PRESS SECTION - Medlife Winter



Seville Spain

Seville may be Spain's fourth largest city, but it's the undisputed capital of fantasy. Here's where those overheated clichés of fanning señoritas, bullfights, flamenco and sultry afternoons really spring to life and it's no coincidence that Seville inspired two of the sauciest characters in fiction: Bizet's Carmen, who rolled cigars on her thighs and wore a dagger in her garter, and Moliére's arch suitor Don Juan.

The city is crammed with an intimidating number of sights, but an obvious starting points is the stunning 15th-century cathedral (Plaza Virgen de los Reyes, 954 214 971, 6). It is the largest in the world and has a framed certificate from the Guinness Book of Records' Norris McWhirter to prove it. You could easily spend a whole morning exploring its cool, shadowy interior, but highlights include the blinding altarpiece, art collection and the tom housing the remains of Christopher Columbus (although DNA testing currently under way, these are bones of contention). Here too is the famous Giralda, a 298 foot high minaret that has become the symbol of Seville; along with the orange tree patio, it's one of the few visible remains of the mosque that originally occupied this site. For the best views of the city, climb up its 40 floors of flat ramps, built so that the muezzin could ride his horse to the top, where he called the faithful to prayer five times a day.

Across the square is the fabulous Alcázar (Plaza del Triunfo, 954 502 323) the finest parts of which were built for Pedro the Cruel in the 14th century. While his unfortunate wife was locked in the basement, he cavorted with his mistress among a sublime oasis of gardens, cool marble patios and ornate craftsmanship; the wooden ceiling of the Salon de Embajadores - dripping with gilded stalactites over a room encrusted with virtuoso plasterwork and tiling - has to be seen to be believed.

The Alcázar's crenellated eastern walls overlook Santa Cruz, whose tiny whitewashed street are crammed with churches, melancholic guitarists and the inevitable tour groups.

After a snooze in a shady corner of the Maria Luisa Park, built for the 1929 Ibero-America fair, take a look at its centrepiece; the newly renovated Plaza de España. This fan-shaped swath of majestic buildings is fronted by water features and clad in a stupendous riot of tiles illustrating Spain's 40 provinces.

The many wandering shoe shiners and fortune tellers are accomplished pickpockets, so watch your wallet.

Book well ahead for Seville's unmissable party season which kicks off with the wanton abandon of the Feria de Abril (April fare), hot on the heels of the emotionally charged Semana Santa (Easter Week) religious celebrations. Spain's top bullfighters perform in the yellow-and-white Maestranza bullring (Paseo de Colón 12, 954 210 315 www.realmaestranza.com): during Feria even the nosebleed tickets cost a fortune, but the dressed up crowd is as riveting as the ring action.

Why Go? To experience Spanish life at its most beguiling and it's most indulgent.

The bad news. All those juicy oranges hanging from the trees are bitter and only good for marmalade.

Don't miss Sevillanos - a sexed up popular local style of flamenco.

What's weird - Buying biscuits from the Santa Inés nunnery on C/Doña Maria Coronel. Put your money on the turntable, ring the doorbell, and after a while the choccy biccies silently swing round.

Eating and Drinking

For such exuberant people, Sevillanos have a strangely ascetic taste in food; a sardine is more likely to be dipped in sea salt and scorched on hot coals than served with any fancy sauces. Tapas are best on the banks of Guadalquivir - for terrace seats with a view of the Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) try Rio Grande (C/Betis by San Telmo Bridge, 954 273 956). Near the cathedral, try new wave at El Toison (C/Fernandez y Gonzalez 36, 954 212 111) or the circular Moorish gallery that houses the traditional El Cabildo (Plaza del Cabildo, no phone). For a sherry in the heart of Santa Cruz it has to be Casa Placido (C/Meson del Moro & C/Ximenez de Enciso 11, 954 563 971). For veggies its Jalea Real (Sor Angela de la Cruz 37, 954 216 103) or Eslava (C/Eslava 5, 954 906 568).

Nightlife

The late night bars around Plaza de la Alfalfa are at their best at 3-4 am. For funk and hip hop try the ultra-popular Bestiario (C/Zaragoza 33, no phone) or go west to the Alameda de Hercules, the hippiest area in town, where bars like Café del Mar (C/Jesus del Gran Poder 83, no phone) pump out Ibizan nostalgia. The gay and lesbian scene is centred around the Triana bridge - try Isbili Ya (Paseo de Colón 2, 954 210 460). For concerts and shows, head to Teatro Central (954 460 780, www.teatrocentral.com). For non-touristy flamenco, try El Mundo Otro Bar (C/Siete Revueltas 5, no phone, www.elmundotrobar.com) or La Carboneria (C/Levies 18, 954 214 460) a haunt of the late flamenco great, Camarón de la Isla.

Where to stay

The elegant Casa Numero 7 Hotel (C/Virgenes 7, www.casanumero7.com 954 221 581 €177-189).

Getting Around

Walking is definitely the least painful option; the city's bus service loops around the city without passing through it. The city tour bus (954 560 693, €6-11) takes in all the major sights from the Torre del Oro, where river boat cruises (954 211 396 €12) also start. Carriage rides leave from outside the cathedral; negotiate the price beforehand.

In the Area

The remains of Italica, once the third largest city in the Roman Empire, are five miles north of Seville (Avenida de Extremadura 2, Santiponce, 955 996 583, closed Monday).

Contacts

Net Access - Sevilla Internet Center

Police station - Paseo de las Delicias 15 (091, 092)

Post Office - Avenida de la Constitución 32 (954 224 760)

Taxis - Tele Taxi (954 622 222)

Tourist Office - Avenida de la Constitución 21 (954 221 404) Open 9am-7 pm Mon - Fri; 10am - 2pm, 3-7pm Sat. 10am - 2pm Sun.