PRESS SECTION - Travel



Weekend Passions

The Non-Touristic Spanish City proved an ideal bolthole for a sun-starved Jill Turner

Enough was enough. I'd had enough of Britain and its winter. Enough of the long nights and short days, of getting up in the dark and going home in the dark. Enough of grey skies, frost, rain, gales and never ending bouts of flu. Enough of waiting for a few measly rays from a sun that seems to be taking it easy at the beginning of this century. And I know I'm not the only one.

But what to do? Summer holidays are too far away to wait for and a weekend break at home is just going to be more of the same under a different roof. Luckily I found a solution, somewhere warm, somewhere bright, somewhere with good food and wine and friendly natives, and only two and half hours away. Near enough for a weekend trip, Seville.

By Saturday lunchtime I was sitting in a garden of orange and lemon trees, soaking up the 70 degree sunshine, a turquoise sky above and the scent of citrus all around. Bliss.

I spent three hours just sitting there, in the gardens of the Reales Alcazares, the Alcazare's Palace. Built as a fort for the Cordoban governors in 913. It was subsequently adapted and enlarged, providing a history tour through Moorish, Renaissance, Mudejar and Flemish influences to 20th century interior design. It boasts decorative tile work, beautiful carvings and magnificent ceilings. The gardens are a dream, with citrus trees and flower beds, cooling fountains and statue-studded pools, isolated stone walk ways, mysterious mazes and a dark evergreen corner known as the English garden.

Just across the plaza, decorated - as many Sevillian streets by trees of the oranges to which the city gave its name - is Seville's most famous tourist attraction. The great cathedral, topped by the Giralda Tower, is the city's central landmark and one of the biggest churches in the world - 130 metres in length and 76 in width. It is a memorial to Catholic opulence with ornate silver and bronze chapels, an enviable collection of paintings including work by Goya and Murillo, and a 20-metre high decorative altarpiece.

What is nice about the cathedral is that it still operates as a community church and, unlike some other historic churches; reverence and atmosphere are not sacrificed to tourism. Much of the cathedral is exclusively for worshippers. On the day I visited there was a wedding, complete with male guests in Reservoir Dogs style suites and Mafioso mirrored shades, and women in glitzy Dynasty-chic topped by mantillas.

Although Seville is only 120 miles from Malaga - that gateway for beach resorts - there was barely a home accent to be heard in the city and then only the more genteel. But the disadvantage is that because Seville has avoided the worst excesses of British tourism the locals have found little need to speak English - with the result that very few do. The people are very patient and good naturedly struggled to understand my mixture of hand gestures, schoolgirl French and what I thought might be a few words of Spanish but could have just as likely been Italian. But next time I'll be taking a phrasebook. The important words are "cuanto cuesta" (how much?) "vino tinto/blanco" (red/white wine) "cerveza" (beer) and of course "por favor" (please) and "gracias" (thankyou). Coffee is simple "café".

Food is very important to the Spaniards, with eating top of the list of popular pastimes. Delicacies include spicy meatballs, cured ham (great waxy sides of which hang from the ceilings of many tapas bars and restaurants), fried squid, big plump olives and tortilla (Spanish omelette).

Seville is famous for its fresh fish and shellfish which arrive daily from the Atlantic and Mediterranean. The picturesque Santa Cruz district, with its tapas bars, tiny streets and buzzing plazas, is the best place to hunt for somewhere to eat. La Trasienda (Calle Alfalfa, near the Church of Saint……………………………..

GETTING THERE:

Kirker Holidays offers three night trips to Seville. Price includes return scheduled flights from Heathrow to Seville, taxes, car transfers to hotel and B&B accommodation at Casa Nº 7 Hotel.