Having spent yesterday acclimatising, today we saw the Seville I’d always anticipated: the Moorish palaces, flamenco, and oranges. And perhaps most importantly, the filming locations of two of my favourite series: Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Beginning at the fabulous Alcázar, we later went to the Plaza d’Espana, a crazily opulent church, and an impressive flamenco show. Of course, this being Spain, there was some amazing food in there too.
First thing we did upon waking up was book a flamenco show at La Casa del Flamenco, so that we wouldn’t miss out. Breakfast was the doughnuts, fruit and yoghurt left in the fridge for us by our airbnb host, allowing us to get to the Royal Alcázar (Real Alcázar) soon after opening. There was a long queue to get in regardless. Once inside we hired an audioguide to share between us, but although it was interesting in parts it was really more of a hindrance than a help!
The spectacular Alcázar
The Alcázar is a Moorish palace, originally developed by Muslim kings as far back as the 11th century. Occupied and extended by successive generations of Spanish rulers, its upper levels are still an official residence of the current royal family, making it Europe’s oldest royal palace still in use.
The Alcázar is made up of sections built in different eras, with different architectural styles: Moorish (11th-12th century), Gothic (13th century), Mudejar (14th century – built in an Islamic style for Christian kings), and Renaissance (15th-16th century). Most of the palace looks very similar to those found in Morocco, and I was constantly reminded of my visit to Marrakesh. The Arabic aesthetic of the Moorish and Mudejar sections is my favourite style of architecture – I just can’t get enough of the colours, shapes and painstaking intricacy of its beautiful, wall-to-wall patterns.
The Renaissance rooms
Although the Alcázar is not nearly as big as the Alhambra in Granada, with no clear, single path to follow we kept doubting that we’d seen every room. We began in the Renaissance palace to the right of the palace’s main entrance, which includes the golden-ceilinged House of Trade in which Queen Isabella agreed to sponsor the voyages of Christopher Columbus. We found further Renaissance rooms later on, on the first floor of the main palace. While attractive in their own way, they paled in comparison to the Moorish and Mujedar rooms.
The ‘Palace of Dorne’
Next came the main event: the Mudejar-style Palace of King Don Pedro I, containing a network of gorgeously patterned and resplendent rooms. The largest room has a stunning golden-domed ceiling with first-floor balconies below it. You can see why the Alcázar was chosen to represent the palace of the Kingdom of Dorne in Game of Thrones, and it was a thrill recognising the rooms.
Lunch in the gardens
About halfway through our visit we stopped for lunch at the garden café. The offering is limited to sandwiches and pastries, but it’s fine for a pit-stop. We had miniature pizzas, empanadas, sweet pastries and more tinto de verano on a table outside, before venturing into the gardens’ depths.
Gardens fit for royalty
The gardens are large and, for the most part, not incredibly interesting. Unless you’re in the mood for a pleasant walk among the plants (we weren’t, it was far too hot!) I’d advise focusing on the central part between the palace and the long elevated walkway, the Galeria del Grutesco. This elaborately decorated walkway makes a beautiful focal point and provides the best view of the gardens.
However, if you’re looking for oranges, head to the section of the garden called the Jardin de los Poetas. Its central path is so densely lined with orange trees that their scent fills the air, while fallen fruits litter the paths (at least if you visit in spring/summer).
The ‘Water Gardens of Dorne’
The gardens were where I most felt like I was in Dorne from Game of Thrones. In the TV series, the Alcázar’s gardens served as the Water Gardens of Dorne and many scenes were filmed here. Although I couldn’t place them all, several scenes looked familiar, including a mysterious underground water chamber underneath the palace.
After hours and hours of wandering round the Alcázar, we headed to our next filming location: the Plaza d’Espana, which appeared in Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones as a palace in Naboo. Specifically, Anakin and Padme are seen walking through the building’s long, curving passageway, alongside the pillars.
The building curves around a large open space containing a circular canal and a central fountain. People row rented rowboats around the canal, as horses pull carriages around the fountain. Something else particularly eye-catching about this space is the bridges over the canal, which have balustrades that look like blue and white porcelain. We took plenty of photos before moving on.
Flower ice cream!
On the way back into the city centre we bought ice creams from Amorino – completely suckered in by the marketing gimmick of an ice cream shaped like a rose, with a macaron in the centre. You’re able to pick up to three flavours for the ‘petals’, so I picked strawberry, chocolate and caramel. Of course, this novelty presentation drove the price up considerably – but it was very good ice cream, and a very good macaron!
Iglesia Colegial del Salvador
We were planning to go to Seville Cathedral next, but found it shut when we got there (I should have followed my own advice!) Not to be disheartened, we headed to Iglesia Colegial del Salvador instead. As much as I’m not a fan of religious art, this church’s fascias – the large wall displays – were awe-inspiring. The scale, detail and opulence was so incredible that it was difficult to take it all in.
Wine by the Giralda
With an hour to spare before our 8pm booking at Mama Bistro, we grabbed an outside table at Restaurante El Giraldillo for some pre-dinner drinks. We enjoyed a glorious hour of chatting and watching the sun sink as we sipped cold white wine. It was the cherry on the cake when, after we declined further glasses of wine, the waiter conspiratorially poured us two more big glasses saying they were on the house!
Incredible flavours at Mama Bistro
I’d booked a table at Mama Bistro well in advance, after seeing the menu and many glowing reviews online. I was so glad I did, because people who hadn’t booked were being turned away the whole time we were there.
The meal got off to a great start, with our waitress bringing out three freshly baked, interestingly flavoured bread rolls and an amuse bouche of watermelon cubes coated in sesame seeds. I believe the bread flavours were charcoal, chocolate, and some kind of herb.
But the main courses were why we went, and I’d had my eye on the ’13 hours cooked Iberian piglet with honey, chili, fennel and baked potatoes’ ever since I’d booked our table. It tasted even better than I’d imagined – in fact, it tasted like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. It was rich, meaty and syrupy – managing to be both intensely sweet and intensely savoury at the same time. Tama had an unctuous risotto made with pâté, ham and parmesan, which was even richer, but delicious all the same.
We arrived at La Casa del Flamenco about 20 minutes early, which gave us enough time to pick up our pre-booked tickets, join the queue and grab front row seats.
The Casa del Flamenco show takes place in the inner courtyard of an old house, on a low wooden stage circled by two rows of seats. That’s it: there are no tables, no food, no drinks, and no amplification, which all makes it feel more authentic. Photos are prohibited in all but the very last performance.
All the focus is on the four performers: a guitarist, a singer, a female dancer and a male dancer. Every one of them is clearly very talented – the male dancer, in particular, moved his feet so quickly that it seemed supernatural.
It was my first time seeing flamenco and I was surprised by how aggressive it was, and how much focus there was on the foot stomping. Every performer had some time in the spotlight, but my favourite part was when the man and woman danced together with castanets – perhaps it’s considered cheesy in the flamenco world, but we loved it!
On our last day in Seville we took a day trip to the beautiful city of Cordoba, which I’ll detail in my next post. Subscribe or follow Roam with Juliet on Facebook to be alerted when it goes live!
All text and most photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2017, some photos (c) Tamasin Langton, 2017 (excluding screen captures). All rights reserved.