It's important to specify that it's almost impossible not to have a perfect day in Sevilla. It's a beautiful city filled with winding streets, endless tapas bars, and warm people. The buildings are colorful, the streets are lively, and the river is the perfect setting for an evening stroll (or paseo, as they call it).
Our first two days in Sevilla were relaxing, full of delicious food and cozy corners. Our AirBNB was a very spacious and vintage-decorated apartment located in Triana, the colorful, quiet neighborhood on the western side of the river, across from the city center. The days were stiflingly hot, common in the summer but strange in October. The fabrics draped over the building roofs to shade the corridors were necessary, as were our cold afternoon cervezas and siestas in the air-conditioning.
We loved Sevilla from the moment we entered the city, and were fine exploring on our own. However, we had been contacted by a friend-of-a-friend who worked for a local tour company that needed participants for a Tapas and Alcazar tour on our last day in town. Normally, group tours aren't our thing. We would rather do the research, download a podcast, and take our time. But when you add food and wine into the mix (and sprinkle in some history for Kiel), that's a different story. Since we had wanted to visit the Real Alcázar anyways, having been daunted by the lines, we were sold.
We were told to meet our Devour tour guide, Miguel, at a location in the Casco Antiguo - the Old City - at 10:00 a.m. The temperature was still cool as we crossed the bridge and entered the Gothic maze that made up the old quarter, and we quickly found Miguel with the rest of our small group of seven. After introducing ourselves and chit-chatting for a bit, we took off to our very special first location: the Convento Madre de Dios de la Piedad. For centuries, cloistered nuns have baked special treats to earn their living. It's quite typical for these hidden gems to be so disguised you don't even see the nuns themselves. You simply ring a bell, a voice greets you from behind a wooden door, and after your order is placed it's spun out to you on a wooden torno, similar to a lazy susan.
Miguel expertly ordered our cookies for us, explaining that convents need to have a certain amount of nuns to stay open, and as it's become more and more difficult, Spain has begun worldwide recruitment to find women for their convents - hence the sweet woman from Kenya who served us our delicious naranjitos sevillanos, a traditional cookie from Sevilla made from sugar, egg yolk, and orange essence. The sweetness was not overpowering, but perfectly balanced with the orange. It melted in my mouth as I considered moving to Sevilla at that very moment to become a nun and learn their secrets.
Unfortunately, Miguel interrupted that plan by sweeping us off to our next destination, the Real Alcázar, or Moorish royal palace that is still currently in use by Spain's royal family. With Miguel as our guide, we were able to quickly skip the overwhelming line that was growing longer and longer by the minute. Our tour was small enough that we could stick together despite the crowds and still hear Miguel's explanations of the beautiful palace. The Real Alcázar is in much better condition than the Alhambra because its maintained function over the centuries and has never fallen into disrepair, which we could see in every detail.
The architecture was stunning, and the gardens were beautiful. Plus, they had filmed several scenes in Game of Thrones here, so what more could you ask for? Miguel was the perfect tour guide, giving us history intermingled with funny stories and perfect photo ops. It was just long enough to feel as though I had seen everything, without dragging on. Plus, by the end, we were all ready for some more tapas (and a drink or two!).
For our first stop, we escaped the crowds of the Alcazar and wandered the narrow streets of the Barrio Santa Cruz to Las Teresas, a family run tapas bar founded in 1870, boasting some of the best jamón in town.
The ambiance was charming: old bullfighting photos hung on the wall, intermixed with posters and advertisements for past ferias. The best jamón in Spain hung from the ceiling, the black hoofs a telltale sign of the Ibérico quality. We were served our plates of jamón with perfectly aged manchego and glasses of manzanilla - a dry sherry locally produced in Jeréz.
The jamón Ibérico was unlike anything we had ever tasted; sliced perfectly and shimmering with delicious fat, it melted in our mouths. The crisp manzanilla sherry was the ideal complement. Jamón this special comes at a price, but it's definitely worth a try when you're in Spain.
After Las Teresas, we traveled walked a few minutes further to stumble upon Casa Román, another family run institution since 1934. Here, I tried the local specialty drink, Tinto de Verano, a simpler version of Sangria. Instead of being steeped in fresh fruit, brandy, and other liquors for several hours, Tinto de Verano is simply red wine mixed with lemonade or soda water. It's a light, refreshing drink perfect for a hot day. With it, we enjoyed several special tapas, including bacalao, which is fried eggplant with salmorejo (an Andalusian version of gazpacho), and carrillada - slow-cooked and incredibly tender Iberian pork cheek. The bacalao, or fried cod, was so lightly battered and crisply golden that I don't think I'll ever be able to eat fried food in America again. The salmorejo, a slightly creamier version of gazpacho, was the perfect dipping sauce for the airy fried eggplant.
From start to finish, the experience wandering the city and learning the inside tips and tricks was perfect, and it was something we couldn't have done on our own. Miguel had such a passion for "his city," as he called it throughout the tour, and his passion translated into our own. Our only regret was that we hadn't done the tour on our first day rather than our last. However, we did get a parting gift of some additional tapas bars and other places to try, and as we wandered back to Triana, our stomachs (almost) full and our day satisfied, we stopped in one last place for something I've been dying to try.
At Barbiana we sauntered up to the bar, full of mostly old men drinking beer and sherry, and ordered the specialty from the gruff bartenders. Tortillita de Camarones is an incredibly light, crisp, fried cracker of tiny fresh shrimps, and at Barbiana we received exactly what we were looking for: that one last, crispy, salty tapa to lull us into siesta.
As we wandered back over the bridge towards our home in Triana, we lamented that we weren't able to stay a few more days. Just one more reason to plan another trip!
For more information on Devour food tours, located all over Spain, check out their website! And next time you're in Sevilla, ask for Miguel!