Photo Post: Palacio de Las Dueñas, the Duquesa de Alba’s Treasured Home in Sevilla

Just like on the day of her death, my phone started pinging with the news that the Duquesa de Alba’s beloved palace, Palacio de las Dueñas, would be converted into a public museum. Sleep still crusting my eyes from a Friday afternoon siesta, I search for a projected opening date, scrawled “PALACIO DUEÑAS TIX” on an open page of my agenda, and rolled back to sleep.

Several weeks later, under a post-Feria chill and dreary skies, I did a personal pilgrimage to honor Doña Cayetana de Alba, stopping at three of her favorite places – the brotherhood of Los Gitanos, Palacio de las Dueñas and Bar Dueñas.


Born to an aristocratic family in Madrid before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart (and that’s just the short version of her 26 names) lived her life in constant fear of being alone, bounced between London and the Spanish capital. Despite being gifted in arts and horsemanship and considered one of Span’s most beautiful young women, she only truly felt fulfilled when she was visiting her Tía Sol in Andalucía, according to her autobigraphy Yo, Cayetana.

And it was here at Palacio de las Dueñas, a 15th Century state home situated in the heart of Seville, where she’d marry her third husband, live out the happiest of her days surrounded by art and bubbling fountains, and where she’d return to die.

I began first at her final resting place, the Templo de Nuestro Padre Jesús de la Salud y Nuestra Señora de las Angustias Coronadas (locals call it Los Gitanos for the religious brotherhood that does it penitence during the Madrugá). In a humble tomb decorated with dried flowers rests the hermandad’s gran anfitriona, a large marble plaque marking her final wish to be buried near the altar. Cayetana was a people’s princess of sorts, and her devotion to the brotherhood and fervent faith was as as strong as her love of horses, bullfighting and flamenco.

House of Alba

I wandered the backstreets of a neighborhood I don’t know very well, close to Los Jardínes del Valle, to kill time. Cayetana was often seen out walking, not afraid to be hounded by paparazzi or approached by sevillanos. The only time I ever saw her, she was chattering away in a horse carriage at the fairgrounds, as if she were just another well-to-do sevillana (or at least one of those who took out a loan to guardar aperiencias and pay for the new traje de gitana).

Through marriages and kingdoms uniting over six centuries, the Casa de Alba became one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Spain. By the time Cayetana was born in 1926, the family had amassed over a dozen properties, countless works of art and handicrafts and a name that made anyone either roll their eyes at their immense wealth or sigh in wonder.

Facade of Palacio de las Dueñas Sevilla

Palacio de las Dueñas, named for a monastery that once stood on the grounds, was a place I had to visit before leaving Seville. When my friend Claudia lived next door, I’d often crane my neck over her fourth-floor balcony to see into the palace walls. Orange trees and tiles rooftops covered the patios and living quarters, and that quick glimpse of her dandelion hair at the Feria was all I’d get until she died in late 2014 and I, along with thousands of others, attended her closed-casket wake.

Even though I’d arrived a quarter hour early, the guard let me in, and I had a few moments in the inviting courtyard to breathe in the dew on the naranjo trees. The ivy- and bougainvillea-covered façade was perhaps the most inviting part of the property, a landmark that’s seen dignitaries, foreign movie stars and the glamoratti sleep in its many bedrooms.

Grand Entranceto Palacio Las Duenas Sevilla

Duquesa de Alba's Home in Sevilla

Palacio de las Dueñas Details

Typical house in Seville Spain

The 1,900 square meter property has long been closed to the public, save special events. And even with that much space, once the 11am entrance time hit, I was constantly being bumped into by old ladies or screeched at to move by the same old ladies. I lingered, letting them pass through to the inner gardens while I, like Cayetana, sought refuge in the stables (my mother would be proud).

Considering horses and bullfighting to be two of her greatest passions, the Duquesa kept horses on her property and owned several carriages – not to mention the dozen or so private farms that belonged to her before she divvied them up preceding her third marriage.

Duchess of Alba Horses

House of Alba Crest

The humble stable opens up into a small, dense garden lined with tiled benches, pockmarked with fountains and reminiscent of other famous residents of Dueñas.

Antonio Machado, poeta celebré of Andalucía, was born in the palace when it was still a corral de vecinos, immoralized in ‘Autorretrato de Campos de Castilla’:

Mi infancia son recuerdos de un patio de Sevilla
y un huerto claro donde madura el limonero[…]

Gardens in Palacio las Dueñas

What does the Duchess of Alba's house look like

Framed by Arabic lattice work etched in marble, arches lead from the private garden into the main living quarters, themselves surrounding a breezy interior patio decked out with sculptures, tapestries and paintings. More than money in the bank, the Casa de Alba’s legacy lies in its numerous land holdings and priceless art collection, protected by the Fundación Casa de Alba.

Living Quarters in Dueñas

Interior of Palacio de las Dueñas

Details of Dueñas

Artwork in Dueñas

Artistry at Dueñas palace

The tour leads guests through half a dozen rooms on the ground floor, a glimpse into how the Duquesa lived and a taste of her greatest aficiones evident in the decoration and her personal items. Betis flags, sketches, Spanish history books and old Fiestas de Primavera posters seemed to cover every inch of wall, statues scattered throughout great halls.

The most curious item? A white zuchetto, enclosed in a glass case near the altar where Cayetana wed her third husband.

sala del bailaora

The Duquesa de Alba's personal things

Duquesa de Alba's art

Sala de Carteles

Like Cayetana, I know that Seville is a city that gets under your skin – it’s one of the hardest goodbyes I’ve ever had – and Dueñas celebrates her eccentricity and the beauty and cultural tradition of the city. Like Sevilla, the house is timeless and at its most beautiful in the springtime.

“Todas las primaveras
tiene Sevilla
una nueva tonada
de seguidillas;
nuevos claveles
y niñas que, por mayo,
se hacen mujeres”
-Antonio Machado, “Sevilla y otros poemas”

Inside the Duquesa de Alba's home

Seville has several beautiful casa-palacios open to the public – Casa Pilatos or Casa de la Condesa de Lebrija being standouts – but Palacio Las Dueñas seems to capture recent history in a way that the former miss.

After passing through the grand vestibule, I paused in the Jardin de Santa Justa and looked at my watch. It was nearing 12:30, the perfect hour to hop across the street to Bar Las Dueñas, a humble tapas bar where Cayetana would have her daily cervecita. I toasted silently to Cayetana’s memory, her legacy and the sevillano sun beginning to break through the clouds.

Palacio de las Dueñas

If you go: Rumor has it that the reason the palace has been opened to the public is strictly financial: the Duquesa’s heir couldn’t pay the taxes it. Regardless, it’s a fine example of sevillano architecture and a museum to one of the city’s most prominent figures in recent history.

Dueñas is open to the public for self-guided tours for a price of 8€, closing only on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and the Epiphany. Summer hours stretch from 10am until 8pm; the palace closes in the winter at 6pm. You can nab tickets at the gate (note that there’s a limited number available, and tickets have an hourly entrance time) or on ticketea.

I opted for the audio guide, which cost 2€ after the entrance fee. The guide not only gave me a solid understanding of the Alba family’s legacy, which stretches back four centuries, but also pointed out architectural and aesthetic details. This house has museum status, so spring for it!

Have you been to the Palacio de las Dueñas or other state museums in Spain? Check out my posts on the Monastery of Yuste, where Emperor Carlos V went to die and the preserved medieval walls at Ávila.

Seville Snapshots: The Pabellón de Navigación

Seville’s history is intertwined with the sea, despite being inland. It was here that The Catholic Kings gave Christopher Columbus permission and a couple of big boats to go find the East, and subsequently, all of the riches from the New World came through Seville on the Guadalquivir River.

During the Ibero-American Festival of 1992, the land around the Cartuja monastery was transformed into a futuristic city, where technology merged with tradition. Sadly, the city left this corner of Seville untouched for a few decades, and is now beginning to sell buildings to be recycled and re-used – and hopefully revitalize La Cartuja.

Perched on the banks of the Guadalquivir on the southern end of the complex (just opposite the Schindler elevator erected for the Expo’92), the building resembles a capsized boat, whose hull soars over you. The space hosts rotating exhibitions, as well as a permanent exhibit about Seville’s place in maritime history and what it was like to sail the seven seas. Opened in 2011, it’s a beautiful, open space, and worth a quick visit if you’re in Seville. There are plans in motion to open a small bar and offer boat rides on the river, too.

If you go: the Pabellón de la Navegación can be reached by city buses C1 or C2, or the 6, and is a 15 minute walk from Plaza de Armas. Visiting hours are, Tuesday-Saturday from 10am – 17:30 and Sundays and holidays from 10am – 15:00.

From Wine Tasting to Extraordinary Architecture: Discovering the Douro Valley

Author’s Note: Seville wasn’t always the object of my Spanish affection: I spent six weeks living with a host family in Valladolid, perfecting my castellano accent and drinking copious amounts of Ribera del Duero wine, still one of my picks. The fertile Duoro valley, which begins in Northern Castilla y León, flows into Portugal, who has also gained international fame for its port wines from the region. I had the opportunity to visit its capital, Porto, and became a big fan! I’m aching to go back and explore more: Home to some of Europe’s most remarkable natural landscapes, the Douro Valley is undoubtedly one of Portugal’s finest regions. An international hotspot for fine wine production, this charming valley is the ideal destination for a summer holiday. 

As one of Portugal’s most sparsely populated areas, the Douro Valley is an excellent destination for visitors looking to escape the stress of urban life. Relax and unwind as you travel down the Douro River, taste great Portuguese wine, and enjoy yourself in this area of natural beauty. 

Wine Tasting

The Douro Valley is one of Portugal’s most well-known wine growing regions, with the unofficial title of ‘world’s most beautiful wine region.’ Famous for its delicious port wines, the Douro is one of Southern Europe’s wine growing hotspots. Relax beside the Douro River and sample one of the region’s famous ports, including 40-year-old tawny variations. Lovers of red wine will enjoy spending their holiday in the Douro’s vineyards and riverside wineries.

Authentic Portuguese Dining

The Douro Valley region is home to some of Portugal’s finest food, as well. Spend your first day in the region exploring Porto– the region’s largest city. Known as the country’s capital of fine dining, Porto is an excellent place to taste authentic Portuguese food.

Known for its seafood, Porto is the perfect place to taste bacalhau – a dish made using salted codfish. Other options include the popular beach BBQs in Matosinhos, where you can sample grilled fish, chicken, and shrimp.

Excellent Architecture

The entire Douro Valley region, and Porto in particular, is home to some of the best architecture and urban design in Portugal. Relax near the Douro in the central districts of Porto – also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and spend an afternoon exploring the thin, winding city streets. Streets near the city center, like Rúa Miguel Bombarda and the streets winding around the Seu and the university are especially charming.

As one of Europe’s largest mercantile cities in past eras, Porto is home to a style of tall, thin townhouses that are hard to find elsewhere in the country. The riverside area of the city, known as Ribeira, is a great place for architecture nuts to explore.

River Cruises

The Douro Valley is also renowned for having some of the most incredible scenery in all of Southern Europe. With vineyards lining the mountains that surround the river, a trip down the Douro is an incredibly stimulating visual experience.

Whether you opt for a short one-day cruise or a five-day river trip, spending your holiday on the Douro River is an excellent way to enjoy some of Southern Europe’s most dramatic scenery.

Historical Sites

Northern Portugal, the Douro Valley region in particular, is home to one of Europe’s oldest civilizations. Porto, the region’s largest city, was a Roman outpost during the height of the Roman Empire’s dominance of Southern Europe. Because of its historical significance, the region is filled with stunning churches and palaces. The Porto Cathedral is a beautiful Romanesque structure at the heart of the city, while the Palácio da Bolsa is a gorgeous 19thcentury palace that was formerly the city’s stock exchange.

From fine wine to delicious food, incredible houses to beautiful historical churches and Roman buildings, Portugal’s Douro Valley is an immensely rewarding place for visitors looking to relax in beautiful surroundings and discover Portugal’s history.

This travel guide was written by Shearings Holidays, one of Europe’s leading coach holiday companies. Visit their website to learn more about river cruises in Northern Portugal and Spain. If it weren’t true, I wouldn’t publish it cuz I like keeping it real.

Seville Snapshots: Twilight at the Setas of Plaza de la Encarnacion

Planning a trip to Seville? Look no further than Sandra of Seville Traveller. Like me, a visit to Seville brought her back to live in the capital of Andalusia, and she uses her free time to write great tips about how to enjoy the city. You can sign up for her free newsletter, which comes with a PDF of tips, or check out her guest posts on Sunshine and Siestas!
People say that you tend to miss what you have next to you, while you are willing to explore further corners. And it’s true: I hadn’t had a chance to go up the observation deck at the Setas before last December. That day I woke up with one thing in mind: to capture the beautiful dusk light with my camera. The day was going to be clear, though I was hoping for a few clouds since the make the visual experience much more rewarding but I had to do with what I had: a perfect blue sky.
The idea was to explore the whole structure by walking around at a slow pace, looking for the best spots to place my tripod and be ahead of other visitors. Lucky for me, the premises were almost empty and most people spent only a few minutes at the main lookout. I had the Steas to myself, so the only thing left to do was wait. My iPod did the rest. I looked around…
In the background, the view over the Guadalquivir River and both bridges, the Alamillo and the Barqueta, was beautiful. On the right hand side, the sun was slowly going down, from yellow to orange and finally red, reflecting its light on the soon-to-be-completed skyscraper, the Pelli Tower. Right in front of me I had Seville’s main highlights, El Salvador Church, the Cathedral and the Giralda. Finally, on the left hand side of the city was a sea of scattered domes.

The picture illustrating this post shows the main view at a moment photographers call the blue hour. See how amazing the sky looks? Contrary to most European cities, Seville enjoys a light that is hard to find anywhere else. Don’t you want to see it with your own eyes?

Setas de Sevilla (former Metropol Parasol)
The Setas the Sevilla observation deck can be visited from Sunday to Thursday from 10.30am until midnight and on Friday and Saturday from 10.30am to 1am. It only costs 1.35 euros and it’s free for children up to 12 years old. The best part is that you can still as long as you want – there aren’t any time limitations.
The website is only in Spanish but you can still visit it to have a look and watch some very cool videos.
Want to add the Setas to your Seville itinerary? You have to check out the Seville in Two Days e-book, chock full of ideas, routes and logistics when visiting the Andalusian capital.

Sandra lives in Seville and spends all her free time exploring the world (30+ countries so far!). She is the editor of Seville Traveller, an online resource about the city. She has also published a Pocket Guide that will help you plan the trip of a lifetime. You can follow her on Twitter or keep posted through Facebook.

Visiting Estepa: More Than Just Mantecados

I sometimes confused Estepona, a beach destination on the Costa del Sol, with Estepa, a town nuzzled up to a hill at the far reaches of the Seville province. During the multiple car trips crisscrossing Spain’s southernmost autonomous region, I’d often watch the small village with its church spires punctuating the horizon pass by quickly. Being known for its holiday goodies, particularly mantecados, it’s always been a place in the back of my mind to visit.

Javi met us at the aptly name Hotel Don Polverón – a homage to one of the city’s baked moneymakers – and we steered our car along the roads of the industrial park near the highway, its streets named for the basic ingredients of the mantecados: Almendra, Azúcar, Canela. It’s common in Spanish households to have an anís bottle set out next to mantecados when the Reyes Magos come, so we feasted like the Three Kings for the better part of the morning.

The visit first brought us to La Estepeña, one of the most universally known brands.

La Estepeña features a visit to the factory, where a workforce made up almost entirely of women use traditional methods of preparing and wrapping the goodies, though the actually baking is no longer done in an oven. We visited the belén made entirely of chocolate and the small museum before marveling at the gorgeous Christmas tree in the foyer of the museum.

Most of the famous mantecado brands have been making the pig’s lard Christmas treats for generations, so Javi pointed us in the direction of La Despensa del Palacio, where the cakes are still baked in a wood-burning oven after being hand-kneaded. The mantecados are crumbly and leave your mouth dry, so we were then whisked away to the small anisette factory – the Spanish abuelo’s favorite – for a sampling of anís seco in Anís Bravío.

Cravings satisfied, we climbed Cerro San Cristóbal, the city’s highest hill. The rainy morning haze seems to have stayed in la capital – the day was bright and welcoming. Smack dab in the autonomía of Andalusia, one can see the provinces of Seville, Málaga and Córdoba, much like the Hancock building in Chicago.

Estepeños not interested in mantecados trek up the hill to the convent, where a turnstile still offers cloistered nuns peddling homemade treats, and the lavish baroque chapel not open to the public. Violeta was waiting for us here, key to the capilla in hand.

“They know me here, ” she smiled. “One of the perks of the job.” She and Javi accompanied us around the rest of the sites on the Cerro, including a small museum dedicated to the city’s culinary treasure that was once the kitchen the nuns used to make the sweets.

The adjacent Santa María church was originally intended for the Orden de Santiago, the church has been reconstructed and now contains a small religious art museum, complete with relics of petrified fingers and locks of hair.

A rickety octagonal tower sits just west of Santa María. This was the defensive tower used for the Orden de Santiago, and the views facing the Balcón de Andalucía, the pueblo’s mirador that looks down on the whitewashed houses that seem to crawl down the hill, were stunning after a few days of rain and a lucky break in the weather pattern.

Back down the hill, we found parking just in front of As de Tapas on Estepa’s main street. This is what I love most about the pueblos in Seville: good, hearty food, the steady hum of chattering in castellano and a cold beer.

Sending thanks to Javi and Violeta of Heart of Andalusia for their generous offer to show Caitlin and me around the Ciudad del Mantecado and the other lovely sites of Estepa. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.

Seville Snapshot: Bodega Marqués de Riscal in Eltziego (País Vasco)

As a traveler, I should take pride in really getting to know a city, to meeting and talking with its people and to finding its heart.

Travel Confession: I love kitschy sites, kitschy souvenirs and don’t always stay off the beaten path.

When it  came down to deciding what to do while in Spain’s Wine Country, La Rioja, we all agreed that wine was at the top of the list, while a sub category to wine was visiting a bodega. I called around, sent emails and was delighted when we got a last-minute booking for Marqués de Riscal, one of Spain’s most famous exports.

Elciego, or Eltziego in Basque, is a beautiful city in its own right. Nestled amongst vineyards, its burnt fall colors provide a dramatic backdrop to a stone medieval city whose claim to fame is the wine and the hotel commissioned by Marqués de Riscal, which was designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry.

The colors chosen – metallic silver, pink and bordeaux – are representative of the wine bottle, whereas the wavy steel plates and pale stone pillars are meant to represent a vine before harvest. Built as a millennial addition to the winery founded during the mid 19th century, it seems to blend in with the history while looking forward to the future.

We signed up for a 90-minute tour of the bodega, which took us first to the newest installations, then past their ancient fountain – outfitted with a digital clock and weather reader – and into their oldest cellar. The damp, musty smell and little light protects their oldest editions, which mustn’t be uncorked. A small butane stove is used to heat a metal ring, then cold water is applied, breaking the glass and allowing the wine to be poured. As someone who loves the craft of writing and is a geek about it, I think I could geek out about wine if I got to learn more about it. Sadly, we were tired after the previous night’s antics and in search of a bed. After our two glass of wine, we dipped out and back to Logroño.

If you go: Marques de Riscal bodegas are located in Eltziego, just 15 kilometres from Logroño. It’s actually in the Basque region, and not La Rioja! To take a tour, which are available every day of the year, making a reservation through email or over the phone is a must. the tour included a tasting of two young wines and runs 10,25. More information and contacts can be found on Marques de Riscal’s webpage. Tours can be done in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and even Russian.

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