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Seville’s the city for piety and parties

Holy Week brings 50,000 pilgrims to the city, but pleasure-seeking visitors can enjoy abundant nightlife amid the Moorish architecture, says Anthony Jeffries.

Why?

It’s hard to think of a reason not to visit Seville at any time, but the city is at its finest in spring.

First come the piety and passion of Holy Week (April) when 50,000 nazarenos (penitents) process through the streets accompanying icons temporarily displaced from churches around the city.

Hard on its heels is the feria (April) when Sevillanos decamp to the showground on the outskirts and flamenco, horses and sherry are the order of the day. Hotel prices are at a premium during the twin celebrations.

If parties and processions don’t appeal this is still a wonderful time to visit; oranges linger on the trees, the air is fresh, the spring warmth hasn’t reached the full-blast heat of summer and the tourist masses have yet to descend.

Travel by..

Air from Stansted with Ryanair (0871 246 0000 www.ryanair.com). Returns this spring start at £61. Ryanair also operates a Liverpool-Seville route with returns from £98. Clickair (www.clickair.com) has returns from Heathrow to Seville from £208. Taxis from Seville airport to the city centre cost around £14. Taxis in the city are cheap, but most of the sights are well within walking distance from the centre. Work on the new metro system means bus routes are disrupted.

Stay at the…..

Overtly opulent Hotel Alfonso XIII with its astonishing mix of art deco and Moorish revival in the patios and lounges.

Less lavish but lovely nonetheless is Casa No. 7 Hotel (Calle Virgenes, 7; 0034 954 221581; www.casanumero7.com), a converted 18 th century urban palace with six very comfortable rooms set around a central patio.

 

Spend the morning in………

The atmospheric vastness of the cathedral (the largest church in the world), taking in the stunning retablo and the grandiose tomb of Columbus. Climb the ramp (built for guards’ horses) up the 82 metre-high Giralda – former mosque tower. The view from the top is of a magnificent, jumbled cityscape punctuated by the odd soaring church tower and monument.

Then pop next door to the Real Alcázar, the Moorish fortress with its intricate tiling, peaceful chambers and gorgeous, pool-filled gardens.

Lunch in….

La Albahaca (Plaza Santa Cruz, 29; 0034 954 220714), which serves traditional Andalusian food – seafood, lots of pork – in a classy, tiled restaurant on a quiet square in the heart of the Santa Cruz district. Or venture across the Guadalquivir river and grad a waterfront able at Rio Grande (Calle Betis 70, 0034 954 273956) for excellent fresh fish and a view of the Seville skyline that will live in the memory.

Stroll around….

The city: start at the river and head north-west, past the Torre del Oro tower and the majestic Maestranza bullring. Cut past the Arenal produce market through the narrow streets to the district of La Macarena, all spectacular churches, authentic bars and cafes and cobbled streets.

From here, head south through the Centro shopping district to the roomy Plaza Nueva, then on past the cathedral into the mazy Barrio Santa Cruz – the old Jewish district with its whitewashed, bougainvillea-clad walls and welcome bars at every corner.

Buy…..

Anything made of leather, especially shoes. There are modern and traditional shoe stores every few metres along Calle Sierpes and Velázquez, where most of the big fashion stores are located, but Calle Sagasta and Plaza San Salvador are particularly good.

If the prices have you ripping your wallet open you can always buy a new one at very little cost.

Have dinner at……

Pando (Calle Cuna 5: 0034 954 225052), a temple to tasteful décor and modern Spanish cuisine in a grand 19 th century townhouse.

Artichoke flowers with prawns and creamed Iberian ham or sliced duck on spiced bread with rose-flavoured jam are not your average Sevillian fare, but the smart set are crowding in, so book ahead.

More traditional, but still inventive is Bodega Paco Gongora (Calle Padre Marchena, 1; 0034 954 214139). The tapas bar is loaded with fishy delights; the restaurant is more formal, but its waiters are charming and the hefty portions of meat and fish are well presented.

Seville is famous for its tapas and no visitor should skip an evening trawl through the Barrio Santa Cruz, so throw away the map and follow the nose. The bars are too numerous to mention by name and the jamón, boquerones (anchovies) and other more elaborate dishes are of a universally good standard.

Drink small cañas (beers) if you want to pace yourself but be sure to have one or two bone-dry fino sherries with your Serrano ham.

Stay up late at….

The Alameda de Hercules at the northern end of the city centre, which is being smartened up but still retains enough of its authentically raucous air.

Chic bars, pizza restaurants and hip nightclubs crowd both sides of the tree-lined walkway. Things don’t get going until well after 10 pm and the clubs fill up only after 2am, but there’s something for everyone.

Recover at….

The Parque Maria Luisa: shady and tranquil urban green space at its best. Hire a bicycle or stroll along the paths, wander around the crumbling, tiled masterpiece of the Plaza de España or take a table at one of the cafes, sip a coffee and enjoy watching Seville life going on all around.

At all costs avoid…

The tourist trinket shops littering the city centre. Even the less trashy ones sell overpriced scarves and leather goods that aren’t worth a second glance. Instead try the gift shop at the Alcázar with its lovely replica mosaic tiles and very reasonable prints of the fortress and its architecture.