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Seville Between Rice Paddies and Salt Marshes

The Guadalquivir Salt Marshes

Stretching across a tract of some 2,000 km2 in the river estuary, between Seville, Huelva and Cádiz, they are part of the Doñana National Park, one of Europe’s largest wetlands. It is home to over 100 bird species which are endemic to the ecosystem and create a stunning spectacle whenever they take off into flight. A land where the birds can be imagined playing flamenco, and the red crabs clapping in unison.

The area provides ideal itineraries for what seasoned travellers like best – to wander off on their own. Literally getting lost here, however, is not that difficult, what with hundreds of unmarked footpaths winding between the rice fields.

Seville’s Amazon

Our itinerary starts along the course of the Guadalquivir and its countless effluents branching off near the river mouth, a picture postcard reminiscent of the Amazon. Located here is Isla Mayor, a town of just over 5,000 inhabitants. Surrounded by grasslands and crop fields, the town appears to turn into a genuine island when flooded. For hiking enthusiasts, there are also a number of routes through the town which can be done by bicycle.

Canoeing devotees should make a point of visiting the Brazo de los Jerónimos, a canal thick with reeds and rushes, which makes paddling along it a unique experience.

Going Back In Time

Crossing from one bank of the Guadalquivir to the other can only be done by taking the Coria del Río ferry. This delightful crossing spanning 300 metres in just 3 minutes is reminiscent of some fast-paced American movie set on the Mississippi or in the Everglades. The crossing takes place with passengers jostling for space with cars, tractors, fishermen, goats and farm motorcycles and is an experience in which time seemingly stands still.

A stunning sight to be had from the riverbank is when a merchant or cruise vessel sails inland with the high tide just a few metres away, bound for the port of Seville, or in the direction of the Atlantic. This astonishing, surreal image will remain in your mind’s eye forever.

Having reached Coria, the itinerary takes us downstream as far as Puebla del Río, along the Calle Arrozal, a land trail winding between poplars and carpeted in spring with grass and wild flowers. On this side of the river, you have the chance to visit such towns as Poblado de las Colinas or Utrera.

Finger-licking Cuisine

After a boat ride, it’s time to enjoy some molletes (muffins) ortoast with colorá lard to regain your strength. This is the most traditional breakfast in the area and any bar worth its salt will offer this spread based on pork lard sprinkled with speckles of meat condimented with garlic, red pepper, oregano, bay leaf and other spices. Even Paco de Lucía himself was bowled over by this delight on the senses, to which he dedicated a few notes and chords in some of his more celebrated melodies.

But, the culinary offerings of these Sevillian wetlands go much further still. Indeed, they are as varied as the landscape itself.

If you happen to be here in June, you can attend the Feria y Fiestas del Arroz y del Cangrejo (Fair and Festival of Rice and Crab), which lasts for five days and provides such typical dishes as tomato crab, crab tails with garlic or sauce, pepper shrimps, duck with rice and salted bleaks.

Restaurants like El Tejao, Sevruga or El Estero offer delicious dishes of crab, elvers, duck, giltheads or bass, served up with the inevitable rice, on the banks of the Guadalquivir.

To taste another essential dish in this area, pheasant with rice, head for the Arco de Colina restaurant – their quality and prices will leave you aghast.

Dare to venture into the Guadalquivir salt marshes? Check out your Vueling to Seville here.

Text by Laura Llamas for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS

 

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