP guests to the 1929 Expo, this grande dame of a hotel, just a few hundred yards from the cathedral, has become synonymous with the ultimate in palatial luxury.
- Corral del Rey – Tucked away in one of the labyrinthine narrow streets of Seville’s old quarter, this whitewashed boutique hotel is a reinvention of a 17th-century casa palacio that preserves Roman marble pillars alongside medieval Mudéjar wooden doorways. You can see the whole city from Corral del Rey’s poolside rooftop mirador…
Alternatively you could opt for a holiday apartment, especially if you are staying a bit longer.