I began in the Plaza de España. It was an Andalusian holiday and dotted along the tiled alcoves of this enormous edifice were impromptu flamenco performances, the better ones attracting the bigger crowds. Beside it my senses were further enlivened by the Parque de María Luisa, a tamed jungle of a botanical garden with ducks and swans in the ponds, with tiled fountains and pavilions and with aromas from both orange trees and jasmine beneath flitting parakeets and white doves.
I walked to eat at nearby ‘Toby Eats The World’, named after the owner’s dog and certainly dog-friendly as I sat between a Dalmatian and a pug. It’s in a fabulous location beside the ‘Torre del Oro’, the historic watchtower and right by the riverboat station and where you can walk along the river. This Italian-American restaurant has simple but cool décor and was good value for money with very generous portions: so much so that with my Russian salad I was tempted to ask for a ‘Toby’ doggie bag!
Later I walked through the lovely tiled entrance hall and glorious ‘patios’ (courtyards) of the Museum of Fine Arts. Here there were some fine examples of 17th century Sevillian paintings (Murillo, Zurbaran and Valdes Leal) though the art is of torturous religious and deadly battle themes: all depicting subjects riddled with fear.
Five minutes away are Las Setas, popularly known as the Mushrooms of the Incarnation. They’re a set of six cream-coloured parasols and give a modern twist to the Plaza de la Encarnación, bang in the Santa Cruz area whose lovely, old-fashioned, specialist shops sell fans, hams and flamenco dresses.
The main city attractions are the enormous cathedral with her famous Giralda bell tower and the Real Alcazar. I had time to see the latter whose Arabic influence has a history stretching back over a thousand years. It’s like the Topkapi in Istanbul and the Alhambra in Grenada for inside this labyrinth of rooms are the same type of intricate carvings, lovely tiles and incredible craftsmanship.
There’s an extraordinary expanse within the city centre given over to the Real Alcazar’s gardens where I got away from it all. Here the long, clear lines of avenues of trees, bushes, shrubs and topiary are punctuated with fountains and the orange and lemon trees and jasmine add a sensual aromatic journey to the visual delights of a maze to enthral the visiting children and peacocks who offer shots of their blue feathers to echo the garden tiles.
That night I went to Los Gallos, set in the lovely Plaza de Santa Cruz, where the little doors unleashed like Aladdin’s cave, with an entrance steeped in old photos of yesteryear stars, giving it an instant stamp of authenticity. I was there to witness a flamenco performance. Inside is an intimate theatre with a small stage, with the bonus of an onstage staircase from which the dancers announce themselves dramatically with the descent of their lavish dresses. So the stage is set and the magic begins.
Nine performers all having their solo moment of glory and passion. Try and go when Pepe Torres is performing. He is quite a star: a strutting peacock who comes to light before an audience and whose postures fully express the emotional range from joys and seduction to jealousy and sadness.
My hotel was set forty minutes from the city and twenty minutes from the airport in the historic Roman town of Carmona. Here is the glory of Andalucia. Whitewashed walls holding flower pots with geraniums.
I stayed at Casa de Carmona. It’s a romantic family-owned early 16th century ‘Palacio’ turned into an hotel with antique furniture and ancestral photographs. The main patio has a rare upper arcade discovered by the owner’s mother as she uncovered its origins. Here also are trees laden with bananas and oranges, all enjoying the promise of sunshine and suggesting vitality in their assertive projection towards their rightful share of the light.
The Casa is linked with a prestigious nearby equestrian centre offering rides on pure-bred Andalusian horses. Launching soon at the Casa are drawing classes, tapas lessons and flamenco dancing lessons as well as a photography workshop. The hotel isn’t for those needing all mod cons and permanent pampering. Instead it’s philosophy is one of allowing you the chance to inhabit the home of one of Carmona’s grand families, charmingly set in previous centuries with a library, a billiard room and several patios and countless family heirlooms. You can experience in this rustic and once glamorous house how they lived at first hand even if the glamour has gone the grandeur hasn’t.
Here in Carmona a breeze comes off from both the sea and the Guadalquivir river. There’s a sense of calmness as locals go about their normal lives greeting each other with warmth and gesticulation. One night the area was cordoned off by the police but for nothing criminal, simply to allow a religious procession to go unhindered. Respectful and joyful in equal measure.
One of the great joys of Mediterranean living is to sit in the town squares and watch the world go by with the generations at leisure from the boys on bicycles trying to run down the pigeons or playing football irreverently against the church walls while the elderly men gather on benches in clusters or in bars to put the world to rights under the chiming church bells. Sheer bliss!
Casa de Carmona: from Euros 100 per night for a double room. For reservations ring 0207 193 3410 or visit
Adam was covered by online travel insurance specialist, CoverForYou (www.coverforyou.com, 0207 183 0885)
Adam had further support from www.stanstedexpress.com and www.holidayextras.co.uk (who offer airport lounges at all major UK airports and many international destinations)