Ah, Andalucia, you will always hold a special place in my heart. I hadn’t been back to southern Spain since I studied abroad in Sevilla during college, and I really wanted to experience it all again with the Doc in tow. With its romantic cobblestoned streets, great food, and warm weather, it was the perfect place to celebrate our five-year anniversary.
Our days in Sevilla were spent ambling through the maze of ancient streets covering the main sights in town, eating long, tapas filled lunches and late dinners, watching FC Sevilla in a heated game against Real Madrid, and relaxing by our roof-top pool watching the sun set behind the Giralda.
After an early morning flight out of London, we unloaded at our hotel and went straight for lunch at Eslava, a tapas bar in the less touristy San Lorenzo neighborhood. Perched on a sidewalk table in the sun, we feasted on tapas and had some of the best salmorejo (chilled tomato soup) of the trip. Re-energized, we made our way down the street to ‘Las Setas’ (the mushrooms, as its locally known), a parasol structure that was just finished in 2011 and offers amazing views over the city.
That evening, we went out for a tapas crawl starting at El Rinconcillo, founded in 1670 and one of the oldest spots in town, followed by an al fresco tapa or two nearby, and finishing at hole-in-the-wall La Carbonería for some live flamenco.
We woke up on our anniversary to sunny skies and a day filled with a self-guided walking tour of historic Sevilla. First stop, the Real Alcázar, the Royal Palace originally constructed by the Moorish Muslim kings in the 12th century that is still in use as a royal residence today.
After our morning spent in the Alcazar’s beautiful gardens and rooms, we stopped for an excellent lunch at Azotea and wound our way down toward the river for a tour of the Plaza de Toros, one of the most famous and oldest bullrings in the world.
We strolled along the river, grabbed some ice cream cones, and found our way back to the hotel for a rest before our late dinner at Abantal.
Determined to beat the heat and the lines (though ultimately successful in neither) we awoke on the early side Saturday and went straight for a visit to the Cathedral and Giralda. Seville’s Cathedral is the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and is stunning. It’s a must-see, along with a walk up to the top of the Giralda (belltower), originally a minaret designed as a replica to the minaret at the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech.
Views from the Giralda overlooking Sevilla
From the Cathedral, we walked down to the through the University of Sevilla (one of the loveliest campuses in an old tobacco factory) to the Plaza de España and Maria Luisa Park. The Plaza was built when Sevilla hosted the World’s Fair in 1928 and now functions as very attractive government offices.
Worn-out from all our walking, we grabbed an unmemorable lunch nearby and went back to the hotel to rest-up before our football/soccer adventure that evening. Spanish soccer, much like SEC football, is a religion of its own. When we found out Real Madrid was in town the same weekend as us, we knew we had to go watch them battle it out against Sevilla. Sevilla FC (one of the two teams in the city), who had not lost at home in over 30 matches and Real Madrid, ranked 2nd in the world and trying to get ahead of number one Barcelona, both had a lot at stake.
The pre-party was in full swing in the streets surrounding the stadium, and with 90% of the crowd cheering for Sevilla, we made sure to wear our red and white.
Despite an ultimate victory by Real Madrid, it was an energetic, exciting game that kept us cheering the full 90 minutes.
Though much of Sevilla remains the same as it did when I studied there, I think it has changed for the better over the past ten years. The dining scene is more dynamic, offering more than just traditional tapas, the streets are cleaner, and the hotels have improved. After spending three great days in the city, we were sad to leave but were looking forward to getting to the coast and doing little more than sitting on a beach.
Sunday morning we hopped on a quick train to Malaga and boarded a bus to take us an hour east along the Costa del Sol to the lovely beach-side town of Nerja. While much of the coast is overbuilt with high-rises and all-inclusive hotels, Nerja (though still touristy) retains small town charm and was the perfect place completely relax.
Finally, it was time to say adios, but our five nights in Spain were a very good way to spend our celebration of five years of marriage. Here’s to many more adventures together!
Sevilla: Palacio de Villapanes–boutique hotel in a renovated 18th century palace. Great service, the most comfortable beds, and good location just north of the central tourist area. Highly recommend.
Nerja: Hotel Carabeo–small (only 7 rooms), sea-front hotel in central Nerja with most rooms having balconies or terraces overlooking the ocean. Breakfast included. Highly recommend.
Tapas, tapas, tapas! Small plate eating rules the dining scene in this part of Spain and is a great way to sample a wide-variety. You can either settle into a table to order a number of tapas to share, or you can get one or two at the bar and hop around to different restaurants. Our favorites were Eslava, for traditional tapas with a modern spin in the less touristy San Lorenzo neighborhood; Azotea near the Cathedral for delicious and creative fare; El Rinconcillo for old-school food in a very traditional setting; and Mamarracha for a new, young and fun tapas scene.
For our anniversary dinner, we went to Abantal, one of two Michelin-starred restaurants in the city. Don’t be put off by the location just outside the tourist area and in a somewhat gritty neighborhood. The minimalist dining room only has about seven tables (so its very quiet) and the food and service are excellent. We opted for the tasting menu and thought it was a great value for the quality.
In Nerja, there are a number of touristy restaurants all around the central square but our recommendations would be Ayo’s for paella lunch down by the beach and dinner at 36, the restaurant at Hotel Carabeo that serves fantastic seafood in a romantic poolside atmosphere overlooking the ocean.
-The must-sees in Sevilla include the Cathedral, top of the Giralda, the Real Alcazar, and the Plaza Espana/Maria Luisa Park. I also recommend seeing the Plaza del Toros, the Metropol Parasol (Las Setas), and walking along the Guadalquivir River down into Triana neighborhood.
-La Carbonería off a side street in Santa Cruz for flamenco. We went almost each night for a night-cap. It’s free, shows start around 11, and you can come and go as you please. Some nights are better than others, but its a great introduction to flamenco guitar, singing, and dancing.
-Get tickets ahead of time for the Real Alcazar and the Catedral/Giralda. We read that it wasn’t necessary, but it would have saved us about an hour in line at each site.
-The Sevilla airport is about 20 minutes outside of town. You can either take a taxi into the center for 25 euros or hop on the bus that will take you to the Santa Justa train station for about 3 euro a person.
-Pack walking shoes (lots of cobbled streets) and bring plenty of water with you during the day. Sevilla can get extremely hot in the summer and was already pretty warm by early May.
-Lunch usually starts around 2pm and dinner around 9pm or later.