PRESS SECTION - The Times - The Big Orange

Tim Hames is wowed by fruit trees and decorated tiles in Seville

Three features make Seville stand out not only as a city in Spain but one of the finest settlements in Europe. They are the smell, the streets and the tiles. These might seem odd items to bring together, yet in a subtle way they are the secret of the success of a place that, despite the undoubted popularity of Andalusia, is still something of a mystery to that section of the British population which thinks that straying more than a mile fro the coast on a visit to southern Spain is, well, criminal.

It is their loss. The first thing they lose is the smell. Seville positively reeks of the orange trees that seem to adorn every thoroughfare, their fruit hanging in easy fashion for those who want to reach out and pluck and – from mid-April to May – adorned with staggeringly pretty blossom.

Grapes grow in public places as well, but it is the oranges that add astonishing flavour to an already vibrant café of culture and climate, which means that even in winter, locals and visitors can superglue themselves to seats outside to partake of coffee, wine or the mountain of food that comes under the misleadingly modest title of tapas.

And then there are the streets. Lots of them. Small and intricate and winding, often confusing but invariably looping back to one of the comparatively few major roads or squares such as the long Calle Sierpes, which is the main shopping boulevard, or the vast cathedral – the third largest place of Christian worship in Europe after St. Peter’s in Rome and our St. Paul’s – which suddenly emerges from a maze of tiny street.

In this respect, Seville resembles Venice, a place full of busy locals and somewhat less hurried travellers, with plenty of English spoken, a sizeable proportion of it American in tone. The centre of Seville is very much for walking. The notion of a bus weaving through this terrain is laughable, and, besides, the city is the optimal size for exploration on foot.

This produces a paradox. I cannot think of any other place that combines so many small streets at its heart with such huge and impressive buildings at the edge of the conurbation. The oldest of these is the Altamira Palace. Other landmarks include the breathtaking Plaza de España, the centre of the Spanish-American exhibition of 1929; the enormous hangar that was once the tobacco factory brought to the stage in Carmen; and the Treatro de la Maestranza erected for Expo ´92.

Then there are the tiles. Millions of them – everywhere. Despite extensive research, I could not discover which King of Spain had issued an edict banning wallpaper in Seville, but such a proclamation must have occurred because everything that could possibly be covered in tile is. And these are not the sort of tiles that bung up in a bathroom to keep the cost down, but ones of breathtaking design and colour. If you are a tileophile (does the word exist? – It does now) then head out to Seville.

But frankly you should make a beeline for the city even if unmoved by the smell of oranges, unaffected by the intrigue of narrow streets or perfectly content with Homebase for tiling. If there is a flicker of romance in the soul, then Seville is the p0lace to fan it.

The accommodation ranges from the imposing (and pricey) Hotel Alfonso XIII to boutique townhouses such as Casa No. 7 hotel. There are, mercifully, few examples of the soulless mega brand hotel. Most people, who come choose to sniff, walk, nibble at tapas, walk, wonder why they could not obtain tiles like that for the downstairs loo, walk, get lost and find themselves again. It is an enticing combination. The orange trees and those tiles deserve just a little more company.