seville spain

Within two hours of landing in Seville, I found myself sitting in the front row at a flamenco show. I was slightly wary that I’d bought into one of the city’s biggest tourist clichés, but the cool, stone walls of the underground concert room, along with the ice-cold beer in my hand, offered an escape from the oppressive heat of the July afternoon. The first song began, with a lilting rhythm sustained by the steady strum of a guitar; punctuated by the neat clicks of a dancer and the claps of a wailing vocalist. I settled deeper into my seat, and into the beat.

Duende is a Spanish word which roughly translates as ‘spirit’, and refers to a physical or emotional reaction triggered by art. Duende is what gives you chills down your spine; what makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Thanks to the 20th-century Andalusian poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, the concept is traditionally associated with flamenco, and each year visitors are drawn to Seville in the hope of discovering duende for themselves.

Many choose to visit during the spring, when the city is steeped in the sweet scent of orange blossom, and anticipating its two most important events. Semana Santa (Holy Week) sees thousands line the streets to catch a glimpse of medieval hooded figures, who process behind life-sized religious effigies to bring the Easter story alive. The solemn spectacle is followed two weeks later by the spirited Feria de Abril (April Fair) a citywide party associated with much of what we consider to be quintessentially Andalusian. Think bullfighting, flamenco-dancing, sherry-drinking and girls in polka-dot dresses riding horsedrawn carriages through cobbled roads.

But even if you visit in low season, as I did, Seville is charged with elevated emotion. And indeed, without the festivities of Semana Santa and Feria taking centre stage, there is more time to consider the city’s rich and textured past. I spent hours one morning wandering the former Jewish quarter of Santa Cruz, my pace slowed by soporific sunlight, and wound up at La Casa de Pilatos. Adorned with kaleidoscopic azulejos (ceramic tiles) and stucco engravings, this 16th-century palace is one of the city’s best examples of Mudéjar architecture from Moorish times, a style recognised as the meeting point of Spanish and Islamic aesthetics. Elsewhere, Roman ruins point to the city’s earliest settlement, the Arenal neighbourhood speaks of its former colonial glory and Triana, a site of pottery production since the Roman era, was until the 20th century home to Seville’s gitano (gypsy) community. (Though gypsies were persecuted for centuries, driven into a submerged underclass from which they are still emerging, they are largely credited with developing the very Spanish art of flamenco.)

Today, different cultures are still encouraging Seville to modulate its traditional flamenco beat. Intense exposure to tourism has resulted in a steady stream of cosmopolitan ideas flowing through the city, and many of the young people I spoke to were excited to share the more outward-facing side of Seville. A place of drawn-out lunches and late-night dinners, the food scene here has in particular benefitted from an increasingly international clientele, with restaurants like conTenedor and No Lugar experimenting with on-trend aesthetics and the concept of slow food. The Alameda de Hércules area, which until 15 years ago was a seedy neighbourhood favoured by prostitutes and drug dealers, is today a lively (and quite beautiful) spot lined with tapas bars and clubs.

But the beat of Seville is not in danger of changing beyond recognition. At the gallery and concept store Delimbo, a hip-hop artist known locally as jotandjota tells me: “People in Seville tend to really fight for their own culture.” The sentiment is shared by 28-year-old designer Luna Medina, who recently returned to live in her native city after spending eight years in Paris and New York. She says: “You can be so much more spontaneous in Seville. Life here is another rhythm completely.” And it is certainly a rhythm worth fighting for.

TO STAY

Corral del Rey

Set behind heavy studded Moorish doors on a winding cobbled street of the same name, it’s easy to miss this boutique hotel. All of the 13 rooms at Corral Del Rey incorporate a palette of sandstones and greys, and come fitted with intricate Moroccan mirrors, oak-panelled floors and beamed ceilings. You’ll find remnants here from the hotel’s history as a 17th-century casa. There’s also a rooftop terrace with an honesty bar, as well as a small plunge pool offering a welcome respite from the heat.

  • +34 954 227 116
  • Go to Website
  • Calle Corral del Rey, 12
    Seville
    41004

Las Casas de la Judería

If you’re after true taste of old-world Andalusia, this former ducal residence turned quirky hotel is for you. There are 134 rooms set in 27 townhouses, all interlinked by verdant courtyards and underground passageways.  There’s also a spa inspired by the baths of Ancient Rome, a piano bar which hosts live music nights and a restaurant called Emporión, with embossed leather walls decorated with gold leaf. Escape to the whitewashed rooftop, where there’s a salt-water swimming pool and impressive views over the city.

  • +34 954 415 150
  • Go to Website
  • Calle Sta. María la Blanca 5
    Seville
    41004

Hotel Alfonso XIII

Standing majestically on a corner of the Santa Cruz neighbourhood, this 1929 hotel commissioned by King Alfonso XIII of Spain is synonymous with regal glamour. With its grand Moorish arches, surfaces adorned with decorative ceramics and enough wrought iron to sink a ship, it’s just as impressive as the nearby Alcázar Palace. San Fernando, the hotel’s elegant courtyard restaurant, is the perfect place for a long lunch – sumptuous teal armchairs providing bright accents against the terracotta tones of the walls.

Palacio de Villapanés

Preceded by the stunning triple-arched gate that forms the entrance to the palace, guests are welcomed into a central tiled courtyard which dances with the Sevillian sun. The palace offers 50 rooms, including five suites which combine technological luxuries of the 21st-century with 18th-century grandeur in the form of hand painted panels and carved doors. Our favourite is the Terreon Suite in the dome of the palace, with a vaulted ceiling, private roof terrace and views of the city. Centrally located in the cobble-stoned Santa Cruz, the palace is a particularly special place to discover the beauty of Seville.

  • +34 954 502 063
  • Go to Website
  • Palacio de Villapanés
    31 Calle Santiago
    41003

Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza

Combining Arabic and European design, Casas del Rey de Baeza fuses two key architectural styles that have influenced the Andalusian capital for centuries. Built in the 18th-century, the hotel is hidden away in the narrow streets of Seville’s old town. Whitewashed walls are offset with stately columns and earth-tone tiles – a slice of serenity in a city of ochre buildings. Indoors, stone flooring paves the way to 41 guest-rooms. Post check-in, soothe your travel-weary body on the solarium terrace. The rooftop pool also offers a chill-out space and Ayurvedic massages are available in the spa.

  • +34 954 561 496
  • Go to Website
  • Calle Santiago, Plaza Jesús de la Redención
    41003

Hotel Alfonso XIII

Las Casas de la Judería

Corral del Rey

Hospes Las Casas del Rey de Baeza

Palacio de Villapanés

You May Also Like

City Guides

You know how you have that one incredible friend who knows their city inside out? Yeah, that’s us. We take the world’s most dynamic destinations, hand-pick the best parts and give them to you in one place. This is the kind of guide that you don’t need to run by a local. Eat your heart out, shop ‘til you drop, drink like a fish, dance your socks off, sleep – then repeat.

Bundles

Enliven your senses through travel. Get stuck in to the culinary delights of Tokyo, explore the modern-art scene in Marrakech, dance the night away in Jaipur and listen to the beat in Ghana in the new Magazine Bundle, Senses.

Download Suitcase App
Learn More