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The World's Tapas Capital

The style-hungry crowd has discovered the new-wave tapas bars and avant-garde restaurants of Seville.

Sun-Washed, Moorish Seville, where Don Juan smirked and Carmen swirled, has always relished its role as Spain's fun central. During the spring festivals, seemingly all of Madrid packs into high-speed trains for the two-and-a-half-hour trip southwest to the sherry-soaked Andalusian capital. Seville's irrepressibly operatic spirit lives on in the grandiose religious processions, in neighborhood plazas shaded by orange trees, at flamenco haunts and bars crowded with bullfighters straight out of central casting. But these days, style seekers can also ensconce themselves in a boutique hotel, dine on cutting-edge food or graze on designer tapas. From morning to night, from the trendy to the traditional, here's a guide to Seville's best hotels, restaurants, tapas bars and beyond.

Where to Stay
Casa Imperial is the Andalusia of dreams: splashes of ochre and cobalt against a sea of whitewash, cool arcaded patios that beckon with sounds of trickling water. Since 1996, when an affable German hotelier, Jochen Knie, acquired and refurbished this sixteenth-century palace, Imperial has been the insider's darling. Some of the 25 color-soaked guest rooms retain the original coffered ceilings; others boast Art Deco pieces from Knie's antiquing expeditions and have private terraces or minipatios (29 Imperial; 011-34-95-450-03-00; doubles from $140). In the past, snickering staff and guest quarters somber enough for the Grand Inquisitor made a stay at Alfonso XIII as enticing as a night on the rack. But Westin, which now manages this opulent 1929 Neo-Moorish grande dame, has changed all that: Bellhops are smiling, rooms have gotten facelifts, and the extravagantly tiled hallways gleam (2 San Fernando; 011-34-95-491-70-00; doubles from $360). A scion of the Gonzales Byass sherry family, the Anglophilic owner of the new Casa No. 7 is fond of afternoon tea, Jack Russell terriers, British antiques and autographed photographs of royalty. There are no minibars or TVs in the dozen rooms, but there's plenty of sherry and stiff-upper-lip chitchat in the robin's egg blue salon. The folks at Tatler were sufficiently smitten to grace it with the magazine's award for best small hotel of 2001 (7 Virgenes; 011-34-95-422-15-81; doubles from $160). The search for a perfectly situated, inexpensive B&B ends at Amadeus, which opened this year on a narrow lane in the evocative Santa Cruz quarter. The lovable owner is a classical music fanatic, which explains the grand piano and soundproof practice rooms for visiting virtuosos. Some smaller rooms are a bit penitentiary, but ask for something muy grande when you book and you'll be more than comfortable--even if awakened by strains of Albéniz or Liszt (6 Farnesio; 011-34-95-450-14-43; doubles from $65).

Where to Eat
With its whimsical decor--imagine dining inside an oversize striped Kate Spade bag--and postmodern riffs on Andalusian recipes, the brand-new La Gastroteca brings a Barcelona-style swagger to Seville. Two young chefs (alumni of La Alquería, a Ferran Adrià-owned restaurant near Seville) deconstruct a rustic tomato soup into quivery squares of tomato terrine drizzled with mint vinaigrette(Hacienda Benazuza, 6 Espartinas; 011-34-95-434-096). The WPA-meets-school-poster mural of vegetables is your clue as to what to order at Los Cuevas, a weathered taberna where the rustic vegetable dishes are good enough for the Duchess of Alba. A pitcher of Seville's definitive gazpacho awaits on the granite counter; the fried eggplant is lighter than lace (1 Virgen de las Huertas; 011-34-95-427-80-42). After pausing for a fino sherry at Barbiana's raucous bar, local businessmen claim a table at one of the no-nonsense dining rooms hung with endearingly ghastly landscapes. Here, deals are sealed between mouthfuls of pristine seafood from the nearby fishing ports of Cádiz and Sanlúcar de Barrameda: coquinas, tiny clams in a garlicky broth, and a formidable fideo marinara, a vermicelli "paella" studded with fish and clams (11 Albareda; 011-34-95-421-12-39). Bodeguita A. Romero is mainly known as a new-wave tapas bar, with nibbles so thrilling you'll want to commit to a sit-down lunch. Capers are as big and juicy as grapes, plates are draped with translucent slices of bacalao, and sea urchin caviar is heaped on bread. Don't even think of leaving without trying the pringá--an Andalusian sloppy joe (16 Gamazo; 011-34-95-421-05-85).

Tapas Bars: Feasting on Your Feet
The tradition of tapas (which means "lids") originated in Andalusian bars, some say, because glasses of sherry came topped with pieces of bread or small plates of food to keep out flies and dust. Seville remains the grazing capital of the world: The best areas to go tapeando with the locals are central Seville for lunch and Triana, the old gypsy quarter, at night.

Central Seville, Lunchtime
The spectacularly atmospheric Casa Moreno, festooned with Holy Week posters and bullfighting paraphernalia, is hidden inside a century-old ultramarino (grocery store). At lunchtime, wisecracking guys behind the stainless-steel counter dispense the city's best embutidos (cured meats) and warm, smoky chorizo sandwiches (7 Gamazo; 011-34-95-422-83-15). Across the street, the macho bar Enrique Becerra has wonderful mussels on toast and oxtail croquettes (2 Gamazo; 011-34-95-421-30-49). Nearby is the venerable pocket-size Casablanca, where the wall-to-wall crowd testifies to the excellence of its tapas-scale seafood stews and papas aliñá (marinated potatoes) that impressed even King Juan Carlos (50 Zaragoza; 011-34-95-422-24-98). Craving sweets? At Casa Robles, a blue-chip taberna, the owner's daughter learned the recipes for her rich custardy dulces from local nuns (58 Álvarez Quintero; 011-34-95-421-31-50).

Triana and Beyond, After Dark
For the smart set, the night kicks off at sundown at the perpetually mobbed Café de la Prensa (8 Betis; 011-34-95-427-07-52). After a gin and tonic--or three--at the riverside tables, committed foodies move on to La Albariza, an upscale bodega with sherry barrels serving as tables. Must-haves: fat juicy olives, saucy clams and the best fried baby squid on the planet (6 Betis; 011-34-95-433-20-16). Dried grasses and herbs adorn the rough-hewn walls of the recently opened Casa Peral. Interesting wines by the glass complement brochettes of smoked Sanlúcar tuna, and divine rolls topped with white asparagus and musky Jabugo ham (1 Callao; 011-34-95-433-51-89). By 2 a.m., serious revelers pack into Las Golondrinas, a battered slice of old Triana, to refuel on the legendary aliños (pickled vegetables) and grilled pork (26 Antillano Campos; 011-34-95-433-16-26). Just around the corner is Anselma, an insiders' flamenco haunt where hipsters come to watch old-timers show off some fancy footwork (49 Pages del Corro; 011-34-95-433-40-03). After snagging a churro (fried cruller) at the nameless but beloved churrería on the south side of Triana Bridge, it's finally late enough to join the swingers at Catedral, Seville's nightclub du jour (12 Cuesta del Rosario; 011-34-95-422-85-90).

Side Trips
RONDA Ronda's breathtaking gorge and its bullfighting lore sent Romantic poets into a state of rapture, and the two-hour drive from Seville is still worth the pilgrimage. The best vantage points for admiring the vistas are the balconies of Parador de Ronda, one of the chicest of Spain's paradors, the historic government-run hotels (Plaza de España; 011-34-95-287-75-00; doubles from $85). Another reason to spend the night is dinner at Tragabuches, run by Sergio Lopez, the leader of the Andalusian culinary vanguard and the guru of the postmodern gazpacho. One of his latest "confections": an ajo blanco (almond gazpacho) dolled up with caviar ravioli and candied squash (1 José Aparicio; 011-34-95-219-02-91). If the popular parador is full, these newcomers are worthy substitutes: San Gabriel, tucked into a cozy family palace (19 José María Holgado; 011-34-95-219-03-92; doubles from $65), and the haute-rustic La Casona de la Ciudad (5 Marqués de Salvatierra; 011-34-95-287-95-95; doubles from $85).

OSUNA Every guidebook urges a visit to Carmona, but few mention Osuna, a gem of a Baroque ducal town 90 miles southeast of Seville. In a city of florid facades, the most extravagant one belongs to the Palacio Marqués de la Gomera, a palace built in 1765 and converted last year into a 20-room hotel with a colonnaded atrium and ornate private chapel (20 San Pedro; 011-34-95-481-22-23; doubles from $55). The lavish tiles are one reason to visit La Encarnación convent; the buttery sweets made by the jovial nuns are another. A slow promenade along the wide cobblestone lanes usually concludes with a tapas-tasting marathon at Casa Curro (5 Plazuela Salistre; 011-34-95-582-07-58). All this and nary a tourist in sight.

SANLUCAR DE BARRAMEDA Three things draw visitors to Sanlúcar de Barrameda, on the Atlantic coast, an hour south of Seville. First is the manzanilla, the queen of dry sherries with a unique sea-breeze tang. The second is langostinos, pricey prawns renowned for sweetness and succulence. And the third is a chance to savor the two together at the picturesque fishermen's quarter of Bajo de Guía, preferably at Casa Bigote. There is a dining room in the back, but no one seems to make it past the tapas bar (Bajo de Guía; 011-34-95-636-26-96). Around the shady Plaza del Cabildo are supernally crisp tortillitas de camarones (shrimp pancakes) at Barbiana (2 Calle Ancha; 011-34-95-636-28-94) and a veritable museum of seafood tapas at Casa Balbino (14 Plaza del Cabildo; 011-34-95-636-05-13). For dessert, Toni scoops up a nutty turrón (nougat) ice cream and a refreshing peach sorbet (2 Plaza del Cabildo; 011-34-95-636-22-13).

Published November 2001
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