Seville – Andalusia, Spain

In the City of Carmen

Seville is lovely at any time of the year, but it is worth rearranging your entire itinerary and booking far in advance to be there in spring. Semana Santa (Holy Week) is celebrated throughout the Mediterranean and Christian world, but nowhere as it is in Seville.

Each evening of the week before Easter, members of the city’s sixty cofradias (brotherhoods), many of them hooded, bare­foot, and dragging chains, slowly parade through the darkened streets. There are can­dlelit processions of elaborate gilt and bejeweled floats bearing the image of Mary or Christ.

Haunting, deeply devotional songs give way, two weeks later, to the throbbing beat of the flamenco dancing and music that swirls around the flamboyant round-the-clock revels of Feria de Abril, a one-week hiatus from the worries of the real world. Women dressed in multicolored flounced flamenco gowns ride horseback behind their Caballeros, who wear the elegant, short-jacketed suits and broad-rimmed hats of the region.

Try to stay in the Alfonso XIII, perhaps the most exotic hotel in Spain, evoking Moorish opulence of old. Built to accommodate visiting royalty during Seville’s 1929 World’s Fair, it took its inspiration from the local mudejar architecture and decorative arts to create an exuberant Spanish palace around a central patio that would fool even a skeptical caliph.

Panels of Moorish azulejo tilework, cool marble floors, and inlaid columns and arch­ways offer an oasis from the heat and the traffic of its central location between the Alcazar and the cathedral, the city’s must-see landmarks. Check out the Alfonso’s lobby and courtyard where toda Sevilla goes for tapas or an evening sherry-sipping rendezvous at the piano bar.

Tapas are believed to have originated in Seville, and the unpretentious, no-frills, deli­ciously authentic tradition of tapas grazing remains strong here. The idea is to always stay a little bit hungry, and to eat your way around town at the city’s myriad neighborhood bars. Small and succulent portions of finger foods are classically paired up with the region’s famous fortified wines and sherries from nearby Jerez.

One needn’t look far for the ingredients— cured green sevillano olives from the gnarled groves of the surrounding hills, and paper-thin slices of Jabugo ham, which locals insist is the world’s best. There are slices of omelettes, deep-fried squid, slabs of spicy salami, and chunks of aged manchego cheese.

There’s usu­ally sawdust on the floor and hams hanging from the rafters; sailors mix with the upscale young set—a copa of wine is the great leveler. La Albariza uses empty, upended sherry casks as tabletops to accommodate a rather tony crowd, while Las Teresas is exactly how you’d imagine the quintessential tapas bar. Either way, you’re bound to walk away with newly forged friendships and tomorrow’s hangover.

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