PRESS SECTION - New York Times - 36 Hours in Seville
SEVILLE is easily Spain's most flamboyant city. As a former Moorish capital, its streets are awash in a sultry jumble of Christian-Muslim architecture, with many grand buildings in need of a fresh coat of paint
And unlike much of Spain, Seville has resisted the urge to make its tiled courtyards and medieval sidewalks, some as narrow as a bicycle tire, sleek and trendy. Flamenco dancers, gypsy street performers and Andalusian cowboys in wide-brimmed boleros still strut in 2,000-year-old plazas shaded by orange trees and palms. On balmy nights, parties can erupt spontaneously over bottles of red wine. It's a contagious street theater in which everyone can join.
1) DRESS UP (FOR HIM)
To fast-forward into Seville's soap operatic mood, get into costume. Don't waste time on the chintz (hand fans, plastic roses) sold at street stands around the Cathedral of Seville. The quality Andalusian outfitters are headquartered in the winding streets around the Plaza de la Alfalfa. (Beware: stores are typically closed between 2 and 4:30 p.m. for siesta.) Men should bypass the cliché matador look, with those embarrassing tight pants, and go for the stately equestrian style of the local horsemen. Antonio García (Alcaicería 25, 34-95-422-23-20), a traditional shop that specializes in high-end riding paraphernalia, has tasseled leather calf guards (180 euros, or $248, at $1.38 to the euro) and hard-brimmed Córdoba panama hats (112 euros) that cast a mysterious-stranger shadow over the eyes.
2) DRESS UP (FOR HER)
Imitate the look of the gypsy heroine Carmen. Splurge on an authentic flamenco dress at Taller de Diseño (Calle de Luchana 6, 34-954-22-71-86). A favorite of local flamenco starlets, the upscale boutique carries fetching gowns in polka dots, stripes and bright florals by the designer team Angela and Adela. The heavier and more elaborate the ruffles, the more expensive they are (800 to 1,200 euros). If the price tag seems ungypsy-like, try the tiara-esque beaded haircomb made of tortoise shell (90 euros) or an embroidered silk shawl with tassels (600 euros).
3) FISH AND KITSCH
Not many tapas bars can claim to be 337 years old. El Rinconcillo (Gerona 40, 34-954-22-31-83) is a classic hole-in-the-wall that looks like a kitschy Spanish galleon, with stained glass windows, dusty bottles of Fundador brandy and a long wooden bar where the curt waiters scrawl out orders in chalk. Standouts from the menu include salmonetes fritos (tiny fried fish for 12 euros), tazo de caldo (pork soup for 1.80 euros) and a half-portion of jamón Serrano (8.50 euros), which is worth ordering just to see the waiter pull the pig leg down from a hook in the vaulted ceiling.
4) THE LATE SHOW
Seville is chock-full of touristy flamenco shows, but La Carbonería (Calle Levies 18, 34-95-421-4460) is where the aficionados converge. Housed in a former coal storage warehouse, the rambling, makeshift space has a corrugated fiberglass roof, communal picnic tables and a small stage where ponytailed flamenco guitarists and dancers give impromptu performances late into the night. The crowd of university students and flamencophiles stream in and out between shows, puffing on cigarettes in the leafy garden.
5) MOORISH TILES
If you're wondering where to pocket the intricately designed ceramic tiles that blanket a good portion of the city, head to Triana, the old Gypsy enclave on the left side of the Guadalquivir river. Its streets are lined with ceramics shops, often with their wares displayed flamboyantly on the facade. Cerámica Santa Ana (San Jorge 31, 34-95-433-39-90) has a factory attached to its showroom and an impressive selection of hand-painted sinks, dishes and tiles ranging from simple geometric Moorish patterns to styles with saints and royal coats of arms.
6) RIVER TAPAS
The afternoon Iberian sun is scorching, so it's no surprise that the food seems to be engineered for staying cool. La Cucaña bar (Calle de Betis, 9; 34-95-434-01-31) goes further with tree-shaded tables along the breezy banks of the Guadalquivir. Start with a pitcher of vino de verano and then have the gazpacho Andaluz, served in a wineglass with ice and garnished with fresh green peppers, tomatoes and onions. The cucumber salad and chorizo Ibérica also has a cooling effect. Lunch for two with wine is a minimum of 20 euros.
7) FLAMENCO 101
Follow the flamenco acolytes with their slicked-back hair buns and clicking castanets to the 18th-century mansion that's the Museo del Baile Flamenco (Calle de Manuel Rojas Marcos 3, 34-95-434-03-11; www.flamencomuseum.com). The year-old museum, run by the renowned dancer Cristina Hoyos, is an obsessive homage to the art form, with three floors of high-tech exhibits, archival photos and costume displays. Best of all, you can sit in the patio to spy on the dance classes and pick up some moves.
8) EL BULLI LITE
The celebrity chef Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame has a lesser-known outpost about 25 minutes by taxi from the city center. Tucked inside the gates of the very luxurious hotel, Hacienda Benazuza (41800 Sanlúcar la Mayor, 34-955-70-33-44, www.elbullihotel.com), the restaurant presents elegant dinner theater with servers, dressed like French maids, trotting foamed and molecular creations with white gloves. For the full effect, try the tasting menu: a procession of 24 small plates including “gin fizz frozen warm,” candied quail egg and, my favorite, “olives soup with spherical olives.” Dinner for two with wine is 296 euros.
9) NEW NEIGHBORHOOD ALERT
Looking for the city's young trendsetters? In the last five years, they've set up in Alameda de Hércules, an area just north of Seville's center. Head to the yellow-brick plaza anchored by a towering statue of Hercules to find artists, musicians and students thronging the dozens of newly opened bars and cafes, which are more likely to be blaring reggaetón than flamenco. Among the more popular are Taberna del Corto Maltés (Alameda de Hércules 66, 34-954-38-04-71) with its airy ceilings and circular Moorish-tiled bar, and the pocket-sized Sala la Caja Negra (Calle de Fresa 15), a smoky live music site that is the nexus of the city's neo-rock scene.
10) UNCROWDED HOUSE
Seville's main tourist attractions include the Cathedral, a massive gothic masterpiece where Christopher Columbus is said to be buried, and the Alcázar, the royal palace and a shining example of Mudéjar, an architectural hybrid of Moorish and Christian styles popular between the 12th and the 16th centuries. For a less-trafficked alternative, go to the Casa de Pilatos (Plaza de Pilatos, 34-95-422-52-98). The building, a 16th-century palace also in Mudéjar style, is delightfully dilapidated with swirling tiled walls, elaborate domed ceilings with inlaid wood and overgrown gardens that are perfect for a siesta or for glimpsing the palace's current residents, the Dukes of Medinaceli.
11) FUTURE WALK
Seville is not all ancient history. The city has recently commissioned a stable of celebrity architects like Zaha Hadid and Sir Norman Foster and the requisite bridge, by Santiago Calatrava, to add a dash of modernism to its medieval streets. For a frontline glimpse, stroll around the Metropol Parasol development (Plaza de la Encarnación). The Berlin architect Jürgen Mayer H. is midway through erecting a giant, wafflelike grid above an old market and ruins that the city hopes will provide not only shade, but also a bright future.
Air France flies from Kennedy Airport to Seville, with a plane change in Paris, starting at about $670. Instead of renting a car, it's easier to flag down taxis, which are plentiful and inexpensive. Walking, however, is the best way to see the city center. (Beware of zooming cars; some sidewalks measure just a few inches wide.)
To live like Sevillian aristocracy try Casa No. 7 (Virgenes 7, 34-954-22-15-81, www.casanumero7.com), a 19th-century town house with six rooms decorated with antiques collected by the owner, Gonzálo del Rio y González-Gordon, of the Tio Pepe sherry family. Doubles from 177 euros.
This is as close as you can get to staying in an elegant private home in Seville. Next to the Santa Cruz barrio, the little inn is in a beautiful, sensitively restored 19th-century mansion where you live in style, with a butler to serve you breakfast. Small in size, Casa Número 7 is big on style and grace notes, recapturing the aura of Old Seville. It thinks of itself, with justification, as a civilized oasis in the midst of a bustling city. The building envelops an old atrium, and is filled with such touches as family photographs, Oriental area rugs, a marble fireplace, and floral print love seats. Rooms are individually decorated in old Sevillano style, with impeccable taste and an eye to comfort. All come with good-size bathrooms with tub/shower combination. Our favorite is the spacious Yellow Room, with its "Juliet balcony" overlooking the street.