Quick, where are you? At the outdoor Bar la Hosteria del Laurel, edging the Plaza de los Venerables, as the midmorning snack crowd is whiling away the hours between breakfast and lunch. On the table: bread, jamon serrano (ham from the Sierra Mountains), olives, and sherry wine. It is spring, and the scent of orange blossoms suffuses your senses.
If you guessed Seville, the crown jewel in the diadem of southwestern Spain, you deserve an evening of consuming tapas (perhaps at an open-air terrace in Triana overlooking the Guadalquivir River), followed by a performance of Flamenco dancing at Los Gallos or El Arenal. Both are loved by tourists and natives alike. And so is shopping for everything from antiques at an Alfalfa neighborhood gallery to a guitar found at the Historic Center around La Campagna. The area's best known shopping street, Sierpas, is nearby.
The center of Sevilla (pronounced "Se-vee-yah") lies on the left-hand side of the Guadalquivir, the most famous areas including Santa Cruz, San Bartolome, San Vicente, San Lorenzo, and El Arenal. The great Cathedral, the Giralda and the Alcazar are must-see monuments (the Cathedral houses the sepulchre of Christopher Columbus, and the Giralda, the tower of an important mosque, represents the city's Moorish occupation, A.D. 711-A.D. 1248).
A five-star treasure is the King Alfonso XIII Hotel (34.954.222.850; www.hotel-alfonsoxiii.com), but there are also some 3,500 rooms in three-star hotels as well as paradores on Seville's outskirts. The climate is gentle, although some travelers avoid the December to January humid cold and the soaring temperatures in July and August. The most famous Holy Week in Spain is Seville's. Another attraction is the April Fair, when the Feria features horseback riding, bullfights, carriages on parade, traditional dress, singing, dancing-and flowing sherry in fairground tent stalls.
But no matter when you arrive, you're likely to find horse shows, stage shows, golf, and people watching as you navigate the historic center's narrow winding streets. Come prepared to be enchanted, for Seville casts a mood, one of passion and loveliness.
The best way to get there? Fly to Madrid, then a one-hour flight to Seville. Or take the high-speed AVE train from Madrid in two-and-a-half hours. Or take motorway E-5 from Madrid. For information call the Tourist Office of Spain (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami).