PRESS SECTION - Tatler



BUENA VIDA SOCIAL CLUB

True friends, Tio Pepe and tapas are all you need. Mañana is another day in Andalucia, where time spent in a hacienda or Seville Townhouse is more siesta than fiesta, says Victoria Mather.

The last time I went to Seville, my mother tried to incarcerate me in a convent. She thought I would learn Spanish: I thought I would die. I was 14 and the Alcázar was way too far from King's Road. Fast forward a decade or so and there's a role reversal wandering around the 14th century ramparts of the Alcázar is a far, far better prospect that sitting in a traffic jam on the King's Road outside Marks and Spencer. I love the Alcázar. I want to have it as my country cottage, give Arabian Nights parties and play with goldfish in its myriad pools.

Returning to Seville gave me that Sunday-night back-to-school feeling. Would Reverend Mother materialise at the airport, rattling her rosary, to mete out a tardy punishment for the unfortunate incident with Sister Carmen and the olive oil? No, thankfully not. Three Hail Mary's for that and straight on to a little bit of heaven. The taxi had to breathe in, to get down the narrow white street in the old part of town that leads to Casa No. 7 Hotel. Beyond a high wrought iron door - the sort señoritas once sailed through in those monumental lampshade frocks - is the glow of a Sevillan interior courtyard and the promise of a stiff sherry. The ghosts of the convent disappeared as a chilled bottle of Tio Pepe, a whole bottle of Gordon's gin and those dear little old-fashioned bottles of Schweppes tonic were brought to my roof-top bedroom to ease the strain of unpacking. Suddenly, I was very happy to be back in Seville.

Unlike most childhood places revisited, the city seems bigger, not smaller. Expo '92 brought the beautiful suspension bridge: from the terrace, the higgledy-piggledy, red tiled roofs stretch for ever to the cathedral tower of the Giralda, a minaret of the ancient Muslim mosque. The night air is scented with orange blossom and a celebratory murmur rises from the tapas bars in the wiggly streets. Forget early to bed - lets get out and into action. "Do you want to go to a really disgusting tapas bar?" asked Gonzalo del Rio y González-Gordon, the owner of Casa No. 7 Hotel. Yes please.

González-Gordon is a scion of the Tio Pepe family, and his grandmother was a Gordon of the gin dynasty. In Andalucia the sherry families of Jerez are unreconstructed players - not for them, the sedate grandeur of New Labour England. And they are Anglophiles. On the landings of Casa No. 7 Hotel are those pictures of Queen Victoria with dead stags that one usually finds on the way to the game larder in a shooting lodge. It's tremendously reassuring.

González-Gordon opened his secret little hotel, with just six-bedrooms, last year and already the visitors' book is full of the squiggly Diana signatures of Chelsea and Belgravia English. I arrived in Seville fumbling through a wardrobe of memories and at Casa No. 7 hotel found the door to a hotel Narnia. Seville became surreal. The tiled floor in the tapas bar crunched with discarded peanut shells and the odd lobster tail. "I told you it was disgusting" said González-Gordon, "but the seafood is the best in the world". From prawns the size of one's little finger, through langoustines like pink art installations, to lobsters as big as cats, the seafood was sweet and soft; the cured Spanish guijelo ham came from pigs fed exclusively on chestnuts and acorns. Then there's the home-made bread with manchego cheese and scented tomatoes all accompanied by icy fino sherry - yes, yes!. Now, here is the Narnia effect. I don't usually drink sherry (except on sub-zero shooting days) nor do I do bars. Yet, floating back to Case No. 7 hotel, guided by light spilling from open windows of upstairs drawing rooms, there was a sense of having travelled hopefully and landing on one's feet - I'd been careful with that sherry.

It is love and passion that makes hotels heavenly. (You want to swank in Seville? Go to the legendary Alfonso, now owned by an American chain and renovated as glitzy Happy Easter) I was luck in Andalucia. Choosing one magical hotel may be regarded as fortunate, to find three is exceptional. González-Gordon is passionate about Casa No. 7 hotel; it is simple, but simple with style. At breakfast, the eggs are scrambled with olive oil and served by his butler who wears white gloves. You can walk everywhere. Next door is a ravishing church (with people praying rather than taking photographs to download to the folks back in Kansas). The Casa de Pilatos, the prettiest building in Seville with the most ravishing gardens, is just round the corner; the extravagant cathedral (where some bits of Columbus are allegedly interned) and the gorgeous Alcázar are 10 minutes away.

Where to Stay

Casa No. 7 hotel
Virgenes 7, 41004 Seville (tel: 00 34 954 221 581; fax: 0034 954 214 527). UK Reservations Abercombie & Kent (tel: 0207559 8788).

Just six bedrooms. Book the ones at the top if possible, to enjoy the roof terrace with views to the cathedral and, at night, into the windows of the private house; one expects an opera singer to lean out from the wrought-iron grilles and sing an aria from Don Giovanni. A word of advice: take English newspapers for proprietor Gonzalez-Gordon.