If ever there was a place to retire overseas, it’s Seville.
Warm sunshine. Beautiful architecture. And a vibrant community of people who know how to live. Even as the fourth largest city in Spain, Seville feels like a small town.
We arrived in Seville on an overnight bus from Faro, Portugal at 5am. Disembarking, we were stunned to see people milling around in the dark. Yet, within a half hour, everyone disappeared. We quickly realized those “early risers” were simply late night revelers straggling home from the evening’s festivities.
According to an article in The Guardian, Spainards average 40 minutes less sleep than the rest of Europe. Perhaps they believe life here is worth staying up late for.
Seville is a lively, yet easygoing town. It feels timeless. Likely, residents today are living the same way they did centuries ago.
Here, people linger and savor the moment. We did as well. In between sightseeing, we let the days slowly unfold. We visited the Seville Cathedral with its stunning Giralda (a converted minaret turned bell tower) and the gorgeous Real Alcazare (Royal Palace), the official residence of the royal family. We visited the Plaza de Toros, an 18th century bullring that continues to host traditional bullfighting events.
But beyond landmarks, our most vivid memories are the downtime. From Plaza Nueva, we took a mid-morning stroll to the back streets of quaint Barrio Santa Cruz. We wandered among whitewashed houses and fragrant orange trees. Narrow streets known as “kissing lanes” added to the neighborhood’s charm and romance, while also providing much needed shade during hot Sevillan summers.
At Plaza de Espana, we took in the impressive pavilion buildings with their trademark ceramic tiles. Afterwards, in nearby Maria Luisa Park, we spent an afternoon relaxing among gardens filled with fountains, pavilions and bird sanctuaries. When evening came, we crossed the bridge over Guadalquivir River to the neighborhood of Triana. Here, we found Lo Nuestro, a tiny bar with live music and impromptu flamenco dancing.
Historically, Flamenco wasn’t set to music. The exuberant dance relied on singing and clapping to keep the rhythm.
Like Fado in Lisbon, Flamenco is a tradition typically performed by ordinary people. Watching couples execute the intricate steps and dramatic stomps is hypnotizing. They twirl around, gracefully moving their arms into statuesque poses. As they snap their fingers, they punctuate the end of each music stanza.
Like other aspects of Seville life, it’s easy to lose yourself in the moment. Again, we were reminded of the city’s sense of timelessness.
Perhaps our favorite thing to do in Seville, and really, all of Europe, was the evening paseo.
In the early evening, after work and before dinner, the whole town gathers. Men and women. Young and old. Couples, friends, families and individuals. They all come together to walk through town. The point is to simply be present and enjoy each other’s company. What a gift to have down time be an essential part of daily living. We often think about the busy, insular nature of American culture and wonder, are we missing the point?
Eventually, the evening paseo transforms into tapas bar hopping, the quintessential ritual of Andalusian life. Popular Bodega Santa Cruz offers up classic tapas dishes like paella (a seasonal rice dish with chicken or seafood), patatas bravas (fried potatoes) and manchego croquettas (deep friend cheese balls). These types of savory treats go best with an inexpensive house wine (usually Rioja) or Cruz Campo beer. We quickly learned the mid-day siesta is crucial if you want to stay awake for dinner which typically starts at 10 or 11pm.
And of course, no visit to Spain is complete without trying the infamous churros con chocolate. Heading home late one night, we stumbled on Churreria Los Especiales, a humble free-standing café. Fried dough and hot chocolate at 2am? Yes please. Who needs sleep anyway…
Like Flamenco dancing, life in Spain clearly has its own unique rhythm.
One evening, we came across the largest outdoor happy hour we’d ever seen. Hundreds of people spilled out on to an unassuming square. Everyone had a drink in hand and we watched as they caught up with one another, told stories and laughed.
That’s when we realized that Sevillans don’t wait to live life. They celebrate the everyday, every day. And with that, we promptly bought ourselves a glass of wine and joined in the festivities.
Seville, we’ll be back. Hopefully, well before we retire.
Lodging: Hostal Buen Dormir (Good Sleep) | Food: Bar Gonzalo, Bodega Santa Cruz, Bar Las Teresas, Lo Nuestro, Churreria Los Especiales, Cerveceria Giralda, Cafeteria Universal | Activities: Seville Cathedral, Royal Palace, Barrio Santa Cruz, Maria Luisa Park