Travel writer Jack Levitt talks us through his explorations of three major cities in the Far EastWritten by Jack Levitt on 10th December 2017
Seville: The Perfect City Break
Travel writer Tara Kergon explains why the historic town of Seville is the perfect city break
Southern Spain is the traditional home away from home of English tourists eager to soak up the sun when the great British summertime proves lacklustre, but it has much more to offer than blue skies and beaches. If you’re in the market for something more unique than a resort in Marbella or more chilled out than pouring yourself out of an Ibizan club at 5 am, look no further than Seville. The largest and most popular of the historic towns dotted throughout Andalusia, it will welcome you in with small winding streets dotted with pretty churches and Moorish architecture, its palm-lined plazas a welcome respite from dreary English skies. It’s one to avoid during school holidays (unless screaming children are your idea of a relaxing atmosphere) but is a perfect city break which feels worlds away from England rather than a mere two and a half hour flight.
One of the main attractions of this historic city is the Alcazar, which I came to think of as the Alhambra’s little sister – a beautiful Moorish royal palace with extensive gardens, but not quite the striking complex for which nearby Granada is famed. Its popularity means, however, that if you don’t fancy baking in the sun at the back of a long queue it is well worth booking a slot in advance and then sashaying past the lines of envious tourists on the day. Upon entering the palace the grand facade rears into view, but the real beauty of the palace is in the detail: ceramic tiles line floors and walls while intricate inscriptions in Arabic are carved throughout; glances through arched doorways reveal delicate carving while long pools mirror the skies above; looking up reveals intricately patterned ceilings.
It wouldn’t be a Spanish city without a cathedral, and Seville is home to one remarkable not only for its flying buttresses and panoramic views but as the resting place of Christopher Columbus. His elaborate tomb, hoisted upon the shoulders of four statues, merits the visit, but the highlight is definitely the Giralda. Ascend 35 ramps and 17 steps and you may gaze out over the city sprawl from under the huge church bells. If you’re interested in the ecclesiastical art and architecture, the Iglesia de San Salvador (also included in the Cathedral’s entrance fee) is much more impressive, with its grandiose lashings of gold, silver and marble. And there are innumerable churches, chapels and convents scattered throughout the winding streets if you still haven’t had your fill of the religious.
A high point of my visit (pun very much intended here!) was the Metropol Parasol – a wood and steel structure akin to a giant honeycomb suspended in the centre of the city which offers a winding walk and wide open vistas. Whether or not it was built purely to lure in the tourists, its attraction lies in its strangeness: within a ten-minute walk visitors can see the surviving portion of the ancient city walls and then be sipping a cocktail at sunset on a modern structure. As if to continue highlighting the contrast of old and new, underneath lie Roman ruins which are also accessible to visitors. Among other attractions is the 13th century Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) which also offers city views, the bullring which, while I refused to enter for ethical reasons, has some beautiful architecture to appreciate from outside, and several art museums which displaying both fine and contemporary art and are housed within beautiful buildings.
If history is not your thing, perhaps the visually stunning Plaza de España will be more your cup of tea. While originally created for a national exhibition, the visually stunning square comprising of a circular canal and grand fountain backed by a sweeping semi-circle of red-stoned buildings, all detailed with beautiful ceramic tiles, has been left standing for both its photogenic beauty and value as a tourist attraction. And should you come to seek the elusive sun and a taste of the Mediterranean lifestyle fear not because Seville has both in spades. Its ancient streets provide the perfect backdrop for relaxing, as well as plenty of cafe-lined plazas in which to do so. At every turn there is a coffee shop, a cerveceria (the closest thing to a pub) and a tapas bar, just waiting for you to pull up a chair and while away the hours, or to recover from a long day of sightseeing. In my opinion, Seville offers the perfect city break combination: sunshine and blue skies, Instagram-worthy cobbled streets lined with historic architecture, and the chance to people-watch like a local.