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Active Travel: Seville, Spain

“So, this building on the right… Don’t worry Julia, you can look over here.”

Lucía managed not to laugh, just about.

It seemed certain I’d topple off the paddleboard into the Guadalquivir river if I didn’t keep my gaze forward, but I braced my core and sat my hips back as Lucía had instructed and surprisingly manged to turn my head whilst remaining upright.

It was the third day of my mini-adventure exploring Seville, capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region and Lucía was doing an amazing job multitasking as both instructor on my first paddlesurf lesson and guide for a Seville-from-the-river tour.

Bicycle tour

The bicycle tour of the city, which I took the morning after I’d arrived, had already given me the street-view perspective. And what lovely streets they were – gorgeous apartments and houses, each unique in pretty pastel colours, squares framed by trees festooned with ripe oranges, bustling bars, and so many spectacular historical buildings.

I hadn’t sat on a bike for at least six months and have never been a confident cyclist so, like the paddleboarding, this was bit out of my comfort zone.

I needn’t have worried. Seville is a great city for cycling with many traffic-free cycle lanes and the narrow cobbled streets of the city centre are more bike- than car-friendly… albeit bumpier than my bum would’ve liked!

There were eight of us in the cycle tour group, from various countries, including a lovely couple from Devon. They told me that, after over 10 years working crazy hours on their business, they wanted more time to “live” – so they were spending a leisurely fortnight hanging out in Seville.

I could definitely relate.

Why I went solo

There’s no need for me go into detail here, but events in my life last year turned my priorities upside down.

My trip to Seville represented a first chapter in my new approach to life. Seeing new places, trying new things and basically doing fun-stuff-that-isn’t-work is my theme for 2019 and maybe beyond.

I’ve done international travel alone for work several times, but this was my first solo-holiday. Our two-location home situation means I’m used to being away from Ian for a few days or so, but it still felt weird going on holiday without him. (He’s a teacher so has no time off in school term and his holidays are largely taken up with his club and international masters hockey tournaments/training.)

Did I miss him? Sure. But not so much it spoiled the trip. And it actually felt quite liberating to be in such an interesting and varied city with only myself to please.

Anyway, back to the bike tour…

A local’s view

Sevillian-born Ernesto and his super-cute hyperactive dog Rudi were our guides. Ernesto is one of those guys who makes you instantly feel like a friend, which quickly infected the whole group. Within minutes it was like cycling with a squad of mates.

The tour took six hours – sounds long, but didn’t feel that way, we had lots of stops and a couple of refreshment breaks. I can’t imagine any other tour of the city being quite like this one. The interludes Ernesto provided at various locations were a mix of historical, political and cultural info, and anecdotes from his own life, including hints at his own views on local politics.

We got a feel for the city from a native Sevillian’s perspective, along with key facts and info. It also became clear Seville had more to discover than I could hope to properly explore in only three full days.

The bike ride gave me whistle-stop tour of the most important/popular attractions though, along with many interesting spots off-the-beaten track. We saw small traditional local markets, tiny backstreets and lush courtyards. One of the places where Ernesto gave us a glimpse of his own memories was the little flamenco club where his ex-girlfriend’s family lived in an apartment next door. He said they would constantly complain to the police about the late-night music and cheering, but the flamenco club would rather pay the fines than turn it down.

The official explanation probably wouldn’t put it quite the same way, but Ernesto told us Spain had wanted to reach out in friendship to the Americas and put history behind them. They created several grand buildings in their honour (still functioning as government offices, etc) with Plaza de España as the magnificent centrepiece – its curved shape representing an extended hug.

Isn’t that lovely?

Getting papped

Next morning I returned to Plaza de España for what I’d mistakenly thought was a photography tour with some portrait shots included. It was actually the reverse – basically a mini-shoot. I have absolutely no complaints though – Moisés, the photographer was fun to spend time with and I love the photos. Normally it would’ve been a group thing but, it being low season, I got lucky and was the only one who’d booked so it was just me.

For our final few shots we wandered over near the external walls of the Real Alcázar palace.
I mentioned to Moisés that I wasn’t sure whether I’d visit the palace because of the long queues I’d seen, but he told me “seriously, you just have to go”. He also said I could book online for only 1 more and not have to queue. So that nailed it.

Home from home

Happy but weary after the shoot, I walked back through the cute winding streets of the medieval Jewish quarter back to my apartment.

I ended up sleeping through the whole afternoon. It was actually blissful just to be able to do that. Shows how relaxed I was.

Oh yeah, the apartment – wow! How have I not mentioned that yet? It was AMAZING!

I posted a couple of live tours on Facebook and Instagram so if you’d like a look around you can check those out here and here.

The bars and eateries of Seville looked fantastic, but I’ve done the eating-out-alone thing on work trips before and I just don’t enjoy it, which is one of the reasons I booked an Airbnb apartment. Having a place that felt like a home where I could eat and chill in the evenings really helped make my trip something close to perfect. Sure, it cost a little more than a room for one person, but I saved money by not eating out, so it probably worked out about the same, maybe even less.

On the river

On day three I woke feeling gloriously fresh. Energised after my little morning workout in the apartment, I headed down to the river for my paddle-surfing experience with Lucía. Again, what would normally be a group thing turned out to be one-to-one, so I really lucked out.

Similarly to Ernesto, Lucía shared her views on the many areas of the city we passed gliding down the river, along with interesting historical facts.

Lucía echoed what Ernesto had said about the skyscraper dominating the skyline nicknamed ‘the lipstick’.

“Previously there was a law that the cathedral tower had to be the highest building in Seville, this broke that tradition and it doesn’t fit with any of our architecture. We think it’s ugly.”

Living in London, I’ve seen worse, but I totally see where she’s coming from.

However, the main thing you need to know is… I didn’t fall in the river. Yay, go me! So I guess I can now paddlesurf – a bit. I’m dead keen to do it again.

Road to the castle

That afternoon I visited the Alcázar. After getting lost (as I did almost every time I left the apartment in the warren of impossibly narrow streets) I arrived late for the tour *cringe*.

Fortunately, the group was just two other people – who were very nice about me holding things up. Our guide was another local, wonderfully suave with foppish hair and dark glasses, he was engagingly passionate about the palace and its unique architecture. We learned of the Muslims, Jews, Christians, and various royals who had called the palace home. He brought to life the different cultures, lifestyles and romances its walls had seen and told us much about the politics surrounding voyages of Christopher Columbus. Although Columbus was Italian, he was a favourite of Spanish monarchs who sponsored his explorations – which, of course, turned out to be a richly rewarding investment.

Magical is the best word I can find to describe Alacazar. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones (and if you haven’t – you need to!) you’d recognise many parts of the palace, especially the gardens. Decorated inside and out with exquisitely detailed stonework, pretty painted tiles and geometric mosaics, the Alcázar is packed with spectacular features. The atmosphere of majesty and intrigue evoked by the palace’s rich history is quite intoxicating. It truly was like walking through a Game of Thrones set – only real.

Our guide remarked that it was fitting that GoT was filmed in Seville ,since the city has seen so many shifts in its landscapes of power and culture. In fact, something I took from all of my guides during the trip was a sense of how Spain’s history has shaped their people and politics today – a much deeper perspective than I’d expected to get from activities like biking, snapping photos and paddle boarding.

Next morning it was time to head home. I travelled back to the airport the same way I’d got into the city, by bus (no trains run to the centre) which takes about 40 minutes, but it’s an interesting route and only ‎€4.

Adventure complete

It might sound a bit pathetic, but taking my last look at the city through the window of the bus I felt quite proud. My first solo holiday was a success. I’d tried several new things, learned loads, chilled out (without doing any work except social media – unthinkable for me a couple of years ago) and fallen a little in love with the people and places of beautiful Seville.

Seville travel tips

A few places you might want to add to your Seville to-see list (and will be on mine next visit) are the cathedral, Torre Del Oro (‘Tower of Gold’), Metropol Parasol (known locally as ‘the mushroom’), I saw these outside but didn’t get to enter. (There’s also the bull ring but that’s not for me.)

I hope to return next time with Ian and take in the tapas bars and catch a flamenco show. Seville is where flamenco originated and the standard of dancing is said to be the best in the world, so I’ll be really excited to see that.

While you’re there, be sure to look up to see the gorgeous details on the buildings.

And look down and around for the No8Do symbol on street tiles, iron work, flags, etc. This is a sort of an emblem awarded to the city by King Alfonso X for the people’s support when his son attempted to usurp him. It represents the words ‘no me ha dejado’. Literally translated this means ‘(it) has not left me’, but on the bicycle tour Ernesto put it as “they did not abandon me” which seems closer to the meaning.

Pack walking shoes. Seville is best explored on foot (or by bike of course). Pony and trap rides are another popular tourist way to get around, but to be honest I saw a couple of horses that looked to be struggling and wasn’t comfortable with it.

Weather: I went in February, which is considered the dead of winter in Seville. Night time and morning were fairly cold at about 6c, so I needed my coat, but in the afternoons it got up to around 20c. (Aside: It was so funny – in the afternoons I was walking around in a vest enjoying the sun on my skin, but the locals were still all wrapped up in winter coats and woollies.) If you’re going in the summer it’ll probably be scorchio, take sunscreen.

Info, prices and booking

If I’ve inspired you to follow any of my footsteps that would be amazing!

Click the links below for info, prices and booking.

🍊 Apartment
🍊 Bicycle tour
🍊 Photoshoot
🍊 Paddle surf tour

– All the above are via Airbnb which I’m a massive fan of. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, join up via this link for £25 off your first trip or £9 off an experience (from any of Airbnb, doesn’t have to be the links above).

🍊 Cathedral tour – Get Your Guide

(No) disclosures:
This post is not sponsored and no aspects of my trip were gifted. I paid for everything myself and all recommendations are totally based on my experiences.

Also, this is my first ever travel post! So please let me know if you like it via my social channels and feel free to share.

📸 Lucía
Paddlesurfing on the Guadalquivir

📸 Seville City Tour by Bike (Airbnb)
Cycling is a great way to explore the city

📸 Pixitours
Every street has its own pretty treasures

📸 Pixitours
Plaza de España

📸 Pixitours
The semi-circular shape of the building represents open arms

📸 Myself
I loved this apartment so much!

📸 Lucía
Still dry!

📸 Get Your Guide
Real Alcázar

📸 Myself
Enjoying the view from the balcony one last time

📸 Pixitours
Bring comfy shoes for walking

📸 Pixitours
Until next time beautiful Sevilla!

“So, this building on the right… Don’t worry Julia, you can look over here.”

Lucía managed not to laugh, just about.

It seemed certain I’d topple off the paddleboard into the Guadaíra river if I didn’t keep my gaze forward, but I braced my core and sat my hips back as Lucía had instructed and surprisingly manged to turn my head whilst remaining upright.

📸 Lucía

It was the third day of my mini-adventure exploring Seville, capital of southern Spain’s Andalusia region and Lucía was doing an amazing job multitasking as both instructor on my first paddlesurf lesson and guide for a Seville-from-the-river tour.

Bicycle tour

The bicycle tour of the city I went on the morning after I’d arrived had already given me the street-view perspective. And what lovely streets they were – gorgeous apartments and houses, each unique in pretty pastel colours, squares framed by trees festooned with ripe oranges, bustling bars, and so many spectacular historical buildings.

📸 Pixitours

I hadn’t sat on a bike for at least six months and have never been a confident cyclist so, like the paddleboarding, this was bit out of my comfort zone.

I needn’t have worried. Seville is a great city for cycling with many traffic-free cycle lanes and the narrow cobbled streets of the city centre are more bike- than car-friendly… albeit bumpier than my bum would’ve liked!

📸 Seville City Tour by Bike (Airbnb)

There were eight of us in the cycle tour group, from various countries, including a lovely couple from Devon. They told me that, after over 10 years working crazy hours on their business, they wanted more time to “live” – so they were spending a leisurely fortnight hanging out in Seville.

I could definitely relate.

Why I went solo

There’s no need for me go into detail here, but events in my life last year turned my priorities upside down.

My trip to Seville represented a first chapter in my new approach to life. Seeing new places, trying new things and basically doing fun-stuff-that-isn’t-work is my theme for 2019 and maybe beyond.

I’ve done international travel alone for work several times, but this was my first solo-holiday. Our two-location home situation means I’m used to being away from Ian for a few days or so, but it still felt weird going on holiday without him. (He’s a teacher so has no time off in school term and his holidays are largely taken up with his club and international masters hockey tournaments/training.)

Did I miss him? Sure. But not so much it spoiled the trip. And it actually felt quite liberating to be in such an interesting and varied city with only myself to please.

📸 Pixitours

Anyway, back to the bike tour…

A local’s view

Sevillian-born Ernesto and his super-cute hyperactive dog Rudi were our guides. Ernesto is one of those guys who makes you instantly feel like a friend, which quickly infected the whole group. Within minutes it was like cycling with a squad of mates.

The tour took six hours – sounds long, but didn’t feel that way, we had lots of stops and a couple of refreshment breaks. I can’t imagine any other tour of the city being quite like this one. The interludes Ernesto provided at various locations were a mix of historical, political and cultural info, and anecdotes from his own life, including hints at his own views on local politics.

It was really cool to get a feel for the city from a native Sevillian’s perspective. It also became clear Seville had more to discover than I could hope to properly explore in only three full days.

The bike ride gave me whistle-stop tour of the most important/popular attractions though, along with many interesting spots off-the-beaten track. We saw small traditional local markets, tiny backstreets and lush courtyards. One of the places where Ernesto gave us a glimpse of his own memories was the little flamenco club where his ex-girlfriend’s family lived in an apartment next door. He said they would constantly complain to the police about the late-night music and cheering, but the flamenco club would simply pay the fines rather than turn the music down.

📸 Pixitours

A hug for the Americas

One of the most stunning spots on the tour was Plaza de España. A majestic half-ring-shaped building at the middle of a park scattered with beautiful fountains, pavilions, ponds, palms and benches. I’d have guessed the building was a royal palace if Ernesto hadn’t explained it was built for the expo in 1929.

The official explanation probably wouldn’t put it quite the same way, but Ernesto told us Spain had wanted to reach out in friendship to the Americas and put history behind them. They created several grand buildings in their honour (still functioning as government offices, etc) with Plaza de España as the magnificent centrepiece – its curved shape representing an extended hug.

Isn’t that lovely?

Getting papped

Next morning I returned to Plaza de España for what I’d mistakenly thought was a photography tour with some portrait shots included. It was actually the reverse – basically a mini-shoot. I have absolutely no complaints though – Moisés, the photographer was fun to spend time with and I love the photos. Normally it would’ve been a group thing but, it being low season, I got lucky and was the only one who’d booked so it was just me.

📸 Pixitours

For our final few shots we wandered over near the external walls of the Real Alcázar palace.
I mentioned to Moisés that I wasn’t sure whether I’d visit the palace because of the long queues I’d seen, but he told me “seriously, you just have to go”. He also said if I booked online it’d cost only 1 more and I woudn’t have to queue. So that nailed it.

Home from home

Happy but weary after the shoot, I walked back through the cute winding streets of the medieval Jewish quarter back to my apartment.

📸 Myself

I ended up sleeping through the whole afternoon. It was actually blissful just to be able to do that. Shows how relaxed I was.

Oh yeah, the apartment – wow! How have I not mentioned that yet? It was AMAZING!

I posted a couple of live tours on Facebook and Instagram so if you’d like a look around you can check those out here and here.

The bars and eateries of Seville looked fantastic, but I’ve done the eating-out-alone thing on work trips before and I just don’t enjoy it, which is one of the reasons I booked an Airbnb apartment. Having a place that felt like a home where I could eat and chill in the evenings really helped make my trip something close to perfect. Sure, it cost a little more than a room for one person, but I saved money by not eating out, so it probably worked out about the same, maybe even less.

📸 Myself

On the river

On day three I woke feeling gloriously fresh. Energised after my little morning workout in the apartment, I headed down to the river for my paddle-surfing experience with Lucía. Again, what would normally be a group thing turned out to be one-to-one, so I really lucked out.

Similarly to Ernesto, Lucía shared her views on the many areas of the city we passed gliding down the river, along with interesting historical facts.

Lucía echoed what Ernesto had said about the skyscraper dominating the skyline nicknamed ‘the lipstick’.

“Previously there was a law that the cathedral tower had to be the highest building in Seville, this broke that tradition and it doesn’t fit with any of our architecture. We think it’s ugly.”

📸 Lucía

Living in London, I’ve seen worse, but I totally see where she’s coming from.

However, the main thing you need to know is… I didn’t fall in the river. Yay, go me! So I guess I can now paddlesurf – a bit. I’m dead keen to do it again.

Road to the castle

That afternoon I visited the Alcázar. After getting lost (as I did almost every time I left the apartment in the warren of impossibly narrow streets) I arrived late for the tour *cringe*.

Fortunately, the group was just two other people – who were very nice about me holding things up. Our guide was another local, wonderfully suave with foppish hair and dark glasses, he was engagingly passionate about the palace and its unique architecture. We learned of the Muslims, Jews, Christians, and various royals who had called the palace home. He brought to life the different cultures, lifestyles and romances its walls had seen and told us much about the politics surrounding voyages of Christopher Columbus. Although Columbus was Italian, he was a favourite of Spanish monarchs who sponsored his explorations – which, of course, turned out to be a richly rewarding investment.

📸 Get Your Guide

Magical is the best word I can find to describe Alacazar. If you’ve seen Game of Thrones (and if you haven’t – you need to!) you’d recognise many parts of the palace, especially the gardens. Decorated inside and out with exquisitely detailed stonework, pretty painted tiles and geometric mosaics, the Alcázar is packed with spectacular features. The atmosphere of majesty and intrigue evoked by the palace’s rich history is quite intoxicating. It truly was like walking through a Game of Thrones set – only real.

Our guide remarked that it was fitting that GoT was filmed in Seville ,since the city has seen so many shifts in its landscapes of power and culture. In fact, something I took from all of my guides during the trip was a sense of how Spain’s history has shaped their people and politics today – a much deeper perspective than I’d expected to get from activities like biking, snapping photos and paddle boarding.

📸 Myself

Next morning it was time to head home. I travelled back to the airport the same way I’d got into the city, by bus (no trains run to the centre) which takes about 40 minutes, but it’s an interesting route and only ‎€4.

Adventure complete

It might sound a bit pathetic, but taking my last look at the city through the window of the bus I felt quite proud. My first solo holiday was a success. I’d tried several new things, learned loads, chilled out (without doing any work except social media – unthinkable for me a couple of years ago) and fallen a little in love with the people and places of beautiful Seville.

📸 Pixitours

Seville travel tips

A few places you might want to add to your Seville to-see list (and will be on mine next visit) are the cathedral, Torre Del Oro (‘Tower of Gold’), Metropol Parasol (known locally as ‘the mushroom’), I saw these outside but didn’t get to enter. (There’s also the bull ring but that’s not for me.)

I hope to return next time with Ian and take in the tapas bars and catch a flamenco show. Seville is where flamenco originated and the standard of dancing is said to be the best in the world, so I’ll be really excited to see that.

📸 Pixitours

While you’re there, be sure to look up to see the gorgeous details on the buildings.

And look down and around for the No8Do symbol on street tiles, iron work, flags, etc. This is a sort of an emblem awarded to the city by King Alfonso X for the people’s support when his son attempted to usurp him. It represents the words ‘no me ha dejado’. Literally translated this means ‘(it) has not left me’, but on the bicycle tour Ernesto put it as “they did not abandon me” which seems closer to the meaning.

Pack walking shoes. Seville is best explored on foot (or by bike of course). Pony and trap rides are another popular tourist way to get around, but to be honest I saw a couple of horses that looked to be struggling and wasn’t comfortable with it.

Weather: I went in February, which is considered the dead of winter in Seville. Night time and morning were fairly cold at about 6c, so I needed my coat, but in the afternoons it got up to around 20c. (Aside: It was so funny – in the afternoons I was walking around in a vest enjoying the sun on my skin, but the locals were still all wrapped up in winter coats and woollies.) If you’re going in the summer it’ll probably be scorchio, take sunscreen.

📸 Pixitours

Info, prices and booking

If I’ve inspired you to follow any of my footsteps that would be amazing!

Click the links below for info, prices and booking.

🍊 Apartment
🍊 Bicycle tour
🍊 Photoshoot
🍊 Paddle surf tour

– All the above are via Airbnb which I’m a massive fan of. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, join up via this link for £25 off your first trip or £9 off an experience (from any of Airbnb, doesn’t have to be the links above).

🍊 Cathedral tour – Get Your Guide

(No) disclosures:
This post is not sponsored and no aspects of my trip were gifted. I paid for everything myself and all recommendations are totally based on my experiences.

Also, this is my first ever travel post! So please let me know if you like it via my social channels and feel free to share.

2019-02-11T08:44:57+00:00