Romantic Ideas for Valentine’s Day in Seville

If my children ever ask me how their father and I met, I won’t have much to tell (drunken exchange in a bar).

The real romance is how we fell in love and where we did it.

Take a dashing Spanish hombre with a job as a fighter pilot and impeccable English, and set the story against Spain’s most romantic city, Seville, and it’s easy to see why I felt trapped in a fairytale with acento andalú and no talking animals. Truth be told, we fell in love over beers at a typical Spanish tavern, sharing a plate of stewed bull’s tail, but our first year of dating felt romantic given the beauty of Seville and it’s most famous lover, Don Juan Tenorio.

As a city marked by bandoleros, kings, Moors and Christians, Seville is architectural eye candy for even the most hardened heart. Quaint plazas are hidden away under the shade of orange trees, sidled up to soaring churches from the 16th century. There’s a steady hum of chatter spilling out of bars as sevillanos have their afternoon glass of fino, a dry sherry that matches well with brine-soaked olives. Sunlight glints off of fountains during the day. whereas the twilight affords a dressing up of monuments, flooded with light.

But southern Spain’s capital is all feeling and less seeing: haunting flamenco chords echo through empty cobblestone streets, the smell of orange blossoms and incense rife in early Spring, the viscous liquid gold of the olive oil that graces every plate. Seville captivates the senses and makes falling in love easy – with the city, with its people, with the perfect caña and the chico who stole your heart.

My top picks for a romantic day in Seville:

Take a dip in the Baños Arabes: The Moorish reign of Seville have left a stamp on the cozy Santa Cruz quarter, which nuzzles the Alcázar palace. After having breakfast (try La Cachererría on Calle Regina for toast kissed with olive oil and crushed tomato), relax in the low lights and pools of the Arabic Baths. Located on an alleyway so slim you can touch both sides, the restored building offers a thermal bath circuit and massages for upwards of 58€. (Calle del Aire, 15).

Horse Carriage Ride through María Luisa Park: Seville’s city center is clogged with pedestrians, tourists and an eye sore of a light rail, but the green lung is located just past the university. The park, crowned by the half-moon Plaza de España,  was built to commemorate the 1929 Iberoamerican Expositin held partly on its grounds. The leafy refuge, with tiled fountains and plenty of grass for a picnic, is best seen from a carriage, which are available for rent in the park.

source: flickr

Stop by the monument dedicated to Gustavo Adolfo Béquer, a Sevillian poet of the romantic period. His most famous work, Rimas, is the inspiration for a marble statue situated at the north end of the park. It depicts Cupid throwing arrows at three women.

When your stomach rumbles, have dinner on the Guadalquivir: Known for its tapeo, or tapas hopping, Seville also boasts world-class restaurants. Among the most romantic are those that line the Guadalquivir river on the Triana side of town, particularly on Calle Betis. From here, the bullring, Masetranza theatre and Torre del Oro are the protagonists of the riverfront, with the Giralda Tower and the spires of the cathedral in the forground. Go all out at Abades Triana (Calle Betis, 69), or try Kiosco de las Flores (Calle Betis, s/n) or El Faro de Triana (at the end of the Triana bridge) for budget options with unparalleled views.

Following dinner, have a cocktail at one of the terraces in the city center. Hotel EME’s bar has a hip vibe, while ROOF’s views include the Metropol, a mushroom-like wooden structure that has taken over Plaza de la Encarnación. If that’s not your style, you can tuck into a peña flamenco and cozy up to cantaores while drinking Agua de Sevilla.

What is Spain’s most romantic city, in your opinion? How would you spend a romantic day in a city?

This is my entry to the February 2013 Carnival of Europe hosted by Aleah Taboclaon of Solitary Wanderer with the theme “Most Romantic Places in Europe

 

Seville Snapshots: When in Rome…

I have to admit that Seville has been less-than-inspiring lately. Between the master’s and work, plus rainy weather and holing up with a recently-returned Novio, I’ve barely even been in the center!

So we escaped la vida sevillana and swapped tapas for heaping plates of pasta this weekend in Bella Italia. Our Cruzcampo became half liters of Moretti; potato chips, crostini.  The Novio even parked his car and chose to hoof it as we explored Florence’s piazzas and Bologna’s jumble of churches and towers.

We spent the weekend looking for the little bits of sun on a cold Saturday in Florence, ducking in and out of bars for espressos and seeking out cheap grappas at old man bars.

In short…we ate. And drank. And ate more.

But you have to wait… I have driving school to attend en español and finish writing about Barcelona.

Four Mini-breaks from Seville

Part of the attraction of residing in Seville; apart from the sunshine, siestas and delicious oranges is its proximity to so many weekend break destinations. Whether you’re after a quick city fix or an island beach break, you can take your pick of cheap flights from Seville.

The local government recently expanded the bus line to Aeropuerto San Pablo, the airport that services Seville and western Andalusia. The EA bus will now travel all the way to the Plaza de Armas bus station for 4€ one-way.

Lisbon, Portugal

In just six hours you can be in the beautiful Portuguese capital, Lisbon. The enchanting whitewashed houses climb high into the hills of this easy going city on the edge of the wild Atlantic Ocean. Quirky canary yellow trams navigate the windy streets of Lisbon passing the elegant architecture of the Castelo de São Jorge and the beautiful Museu do Teatro Romano.

Take a leisurely stroll along the Ponte Vasco da Gama, Europe’s longest bridge on the way to a Pastelaria where you’ll find heavenly sweet treats fresh from the oven. You can shop in the Centro Comercial Colombo or enjoy the peace and tranquillity of the lush Lisbon Botanical Gardens.

Museums and galleries mingle with local markets and cosy cafes. At night the famous Barrio Alto glistens as the clubs and ritzy wine bars throng with people, while the sound of Fado drifts on the air.

Marrakech, Morocco

‘Souk’ up the sun in this magical, dirty, spice scented city. Head for the bustling medinas to try out your haggling skills for that special carpet, teapot or Moroccan lamp; escape to the solitude of a glorious hammam where you can luxuriate in warm thermal waters while being pummelled and pampered to your heart’s content.

For something more energetic, take a hike into the breath-taking Atlas Mountains before discovering the city at night. Wind you way through snake charmers and story-tellers until you find a cosy little restaurant where you can feast on tangine and couscous to the sound of swaying palms.

Barcelona, Spain

For a chic city break brimming with bright colours and a vibrant art scene, grab a cheap flight to Barcelona.  Stroll around the local markets and marvel at the magical architecture of Anton Gaudí s dreamlike Sagrada Família.

Get lost in museums dedicated to Picasso and Miró, or the jewellery boutiques and artisan workshops in the maze of streets around Mercat del Born. Explore the beautiful winding lanes of the Barri Gòtic, the city’s most historic quarter as you stumble upon mouth-watering dishes of tapas.

Don’t miss the lovely sight of Sunday’s at the Cathedral La Seu, where local elderly couples come to dance a Catalan folk dance called the Sardana. In winter, the Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona comes to town. Cool bars and all night clubs make Barcelona the place to be if you’re after some non-stop nightlife, so consider staying in a swanky apartment.

 Palma de Mallorca, Mallorca

If you’re after a getaway that offers culture, history and city life but with a side order of white sandy beach, you can’t do better than a weekend in Palma de Mallorca, which is actually a destination I’m hoping to get to in 2013.

Castles and classical Spanish architecture combine to give Palma elegance, with just a hint of ‘the Riviera’ as yachts glisten and bob in the blue harbour waters. The ancient historic centre boasts Arab baths and the Museum of Contemporary Art, showing Miro, Dali and Picasso. Palma is a fantastic place to bring the whole family. Kids will love a day at Aqualand Water Park or Marineland zoo, while adults can try a spot of sailing or windsurfing.

Alternatively, spend your days languishing on the beautiful Ciudad Jardin beach with its soft white sand, or on Cala Major beach whose waters are clear as crystal.  At night, as the city lights twinkle, visit the famous Abaco cocktail bar in a former coaching house in the old town. There, every Friday at 11.30pm, fresh rose petals fall from a hidden balcony above a magnificent stone fireplace to the sound of classical Spanish music.

This post was made possible by Skyscanner, but all opinions are my own.

Tapa Thursdays: Champiñones

If I were to list the three foods I most despised, it would be easy: canned tuna, eggs and mushrooms.

Yes, I picked three of the most commonly used ingredients in Spanish cuisine, and the only big additions to ensaladilla rusa.

You might say the Novio is on a mission to change my tastes, but I’ve been slowly trying. Afterall, I once didn’t eat fish, and it’s practically a staple in all Spanish diets. Champis are slowly working their way into my palette, disguised in tasty tapas without my knowledge more often than not.

What it is: A plain old mushroom. Wild mushrooms are often called setas or boletus.

Where it’s from: Mushrooms are cultivated all over Europe, but nearby Aracena is known for their wild mushrooms, which bloom in

Where to find it in Seville: Believe it or not, there are a few ways that I eat mushrooms. Most often, they get consumed in risotto (try the creamy dish at Zelai, C/Albareda 22), but I love the mushroom heads with a minty green sauce as Las Golondrinas (C/Antillano Campos, 26). Even I am daring enough to add chopped up pieces to hamburger patties!

Love tapas? Want to see a specific one featured Thursday? Leave me a comment, or post a picture of you eating your favorite tapas to my Facebook page!

Sleeping in Spain: A Guide to Accommodation (and 30€ Voucher Giveaway!)

If there’s one thing that’s weathering the Spanish economic downturn (no doubt tied to the weather itself), it’s the tourism industry. Accounting for nearly 11% of 2012’2 GDP, Spain constantly pushes the envelope within the tourism industry and has grown to be the second-largest in the world!

Where will you be pillow hugging tonight?

One aspect that sets Spain apart is its ample offering of accommodation and luxury brands. Iberostar, Melià and Bareclò hotels are considered some of the best brands in the world, and backpackers can find a haven nestled on cobblestone streets or just steps from a private beach. Still, in an ever-changing industry, there’s quite a bit of confusion as to each type of accommodation, and sometimes where to find it at an affordable price (don’t worry, there’s an entrance to a voucher at the end of this explanation!).

The view from the rooftop bar at Seville’s Hotel EME.

Hotels, like in any country of the world, are plentiful and of varying quality. There’s also been a recent surge of new hotels offering boutique accommodation, quirky decor and plenty of character. Spain’s tourism board has instituted a nationwide ranking, using the Q of quality and between 1 and 5 stars. Hotels are marker with a white H and the ranking below. High season is during the summer months, local festivals and Christmas time, so expected steeper prices and less availability.

The Spanish government now controls a network of historic buildings converted into luxury hotels, called paradores. From castles to convents, a night in the sumptuous lodging will typically run you more than an average hotel, but booking during the low season can ensure a one-of-a-kind experience in a historically important building.

Tiles on the outdoor terrace of the parador in Carmona, Andalusia.

Hostels and Albergues  are often considered a common type of backpacker accommodation, they are as varied as one could imagine. Typically, they can be found in city centers and offer beds in shared or private accommodation, shared bathrooms and common areas such as living rooms, rooftop terraces or kitchens. Most beds in a shared dorm are less than 20€ a night, making it an ideal place to meet other travelers through free events and walking tours.

A typical dorm room in hostels. This one is Grand Luxe in Seville.

Slightly nicer than hostels, pensions (pensiones) are more budget-friendly than hotels and are typically smaller, too. Most similar to boarding houses, one can expect loads of hospitality and often meals!

Thanks to Spain’s varied landscape, rural accommodations are becoming popular, particularly for families wishing to escape city life.

A bed at Almohalla 51, a luxury rural house in Archidona, Spain

Apartment Stays are also becoming a popular way to live like a local in larger cities. Available for days, weeks or months, a piso turístico will allow travelers the privacy of their own space while having access to amenities. Typical rates for a month can be between 500 – 800€, depending on the season.

Camping remains a cheap and popular option for staying in Spain, particularly on the coast. Rates are low, even during the summer season, and most offer on-site food and washing facilities.

No joke, I spent a night here in the Islas Cies.

I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in a tent on the pristine Playa de Rodas in Galicia, an ancient piso in front of the Basilica Santa María del Mar in Barcelona and a friendly pensión within earshot of the tingling churchbells of Santa María la Blanca in Seville. My head has rested in sumptuous hotels from Toledo to Valladolid, as well as old fortresses, which is why I’m excited to present you all with my newest giveaway.

I’m teaming up with Your Spain Hostel to offer a giveaway of a 30€ voucher to be used on Your Spain Hostel on any property in any city you’re interested in visiting in Spain. Simply enter by leaving your email address and telling me in the comments where you’d like to travel to in Spain should you win the voucher (extra points if you send a postcard!), or otherwise!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

From a bungalow on the beaches of Ibiza to a casa rural in Cangas de Onís, Your Spain Hostel is your one-stop destination for unique and quality accommodation around Spain. The site also provides discounts on tours, entrance to sites, food and even taxi pick-up! You can win extra entries by following both Your Spain Hostel and Sunshine and Siestas on Facebook and Twitter.

Happy travels for 2013! Where are you headed, and where do you like to rest your head at the end of a long day of tourism and tapas? Got any great recs?

 

Seville Snapshot: Afternoons in the Plazita

Can I confess I love that my breath still sometimes gets caught in my throat in Sevilla, even five years after moving here? Or that even seeing the Giralda’s soaring spire makes me stop and admire?

One place I really love in a Spanish community is the plaza. It’s more than a landmark – it’s always a meeting place, a catwalk, a social center. I remember when Plaza Nueva was just a big roundabout. Thanks the the ex-mayor giving it a pedestrian makeover, the square just in front of the town hall, has become a hotbed for celebrations, rallies, artisan markets and tour groups.

I just prefer it when the kids are chasing one another on their scooters and the abuelitas are just feeding the pigeons, waiting.

What are some of your favorite plazas in Seville, or Spain? 

Got a photo of Seville or Southern Spain to share? I’d love to see it! Send me the photo to sunshineandsiestas [at] gmail [dot] come. Look for a new photos every lunes.

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