I have now come to the end of my countdown having already covered numbers two to fifteen (2. Granada 3. Barcelona, 4, Santiago de Compostela 5. Córdoba 6. Valencia 7. Segovia 8. Bilbao 9. Madrid 10. Toledo 11. Cádiz 12. Vitoria-Gasteiz 13. Palma, 14. Denia & 15. Malaga).
The home of flamenco and oranges was the final leg of our 2011 Spanish tour that had started in Santiago de Compostela, continued with an overnight train to Madrid and then saw us speed on ultra-modern AVE trains to Cordoba & Cadiz before our arrival at Seville’s impressive modern train station.
We rented a small apartment in the old town and immediately felt like we had arrived in a truly authentic Spain. Our neighbourhood was a bustling area where locals shopped, played ball games, hung out their washing and just hung out. So much better than a cleansed hotel stuffed with tourists.
We had a lot to pack into three days, so started with the Alcazar, not dissimilar to its namesake in Cordoba and the wonderful big brother, Granada’s Alhambra.
On a recurring theme, we were again treated to intricate Arabian architecture and immaculate manicured gardens, with paths leading off in all directions and small fountains with waters sparkling in the 40 degree heat.
Time for a drink and to experience the common Sevilian occurrence of being sprayed with fine cooling water as we consumed our beverages. Very thoughtful and most welcome.
After its completion in the early 16th century, Seville Cathedral supplanted Hagia Sophia as the largest cathedral in the world and to this day is said to be the fourth largest church in the world and the biggest Gothic cathedral.
The total area occupied by the building is 11,520 square metres and its enormity makes it difficult to do justice in photographs.
Across the river stands the ceramics district of Triana, which is stuffed full of shops selling colourful homeware.
If decorative plates, planters and jugs are your thing, this was the place to get them.
Many of the buildings are also adorned in ornate tiles, making the whole area a delight to walk around.
It was a great place to linger with a cool beer and plate of calamari.
Guadalquivir River & Gold Tower (Torre del Oro)
We took a serene boat trip down the splendidly named Guadalquivir River that cuts the city in two. From the vessel we viewed the beautiful bullring & the 13th century Gold Tower.
Constructed in the first third of the 13th century, the tower was built as a watch tower and served as a prison during the Middle Ages. Its name comes from the golden shine it projected on the river, due to its building materials (a mixture of mortar, lime and pressed hay).
This was all great, but for once architecture or natural beauty were not the highlight of our stay. Two things really stand out as enduring memories.
We visited the hugely enjoyable flamenco museum with exhibits including a gallery of photographs showing dance stars from several eras, paintings depicting the passion and drama of the art form, plus costumes worn by flamenco royalty.
The highlight was served last. A stunning flamenco show put on by some of the best exponents of the art anywhere in the world.
The dancers stamped and flailed through some highly energetic routines, the ladies beautiful flowing dresses creating a whirl of motion in orange, red and black.
The guitarist was clearly a highly accomplished musician as his hands kept time with the whirling dervishes front stage. This was flamenco at its absolute best, highlighting the amateurish shows we had enjoyed in Cordoba & Cadiz – and we had thought they were good too!
Thankfully we saved the undoubted master until last.
We ate in two of the oldest tapas bars in the whole of Spain, a real food event on both occasions. The first was called El Rinconcillo and the second Las Teresas.
El Rinconcillo is said to have opened in 1670 and purports to be the oldest restaurant in Spain. Whether that is precisely true or not, the place just oozed atmosphere. We stood at the bar to eat and drink and the food was wonderful. Waiters and bar staff were really attentive despite being very busy, never resting for a moment. Each dish we consumed had its price chalked up on the bar in front of us, to be totted up when it was time for us to reluctantly leave.
Las Teresas also had hams hanging from the ceilings and was equally atmospheric. The quails eggs on toast remains one of my favourite ever dishes.
So there you have my top Spanish city (so far) in an amazing list. Spain really is blessed with iconic cities with a huge variety in styles, architecture and culture.
Bilbao & Santiago in the north feels like a different country altogether when compared with the Moor influenced south in the likes of Granada and Cordoba.
I feel that there is much more to come from the country and I look forward to being able to explore more.