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Monday 16 July 2012

Oranges, Tapas & Moorish Palaces: 24 Hours in Seville

At the end of 2010, two of my very good girl friends got engaged within a couple of weeks of each other.  After the serious business of drinking copious amounts of champagne and swooning over the enormous rocks was done, the girls got down to the wedding planning. Suddenly I had two weddings to attend the following August within the space of four days.  Perfectly doable it would seem, except for the fact that the first was in France, and the second was in Bali.  


Two of my favourite girls; what promised to be two incredibly fun weddings, both in amazing locations; a general inability to say no to anything; and a major case of fear of missing out, meant that last summer I headed off on the summer holiday to end all summer holidays.  Seventeen days, six flights, two train journeys, five cities and seven hotels.  But to kick-off this wedding-hopping, action-packed adventure, I headed for 24 hours all alone in a city I've been dying to visit for years, Seville.    

Spain didn't originally feature in the summer holiday plan but if I was heading to Europe, I couldn't leave without a little Mice reunion and so we decided to fit in a week's holiday before the first wedding of my marriage marathon.  After trawling various uninspiring options nearer to the French location of the first wedding, the baby Mouse discovered a couple of Spanish hidden gems that got all three of us thoroughly overexcited.  It was decided.  We would have a sisters trip to Vejer.  

Getting from Hong Kong to Vejer however, is not the easiest of trips.  And so after a sleeping tablet addled flight to Charles de Gaulle, Paris and a cramped Ryanair flight from De Beauvoir, Paris (which it turns out are about a €150 one hour taxi ride apart) I landed at Sevilla airport at lunchtime on a Friday in late August with nowhere to be until the London Mice arrived in Spain the following morning.   

For one reason or another, in a very un-me manner, I'd booked my accommodation but had no other plans for the next 24 hours.  I hadn't read one travel article, I was completely unarmed with guidebooks and I didn't even have a map.  So I hopped in a cab at the airport, attempted a conversation with the smiling, happy driver, gave up after it became apparent that neither of us understood the other and sat back to greedily drink in the beautiful winding Spanish streets and palm trees flying past the taxi window on the journey to my hotel. 

I was staying at Hotel Casa 1800, which unlike Seville, I'd researched pretty thoroughly (thanks to Tripadvisor).  As the taxi pulled up on a cobbled street outside a tall, slim building with the palest salmon pink washed walls and terracotta and wrought iron detailing, the glass front doors slid open and woman in a sleek uniform came out to greet me and help me with my case.  Within minutes I was checked-in and heading up to my room  to shower away twenty four hours of travelling and get ready to explore Seville. 

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Hotel Casa 1800 is boutique hotel perfection. Twenty Four rooms are arranged over three storeys around a small flag-stoned courtyard where your complimentary breakfast and afternoon tea are served daily. Wooden beams, brocade covered wing tipped chairs and a huge chandelier provide a homey yet opulent feel. 

I opted for a standard room as I knew I'd be spending minimal time there, but if my room was standard, I can't begin to imagine how indulgent the Grand De Luxe Junior Suite must be... More beams and chandeliers, the comfiest bed ever bedecked in crisp Egyptian cotton sheets and a silk bedspread, gilt framed mirrors, an enormous marble bathroom and huge windows opening out onto a tiny little Juliet balcony overlooking the buzzy streets below. The pièce de résistance though? The rooftop terrace, a large decked space with incredible views of the Cathedral - the perfect spot to recline in the Sevillian sun or for a refreshing sundowner after a hard day's sightseeing.

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After a short pit stop to shower and change, I headed back down to the reception desk on a quest to find a map. However, after making my request at the front desk, it became apparent that I was not going to be let loose in the city to aimlessly wander. Learning that I only had one afternoon in Seville, the reception staff sat me down and helped me construct a plan of action to ensure that I was making the most of my time. A few Spanish scribblings and lots of map ringing later, I was handed an apple and a bottle of water and sent out to start my adventure.

I quickly realised how incredible the hotel's location is. A couple of steps from the Cathedral, a short stroll to the Alcázar and a hop skip and a jump from a huge range of restaurants, tapas bars and little boutiques. 

I spent several happy hours gazing up at the breathtaking Giralda, ambling around the green, leafy Maria Luisa Park, wandering along the banks of the Guadalquivir and peeking through the gates of the Plaza de Toros (one of Spain's oldest bullrings). Everything is within walking distance but in late August, expect to need a couple of refuelling stops along the way. Nothing beats a glass of freshly squeezed Sevillian orange juice at a tiny tapas bar while you lazily try to cool yourself down with a hastily purchased fan.  

The highlight of my afternoon though was the Alcázar, the Sevillian Royal Palace, the upper levels of which are still used today as the Royal family's official residence in Seville. Dating back to the 14th Century, the palace is a sprawling maze of Moorish arches and ironwork - mosaic adorned passageways leading to room after beautiful room interspersed with ornate courtyards studded with mirror-like ponds. The gardens are lush and verdant, perfectly manicured and presided over by a pack of peacocks. A couple of hours was nowhere near enough to do this mesmerising place justice.

As the Alcázar shut its gates, I headed back to the river for a couple of cold cervezas and some people watching. The sun sunk, the heat dipped and my stomach began to rumble reminding me that I'd only had  an apple since breakfast. And it turns out that there's no better place to be hungry. Perched out on the cobbled street at a little table just next to my hotel I devoured jumbo garlicky prawns, plump green olives and slivers of tangy manchego cheese. 

Before I knew it, it was 10pm and I was beyond jetlagged. So, with the distant strains of flamenco guitar drifting out through the night, I meandered up to my beckoning bed making a sleepy pledge to return to Seville very soon and next time for much longer. 

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