Moorish palaces, flamenco and oranges. That’s the vague image I had of Seville that first made me want to visit Andalucia. The city didn’t disappoint in these respects, but it surprised me with how large and busy it was – it felt more urban than romantic. Seville was also hotter than we expected: the mercury hit 37°C as we walked atop the city’s famous Metropol Parasol and admired the rare treasures of Palacio de Lebrija. But our struggles were blissfully rewarded that evening as we ate stunning and innovative tapas at Eslava.
Our beautiful apartment
My sister Tama and I arrived at Prado de San Sebastián station on a bus from Ronda, then caught a taxi to the airbnb we’d booked. Set in a traditional block of flats based around a central interior courtyard, the apartment was quiet and totally gorgeous. The owner, Rocio, explained when we arrived that she and her mother had handmade a lot of the decorations, which included dreamcatchers, placemats and even a fold-down table. She gave us a long introduction to the city and circled recommendations on a map for us.
It was now well past lunchtime and we were starving, so decided to get something to eat at the tourist attraction closest to us, Metropol Parasol. It’s impossible to miss this strange structure, which looks like six giant, joined-up mushrooms made of wooden waffles. Its nickname locally is “Las Setas”, meaning “the mushrooms”. Designed by German architect Jurgen Mayer H, it’s the largest timber-framed structure in the world.
It costs €3 to get a lift to the top of the mushrooms, which includes a voucher for a free drink from the café up there – so it’s pretty good value! We used ours to get two glasses of tinto de verano (literal translation: red wine of summer), which is most commonly a blend of cold red wine and lemonade. It’s like a cheaper, non-touristy, fruit-less version of sangria, and so delicious that we went on to order it again and again.
The food was not such a success. Unfortunately, we fell once again into the ‘selection of tapas’ tourist trap, and ended up sharing a boring plate of cured meat, cheese and biscuits.
Afterwards we followed the concrete path around the top of the mushrooms, whose curves and undulations put me in mind of a rollercoaster track.
As great was it was seeing the city from this perspective, the intense heat and light of the sun was unforgiving up on these paths – it would be much better to visit later in the day! My favourite parts were where the path ducked underneath the structure’s top layer and became covered in diamonds of sunlight.
The struggle to keep cool
Back on solid ground, we conceded it was just too hot to do lots more walking and sightseeing. Instead, we gave in to ice creams from Helados La Abuela and ate them on a shady step, as they rapidly melted.
Next we browsed a couple of gift shops and Tama bought a beautiful fan, much cheaper than ones we saw elsewhere, from a shop on street Calle Cuna. Looking for shade as much as entertainment, we decided to duck into the cool oasis of the Palace of the Countess of Lebrija (Palacio de Lebrija) for a couple of hours.
Palacio de Lebrija
Palacio de Lebrija is less a palace, more a museum of treasures and tiled mosaics within a very grand house. For €6 you can see the ground floor, where Islamic arches and ceilings bridge rooms floored with intricate Roman tile mosaics. These are just the first of the Countess of Lebrija’s many elaborate foreign imports.
My favourite room was the long narrow one, where one wall is all floor-to-ceiling windows to the courtyard and the other three are covered in glossy, patterned tiles, predominantly yellow and blue. The sunlight filtering in created beautiful patterns of light and shade, and I loved the geometric ceiling lamps too.
For €9 you can see both the ground floor and the first floor, the latter via guided tour only. The first floor looks much more like someone’s home, with its floors dressed in thick carpets and Persian rugs. Every inch of wall up here is filled with art and artefacts from every corner of the globe: from French paintings to Chinese cabinets. I’d never seen such an extravagant collection. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos on this floor – meaning you really do have to see it to believe it!
A walk down the canal
By the time we re-emerged the temperature had cooled to a bearable level, so we decided to walk along Canal de Alfonso XIII to work up an appetite for dinner. It’s a pleasant canal path lined with blossom trees, and used predominantly by runners.
When we reached Alamillo Bridge we turned back into town and saw the tall Torre de los Perdigones, before setting a course towards our greatly anticipated dinner destination, Eslava.
Innovative tapas at Eslava
Eslava is included in the Michelin guide and currently at number one on TripAdvisor, so we arrived expecting a long wait for a table. We were delighted when, just 15 minutes after arriving, we were offered two seats at the long, narrow bar while we waited for a table.
And thus began an amazing evening. The barman immediately brought us cold glasses of local cava and rosé, as well as a small bowl of olives and tasty dried corn kernels to nibble on. The menu held so many tempting and intriguing tapas that we felt spoilt for choice, but decided to start with some fail-safe, béchamel-filled croquettes. Arriving hot and fresh just minutes later, these were a million miles from every stodgy croquette I’d had before – these moist, golden nuggets positively oozed with flavour. I could have eaten 20 (though my body wouldn’t have thanked me for it).
As soon as we’d finished the croquettes, we were taken to a table at the back to begin our meal properly. We ordered one of everything that took our fancy: vegetable strudel (strudel de verduras), stewed pork cheeks (carrillada ibérica estofada), roasted pork ribs with rosemary honey glaze (costilla de cerdo con miel de romero al horno), grilled leeks with hollandaise, and Eslava’s award-winning dish: slow-cooked egg served on boletus cake with caramelized wine reduction (huevo sobre bizcocho de boletus y vino caramelizado).
Everything was delicious: my favourite being the unassuming vegetable strudel, which was like a spinach filo pie covered in the tastiest cheese sauce. What really impressed us was the unusual mixing of flavours and textures, and the very reasonable prices – the cheapest dishes were just €2.90! It’s no wonder this place has become famous.
We couldn’t resist sharing two desserts from the blackboard: the ‘Turron’ nougat ice cream with hot chocolate sauce (amazing), and the ‘Sokoa (Pastel Vasco)’, which was a creamy, custardy thing with caramel sauce (also amazing). I wish I’d taken photos of these, but I think we must have been too eager to eat them!
We returned to our apartment very happy and full, looking forward to seeing Seville’s main event – the Alcazar – tomorrow.
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, May 2017. All rights reserved.