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Interview with Seville Tour Operator: Shawn Hennessey

Sevilla Tapas

Editor’s Note: We’ve known Shawn for many years, one of the few bespoke tour operators who dove into social media headfirst. Having watched her fabulous efforts from afar, consistently hearing a stream of positive comments about her work – we finally decided to join forces and actively promote her through Catavino! We couldn’t be happier, and we trust you will be too!

What is your background and how did you end up in Spain working in the tourism industry?

After becoming disillusioned with my career in Toronto’s fashion industry, I came to Spain in 1993 (following a hunch that this was where I belonged) and spent the first 15 years teaching English. My involvement with the food and tourism industry began quite by accident one spring afternoon in 2007 when I took some photos of my lunch and put them up on my personal blog. This proved to be so popular that I ended up creating my Sevilla Tapas website, listing tapas bars and restaurants, each with a short review and lots of photos.

In 2008 I was sidelined by illness and was off work for almost two years. As often happens in these cases, when I was ready to get back to work I was also ready for a change. During my time off, I had become more involved in social media and also worked a lot on my blogs and websites. So when I started doing my food and wine tours in 2010 they were basically a natural extension of the research I’d done for my website and the contacts I’d made over the years.

I am very pleased to say that I am now recognised by the Tourism Board as an important promoter of Sevilla’s excellent gastronomy and vibrant tapas scene.

What do you find to be most exciting about the Andalusian region of Spain, not to mention its wine and food culture?

When people from other countries think of Spain the typical images that come to mind (flamenco, fans and castanets, bullfighting, tapas, sherry) are all Andalusian in origin. Although steeped in tradition it’s quite exciting to see Andalucía also embracing new concepts. This is obvious in the food and wine culture here, which has evolved incredibly in the past five years. When I first moved here 21 years ago you couldn’t find a decent white wine in any of the tapas bars (though there was usually a passable rioja tinto), tapas often lacked finesse and people were still tossing their paper napkins and olive pits on the floor.

These days even small family-run bars have quite good wine lists – and also proper wine glasses! – and there are a lot of new places offering very stylish and innovative dishes. I think that the concept of promoting regional gastronomy and wine as a “tourist attraction” is also catching on, which is something I am also involved with, and it’s very exciting to watch that grow.

What can people expect to learn/taste/experience if they join you on a tour?

My food and wine tours are very personal.The numbers are kept small ( 2 – 6 people) and I take my guests out in much the same way I take out my friends when they visit. My two main objectives are to take people to places they probably wouldn’t have gone into on their own, and to get them to try dishes they would never have ordered (mostly because they wouldn’t have known they existed!). I explain the different tapas and wines and also give out a nice “info pack” with food translations and a list of other great tapas bars to visit. One of the main reasons people take one of my tours is because they feel a bit intimidated by the whole tapas thing and so it’s important to me that people walk away feeling more knowledgeable and confident about ordering tapas on their own.

On a typical tour we will visit three of my favourite tapas bars and sample the house specialities at each one. I like to mix it up a bit between traditional and modern places and, although I do recommend dishes, it isn’t a “fixed tourist menu” as I want people to have an authentic tapas experience. To this end I offer different types of tours, including a Flamenco & Tapas Night, a Market & Tapas Tour, my standard Tapas Tour and a Gourmet Tapas Tour, and I will also create custom food and wine experiences.

If there was one highlight that you feel that people consistently miss out on when visiting Sevilla, what is it?

I think many people make the mistake of not giving themselves enough time here. You simply can’t “do” Sevilla in 24 hours and will miss out on a lot if you try. I recommend at least three-four nights to get a genuine feel of the city and properly enjoy at least the basics of what Sevilla has to offer (Editor: you can find apartments in Seville via our partners at Only Apartments). And that includes sitting outdoors on a restaurant terrace with a nice glass of wine, a few snacks, and enjoying a bit of people watching.

If all this gastro speak has made you hungry to experience Seville for yourself – with Shawn as your guide – then you’ll be pleased to know that you can book any of her fantastic food and wine activities via our Sevilla tours page. Continuing your travels elsewhere in Spain? We’re busy compiling the best culinary experiences from around Spain right here on Catavino.net, and we’ll also help you book food and wine tours in Portugal

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