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.

la_duquesa_de_alba_vf_3765_622x466

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, I’m breaking up with you

Querida Sevilla mía,

You know that age-old, “It’s not you, it’s me”? Well, it’s not me. Eres tú. We’ve reached the end of a nine-year relationship, one marked with uncertainty at the beginning, with as much elation as frustration in the years since we became intimate. And más pronto que tarde, I knew we’d end up here.

Te estoy dejando.

giralda sunset1

My friend Stacy maintains that the first Spaniard you fall for is never the one you stay with – it’s always the second. If Spanish lovers were cities, you’d be my second great love, my second Spaniard. Two years before we got to know each other, Valladolid entered my life. Stately and daunting, but a romance that was always a little off. Castilla y León’s capital never did it for me, a bit too cold and a bit too stand-offish to be anything long-term. Neither the castles nor the robust red wine could woo me, but it was a foray into what it meant to truly love a city.

You and I met on a sweltering July day in 2005, your characteristic heat baking midday as I dragged a suitcase towards Calle Gravina. Back then, the Alameda was all albero, you could drive down Constitution and around the roundabout at Puerta Jerez and there was a noticeable lack of skyscrapers, gastrobars and coffee houses. On the surface, you were beautiful, but I pined for Valladolid, not entirely convinced you were boyfriend material.

tapas bodeguita romero typical Spanish tavern

Two years later, we were thrust together again. Still sore from being flat-out rejected by Granada, I set out to try and get to know you on a Sunday evening in late September when everything was shuttered. Walking down Pagés del Coro, I craned my neck to watch the swallows dip between the balconies and around the spire of La Estrella chapel.

Swallows, golondrinas, always return to where they’re from. Even at that moment, exhausted from two weeks traveling and unsure about starting my job the next morning at IES Heliche, I knew I had returned to where I was to be from. In those tender first steps in our relationship, I was smitten. I would soon fall deeply in love with you.

Plaza del Altozano Triana

But today, nine years later, I ripped the band aid off, and HARD. I just up and left it seems, without time for long goodbyes at all of the places I’ve come to haunt in these years together, to the hundreds of caras I’ve come to know in the barrio. No ugly cries, just a few tears pricking my eyes as I locked up my house, rolled one suitcase to the bus stop and headed towards Santa Justa and, later, Madrid.

Like I said, it’s you, not me.

I guess you could say I saw this coming, like that little ball that sits low in your stomach when you know life is going to darte un giro in a big, big way. I needed that giro because you’d simply gotten to easy. I can understand even the oldest abuelo buried deep into one of your old man bars, can no longer get lost in your tangle of streets. You are a comfortable lover, warm and welcoming, familiar and comforting.

But I’m not one to be estancada, stagnant, comfortable. Walking down La Castellana in March, the ball in my stomach dissipated as I skipped from a job interview back towards Atocha. The trees were bare, but the sky was the same bright blue that always welcomes me in Seville. As they say, de Madrid al cielo. Madrid was calling.

Sunshine and Siestas at the Feria de Abril

Sevilla, you’ve been more than good to me, giving me just about everything I’ve ever needed. You’re easy on the eyes, fiery and passionate, deeply sensual and surprising. You’ve shown me the Spain I always wanted to find, even between castles and tintos de Ribera del Duero and my first impression of Spain. You’ve reignited my love for culture, for making strangers my friends, for morning beers and for living in the moment. You changed me for the better.

And you will always be that second great love, te lo prometo. Triana will always be my home.

But you’ve just gotten too small. My dreams and ambitions are too big for your pueblo feel, as much as I’ve come to love it. Your aesthetic beauty continues to enchant me as I ride my bike past the cathedral at twilight or I leave extranjería and am not even mad that my least favorite place in Seville is also one of my favorites. Your manjares are no match for the sleek pubs and international food in Madrid, which I know I’ll grow tired of.

ceramics at Plaza de España Seville Spain

I admit that it was difficult to reach your core, to understand the way you are and learn to appreciate those nuances. At the beginning, it was all new and fun and boisterous, the out-loud way that you live each day, those directionless afternoons and long, raucous nights. Lunches that stretch into breakfast. Balmy evenings, Cruzcampo in hand. Festival after procession after traffic jam. Unforgettable sunsets. Unannounced rain showers. Biting cold and scalding heat. You are a city of extremes and mood swings, for sure, but you’re at your best that way. You are as passionate as they say you are.

Still, there were frustrations with the language, that lazy way that you “forget” letters and entire syllables. Frustrations with getting around and untangling the back alleys of your deepest barrios. Frustrations navigating the choque between our two cultures and figuring out a way to make it work for nearly a decade. There was a lot of give and take, that’s for sure.

my first feria de abril

And that’s not to say you haven’t changed for the better in these nine years together.

You’re more guiri-friendly, easier to get around and constantly coming up with ways to reinvent yourself without losing what makes you, . Even when I rolled by eyes at the Setas, I found the best views from its waffle-like towers. You always find a way to stay true to yourself, even if that means having to take the long way home when the streets are choked with a procession or if I call the Ayuntamiento and they send my call from office to office without ever getting through to an actual human.

But those same things that I once loved have become annoyances as we’ve gotten more comfortable with one another. Some of it is trivial, lo sé, but in the bigger scheme of things, we need time apart. Room to breathe, to try new things. I can’t get everything I need from you right now, Seville, y ya está. I know the decision was quick and may have its repercussions, but it’s what I have to do right now if we ever want a chance again.

Expat in Seville Cat Gaa

Madrid presents so many new possibilities. I scoffed at the idea of living there and opening myself up to loving it, but it will never be you. In fact, I think it will be like Valladolid, a tough nut to crack and one whose true character I may never know the way that I know you.

I’ll look for you in the bares de viejos, in a sevillano passing by wearing a Betis t-shirt, in the way that the Madrid gatos will laugh at my accent or look puzzled when I ask for a copistería or a cervecita. You’ll probably follow me around, to be honest. You were never one to let go lightly.

I love Seville Heart Necklace

This morning, as I drove over the San Telmo bridge towards Triana, the swallows returned. It was already a warm July morning, maybe even eleven years to the day since I first felt the breeze over the Guadalquivir. Eres un amor para toda la vida, Sevilla. Maybe in three or five years’ time, we’ll find ourselves back together, a bit more mature and ready for a new stage in our relationship. You’ll have changed, I have no doubt, and so will I.

But if the golondrinas are any indication, volveré. It’s the natural course.

Con todo mi cariño,

Cat

Wondering about my absence the past two months? I’ve been back and forth on the AVE, making trips to Madrid for job interviews, spending time alone with Sevilla and even squeezed in a ten-day trip to the US for my sister’s wedding. On July 3rd, 2016 – coincidentally the same day I applied for my visa for Spain in 2007 – the Novio and I officially moved to Madrid. I’ll start a job in a few weeks as an admissions counselor at a prestigious American university with a campus in the heart of La Capi. Adiós, teaching – never thought I’d see the day!!

No time for complatency

Will I like Madrid? I’m positive I will. Will I love it? Not in the same way that I love Seville, but the Novio and I have big plans for the next few years, and Seville was simply too small for our career ambitions. I’m not entirely sure how the scope of Sunshine and Siestas, a blog that has largely been about Andalucía, will change, but you can count on my voice coming through! 

I’m curious to hear your reactions to the news, which I’ve managed to keep surprisingly quiet! Not even sure I believe it myself!

The Curious Case of Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil

“Passion and quality are at the heart of this venture. It’s that simple.”

I sneezed, a clear sign that spring was about to settle onto Andalucía for a brief period of time before melting into summer. The breeze picked up, and I wrinkled my nose, lest any more oliva pollen enter my system. For as andaluza as I sometimes feel and act, my allergies gave me up as an utter fraud, calling attention to me in a group of nearly 50.

Bodeguero puppy

Isaac Martín, event coordinator for Basilippo, an award-winning olive oil producer internationally recognized for its quality, kicked off a tasting event that was punctuated by my sniffles. Set at an old hacienda buried within acres of olive trees, an internet search for foodie experiences brought me to one of western Andalucía’s foremost producers of liquid gold, extra virgin olive oil.

Teetering on winter and spring, I was willing to risk puffy eyes to learn how to properly taste olive oil and look out for its quality and properties. As a staple of the Mediterranean diet, its health properties have long been touted, but not all aceite de olivo virgen extra is created equal: supermarket buyers often have to pick between an entire shopping aisle’s worth of brands and varying quality.

Arbequina olive oil from Andalucía

And the good stuff doesn’t come cheap.

The Basilippo brand, made with the manzanilla and arbequina varieties of olives, has been my go-to brand when bringing home a nice bottle for foodie friends, but I shamefully catalogued what I used to cook with or a dress a salad with at home: whatever came cheapest and in a plastic bottle. I had a lot to learn, and creative packaging could not longer be a barometer for quality.

And for a small-batch, family-run brand, passion for the ripest fruit and top-tier production practices, only the best would do.

Inside Hacienda Merrha’s lofty tasting room, several round tables sat armed with jewel blue tasting cups, a brasero disguised underneath by heavy cloaks. Diego Vergara, responsible for the company’s marketing, held up two sherry glasses full of orange juice as we sat. 

Properly tasting olive oil

His explanation of how to distinguish extra virgin olive oil was simple: one was an orange juice squeezed from ripe oranges. The second was a bastardization of orange pulp, colorants, chemicals and mass production. In other words, it was a soft drink meant to mimic the flavor of orange juice. If the product was bruised or off, the taste and aromas would be off. Perfection is this business, amidst mass production and knocks offs, truly came down to passion for the cleanest, most natural product.

The scents naturally found in olive oil – grass, banana and traces  of fruit – laced the air as the heater next to our legs in turn heated the smooth, rounded tasting capsules for optimum olfactory pleasure.

Flavors present in EVOO

Oil exists in dozens of varieties, and olives have been picked, pressed and packaged into olive oil for nearly eight millennia. Extra virgin – considered the healthiest and ripest state of the olive – occurs when no heat treatments have been applied to the product and is made from 100% olives of the same type. All other oils wane in quality, thus driving down the price. Packaging can also make a difference, as olive oil loses its properties with exposure to light or heat.

Again, I fully admit to being ashamed of the marca blanca I have stocked at the back of my pantry.

The three blue cups sat before us. Two contained about a tablespoon of product and were covered with a plastic condiment lid. The third, sitting at 7 o’clock, was filled and quickly covered. Blue cups are typically used in blind tasting as, unlike wine, color is not a factor in determining an oil’s quality. Smell and taste take all the credit here.

como degustar aceite de oliva

Olive oil’s properties are strongest when it’s as close to harvest as possible. The generous pours came from a bottle only a few weeks old, and Diego generated a bit of heat to release its intoxicating smell by cupping the glass in his hand and rotating it back and forth as if opening a bottle of pickles for about 15 seconds. Next came a quick whiff and recapping the jar.

We’d all come for the tasting portion of course, and sloshing it around your mouth like Adolfo of Plus Vino showed me to do wouldn’t cut it:

Olive oil has different tastes on your tongue and taste buds. Sucking in air as it travels towards the back of the throat makes it taste more viscous and potent. And I wasn’t the only one who got a burn in the back of the throat – slurps were followed by gags, coughs and grunts, the sign of a quality harvest.

Moving on, we paired a vanilla-infused organic oil with both regañá crackers and a crisp, hard cheese, as well as a pineapple ice cream drizzled in olive oil. Though most of Basilippo’s bottles come with recommendations for consumption, the kitchen serves more innovative dishes.

The man immediately on my left seemed to be some sort of aficionado and asked the white elephant question: How did Basilippo feel about the “adulteration” of Spanish olive oil? 

Brought up as extended family of the Rubinellis and the Dell’Alpe dynasty – a Chicago-based import company known for its quality Italian products – olive oil has always been a staple in my family’s kitchen. And until moving to Spain, I was convinced that Italy produced the highest quality product. But European olive oil is on par with organized crime – even though Spain produces roughly 40% of the world’s olive oil, most is shipped in bulk to Italy before being bottled, giving the impression that most olive oil is coming straight from the Boot.

How to do an olive oil tasting

This has been going on since the Roman occupation of Spain, when olive oil was used in commerce and called liquid gold (and in all fairness, my Italian relatives have a soft spot for Spanish cuisine). I’ve long felt that Spain is only beginning to embrace competing on an international market with its food products, and I’d likely consumed them as they paraded as Italian. 

But Basilippo’s product was meant to stay with the connoisseurs, a thead that runs thorughout its four generations of olivareros. International consumption is definitely on the table – they’ve won numerous awards worldwide and run a quality assurance program attended by visitors abroad – and they’ve got a strong local following. I thought back to Isaac’s powerful speech in which his love for his business reach my consciousness despite the sneezing and nose blowing. Passion isn’t so much an ingredient, but a habit at Merrha.

Diego explained that close to 10 pounds of olives are necessary to produce a single liter of olive oil of any quality, hence the small batches coming out of Basilippo (the production comes from just 20 hectacres of olivos). By the time our group of nearly 50 hit the gift shop, we’d depleted a large portion of stock. I introduced myself to Isaac, chuffed that so many phenomenal gastronomic treats now formed an important base in my diet.

fried olives from Andalucía

Unsatisfied with a few morsels of bread for mopping up oil in the gift shop, I sneezed my way back to the car and we struck out towards El Viso del Alcor. Craddled between Mairena and El Viso, this privileged land was believed to have been inhabited as Tartessos. It’s also home to one of the zone’s most innovative tapas bars, MasQueTapas.

All of the dishes on the two-paged menu are made with products from down the road at Basilippo and the place was packed on a rainy Saturday. As the waiter brought out drinks, he laid down a small dish of fried olives.

“But heating the olives changes their properties,” Kelly said, popping one into her mouth. “So these are probably the rejects.”

Low quality or not, they were exquisite, proof that a small sliver of land in my backyard, with its rolling groves of olive trees (and toxins for my system) is producing what could be the world’s most perfect crop.

a tasting at Basilippo

I’m on a mission to do something new every week of 2016 – from visiting a new village to trying a new bar or restaurant. Have suggestions for in or around Andalucía? Please share them, and take a tour of Basilippo‘s immaculate grounds, just 30 minutes from Seville (they’ll even pick you up if you use public transportation!). You can buy their products in small gourmet shops like Oleo-lé in central Seville.

Have you ever attended a strange food tasting?

13 Free (or ¡Casi!) Things to Do in Seville

Free  is not a word synonymous with Seville. But cheap is.

While the city won’t burn a hole in your pocket with its reasonable prices for accommodation, food and entertainment (not to mention low cost of living), Seville still has a load of free or low-cost activities while visiting the metropolis where flamenco echoes through alleyways and bullfighters are carried out of the rings on the shoulders of revelers. And believe me when I say that there are plenty of things to do in Seville, unlike most Spanish cities where a few museums are sprinkled in between historic buildings.

If you’re pinching euros, try these ideas:

Get lost in the city’s old quarters

city streets seville

It’s believed that Seville has the largest old city center in Europe, and its Roman, Visigoth and Moorish roots mean that everything in the district is cramped, chaotic and easy to get turned around in. Your map will do you no good, so it’s better to just toss it in your bag and wander.

Catch a free flamenco show

Even before UNESCO declared flamenco – a gypsy art said to have taken on its modern form in Seville – an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, flamenco has been infused into the lives of sevillanos and its visitors. Peñas flamencas, small bars dedicated to artists of years past, often put on free or discounted shows in small, dark locales, the guitar wailing as a dark­haired gypsy taps and claps her way across the stage.

Flamenco show in Seville

La Carbonería – Seville’s landmark flamenco joint makes it into every guidebook for good reason: shows are free and nightly at 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. Still, the popularity of La Carbonería and its location in the heart of downtown means that the place is packed, the drinks are expensive and the dancers just sub­par (C/Levies, 18).

T de Triana – This bar cum flamenco haven features free shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights around 10:30 p.m. It’s location on Calle Betis makes it ideal for the start to a night on one of the city’s best­known nightlife spots (C/Betis, 20).

La Anselma – Even though I’m no fan of the boisterous former cantaora whose famous flamenco house brings people to my barrio, her shows are free. Just be aware that she’ll hound you for a drink until you’ve had an entire bottle of wine…yourself…by the time the second dancer goes on (C/Pagés del Coro, 49).

Not that I speak from experience.

Visit museums on their free days

Espacio Santa Clara Fountain Seville

Seville’s historical sites have been climbing in prices as the city fields more tourists. Stop by the tourism office in Plaza Virgen de los Reyes for a free guide to the reduced price or free days for both the big-ticket sites and offbeat museums. Your money should be going to tapas anyway.

Torre del Oro Monday all day
Alcázar Palace and Gardens Monday afternoon
Contemporary Art Museum Tuesday to Friday afternoons; all day Saturday
Castillo San Jorge Free daily
Cathedral and Giralda Sunday afternoon
Archivo de Indias Free daily with appointment
Casa de Pilatos Free Wednesday afternoon with EU ID card
Fine At Museum Free daily

EU citizens have their entrance to Itálica, a Roman settlement outside the city, free every day.

And if you’re a student under 26 with a valid ID card or carnet joven, you can cash in on discounted rates or free entrance at the Alcázar, Cathedral, Archaeological Museum and Arts and Customs Museum.

This is an especially good tactic if you visit in the summer – free A/C!

Lounge in one of the city’s expansive parks

Jardines del Generalife Granada

From María Luisa to Alamillo to the banks of the Guadalquivir, Seville’s parks are a defense against the hot summers and a cheap way to relax. Bring a picnic lunch for a cheap dining option, or come prepared for an afternoon siesta.

Bonus points if you bring a litrona of beer for a botellón!

Shop at a local’s market

Fruit stands at the Mercado de Triana food market

Nowhere in Seville can you witness the way its people live than in its local markets. Old ladies jab you with their elbows to get through the fruit stand while your jaw drops with the weird cuts of animals, the array of fish and the mounds of spices sold at each. Most markets are open Monday – Saturday from 8a.m. until 2p.m. Likewise, there is a fine arts fair just in front of the Fine Arts Museum every Sunday morning, weather permitting.

Wander the Exposition fairgrounds

Seville, for two brief periods in its long history, had the world’s attention when it hosted the Iberoamerican Festival in 1929 and again in 1992. Large portions of the city were dedicated to these projects.

Plaza de España Sevilla

In 1929, Seville became home to the Iberoamerican Fair, and event that brought together Latin-and South American countries in order to strengthen ties, most of which were Spanish colonies. Sitting at the southern end of the historic quarter, each country designed its own pabellón, or exhibition hall, crowned by the Plaza de España. All sites are free to view, though some aren’t open to the public or are used as government buildings.

On the opposite side of the city in the Isla de la Cartuja, Spain again hosted an exposition to welcome the 21 st century with over 100 countries in attendance. Preparations for the siteincluded building several new bridges to span the Guadalquivir River and a monorail, and the site is reputed to be from where Columbus left for his journey to America. While it remains largely abandoned, the expansive area is worth a visit, and you can visit the stunning Pabellón de Marruecos.

Sunshine on the Pabellon de Marruecos

Visit San Fernando Cemetery

While the idea of visiting a cemetery is a bit disconcerting to everyone but me, visiting Seville’s city cemetery is worth the hike for its beauty and peaceful respite from a bustling city. Inaugurated in 1852, the city’s most illustrious names have been lain to rest here, including bullfighters like Paquirri and flamenco singers, war heroes and criminals. The cemetery is open during daylight hours and on holidays, so it’s common to see burials and mourning loved ones, so silence and no photography is enforced. Take bus 10 from Ponce de León until you see the cemetery (1,40€/trip).

Discover the city’s Roman roots

Seville is a city that has been conquered, reconquered and conquered again, creating a matrix of architectural and artistic legacy. Perhaps the Roman roots of the city are best preserved, as city decrees outlaws the destruction of ruins or artifacts. Such objects can be seen in the archaeological museum of María Luisa Park, but you can discover some of them on your own.

Where to see Roman ruins in Seville

The corner of Calle Mármoles and Calle Abades houses columns of a temple; in Plaza de la Pescadería, believed to be at the crux of the old Roman streets, giant marble blocks preserve the ruins of a fish monger’s; and in Plaza de la Encarnación, visit gorgeous mosaics and old city walls that lie underneath the square (1,50€ for non­-EU citizens). There are also ruins of a Roman aqueduct just outside the city center on Luis Montoto.

Get holy at church

Plaza del Salvador Sevilla

Seville is home to the most renowned Holy Week celebrations in Spain, a somber week that transforms the last days of Jesus Christ into life­sized floats that cramp the city center. While it’s free to watch, you can visit the floats the other 51 weeks of the year and relish in the city’s devotion at most churches and chapels.

Only the Cathedral, Santa Ana and San Salvador cost money, so even just popping in for the relief from the hot sun is worthwhile. Don’t miss the venerable Macarena, or the teeny chapels under the Postigo Arch or the end of the Puente de Triana.

Enjoy views of the city center from Triana

view of Triana and the Guadalquivir from Puente de Triana

On the opposite side of the city center sits Triana, the gypsy barrio seeped in lore and full of great bars and eateries. Watching the lights of the city go on from the Triana bridge or along Calle Betis affords tremendous views of the city (and you can catch flamenco here!). Check out my guide to spending an afternoon on my side of the río.

Watch a Novillada

bullfighting in Seville Spain

If you’re brave enought to see a bullfight, Seville’s Maestranza ring is a superb place to do so. While this famed plaza de toros hosts some of the big names in bullfighting, the late May and early June novilladas bring in young bullfighters looking to make a name for themselves. Seats in the sun are typically under 15€. Schedule available on the ring’s official website.

Browse the El Jueves market for Spanish kitsch

bullfighter jackets El Jueves Market Sevilla

Believed to be one of the longest-running flea markets in Spain, Calle Feria in the Macarena district hosts a large mercadillo each Thursday morning. Vendors hock everything from recuerdos from the ’92 Expo to bullfighting suits. Haggling is OK, but browsing is the way to go.

…¡y a comer!

The Room Sevilla tapas

Like Granada, Seville’s tapas scene is a must-do when visiting, and visiting the free sites means you’ll work up an appetite. Budget hunters tend to chow down at Taberna Los Coloniales (C/Cristo de Brugos, 19) for big plates at a low cost. Bodega Las Columnas (C/ de Rodrigo Caro, 1) is another cheap option with plenty of charm, just out of the shadow of the Giralda. With beer at 1,10€ and tapas as low as 2,20€, you can still fill up without a huge bill.

You’ll also find budget options around the Alameda, squeezed in between fancier fusion restaurants. If you’re going to spend your money anywhere, be it on food and drink!

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Do you have other ideas for cheap or free things to do in Seville?

Where to Sleep and Siesta in Seville: The Hostel Edition

One of the questions I’m most often asked about traveling to Seville is where to sleep. I’ve slept in my own house or a friend’s (or the Novio’s) since arriving and can only recall a night in a creepy hostel, so it’s not the easiest question to answer!

On my first trip to Seville over a decade ago, the only spaces available for budget travelers were seedy hostels with questionable security and run-down pensiones. Ten years on, tourist apartments and AirBnB digs are often preferred accommodation choices in Spain, but who can resist a good hostel? When traveling alone, I tend to stick to dorm room digs where I can meet other backpackers, mostly because I love the sort of camraderie a hostel breeds.

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For me, it was more than just a budget thing (as evident by a few terrible places I’ve slept in *cough*Brussels*cough*Santiago de Compostela*) – I wanted to be in the center of the action and have people on-call to suggest tours, eateries and sites. I’ve even taken my step-grandma and the Novio to hostels, and am loyal to chains like Wombat’s.

Now in my 30s, hostels for me must have big common areas, wi-fi, security measures and clean facilities, and endless portions at breakfast is a huge plus. And because Seville has so many stately palace homes with rooftops and enormous interior patios, I’m thrilled that the Andalusian capital has finally kicked it up a notch as far as place to siesta while in town.

I’ve asked other travelers and friends for their recommendations, as well as where locals send their guests, so this list is legit. You can book with Agoda, a major search engine that recently expanded into Europe and offer up to 30% off the prices you’d see on other sites – I do all of my booking through them nowadays! Simply click on the link for the hostel, then put in your dates and number of guests, or direct yourself to the Agoda box buried at the bottom of the website.

I have listed Sunshine and Siestas affiliate links with Agoda, so while you book securely and quickly, you’ll also be helping me keep SandS up and running! It’s of no cost to you, either.

Here are my ten picks for hostels in Seville, listed alphabetically.

arhcitect hostel seville

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The Architect, Calle Joaquin Guichot 8 1ª Planta. Centro Neighborhood.

When a couple of friends from high school stayed in the Architect in 2012, I was pleased to not only find that my friend María had recently gotten a job there, but that the hostel was sleek and central. While it’s experienced some wear and tear since its opening, expect to be right off of Plaza Nueva and to get good bang for your buck.

And even though I love hostels with breakfast included, the Architect no longer provides it. Pop around the corner to Calle Barcelona for old man bars to get your tostada fix.

The basics: The Architect has rooms with four, eight or ten beds, including a female-only dorm. You’ll find a common area, plus kitchen and rooftop, plus wi-fi throughout. Each occupant gets a locker, and doors are locked at night. You’ll receive a full refund  if you cancel 48 hours or more before your reservation.

Price per bed: 16 – 17,50€ in low season; up to 50€ in high season. There are no doubles.

Best for: Limited mobility travelers, those looking for comfort without fuss.

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Boutike, Calle Salles y Ferré, 18. Alfalfa Neighborhood.

Boutike takes all of the great stuff about hostels – comfortable common areas, rooftop terrace, killer breakfasts and beautiful design – and morphed it into a gorgeous budget hotel of sorts. Sitting on a quiet street in the Alfalfa neighborhood, Boutike doesn’t have dorm rooms, but rather double rooms with en suite bathrooms, making it a good choice if you’re looking to get some shut eye in a neighborhood known for its nightlife.

And there’s more – Boutike also offers complimentary passes to Cuesta Sport fitness center, just a five minute walk from the hostel. You know, to work off the crepes you had for breakfast.

The basics: You’ve got everything here – wi-fi, elevators, walking tours and a friendly staff – plus the added amenities of a bar, breakfast and fitness pass. Luggage storage and lockers are also available for free.

Price per bed: Standard doubles are 49.50€ per night in low season, Deluxe with balcony 55€. During high season, prices jump to about 120€ nightly.

Best for: Families, travelers who crave a bit more quiet, couples.

grand luxe hostel seville common room 1

Grand Luxe, Calle Don Remondo, 7. Santa Cruz Neighborhood.

Housed in a beautiful, palace-like building, Grand Luxe is all about location. As in, you can see the Giralda peeking out from behind the Archbishop’s Palace from most of the rooms, and the terrace affords magnificent views. And even with the proximity to the beaten tourist path, Grand Luxe offers tours to give you context – and by kayak, bike and foot!

Like all hostels, you’ll find everything you need at Grand Luxe, plus a cozy common room with computers, board games, a huge DVD collection and plenty of like-minded travelers. What stands out here is the price for the location – you can’t beat a modern hostel amongst hotel heavyweights that charge loads for being within earshot to the Cathedral’s bells.

The basics: Grand Luxe has several types of rooms, ranging from private doubles to rooms equipped for families and dorm rooms, all with en suite bathrooms. There is also a female-only dorm. A basic breakfast is included (save room for tapas later), along with wi-fi, a stunning terrace and free tours. Security isn’t great here, especially if you have to leave a bag while exploring.

Price per bed: Dorms start at 15€ in low season and go up to 25€ per person in the deluxe double. In high season, expect 35€ and 49.50€, respectively.

Best for: travelers wanting to be right next to the tourist sites, solo travelers and even families.

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Hostel One Centro, Calle Angostillo, 6. Encarnación Neighborhood.

While it’s not a new hostel in town, I hear nothing but good things about Hostel One. With an international staff and a national chain backing it up, Hostel One is a perfect blend of camaraderie and privacy thanks to its multitude of rooms available. Be aware that reception is not open from 10pm until 8am and breakfast is not part of the deal, but you can expect the whole hostel package – a bit of noise, a lack of complete privacy in the dorm rooms and a lot of travelers to meet.

You’re also closer than most hostels to the trendy Soho Bendita and Calle Regina areas, and the hostel is easy to reach from the airport and train station.

The Basics: Hostel One Centro is located in a renovated Sevillian house with a central patio and terrace. Prices are on par with hostels, and group rates are available. Linens, wi-fi and lockers are included in the price; towels and breakfast are not.

Price per bed: 16 – 50€ per bed during low season; 60€ for dorm beds up through 100€ for a private single during holidays.

Best for: Larger groups, solo travelers, female travelers looking for privacy

la banda hostel
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La Banda, Calle Dos de Mayo, 16. El Arenal Neighborhood

I first swooned over La Banda when coming across them on the internet. From the story of two brothers who loved to travel and meet people to the sweeping views of the Guadalquivir and the Cathedral, it seemed like everything you could ask for in a hostel. Dorm room bed are kept to a lower number, but there are plenty of common areas and nightly events for solo travelers.

The Basics: La Banda features lots of different types of dorms, some with en suite bathrooms. Everything is included in the price – from lockers to linens to cheap lunches on the terrace. And seriously – La Banda has dozens of five-star ratings.

Price per bed: 40€ during Semana Santa, Feria and the Velá de Santa Ana in late July

Best for: Travelers looking for mates, art and culture lovers

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Oasis Backpackers, Calle de la Compañía, 1. Centro/Encarnación Neighborhood.

I spent the last night of my first year of Spain in an Oasis. It was a fitting end to a magical time in my life, from the tapas crawl with other travelers to the solo breakfast on the terrace as the sun came up over Granada, and I’ve recommended the chain ever since. In Seville, Oasis is just off the Plaza de la Encarnación and has been a mainstay for the last dozen years or so.

Oasis is great for not just the value, but for the location and the amenities. The atmosphere is young and hip, but you won’t sacrifice quality or security.

The Basics: Count on free breakfast and linens, a fun staff and wi-fi in common areas. Note that cancellations with full refunds are not allowed during Holy Week and the April Fair.

Price per bed: 17€ a night, off-season and upwards of 40€ during big events.

Best for: Solo Travelers, Travelers looking for atmosphere.

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Samay, Avenida Menéndez Pelayo, 13. Barrio Santa Cruz Neighborhood.

A bit further away from the tourist beat, Samay has built a solid reputation amongst travelers and is located on the outer edge of Barrio Santa Cruz. It’s also centrally located to both the bus and train stations and easy to reach on foot or public transportation, making it a good option for a quick stay in town or for those with weird travel times.

Samay has en suite bathrooms in most rooms and great common areas, but it’s a no-frills hostel that prides itself on no surprises. You can simply relax and meet other travelers here.

The Basics: Expect 24-hour reception, wi-fi, a big terrace, hot water and linens included. Seriously, there are no surprises here, and friends who have stayed in Samay say it’s comfortable and a basic hostel experience. Wouldn’t you rather spend your time callejando anyway?

Price per bed: You can’t beat 12€ a night for a dorm room. Prices are set around 30€ during high season and holidays.

Best for: No frills travelers, groups

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Sevilla Kitsch, Calle San Gregorio, 1. Centro Neighborhood.

I walked by Sevilla Kitsch when taking a short cut between the university and the UNESCO trio of the Alcázar, the Giralda and the Archivo de las Indias. The bright, turquoise shutters and the promise of tacky religious art intrigued me – it’s part hostel, part art gallery and completely new.

The Basics: Kitsch is owned by two sevillanas who love art and culture, and the property has plenty of places to eat, drink and tour nearby. Expect dorm rooms (with one six-bed female dorm) and a deluxe room with room for four guests. Breakfast, wi-fi, lockers and a spacious terrace are all included. Oh, and live music is a thing here.

Price per bed: From 17.99€ for a bed in a dorm room in low season and 60€ for the deluxe quad, prices jump during high season to 35€ and 150€, respectively

Best for: Solo travelers, those looking for funky digs

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TOC Hostel, Calle Miguel de Mañara, 18-22. Centro Neighborhood

TOC is the new kid on the hostel block and draws high review thanks to its location and staff. No detail has been spared in the earthy yet modern hostel – the design is stunning, from the bare wood and natural materials to the fingerprint recognition at the main door. And those pod beds and move theatre!

TOC is part of a chain with other hostels in large cities around Spain, and they’re into food, culture and technology, which comes across in their spaces.

The basics: Choose dorm or individual suites and relax in what look like beds comfy enough to rival Sir Toby’s (my favorite hostel of all time, located in Prague). Count on a bar, breakfast (that you can pay for ahead of time) and awesome common areas.

Price per bed: 20€ and up for a dorm; 113€ for a private with terrace

Best for: Trendsetters, couples, groups and solo travelers. Essentially, everyone

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Triana Backpackers, Calle Rodrigo de Triana, 9. Triana Neighborhood

Even though Triana is one of the most popular districts in the city, it’s not a common place for tourists to stay. Triana Backpackers is the only budget accommodation in this part of town that also offers special prices for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. While it’s not the trendiest hostel, it’s long had a reputation for a fun atmosphere and is just steps from Calle Betis (and, as far from the tourist sites as it seems).

And, um, they have jacuzzi.

The basics: Like most hostels, a converted home on a quiet street in my favorite neighborhood (it’s only a few block from my house!). Security is of huge importance at Triana Backpackers – rooms have keycard access like a hotel -, and you’ll likely be rubbing elbows with really budget travelers. Breakfast and linens are included, as is wi-fi and 24-hour reception.

Price per bed: Prices start at 15€ for a dorm room bed or 19€ for a double

Best for: Solo travelers, Camino de Santiago pilgrims

Any great hostel experiences you’d care to share? Did I miss any? Or am I way off-base with his post? Let me know in the comments below!

Desafío Eterno: Learning to Cook Spanish Food at the Mercado de Triana

I may have mastered the art of midday siestas, long lunches and dropping syllables, but Spanish cooking has always alluded me.

A Spanish Cooking Course

Ask me to make a full turkey dinner or a kick ass pad thai? I’m all over it, but I’ve mangled even the simplest of Spanish dishes and count gazpacho and frying potatoes (or just bringing the wine) as my contribution to meals.

Resolute to prove to the Novio that I’m only good for eating and occasionally clearing up the dishes, I visited my local market for a crash-course in slow-cooking with Foodies&Tours.

Housed in the mythical Mercado de Triana, once an open-air market built in the 19th Century, Víctor and Marta set up a state-of-the-art kitchen overlooking ruins of the Castillo de San Jorge just seven months ago. I was delighted to see that they still believed in buying fresh ingredients at the market, making chicken stock from bones and leek and – gasp! – using butane tanks.

el mercado de triana

María led us through the market that mid-week morning on a day where there were more tourists than locals snapping photos of ham legs and fins-and-all swordfish. Summer fruits were beginning to slowly engulf the avocados and pomegranates. I kept my mouth shut when María pointed out tripe and the different legumes on offer, but I couldn’t help piping up that it takes three years to adequately cure the hind leg of an acorn-fed pig (blame my pork-loving in-laws for that!).

Spanish food has recently become the darling of international cuisine thanks to innovative chefs putting a spin on age-old traditions. After all, the wealth of fresh ingredients from the Mediterranean diet and a dedication to simplistic yet layered flavors have made this gastronomy healthy, comforting and delicious – and this means that food tours and gastronomic experiences are booming all over Spain.

Taller Andaluz de Cocina in the Triana market

I was joined by another American woman, a group of Filipina friends on a big Euro trip, a curious couple from Singapore and newlyweds hailing from Australia. It was just right for everyone to put their manos a la obra.

Back at the kitchen, chef Víctor was washing metal bowls and our ingredients were put on display. I may not cook myself, but I do make most of the grocery store runs and can recite dishes based on their ingredients! From the ripe vine tomatoes and day-old bread, I knew we’d be making salmorejo and assumed that crowd-favorite paella would be on offer. A large bowl of raw spinach meant espinacas con garbanzos.

modern kitchen of Taller Andaluz de Cocina

I found a cutting board and apron between Denise from New York and the cooking surface as Víctor laid out the menu. We began with the creamy tomato-based salmorejo: coarsely chopping tomatoes, peeling thin skin off of the purple garlic bulbs and learning not to be stingy with extra virgin olive oil. Apart from turning on a blender and liquifying its contents, I let my classmates take over.

I once again stepped aside to allow other guests to learn how to steam the raw spinach and make a sofrito, preferring to sip on wine and do some more chopping – I have the Novio at home to show me how to quarter a chicken for stock. Instead, I probed Víctor on his background, his favorite places to eat in Seville and the Spanish brands he is loyal to.

learning to make salmorejo

Many of my classmates were used to the flash cooking styles of Asian cuisine, so turning down the heat and turning up the flavor combinations was a welcome departure as we dipped small tasting spoons into everything we’d created. A fan of Asian food himself, Víctor stressed the important of low heat and long wait times.

I’ve always said that my biggest hurdle to learning to make Spanish dishes is patience. A Spanish chef confirmed it. So we waited, slowly stirring the chicken stock and sofritos.

salmorejo cordobés

Three hours later, the paella had finished soaking up chicken stock, the beer has been poured and we were ready to eat. While the sobremesa – mealtime chat – wasn’t as lively as my finca experience in Málaga, the workshop was more hands on. In fact, there was little more chatter than ‘mmmmm’ as we tucked in and Víctor prepared us a palate cleanser.

The cumin in the spinach with chickpeas, the laced leek in the paella and a tinge of garlic translated through the other tastes, a clear sign that we’d done something right under watchful eyes.

[yumprint-recipe id=’2′] Did I personally learn any new kitchen tricks? I suppose, but a blast of Saharan heat has had me out of the kitchen and even skipping dinner these last few weeks. The one thing that still rings true is my devotion to Spanish food and everything that goes into it – fresh ingredients, bursts of flavor and the sobremesa chatter.

Have you ever done a cooking course or food tour? Read about A Cooking Day, Devour Barcelona and Devour Seville food experiences. 

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