Seville -- Andalucia's Exotic City

Seville -- Andalucia's Exotic City
There is a lush quality to Seville that goes beyond its flamboyant buildings and expansive green parks and gardens. It’s in the plate after plate of tapas, the intimacy of its buildings around their courtyards, the soaring grandeur of a Calatrava bridge, in the rich tones of flamenco song and the guitar chords that accompany it. Seville does not do things by halves.

The Alcazar, a palace that is one of a cluster of sites that won the city its UNESCO World Heritage Site acclaim, is so lavishly and intricately decorated that it rivals the Alhambra. Its gardens are lovely and complex, filled with garden rooms so that it seems to be a green and fragrant palace open to the sky.

The cathedral, one of the worlds three largest, is resplendent in gold and silver, notably the great altarpiece encrusted with gold from the New World. Its tower knew a past life as a minaret that called the faithful to prayer in the days of the Islamic Caliphate. The row of glamorous embassy buildings around Maria Luisa Park were built for the 1929 Exposicion Ibero-Americana, a world’s fair celebrating the links between Seville and the New World.

Seville is like this, though, each place not quite what it seems, built for another purpose, unexpectedly rich and multi-faceted. Even the Alcazar, despite its fine Arabic tilework and interior carving, was not built by the Caliphs that ruled Andalucia from 711 to 1492. It was built later, by descendents of the Catholic Kings who threw them out of Iberia. He clearly liked their artistic and architectural styles.

So it is, too, with two of the city’s most charming boutique hotels. Both began life as gracious mansions built in the typical Andalucian style, around a square central courtyard with open corridors surrounding it on each floor.

Hotel Casa Romana is a short walk from the cathedral, and just around the corner from El Corte Ingles, the city’s biggest department store with everything from gourmet groceries to glamorous clothes.

Original art decorates the elegant lobby and Casa Romana’s guest rooms, which are cozy and filled with thoughtful amenities. Ours had two cushy bathrobes (have you ever wondered why hotels put only one bathrobe in a double room?), quality soaps, a safe, plenty of drawer and closet space and a nicely appointed modern bathroom. We expected that the central courtyard might make rooms noisy, but our sleep was not disturbed at all. Individually controlled air conditioning is a real plus if you’re there in the summer.

We didn’t stay at Taberna del Alabardero, whose rooms also surround a vine-draped patio, but we had a splendid dinner there. The tapas were a delightful mix of the favorites – the incomparable Andalucian ham, sliced parchment-thin – and surprises, such as a plate of spoons, each holding a morsel of silken fois gras. The wine steward is also a credentialed expert on olive oils, so this first course included a dish of three varieties of the finest Andalucian oils to sample with bread. Rooms at Taberna del Alabardero are individually decorated, some with antiques.

Although Seville is well supplied with modern hotels, we love these gracious homes transformed. Their intimate elegance suits this lush city well.

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