Insider’s Guide to Seville

More than anywhere else I have been, Seville resists change. From its passion for bullfights to its fondness for the pageantry of the Catholic religion, the capital of Andalusia always has reveled in its traditional way of life.

The city is at its best in the heat of summer, when the yellows and oranges of its sandstone buildings shimmer yet interiors remain cool, but spring is lovely, too. Be prepared for a Mardi Gras-like crush of people during Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Feria de Abril.

> What to See:

The Catedral de Sevilla, the world’s largest Gothic church, is home to one of the largest altarpieces ever made, a masterpiece of meticulously crafted gilded wood. In 2006 DNA tests confirmed that remains in one of the cathedral’s tombs belong to Christopher Columbus. Climb the cathedral’s Giralda bell tower for a view of the city—and use it as a navigational aid while you explore Seville’s winding streets.

Opened in 2011, the Metropol Parasol, a structure made largely of laminated birchwood, includes a viewing platform, museum, and eateries. Artists Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Murillo may not be as famous as Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya, but their luminous works in Seville’s Museo de Bellas Artes, a jewel of an art gallery housed in a former monastery, just may scramble your rankings of Spanish painters.

> Where to Wine and Dine:

One of Seville’s most accomplished restaurants, ConTenedor blends informality with creativity; try its signature duck with mushrooms.

La Pepona’s array of 80-some wines by the glass is said to be the largest selection in Spain, and its tapas (sardines with tomato compote, seviche) are worthy accompaniments.

You would expect a tourist trap in the prime location that is occupied by Vinería San Telmo, but the restaurant/bar proves both authentic and innovative; its thoughtfully prepared tapas are the size of main courses in other places.

Eslava, near the Alameda de Hércules, currently sits at the forefront of the new tapas scene with such playful dishes as “fried blood with onions” and “cuttlefish cigars.”

While no longer the underappreciated neighborhood eatery it once was, Modesto in Puerta de la Carne still serves up some of the best grilled fish in town out on its tree-shaded patio.

> Where to Stay:

The Hotel Palacio de Villapanés has all the traditional touches, including a classic Sevillano courtyard, but offers up-to-date amenities, such as guest-room computers and free Wi-Fi.

Small and stylish, the boutique hotel Corral del Rey occupies a 17th-century residence. Perfectly positioned on a tiny street a short walk from the city’s center but out of range of tour buses, it includes such amenities as a rooftop plunge pool.

> What to Read:

The vivid pages of Iberia, perhaps author James Michener’s most successful nonfiction work, bring Spain, and Seville, to life.

Hispanophile Ernest Hemingway documented the 1959 season of bullfights in Seville in his posthumous book, The Dangerous Summer.

> Travel Trivia: 

  • A replica of Seville’s Giralda tower rises in Kansas City, Missouri, at the Country Club Plaza shopping center.
  • Seville’s St. Isidore tried in the seventh century to record all knowledge in a book series—for which some today consider him the patron saint of the Internet.
  • The Roman emperor Trajan was born just outside of Seville, in the ancient Roman city of Italica.

This piece, reported by Bruce Schoenfeld, first appeared in the February 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler to accompany a feature he wrote for the magazine entitled “Spanish Inclination.”

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