After a crazy summer of house buying and flat selling, homelessness, living in my in my parents’ study, moving house, about 25 weddings (actually only seven), decorating and renovating our new home, London2012 hysteria and seeing my husband once every three weeks (due to London2012 shifts) we decided to treat ourselves to a relaxing, end-of-summer week somewhere nice and hot, not too pricey but luxurious enough to feel a bit self-indulgent. I didn’t want a city break – too much sightseeing required and sitting by a pool all day in the middle of a city, ready to be explored, just seemed wrong.
So, a cheap, nice, early-October beach break? Pretty simple, you’d think?
Everywhere close (a.k.a. cheap) enough couldn’t guarantee the sunshine that we were craving. Everywhere that could guarantee the sunshine, required a 14 hour flight and three times our budget just to get there. The only option that ticked all boxes, or so we thought, was Cyprus. Short flight, we could use budget airlines, good weather predicted, lovely hotels! Inexplicably, this option was more expensive than the Caribbean, Dubai and South East Asia all put together. And the flight times were bonkers.
As the deadline drew nearer our list of options got shorter. And then we got burgled.
Aside from the feelings of anger, shock, violation, fear and sadness, I was LIVID that after all this time of waiting for our romantic beach break, we were now forking out hundreds of pounds for new doors, our excess insurance fee and a new alarm system, and so we were now unlikely to be going anywhere.
But, after all that extra stress on top of the list above, we refused to let it break us. We hadn’t spent more than a few hours in each other’s company for months and we needed to Chill. Out. So we started looking at cheap city breaks and discovered Seville: Scorching sunshine; a beautiful setting; great reviews from recent visitors; cheap flights from an airport less than 30 minutes away and at realistic times; and a Mr and Mrs Smith Hotel with short-notice availability at a reasonable price – PERFECT!
I did a bit of research in to the location and was pleased to find that although there was a lot of wandering to be done there were only a few major sights. I feel guilty chilling out reading my book by a pool when there is culture I’m missing out on. So there was enough to entertain us, but no so much that our chill time was compromised.
We arrived at the Hospes las Casas del Rey de Baeza about midday after a short 20 minute cab ride from the airport and, as our room wasn’t yet ready, we were given a welcome drink (ice cold sangria for him, juice for me) and a small tour of the hotel before settling in one of the central patios to read up on the location.
The hotel was rustic in style with rooms on three levels on open balconies/corridors around two central patios. On the ground floor, we found a cool, calm library and lounge complete with big scoochy (it counts as a word if you know what I mean – and I know you do!) leather sofas, and a garden room with wicker chairs over-looking a small garden area with a mesmerising water feature and lush green plants. I found myself sitting here day dreaming for about two hours on the last day.
Eventually we unpacked in our rather spacious room (not a great view, so let’s not dwell) and we decided to leave exploring until after sundown and to make the most of that big firey ball of warmth in the sky that we seemed to be missing in the UK over the summer months, and headed up to the roof terrace to read, snooze and unwind. The roof terrace was rather chic, and I felt like I was back in Santorini – everything was sleek, modern and white. Decking, sofas, funky lamps, potted cacti, sun loungers and a small, but perfect, pool all in amongst the Andalusian rooftops.
An un-manned bar in the corner was home to a stack of menus and a phone with a direct dial to the kitchen. We ordered some delicious-sounding salads and drinks and settled in for a warm, relaxing afternoon with a handful of fresh Seville oranges, plucked from the innumerable baskets, vases and bowls full to the brim of the sunshine fruit, found all over the hotel and grounds.
Later that evening we went out to explore, taking advice from the guys on reception for the best places for tapas, drinks and general hanging out. In the end, we got so lost wandering the cute, cobbly, windy, atmospheric streets that that I can’t even begin to tell you where we ate each night. My only advice would be TAKE A MAP and wear flat shoes! I’m normally map-averse for various reasons 1) I don’t like to draw attention to myself as a tourist. I know I don’t look like a local with my milky white skin, but I don’t want to look completely clueless and vulnerable, 2) part of the fun of a city, for me, is finding my way by chance, using landmarks to navigate, soaking up the atmosphere and people watching on my way and 3) if you’re looking at a map, you’re not looking at your surroundings, which is what exploring is all about.
Seville is not for the map-averse. After two laps of the same circuit, crossing the same square in the same direction twice, I caved and consulted the map. And that’s when I looked around and realised that every second person, regardless of nationality, was standing there with their own map looking perplexed, squinting at the tiny print and then the crumbling street signs and trying to find their way. It actually added an element of camaraderie to the trip.
Eventually we found somewhere to eat – the food was average and the service was worse, but the sangria was good, and the setting was beautiful, so who cares about soggy patatas bravas and oily chorizo!
The second day we skipped the hotel breakfast (which, although delicious and lovely, worked out about €50 each) grabbed some pastries and smoothies from a bakery not far from the hotel, ate our fill on a bench with some locals in a small square and then did some conventional sight-seeing, buying tickets for the Real Alcazar and staring in awe at the Moorish architecture of this ancient palace, sauntering down to the river and checking out the Bull Ring (but making sure to give them no money, instead a few pointed looks!) and a spot of much, MUCH better, tapas for lunch in the shadow of the huge Cathedral.
The third day we gave over to a mammoth lie in and more roof top pool lounging and delicious food snacking, and in the evening took a slightly different route in to the commercial shopping area to find the Metropol Parasol, peruse Zara and Mango (Sorry Mr G) and find a cocktail bar. We failed on the latter.
No matter where we looked, nowhere had any kind of drinks list: the options were sangria, vino tinto, vino blanco or refrescos. Even outlets that billed themselves as “Cocktail Bars” looked at me like I was crazy when I asked to see the cocktail list. I almost gave up hope until our last evening when we stumbled across a beautiful rooftop terrace bar overlooking the lit-up cathedral that, despite not having a menu either, offered me a few cocktail options from which to choose. At last! It was a shame that we found this bar on the last evening! For reference this restaurant also looked pretty great and had we been there an extra day we would definitely have gone back to eat there.
Overall I’d say that Seville is a stunning place to visit, great for relaxing, wandering, snacking and, most of all, relaxing. I expect I’ll head back in the not too distant future to use it as a base from which to visit Granada and the Alhambra as, from what I’ve heard Seville is a much lovelier place than Granada, if you’re willing to take the train or coach trip (a few hours, and not too pricey) between the two cities.
In short, my Seville suggestions…
1) Don’t bother packing heels. You won’t even take them out of your case.
2) Don’t expect haute cuisine, but equally, no meal cost us more than €30 (at most) for about eight tapas dishes, local wine and/or sangria and bread and olives. Local, tasty and affordable. What’s not to like?
3) Don’t expect great service – as a former waitress I ALWAYS tip generously, but in one place we left without leaving a tip at all to make a point about the so-bad-I-was-looking-for-hidden-cameras service!
4) Don’t make any hard and fast plans – you’ll get lost, find yourself stuck down dead ends, will wait ages for a drink/meal and so will likely miss any deadlines you set yourself. It’s best to embrace the Spanish way and take it easy.
5) Do make sure to explore and soak up the city’s vibe at all times of the day. Europe does it so much better than us – less focus on work and more focus on life in the work-life balance. Even the daily “commute” is a sociable experience with bars, cafes, street vendors and holes in the wall coming alive at a time when most Brits are in “heads-down-ignore-everyone” mode. Maybe it’s the sunshine that makes everyone happier?
6) Do follow the locals to their buzzy drinking spots – impromptu street drinking, music and dancing made for a great carnival atmosphere every night of the week!
7) Do partake in a spot of shopping in amongst the sight-seeing. Sorry boys!
8) Do salivate over the Flamenco-style wedding dresses on display in every second window. I’ve literally never seen so many wedding dress shops in one city. It’s a man’s nightmare. If he’s already engaged he’ll be asked endless questions about “do you like this, do you like that?”. If he’s not, he had better hurry up and put a ring on it! If he’s married, he’ll have to deflect questions about vow-renewal! (maybe this point is just me!)
So, Findettes, have any of you been to Seville? Are you planning to visit? Any top tips to add to my list?
I also have a favour to ask – I’m going to Dublin and Belfast in a few weeks to visit my cousin with my mum and my aunt. She’s a poor starving student (yeah right!) and has the pubs and bars side of things covered, so I’m looking to you ladies for some suggestions on upmarket, chic cocktail bars and restaurants one normally reserves for special occasions as I think, for her, this one is on her mum (shhhhh!)….
Until next month
PS! Find Victoria over on her blog Sugar Plum Slipper or on twitter @VictoriaHale.