Islamic designs, architecture & calligraphy

The last entry on Andalusia is about Islamic designs and calligraphy.

My fascination with the Middle East began when I was kid, thanks to the Japanese cartoon: ‘The adventures of Sinbad’. Over the years, I have traveled to several Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa; although the experiences varied each time, my interest in the Islamic arts, designs and architecture has not diminished. This was one of the reasons for choosing Andalusia as my holiday destination; besides, with the unstable situation in the Middle East, Spain seemed like a safer option.


Mosque cordobagranada P1060905real alcazar sevillereal alcazar seville real alcazar seville

Top main: The Great Mosque, Cordoba; 2nd row right, 3rd row & last row right: Real Alcazar, Seville; Last row left: Cathedral, Seville


Islamic art and design is based on its religious belief, values, culture and its advance knowledge on mathematics. Due to religious reasons, humans or animals are prohibited in religious art and design, thus ornament became its central theme. Almost opposite to the minimalist style, Islamic designs are often colourful, complex and made up of repetitive patterns. Geometric patterns, vegetal patterns (i.e. arabesque) and calligraphy are the three non-figural types of decoration in Islamic art and design. These decorative arts and designs are often accompanied by traditional craftsmanship; and in Andalusia, the best examples can be seen at the Real Alcazar in Seville, The Great Mosque in Cordoba and The Alhambra in Granada.


Tiles, mosaics, arches (esp. horseshoe), columns and domes are common features in Islamic architecture. But since the use of costly materials is discouraged in the religion, brick, brass, clay, stucco, stone, and wood are used skillfully to create exquisite features and design in Islamic architecture. The architectural motifs are often octagonal or star-shaped and they can be seen on floors, roofs, walls and fountains.



P1070222 P1070207 P1060925P1070867P1060931real alcazarP1080169cordoba mosque arab bath

Main & 2nd row left: Palacio de Pilatos, Seville; 2nd row right & 3rd row middle & right: Real Alacazar, Seville; 3rd row left: Alhambra, Granada; 4th row: Palacio de la Madraza; Last row left: Great Mosque, Cordoba; Last row right: Arab bath, Granada


The use of the symmetrical and geometric systems create harmony in Islamic designs and architecture, which is consistent with the Islamic belief that all creation is harmoniously interrelated. And this is most evident in the designs of doors and windows, where balance and symmetry is an important feature.

Doors and windows:


P1070875P1070187P1060886P1070306IMG_5554IMG_5687cordobaP1060906cordoba mosque



Since I started learning Arabic calligraphy about 18 months ago, I became more aware of the use of calligraphy in Islamic art, design and architecture. There are many types of scripts, I started with the simple Ruqʿah, then moved onto the more cursive and elegant Diwani, and will be learning Naskh next. However, I am most interested in Kufic, a more constructed and squarish/ geometric style that is often used and seen in mosques and palaces. Most of these scripts are quotations from the Koran ( something I have been practising lately), and they are so well incorporated into the overall designs that they seldom would look out of place.


real alcazar seville P1070919P1060811alhambraP1070877real alcazar seville P1070890real alcazar seville P1070896


Arabic calligraphy books are hard to find in the U.K., and the ones on sale are usually fairly basic. In Andalusia, I was quite glad to see many books on the topic, though they are mostly written in French. However, I was still excited to see calligraphy widely used in architecture and displayed in Muslim institutions.

When I started learning calligraphy, I appreciated it as an art form and as a meditative activity; now I realised the importance of understanding the religion, language and culture behind this artistic expression. I doubt I will ever get a grasp of the language, but I hope to continue to learn more and practise this beautiful art form.


arabic calligraphyarabic calligraphyislamic calligraphyarabic calligraphy arabic calligraphy

Top row: beautiful contemporary Arabic calligraphy work inside an Islamic centre in Granada; Bottom left: Calligraphy on tiles inside the Cathedral in Seville; Bottom right: Books on Arabic calligraphy


Eat, drink and be merry in Andalusia


Dining out in Andalusia is a social activity with friends or with your local bartenders and neighbours


For some reason, Spanish cuisine is not as popular and as ‘recognised’ internationally as Italian cuisine. Perhaps it has something to do with its cooking varying a great deal from region to region, and that authentic Spanish restaurants outside of Spain were hard to come by until a few years ago. The rise of Michelin star restaurants like elBulli ( due to reopen as a creative centre in 2016) finally brought the spotlight back to Spanish cuisine again. And in cosmopolitan cities like London, New York and Hong Kong, a sudden surge of contemporary tapas bars and restaurants are also changing people’s perception of Spanish cuisine esp. on tapas. The ‘makeover’ seems to be working as tapas bars are now becoming more popular than ever outside of Spain.

I love the concept of tapas, humble food served in small portions shared among friends paired with wine ( or sherry in Spain) is my ideal night out. I did a cooking holiday in Italy 2 1/2 years ago, and although the food was fresh and delicious, after a week of cheese, pasta and multi-course meals, I felt rather bloated and it was reflected on my weighing scale back home!


el comerciosevillebar manoloseville

Main: Bar El Comercio; Bottom middle: Bar Manolo


This trip though, I tried out many dishes at each meal and yet I didn’t put on any weight afterwards. OK, it wasn’t a cooking holiday but overall I found the food less heavy and the portion sizes more acceptable. I was eager to try as many different dishes as possible, but by the end of the trip, I still had many that I wanted to try but didn’t quite manage…

I was equally impressed by the quality of wine (and the prices), the house wines are usually excellent ( which doesn’t always happen in other countries) and even for a red wine lover like myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the few occasions when I ordered white.

Food and wine aside, ambience is a key part of dining out in Andalusia and it is more of a social activity as you often see people hanging inside and outside of popular tapas bars with friends drinking and nibbling in late afternoons or evenings. I rarely saw fast-food or coffee shop chains, people there love their local restaurants and bars, which is a far cry from the chain-dominated London! When I travel, I try to look for authentic restaurants that the locals love, these places I believe reflect the local culture and they are the best for people-watching.


fried aubergeartichokescod saladpeppersduplex seville

Top left: deep-fried aubergine; top middle: artichokes; top right: cod ceviche with peppers with crispy artichokes (surprisingly yummy); bottom left: Pimientons de Padron (one of my favourite tapas dishes); bottom right: paella and grilled tuna with roasted vegetables (tapas portions!)


Here are some of the places that I tried during my trip, some are recommended by locals, some via the internet and the rest… simply by chance…



Casa Morales (Calle García de Vinuesa, 11) – Founded in 1850, this bodega located near the Cathedral is often recommended in guidebooks. Yet it was packed with only locals when I was there, could it be partly due to their Spanish-only menu ( which I often view as a positive sign)?

I love the old-style and rustic decorations here, the front room is bar area and the seated area is located in the back, which is filled with enormous tinajas (stoneware sherry/wine barrels). The prices here are reasonable and the food/wine quality is good, but it is the vibe/ambience makes this place charming and unique.

El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40) is the oldest tapas bar in Seville (since 1670), but due to its location ( away from the touristy Santa Cruz), it is more of a local than a tourist attraction! Like Casa Morales, this place feels authentic and even more rustic with service that is slightly abrupt ( but not rude). It was fun to eat standing and sharing a small table with a local, sometimes it is not the food that matters the most but the experience ( luckily, the food here is not too bad either)…


casa moralescasa moralescasa moralesel rinconcilloel rinconcillocasa moralesel rinconcillo

Top, 2nd row left and middle: Casa morales; 2nd row right, third and last row: El Rinconcillo



After trying out the traditional places, it was time to try the contemporary restaurants to see how the cuisine has evolved, and one of the most highly rated place is La Azotea, which has several branches in the city.

La Azotea (C/ Mateos Gago, 8) – although this branch is located on a street full of touristy restaurants right off the Cathedral, it is not that touristy and the standard is a cut above the rest. The dishes are creative and beautifully presented, yet the prices are surprisingly reasonable for what you get. The vibe is relaxing and not overly trendy, I certainly would have returned to try out more dishes if I had the time.

Los Palillos (Calle Huelva 22, esq. Plaza de la Pescaderia) – I stumbled upon this small sushi/ jamon bar while looking for food in the area, the minimal and contemporary decor is rather inviting. I was curious to try some Spanish/ Japanese fusion cuisine, and the waiter was friendly and eager to help me with their menu. After trying a few dishes, I felt that some worked better than others, and the fusion was not as obvious ( which may not be a bad thing). However, the ingredients are fresh and the dishes are well cooked and presented, so it was a pleasant discovery ( as I later discovered that the restaurant is very popular with the locals because it filled up within 1/2 hour after my arrival).


La AzoteaLa AzoteaLa Azotealos palilloslos palillos

 Top left, right and main: La Azotea; Bottom left and right: Los Palillos


Breakfast, dulces and helados

I am not a morning person and I don’t usually eat a lot for breakfast either, but coffee is essential to me, so café con leche (coffee with milk) became my staple in Andalusia.

When I travel, I tend to get up earlier and would have breakfasts before setting off. The problem I discovered in Andalusia was that not many cafes would open before 10am, so I had to wander the streets to search for my morning staple. And by chance, I discovered a cafe in Seville’s Santa Cruz which offers buffet breakfast with coffee and fresh orange juice for only €2, what a bargain! But my favourite breakfast is some good coffee with a simple but delicious tostada con tomate ( toast with tomato), which I thought was the best way to start my day.

In general, I find Spanish pastries slightly too sweet, a friend recommended polvoron to me before my trip, so I bought some from the famous and historical Confiteria La Campana (since 1885) but was not fond of the strong cinnamon taste. Later though, I discovered that the most authentic and fun way to buy dulces ( pastries/ cookies/ sweets) is from local convents via a rotating tray/lazy Susan from some invisible nuns! The sweets are usually made by the convent’s nuns from traditional recipes, unfortunately, with fewer nuns and convents these days, the trade is slowly disappearing… I managed to buy a box of almond polvoron from Convento de Santa Ana in Cordoba with the help of someone working there. Although the experience was delightful, I would find it too daunting to do it without help due to my limited Spanish vocabulary!


sevillesevilleIMG_5418tostada con tomatocordobala campanatejas dulces de sevillala campana

Top right and 2nd row left: A €2 buffet breakfast in central Seville; 2nd row middle: my favourite breakfast: tostada with tomato at Gaudi Juda Levi in Cordoba; 2nd right: buying dulce at Convento de Santa Ana in Cordoba; Main and bottom right: Confiteria La Campana in Seville; bottom left: Tejas Dulces de Sevilla


Tejas Dulces de Sevilla (Plaza de Jesús de la Pasión 13, Seville) – I walked past this small shop in the city centre and was offered to sample their homemade and natural almond biscuits. These crunchy biscuits are delicious and not too sweet, so I bought a small pack and asked the shop lady about the beautiful blue glassware on the shelves. Apparently, the hand-blown glassware were produced by Crystals La Trinidad, a traditional glass factory that started in 1900 but ceased production in 1999, and these were the remnants from their former factory ( see above).

Helados (ice cream) is popular in Seville, and there are several famous ice cream parlours here. However, being in January meant that many were closed, yet I managed to try a few scoops from Helados La Abuela (Calle Larana, 10) and 1929. The ice cream at 1929 was a bit too sweet for me, the latter was better though not particularly outstanding, I guess it had something to do with the season too.



Left: 1929; Right: Helados La Abuela



With many reputable restaurants closed during my stay in Cordoba, I was left with some overpriced and touristy choices, but thanks to the recommendation of my hotel’s concierge, I visited El Mercado Victoria ( Paseo de La Victoria), an indoor gourmet market housed inside a 19th century building just outside of the old town. There are about 30 stalls selling tapas, seafood, wine, olives, and other cuisines like Japanese and Italian. This is not fine dining, it’s more like an upmarket food court, but it is fun, relaxing, clean and it attracts mainly locals. If you want to get away from the touristy restaurants in the old town, this place is definitely worth visiting.

With the limited cafe choices for breakfast in old town, it was a relief when I found Gaudi Juda Levi ( Plaza Juda Levi s/n), a contemporary cafe that offers good coffee, breakfast, relaxing atmosphere and friendly service.

While I was walking around the town, I came across an artisan bakery ( since 1880), Horno de la Cruz ( Gongora, 2)with a short queue of locals outside, so I decided to join and try it out… Although their pies looked very tempting, I went for some bread and almond cake instead, the bread that I had was ok but the cake was moist and soft, and tasted even better than I imagined, so it was a pleasant surprise.

After eating Spanish/tapas for days, all I wanted was some salad and something slightly different… I noticed that salads in tapas bars seem to be pricier and ‘fancier’ ( with not much green), so I opted for the Moroccan tea house near my hotel, Salón de Té ( Buen Pastor, 13). The place is decorated in Moorish style with a lovely courtyard, and it was almost empty when I was there. I had a mixed salad with pita bread and mint tea, it was what I wanted, so I left the place fairly satisfied.


mercado victoriamercado victoriahorno de la cruzmercado victoriacordobagaudimercado victoria cordobaSalon de ThéSalon de Thé

Top left, right, 2nd row middle, 3rd row right: El Mercado Victoria; 2nd row left: Horno de la Cruz; 2nd row right: The bar at Círculo de la Amistad; Third row left: Gaudi Juda Levi; Bottom left and right: Salón de Té



Two of my favourite eateries during my trip happen to locate in Granada, and one of them is only a cafe hidden in Albayzin. Although I was staying in a hotel nearby, it still took me a while to find Café 4 Gatos ( Placeta Cruz Verde, 6), but it was definitely worth it! Since there aren’t many cafes for breakfasts in the area, this cafe already has its advantage, but it offers much more than that. I love the relaxing and friendly vibe here, the clientele is mainly local and seem to know the owner well. Their coffee is great and they offer a wide variety of tostadas, though the downside is that since it is rather small ( basically a L-shaped bar with some outdoor tables and seating), you can’t linger for too long as it gets busier after 11am. I was so charmed by it that I went back the next day before heading off to the airport, and the owner was able to recall what I had the day before, which was rather impressive. This is not a fancy or trendy cafe, it is friendly, down-to-earth, reasonably priced and utterly charming.

Tapas used to be served free with alcoholic drinks, like in Italy, drinking on an empty stomach is not encouraged ( I wish the Brits would understand this). But these days, not many places would offer this, I was served free tapas about 4/5 times during the entire trip, and this occurred mostly in Granada than in Seville. One of the bars that served free tapas is a wine bar hidden in an alley near the Cathedral, Taberna Más que vinos (Calle Tundidores, 10). The quality of food and wine here is good, but it’s probably best for a drink and nibble than a proper dinner.

With the strong Moorish influences and ties, I was eager to try some Moroccan food while I was in Granada. There are plenty of them in the city, but I picked a small, non-touristy family-run restaurant, Tagine Elvira (Calle Elvira). Not only did I almost missed it from the street, I hesitated slightly before walking in as it was completely empty on the night. The meal was cheap and tasty, but I did find it more on the salty side. Perhaps the chef was having a day ‘off’ as I was the only customer, meanwhile, I also felt like I was eating at someone’s front room because the TV in front of me was broadcasting some American soap with the chef/owner sitting on one side playing with her phone. The experience was definitely an ‘authentic’ one.


cafe 4 gatoscafe 4 gatoscafe 4 gatostagine eviramas que vinostagine evoriamas que vino

Top left, right & 2nd row left: Cafe 4 Getos; 2nd row midde & last row left: Tagines Elvira; 2nd & last row right: Mas que Vinos.


I spent my last night in Granada/ Andalusia at the paella restaurant/ bar, La Parrala ( Tendollas de Sta. Paula, 6), which was one of my favourites of the trip. An elder English couple left as I entered the restaurant and so again, I was the only customer there (a theme throughout my trip)! This restaurant has 2 branches in the city, and I picked this over the one nearer to my hotel because it has live music in the evenings. While I was wondering if the live music would take place or not, the lovely waitress ( who I later learned is the wife of the chef and are both Argentinians) assured me that she would try her best to ‘persuade’ the guitarist to perform for me! And he did… although he spoke little English, he wanted to know if I liked a certain music style and while playing, he completely immersed himself even though I (and the waitress) was the only audience.

Finally, my paella with squid ink arrived and it was delicious, it also went very well with the wine recommended to me. I then spent much of my time chatting to the friendly and warm Argentinian lady about Spain, Argentina, tango etc, and eventually leaving the restaurant extremely ecstatic and satisfied. I believe that when it comes to dining out, no matter how excellent the food and wine is, it needs to be accompanied by the ambience and service to enhance the overall experience. Without the latter factors, the meal is slightly ‘soulless’, which is a bit like cooking, i.e. fresh ingredients do not necessary make the best meals, it is the passion of the chef that is the key to elevate a good meal to an outstanding one.


la parradala parrala

 La Parrala


Like always, when I travel abroad, I would visit local food markets, delis and supermarkets to get an idea of what the locals eat. Throughout the trip, I was attracted by the greengrocers that sell fresh and colourful fruits and vegetables, the butchers and fishmongers that sell fresh meat and fish and the delis and jamon specialists that sell jamon, olives and anchovies etc. Here are some of the specialists I found on my trip:


Flores Gourmet (restaurant/ deli/ winery) – C/ San Pablo 24 (continuacion de Reyes Catolicos)


Jamones Calixto (Jamonerias)Alfonso XIII, 6

San Nicasio is an award-winning brand from Cordoba that makes handmade crisps with extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan salt. It costs just over €1 in Cordoba for 40 g, but in the U.K., you can get 190g for £3.99 at Waitrose! Honestly, €1 is almost justifiable for a small packet of crisps, but £4 is just ridiculous and not worth it in my opinion.


Jamones Casa Diego (Jamonerias) – C/ Santa Escolastica, 13.


granadacordobaIMG_5614cordobacasa diegocordobagranadagranadagranadaspanish food

1st row right: Luxurious and ‘healthy’ crisps by San Nicasio; 2nd row: Jamones Calixto in Cordoba; Third row left: Jamones Casa Diego; Third row right: Bacallao in Cordoba; Fourth and fifth row: food market in Granada. Last row: Souvenir from my trip… food for myself, friends and family!


Viva Andalusia: Granada


Main: a view of the magnificent Alhambra; bottom left: Carrera del Darro; bottom right: Paseo de los Tristes ( passage of the sad ones)


From Cordoba, I took a 2.5-hour bus ride to my last destination in Andalusia, Granada. Unlike Seville and Cordoba, my first impression of the city was rather mixed. First of all, I didn’t expect to see so many hippies there, and I didn’t feel as safe as I did in the previous cities. Yet somehow the city grew on me and on the last night before heading back to London, I had the most memorable and wonderful evening there.

After my short stay, I discovered that Granada is most beautiful and ‘spiritual’ at night especially around Albayzin ( and with the full moon). For some reason, Granada possesses some kind of spiritual quality that I did not sense in the other two cities, is this the reason why it attracts so many hippies? Does it have something to do with the position of the Alhambra, which seems to dominate and overlook the city?



Granada’s beauty is best appreciated at night especially when under a full moon


I stayed at the design/boutique-style Shine Albayzin on the Carrera del Darro, both the facade and interior is quite beautiful, however, there are a few practical problems due to the building being very old, i.e. thin walls/ floorboards that penetrate sound and plumbing and hot water issue. Its location, though, is perfect for exploring and getting lost in the maze-like Albayzin.


shine granadashine granada

Shine Albayzin



After traveling in Spain for almost a week, I wanted to do less sight-seeing, so apart from The Alhambra and a few smaller sights, I spent most of the time hiking up and down and wandering in Albayzin and the former Jewish quarter, Realejo ( I felt pretty fit after the 2 days). The Moorish influence is more evident here than the last two cities, especially on its architecture, and the best example no doubt is The Alhambra.


granada cathedralsanta ana churchgranadasanta ana churchsanta ana church

Top left: Catedral de Granada; Top right and bottom right: Iglesia de San Gil y Santa Ana; Bottom left: Alcaiceria.


The Alhambra and General Life

I did not realise how much time is needed to explore the grounds of this massive Moorish palace/fortress ( which also includes Palacio de Carlos V) until I got there, and I probably didn’t leave enough time as I felt quite rushed towards the closing time. I believe at least three hours are needed to explore it properly.

It also didn’t help with the rather confusing layout ( due to the fact that it was rebuilt and expanded by different rulers over several centuries), instead of one big palace, there are several different palaces and gardens scattered all over the site. Though once inside, I was quite blown away by the Moorish/ Islamic decorations and exquisite craftsmanship. The palaces seem to evoke one’s imagination, and I felt like I was transported back in time… One could imagine how splendid the site must have looked centuries ago under the Moorish rule.

Located inside Palacio de Carlos V is the Museum of the Alhambra, which is not to be missed. The artifacts trace the history and culture of the Spanish-Islamic period between the ninth to sixteenth centuries, and showcase many ceramic art work, notably the original Vase of the Gazelles ( a copy can be seen inside the Nasrid Palace). Another highlight of the site is the garden at General Life, which I am sure would look more wonderful during spring and summer.


AlhambraAlhambraAlhambraAlhambraAlhambraAlhambraPalace of Carlos VAlhambraalhambraAlhambraAlhambraAlhambra AlhambraAlhambraAlhambra

The Alhambra and General Life


As I was leaving the Alhambra at its closing time, I walked past the Parador San Francisco on the way out ( located just by the entrance/exit inside the complex), and I decided to go into the cafe/bar for a coffee. It turned out that the restaurant’s terrace has a lovely garden, some remaining ruin of the former palace and a great view of General Life.

Built in the 15th century, by order of the Catholic Kings, the Parador used to be a Franciscan convent, and is situated on top of the remains of a Nasrid Palace. The menu prices at their restaurant are the most expensive I have encountered since my arrival in Andalusia, however, you can still enjoy the historical and enchanting surrounding for the price of a coffee or tea.


Parador Nacional de San FranciscoP1070980Parador Nacional de San FranciscoParador Nacional de San Franciscogranadagranada

Parador San Francisco


If you look on Tripadvisor for attractions in Granada, you will find that on the top of the list is not The Alhambra but the Fundacion Rodriguez Acosta! Bizarrely, this little known artist’s studio is not even listed in many guidebooks ( partly because it was only officially opened to the public in 2012), yet it beat the UNESCO world heritage site and received top rating by 41 reviewers. Well, this is the ‘flaw’ of Tripadvisor and other travel websites with a similar rating system, the fact is that 6000 people reviewed The Alhambra but not everyone gave it full marks, whereas the 41 people visited this site and gave it full marks.

After my visit here, I can say that although I find this place absolutely mesmerising and unique, this is not on the same level and scale as The Alhambra. A visit is conducted with a private guide, and since I was the only visitor (again), I had the opportunity to ask as many question as I possibly could…

The all-white villa is not a residence as one would expect, but the art studio of a not so well known Spanish artist, José María Rodríguez-Acosta. Designed by the artist and an architect, the el carmen was built between 1916 to 1930, and is thought to be inspired by The Alhambra ( not far from this site). Yet the style here is very eclectic with influences from the Renaissance, Gothic, Roman and Moorish. Rodríguez-Acosta was from a wealthy banking family, and so money was not an issue for the artist. He traveled extensively and collected art works from around the globe, though most sculptures in his gardens are copies rather than the original. According to my guide, the artist requested all the documents of the art work he bought to be destroyed by his death, no one understood the motive behind this act, and the origins of these art work remain a mystery.

My tour concentrated mostly on its garden, which is built over several layers and has a spectacular view of the city ( similar to the Alhambra). One of the most fascinating area of the building is the maze-like underground gallery… I asked the guide if she thought the artist used to have fun parties down here, and she answered promptly, “No doubt!”.

The tour ended at the Instituto Gómez Moreno, a new annex inside the foundation that display a range of art work and archaeological artifacts by the Granada-bornarchaeologist and historian, Manuel GómezMoreno.


Fundacion Rodriguez AcostaFundacion Rodriguez AcostaFundacion Rodriguez AcostaFundacion Rodriguez AcostaFundacion Rodriguez AcostaFundacion Rodriguez Acosta

Fundacion Rodriguez Acosta 


Back in the city centre, I decided to skip the Cathedral and visited the Palacio de la Madraza next to the Cathedral instead, a sight often overlooked by tourists. The building was the location of the first Islamic university founded in 1349 and is now part of the University of Granada. The facade of the building is in Baroque style because it was turned into a palace later on, and fortunately the architects kept the sala de mihrab where the public can visit today.

The visit can only be conducted with a guide and the tour itself is short because only a few rooms are open to the public. However, it is still worth a visit because of the beautiful restored mihrab and extraordinary coffered ceiling in The Sala de los Caballeros Veinticuatro upstairs.


La Madraza La Madraza La Madraza La Madraza La Madraza

Palacio de la Madraza 



Like I mentioned earlier, I love the hilly and Moorish residential district, Albayzin ( also a declared World Heritage site). Besides many historical sights and churches, there are also restaurants and shops in the area. The area has been occupied since the Roman period, and it became the quarter of Arab and Jewish craftsmen and traders in the mid 14th century.

The area offers unbeatable views of the Alhambra esp. up on the Mirador San Nicolás ( the view at night is most stunning). Other interesting sights include the Baños Árabes El Bañuelo, Museo Arqueológico de Granada ( currently closed for renovations), the 16th century Iglesia del Salvador ( built over the former Main Mosque of Albayzin), Palacio de los Córdova ( originally built in 1530 but was demolished in 1919 and rebuilt in its current location in the 1960s), Fundación Mezquita de Granada and El Monasterio de la Concepción etc. It is very easy to get lost in the area, so the tactic is to allow oneself to be lost and explore with an sense of adventure and not to do it in a hurry…


granadagranadaEl BanuelogranadagranadaEl Banuelogranadagranadagranadagranada

Top left and right: Palacio de los Córdova; second and third row left: Baños Árabes El Bañuelo; third row right: El Monasterio de la Concepción; Bottom left: Fundación Mezquita de Granada



Since I didn’t do much planning before arriving at Granada, I was not awared that the Museo de Bellas Artes is located inside the Alhambra complex, and so I rushed through the museum quite quickly, which was a bit of a shame.

In the city centre, I stumbled upon the (free) contemporary art gallery, Centro Jose Guerrero near the Palacio de la Madraza. The gallery is dedicated to the the most celebrated local artist: abstract expressionist José Guerrero (1914-91), who was born in Granada but found fame in New York in the 1950s. The gallery has a permanent collection of the artist’s work on the top floor and temporary exhibitions take place on the other floors. The current exhibition is William Christenberry, an American photographer/sculptor/painter whose work is often inspired by his childhood spent in Alabama.

His photographs and architectural models of houses or buildings in his home town documented over the years are intriguing, nostalgic and poetic. Although there are personal meanings behind these photographs, the images also provide viewers a glimpse of the disappearing American south accompanied by some fascinating local stories. The “Klan room” dedicated to the Ku Klux Klan is also powerful and thought-provoking.


Centro Jose GuerreroCentro Jose Guerrero

Centro Jose Guerrero


My 8/9 day trip to Andalusia exceeded my expectations in many ways, aside from the historical sights, excellent food and wine, I was most touched by the hospitality of its people. Most of the people I encountered were warm, friendly and helpful whenever help is needed. This made the trip more meaningful than an average sightseeing trip, and I cannot wait to return again one day!




To be continued…

Viva Andalusia: Seville

Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza de CaballeríaParlamento De Andaluciaseville

Main and bottom right: Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza; bottom left: Palacio de San Telmo


Traveling is one of my life-long passion, so being able to travel for work is something that I love. However, in the last few years, my travels have revolved either around work or visiting family and friends, and so I felt that it was time to take a proper holiday after the hectic Christmas season. In terms of location, it was basically anywhere not too far and south of the U.K…

I have always wanted to go to Seville, but somehow I never managed it, so Andalusia was on the top of my list… The best thing about traveling in January is that it is an off-peak season, so flights and accommodations are cheaper and there are less tourists to deal with at the tourist attractions.


Torre del OroGiralda Tower Giralda Tower sevilleseville

Top left: Torre del Oro; top middle and right: La Giralda; Bottom left: El puente de triana designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel; Bottom right: a commemorative plaque of a bullfighter in the Triana district


When I saw the blue and sunny sky upon arrival, I knew I had picked the right place! And within hours, I started to wander why it took me so long to come to this beautiful city! I rented an apartment via Airbnb right by the Cathedral, and my host was so friendly and helpful that I just knew I would love my stay.

Plaza de Españagiralda towersevillesevilleMaria luisa parksevillesevillesevillesevilleseville

Top left: Plaza de España; Top middle: bells on the top of La Giralda; middle right: Museo de Artes y Costumbres Populares in Parque de María Luisa; Bottom left; Sunset at Plaza Nueva; bottom right: the marble columns at Almaeda de Hercules


I love walkable cities, so I walked everywhere in Seville, except that I did consider renting a bike at one point when I was rather lost on the other side of the river. Realistically, four nights were not enough to see all the wonderful sights, but I managed to squeeze in a few sights in a day, as well as getting lost in the back streets of Santa Cruz. This was part of the fun though, I loved walking aimlessly and getting lost in the narrow alleyways throughout my trip in Andalusia… there was no rush to get anywhere, and every corner there was something new waiting to be discovered…


real alcazarreal alcazarreal alcazarreal alcazarreal alcazar

Real Alcazar



Seville is a city full of beautiful architecture and amazing churches, and I love the fusion of different cultures and influences. Out of all the must-see sights, I really enjoyed walking around the magnificent Real Alcazar, particularly its gardens. It was rather empty when I was there, so it felt incredibly peaceful, and I am sure it would look more amazing in springtime. Parque Maria Luisa is vast and full of wonders, the Plaza de España is spectacular, but I spent most of my time inside Museo de Artes y Costumbres and Museo Arqueológico, both situated within the park and were opened until 8:30pm.

Honestly, I was not too keen on the Cathedral, yes, it is the biggest in Europe and it is jaw-dropping to see the extraordinary craftsmanship, but I find it too ostentatious, overwhelming and disjointed. The Moorish Giralda tower, though, is worth the climb. I was especially keen to see the bells that woke me up every morning without fail!


palacio de pilatossevillepalacio de pilatoscasa de pilatospalacio de pilatos

Casa de Pilatos


Whenever I travel, I have always enjoyed the smaller and quirkier private homes or palaces than the main sights, especially if they were once owned by some eccentric and wealthy aristocrats or merchants like the mesmerising Quinta da Regaleira in Sintra, Portugal. In Seville, there are a few wonderful houses/ palaces that I highly recommend:

Case de Pilatos is a 16th century palace that is the residence of the Duchess of Medinaceli, who died last year at the age of 96. The architectural style is a fusion of Mudéjar, Renaissance, Gothic and Roman, with a small but lovely garden at the back. The first floor is available to visit only via a guided tour, where visitors can see Spanish artwork, antiques and family photos in the living and dining rooms.


hospital de venerableshospital de venerableshospital de venerableshospital de venerableshospital de venerables

Hospital de los Venerables


Hospital de los Venerables is a 17th century mansion that took over 20 years to complete was once a residence for elderly priests and now restored as a cultural centre. The courtyard with a sunken patio is extremely tranquil, but the highlight is the splendid baroque chapel hand-painted by Juan de Valdés Leal and his son Lucas Valdés. The 3-dimensional ceiling in the Sacristy is stunnung! The current exhibition, “Nur. Light in Art and Science from the Islamic World” is fascinating and very informative, it demonstrates the intelligence, innovation and creativity of the ancient Islamic culture esp. in the fields of science, astronomy and mathematics.


Palace of the Countess of LebrijaPalace of the Countess of LebrijaPalace of the Countess of Lebrija

Palacio de la Condesa de Lebrija


Palacio de la Condes de Lebrijia is a 16th century mansion/ palace bought by the Countess of Lebrijia ( an archaeologist) in 1901, who decided to spend 13 years restoring and turning it into her own private archaeological/ mosaic museum! I love this palace, it is full of character, and has mix-mash/ fusion style with the most marvellous mosaic floors and tile work (around the stairs case). The first floor can be visited with a guide, and since I was the only person there, I fired a bunch of questions at the guide who sometimes couldn’t even provide me with an answer! Oops!

Most disappointing…

Although it is not a sight, but my experience at the Aire de Sevilla ( Arab baths) was more stressful than relaxing! I was hoping to get a bit of pampering after walking for days, but the place was packed when I arrived ( they have a 2-hour time slots, so everyone would arrive at the same time and be shuffled in like sheep without much explanation). I was supposed to use the baths first, but was called straight into the massage room with several other people… I felt that the place is more about ‘style over substance’, the baths and steam room were not hot enough, the stairs were slippery and the changing rooms did not look clean at all. Even with the 10% discount, I felt it was overpriced and was probably one of the worst spas I have ever been to. Beware!


sevillesevillesevilleThe Church of El SalvadorThe Church of El SalvadorIglesia de santa anaP1070340seville

Top left: Convento san leadro; Top middle and second row: Iglesia del Salvador; Top right: Iglesia de la magdalena; Bottom left: Iglesia de Santa Ana; Bottom right: Capillita del Carmen



There is no shortage of churches to visit in Seville, especially the Baroque ones, and each showcases outstanding craftsmanship and splendour. One of the best example is Iglesia del Salvador, which was once a Roman temple and a Mosque! It is also the most important church in the city after the Cathedral.

Most churches are open in the mornings and evenings, I particularly enjoyed visiting them during services and on Sunday to absorb the religious atmosphere ( even though I am not religious). I often find religious sanctuaries incredibly peaceful, whether they are churches, Cathedrals, temples, mosques or Synagogues, it is a shame that this tranquility only be found within these sanctuaries!


Metropol ParasolTorre TrianaMetropol ParasolLa Barqueta BridgeEl Alamillo Bridge

Top left and main: Metropol Parasol; Top right: Torre Triana designed by Francisco Javier Sáenz de Oiza; Bottom left: La Barqueta Bridge; Bottom right: Alamillo Bridge


Modern architecture

There is almost no skyscraper in Seville, I saw one on the opposite side of the river when I was up on the top of La Giralda and it looks rather lonely and out of place. The rather controversial modern architecture is the world’s largest wooden structure, Metropol Parasol ( it has been labeled as ‘setas’ by the locals i.e. mushrooms!) designed by Jurgen Mayer H. Architects and completed in 2011. Personally, I really like the structure, it creates a sharp contrast against the backdrop of traditional architecture and the bright blue sky, but I think this is precisely the point and I love the fact that it looks different from every angle. Visitors can also walk on rooftop and visit the Roman and Moorish archaeological site underneath, which was discovered while excavated to build a car park!

Although there are not many contemporary buildings in the city, there are some modern and interesting bridges like Alamillo Bridge designed by Santiago Calatrava Valls and La Barqueta Bridge by Juan J. Arenas & Marcos J. Pantalerón for the World Expo in 1992.


Andalusian Contemporary Art CenterAndalusian Contemporary Art CenterMuseo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla Centro Andaluz de Arte ContemporáneoAndalusian Contemporary Art CenterCentro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneoseville

Top right: Museo de Bellas Artes, bottom right: Galeria Rafael Ortiz ; the rest: Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo



Most guidebooks rave about Museo de Bellas Artes, which is indeed a beautiful museum ( converted from a former convent), but after visiting so many churches and seeing endless relics and artifacts, a museum full of religious paintings was too much for me! I also think that without context, these paintings provide less impact and meaning. I walked through the rooms swiftly and spent most of my time at the exhibition of the famous artist from Cordoba ( my next destination), Julio Romero de Torres.

One of the highlights for me in Seville was the few hours spent at the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo, I love this contemporary art centre, and if I didn’t get lost beforehand, I would have spent more time there! The architecture of this former monastery and pottery factory is fascinating, and I think the organisation has done an amazing job in restoring the old while infusing something new with the modern art work. There are several exhibitions showing in different parts of the complex, but the one that really moved me was the exhibition of Spanish artist/ architect/ sculptor/ designer, Guillermo Pérez Villalta. I have never heard of this artist before, and even though he is a very well known in Spain, it seems that he is not as recognised internationally. His work is so thought-provoking, mesmerising and some of his architectural work is almost mind-blowing. It was a shame that I couldn’t find a bookshop on site to buy a book on the artist!

Even if you are not a fan of contemporary art, the site itself is worth a visit ( if you can find it) and it has an outdoor space/ garden filled with some weird and wonderful sculptures!



I tend to get along very well with Spanish speaking people, perhaps it is because of their warmth, passion and openness. People in Andalusia are well known for their hospitality and even in a buzzling city like Seville, most people I encountered were friendly despite the language barrier. Throughout my trip, I sensed that people in this area are quite laid-back and even in winter, people still like to hang outside listening to street performances or socialising with friends outside of bars in the afternoons. I am beginning to wonder if London’s way of life really suits me as I am finding the place more hectic than ever! And now I finally understand why so many British have left home and moved to southern Spain!


sevillesevillesevillesevillesevilleseville sevillesevillesevilleseville


There will be more posts on food, shopping, flamenco, and street art to come…