We were looking for the perfect place to spend a not so wet Autumn weekend. And Seville, the capital of Andalusia in Spain, has always had a special place in my heart – but not for the reasons you may think. We have been wanting to go for quite a long time – but getting there from London wasn’t particularly easy – and when British Airways started to fly direct, we knew it was time for us to spend the perfect weekend in Seville.
I have been to Seville many times as a child and teenager. During most of those, we were enroute to Marbella, and stopping meant having a fabulous lunch at ‘La Dorada’ (the home of the salt-baked sea bream, which sadly does not exist anymore) and, more often than not, having the contents of our car stolen. I am laughing now, but back in the 80s, if you had a Portuguese car, you knew it would happen. If you were Portuguese there, your car was full of wonderful things like your Spanish shopping, cash cash cash (credit cards in those days were not the same). I do not wish to paint Seville in a negative light – but it what I remember. The most vivid memory of such episodes was being stopped on a traffic light, with my mother’s handbag in the back seat (with the 3 of us in the back), and a motorbike coming over with a rock, break the window, grab the bag and take everything. How we continued on holiday is a story in itself, which I can share some other time.
Incidents aside, I wasn’t worried in the slightest when we visited Seville – and I know that this doesn’t happen anymore. Returning to Madrid as an adult was top of my list and it finally happened.
I honestly only wanted to stay in one place – the Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel which is where I stayed quite a few times with my parents. It is one of Spain’s most iconic hotels, a grand dame, which was recently restored to its former glory.
I felt 10 years old when I walked in again as everything looked exactly the same – and it was stunning. Just stunning. We stayed for 2 nights and I cannot fault the hotel in anything. Service was friendly, the rooms were gorgeous (and modern, worry not) and, best of all, it had a gin menu at its fab Bar Americano. As you walked through the hotel, you can see the photos of who’s stayed there in the past and how it is so important to the city’s history.
And every day, at 5pm, the hotel’s concierge organises a little guided tour of the property for all guests, which comes with a glass of something – so if you stay, do make the time as it is quick and totally worth it.
As our British Airways flight departed from Gatwick, and both of us were working in the city during the day, we tried Airportr‘s same-day luggage collection service, which was excellent. Bags were picked up from our house and delivered to us when we checked in. Simple and oh so useful.
We landed just before dinner – and sadly not before being taken for a ride by the taxi driver. We were charged 45 Euros from the airport (I was sharing a taxi with my husband Simon and our friends Chris and Terene) which I thought was excessive. As we arrived to the hotel, the doorman looking at our expressions guessed something was wrong and we immediately knew we had been done. There is a flat rate to and from the airport of €22.2o during working hours and €24.70 at all other times and that includes all supplements and charges for luggage etc. Interestingly, the taxi driver stopped where he knew the hotel cameras would not be able to see his licence plate (and they went through the footage as they were quite offended too), but Mr. Taxi driver knew what he was doing. So take note, you now know what you should be charged.
We arrived to our beautiful hotel and had time to unpack and freshen up before dinner, which was to be a special affair.
Our room, a Junior Suite, was very spacious and really was beautiful. Taking photos at night never does it justice, but we all know that photos the next day will never be the same – as one starts unpacking and feeling at home. I had another deja-vu moment when I went to the bathroom – oh my God, I did remember the tiles. They were still there.
At the hotel lobby, Shawn Hennessy, or Miss Tapas Sevilla, was waiting for us. We had pre-booked a private tapas tour with her (you can read all about my favourite foodtours here) weeks before, as she is a very very busy lady. And she is very very good.
We spent around 4 hours with Shawn and went to the most incredible places in town, most of which we would never dare enter – because we wouldn’t know how good they would be. Out of respect for Shawn, I won’t name every place as I believe the service she offers comes down to the knowledge she has of the city and that it worth every penny. Tours cost from 80 Euros per person, including all food and drink.
One thing worth noting: there is a fair bit of Jamon Iberico to be enjoyed. Why? Because it comes from not far from the city. And as you taste the various charcuterie items (chorizo, lomo, etc), you also learn about the different types of this wonderful food item.
Our night ended with a night cap at the hotel – the Bar Americano was gorgeous! And something quite funny happened: I asked for the drinks menu and when I got it, I was surprised to see that there were no gins in it. And a proper gin & tonic (or gin tonic as they call it in Spain) was exactly what we wanted. Turns out there is a GIN MENU, as a couple pages on the main menu just weren’t enough. SO my kind of place…
Our morning did not start at the crack of dawn (because ‘gin’) and also because the hotel has breakfast on until 11am. Served in a beautiful room (of course) and with some of my favourite items.
After we were re-energised, it was time to explore the city – very happy to see the sights, but we were obviously focused on one thing: shopping. Because ‘Spain’.
On our way to the city’s main shopping street (C/ Sierpes and those nearby), we passed Seville’s cathedral – which is one of the oldest in the world, literally steps from the hotel, and spent some time admiring one of Spain’s most special traditions – the display of nativity scenes, or Belens, as they are called.
In the run up to Christmas, there are vendors of these nativity scenes which really are works of art. My mother is a great fan of those, and as children, I remember the work put into it – and buying all the different bits and pieces each year was also a lot of fun. If you look at the images, notice the details of the items and think that in most cases, they are smaller than a thumb.
As per normal, all roads led to El Corte Ingles, Spain and Portugal’s only department stores. We were delighted with what they have done in its last floor – where a Gourmet Experience was created. Basically you can buy any of the items and enjoy them right there and then (think jamon iberico), or just buy them and take home. The outside area was gorgeous and you can also enjoy some of the city’s best views.
I love El Corte Ingles as I can get my ‘Iberian Fix’ of life products to bring back home to the UK – be that pharmacy, beauty, gin, wine and of course food. And sometimes, some shoes. Worth noting that as a tourist, you can get a 10% discount card (which can’t be used everywhere in store). The discount works after the first purchase where, for example, if you spend 100 Euros, you have 10 Euros off your second purchase and so on. So do the math and buy larger items first, and then get the other smaller ones for free. I got myself a Nordes gin bottle at the end, with all my credit, and was very pleased!
After a fair bit of shopping, it was time for lunch. Shawn gave us some recommendations and, as expected, they did not disappoint. We went to La Pepona, a few minutes away from ECI and loved its modern tapas. Lunch was around 25 Euros per person including a glass of wine.
In the afternoon, we continued to help the local economy – Seville doesn’t have the same caliber of luxury shopping as Madrid or Barcelona, for obvious reasons, but you will be able to find shops like Max Mara, Purificacion Garcia, Adolfo Dominguez, Maje, Utreque, and others, of course. And all the Spanish brands you would expect.
We had a little nap at the hotel (why not?), and before we knew it, it was time for dinner again. We did not have set plans (which is a shocker for me, as I always do), but we wanted to try the hotel’s Carles Abellan restaurant at some point. We decided however to revisit some of the places we had been to the night before with Shawn, like Bodeguita Romero, before we ended our evening at the hotel. We really liked the space, the tapas and, of course the gin and wine. (Dinner was around 80 Euros per person, including ‘all the gins’).
If you haven’t come across Carles Abellan, do so before heading to Spain. He’s from Barcelona and has been building a little empire. I will always be thankful that thanks to him (not personally), at Tapac24, I was introduced to Hendricks Gin, 15 years ago, in a proper glass, 15 years ago. 15 years ago – and I have never looked back, as you all know.
Shops are not open in Spain on Sundays (with the exception of the first Sunday of the month, and closer to Christmas), so we decided to explore the city a little bit. The hotel was so well located, you could walk everywhere – and so we did.
Our first stop was the Real Alcazar, a royal palace in Seville, Spain, originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. We went at around 11am and queued just a little bit, but you can now buy your tickets online (tickets €9.50).
We loved the weather – we had 20c and it really was lovely in the sun. In late November. From the Palace, we made our way to Parque de Maria Luisa, which was the grounds of the 1929 Expo. The Portuguese pavilion, for example, it is still the Portuguese embassy nowadays.
But the one place we wanted to get to was the magnificent Plaza de Espana – it was the heart of the 1929 Expo and incredibly beautiful. From what I understood, this great event welcomed Spanish from all over the world back ‘home’ and it has some little areas dedicated to each main city. The point is that you would ‘go’ to the city where you or your ancestors came from and have a moment.
After a fabulous morning walking around town, it was time for our last meal, which we took very seriously. We headed to Vineria de San Telmo, again as recommended by Shawn, and enjoyed our last tasting of Jamon Iberico, some octopus from Galicia (of course) and the most incredible lemon merengue pie. If we had to go, we had to do it in style. (lunch was around 35 Euros per person).
Returning to Seville as an adult was very special – the city is gorgeous and full of life. We loved the food, the hotel and literally everything else. And we even tipped an extra €5 to the lovely taxi driver who took us back to the airport and did not overcharge us.
If you haven’t been to Seville – go. We have only seen a little bit of what the city has to offer and believe me, we will be back soon.
Fact box: I was a guest of Alfonso XIII, a Luxury Collection Hotel and I loved it. Rooms start from €280 per night.
British Airways flies to Seville from London Gatwick from £85 return.
A private tapas tour with Seville Tapas costs from 80 Euros per person.
Airportr offers same day bag transfers and will collect your bags in and around London to your chosen airport (Heathrow, Gatwick and City) , or the reverse, from £15 each, depending on location. I really enjoyed the service as I had a day in London working and was dreading having to take my bags around with me in the city. They were picked up from home and delivered to me by the British Airways check in.