Buying Sweets from Nuns in Seville – Dulces de Conventos
I love musicals. One of my favorite musicals is, The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews. This movie was on rewind for me as a kid, and I have performed in the play three different times. I used to have the whole script memorized. An aspect of The Sound of Music that I find fascinating is the nuns at the convents. So, when I found out that there was an actual convent, with real live nuns, right behind my apartment here in Seville, I was giddy. Then, when I found out that they make homemade sweets to sell to the public and that I could purchase some from them…well, let me just say that it went right to the top of my to-do list.
The nuns here sell their homemade sweets to support themselves and continue to live within their convents. Many convents have been forced to close because they can’t find the funds to continue on. Twenty-five years ago there were forty-one convents in Seville, and now only fifteen active ones remain. Many are abandoned or have been forced to convert into offices, museums, or event spaces. Buying these homemade sweets from the nuns gives you an opportunity to support them. The recipes that they use have been passed down for hundreds of years and truly are the authentic old time Spanish dessert experience.
3 Types of Buying Experiences
- Behind Closed Doors – This is the traditional way of doing the sales since often times nuns like to keep themselves hidden from the public eye. With this method there is a lazy Susan type of turntable, called a, torno,that is used to transport things back and forth between you and the nun. You talk and do all of the exchanges through the torno and never see the nun’s face. It’s all done on the honor system, which makes it even more special to participate in.
- Face-to Face – This is the more modern way of doing the sales. Some do it completely open, displaying the sweets out in front of you to see and handle before purchasing. Others use a more liberal type of torno with the option of it being either completely open or closed during the purchase. Why and when they open or close it, I am not sure.
- Storefront – This is a typical storefront buying situation where you purchase items from a worker behind a cash register. There are no nuns involved.
A Few Important Things –
They sell their sweets in large quantities only. You can’t purchase just one Magdalena for example, but you must purchase a bag of 12 of them. Eat up, or share with your friends! Don’t forget, it’s cash only. The sweets are packaged very professionally. Some come in homemade wooden boxes and others are very delicately wrapped and folded perfectly on every corner. They take great care in their presentation. These items would make great gifts for loved ones back home!
When you arrive at a convent and are trying to figure out where to enter for the treats, try to find a door that is ajar. Typically, when they are open for business, they leave a small door open. Look for a sign that talks about “Dulces de Conventos.” If you see a sign that talks about that and the door is open, you have made it to the right place!
While all of the items that I have bought and tried from the convents are very fresh and pretty good, they are definitely not my favorite sweets that I've ever eaten. If you go into this thinking that they will be, then you'll be disappointed. The actual experience itself is what makes this whole process fascinating, not necessarily eating what you are buying afterwards. (However, this isn't referring to the jam. The jam was some of the best I've ever had.) Also, knowing that you are helping out a dying tradition makes me excited to go back and support them. Some of their sweets are better than others, but if I was going to choose a dessert to indulge in late at night after Jimmy is in bed, it wouldn't be sweets from the nuns. Ice cream or a 80% dark chocolate bar would still prevail for me. But, that's just me.
Here is a List of Convents That Participate:
Behind Closed Doors –
This convent is probably the most popular one to visit and purchase sweets from, part of it due to its great central location. It can get quite busy at times. They focus on selling three popular items – Pestinos, Magdalenes, and the most popular, Yemas. They seem to be pricier than the other convents, but they have high quality treats. I’ve only tried the Magdalenes, and they were very good. They are similar to a simple muffin/cupcake, and the ones sold here have a slight lemon zest vanilla flavor. My two-year old son Jimmy loved them. He ate three on the walk home! The convent is across the street from the church that it belongs to. The church is very unique in its salmon and yellow colored paint and gorgeous design. It’s worth a look.
Plaza San Ildefonso, 1, 9:30 AM-1 PM, 4:30 PM -7:00 PM, Closed Sundays
Santa Ines is a modest and simple convent. There is nothing fancy about this one. It is one that will definitely appreciate your purchase. Currently, only eight nuns live and run this convent, six of which are from Mexico. Years ago, more than eighty nuns lived in this convent. The buying experience is very old fashioned, which is actually what I prefer. They sell a variety of sweets – Almendradas, Sultanas, Tortas, Pestinos, Cortadillos, and Empanadillas. Everything is very Spanish, very fresh, and perfectly packaged. I’ve tried the Tortas de Chocolate and the Cortadillos. Honestly, I didn't love either of them, but my husband liked them okay and finished them off. I definitely need to go back and try out a few other of their items, because I think I must be ordering the wrong thing.
Calle Dona Maria Coronel, 5, 9 AM-1 PM, 4 PM-6:30 PM, Closed Sundays
This convent, located near the Alameda de Hercules, can be very confusing because when you arrive, the sign outside says a different convent name than Santa Ana – “Convento de MM Carmelitas.” To get in, you ring the buzzer and tell the nun through the intercom why you are there. Two very friendly nuns wearing perfectly typical nun clothing and rosaries greeted me. I was beaming, and almost burst into song – "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?," but I restrained myself. The torno is up a little ways and to the left. This convent is unique with its detailed Arabic style tile art along the walls. There is no menu or prices displayed at all. You have to ask what they sell and then order through the torno. While talking with a woman on the way out, I was told that this convent also specializes in sewing and altering clothing. She was picking up her pants that she had dropped off to be patched.
Sta. Ana, 34B, 10 AM-1 PM & 5 PM- 7 PM M-F, 10 AM- 1 PM & 5 PM- 6 PM Sat and Sun
This is by far my favorite convent. There are twenty nuns that live here; a majority of them are from India. I like it because they sell some sweets like Magdalenes, and Turron a la Piedra (my favorite!), but they also sell twenty-three different varieties of jams and jellies, from fruit and herbs grown themselves as well as honey. The best part is that they aren’t expensive. The small jar of jam is €3.50 and the larger jar is €4.50. They really know how to succeed. I have purchased their blackberry and pear jam and both were executed perfectly and have amazing flavor and texture. I would highly recommend them. Some other flavors that I want to try are – Apple Melon, Apple Mint, Pumpkin Orange, Fig, Orange Blossom, and Grapefruit. The friendliness is top notch here, everyone greeting you with a smile. The nuns are right there, nothing separating them from you. The landscaping inside is very pleasing to the eye. This convent also has a museum that you can go to for €4.
Calle Sta. Paula, 11, 10 AM-1 PM, 4:30 PM-6:30 PM, Closed Sundays
This convent, is the oldest on the list, from the 13th century, and is near Alameda de Hercules. It would be a nice addition to your afternoon after visiting that area. It is farther away so most tourists wouldn’t make the trek, but it is definitely a cool experience. There is a gate at the front so you have to ring the buzzer and tell the nun that you are there to purchase treats. She then opens the gate and you walk in. It is a huge monastery and is kind of fun to get lost in and take some pictures. The church is straight ahead and the door to the sweets is up a ways and then to the right. The nun that helped me was so friendly and happy that I came. I tried their marzipan balls rolled in pine nuts called Pinonades, and they were delicious. I would recommend giving them a try. Their prices seemed to be a bit on the cheaper side as well which is always nice. They also sell a small selection of orange marmalades and honey.
Calle Reposo, 9, 10 AM- 12:45 PM, 3:45 PM- 5:45 PM (Doesn’t specify days)
Madre de Dios
This convent is stunning from the outside as well as the inside. It actually used to be a Jewish Synagogue and now it is home to a group of Dominican nuns. This convent sells a large variety of Spanish sweets (more variety than others) such as- Almendrados, Bocaditos, Manchegos, Yemas, Pastas de Almendra, and Giraldillos. Be sure to check out the inside garden area if possible. When I visited, the flowers were in full bloom and the trees were so lush and green. Such a peaceful place!
Calle San Jose, 4, 10 AM- 1:30 PM, Closed Sundays
Storefront Buying Experience –
Tienda El Torno
I would recommend going to this cute little shop especially if you are already in the area. It is located right off of Av. De la Constitucion by the Cathedral. This shop sells sweets from all of the convents in Seville, as well as some outside of town.
They have lots of variety – treats of all kinds, jams, jellies and honey. The only downside to this shop is that they raise the prices compared to the prices listed at the convents. I purchased some sweets and then later when I visited the actual convent that they came from, they were a few Euros cheaper. This is probably due to being in a highly populated tourist area. You are also paying for the convenience of having all the convents’ treats in one place.
Plaza del Cabildo, 2, 10 AM- 1:30 PM, 5 PM- 7:30 PM M-F, 10:30 AM- 2 PM Sat and Sun
I hope all of this information was helpful! Enjoy those sweets and feel good knowing that you are supporting a good cause as well. Happy convent hunting and sweet eating!