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SEVILLE'S LITTLE SECRET

Casa No. 7 Hotel does the impossible: Offers stylish accommodation at hard-to-believe rates. By Gary Walther Photographs Michele Curel

"I have tried to make here a home", says Gonzalo del Rio y Gonzalez-Gordon in his plummy British inflected English, as he leads us into the second floor drawing room of hotel Casa No. 7. It's at once apparent from the décor - floral print love seats flanking a marble fireplace, oriental rugs, mahogany desk with black and white family pictures, a choice selection of paintings - that Señor Gonzalez-Gordon is an ardent anglophile whose ides of home is more Chelsea townhouse than Seville hacienda. It's soon clear too, that this hotel is a labour of love - an almost quixotic venture by this scion of the González family (who co-owns one of Spain's leading sherry brands, Tio Pepe), as he has no experience as a hotelier.

Casa No. 7 hotel started, as so many small hotels do, as a sideline. In 1996 González-Gordon bought the 1847 townhouse-like building, then nearly derelict, thinking that it would be nice to run a little hotel for sophisticated travellers who appreciated his brand of Anglo-Spanish cosmopolitanism. Now, millions of pesetas later, he says it's become an obsession - which is often the turn these stories take. In this case, González-Gordon's deepening involvement was the result of the endless historic-landmark hurdles he's had to jump (the building is listed as one of Seville's historic places) and his own determination to make the place perfect.

Casa No. 7 hotel is buried in the old Jewish Quarter of Seville, off the tourist trail, yet minutes away on foot from the city's major sights, the Alcázar and the Cathedral (the third largest in Europe, after St. Peter's in the Vatican and St. Paul's in London). We needed a magnifying glass to find the street. Virgenes, on the standard tourist map of Seville - it's just a tiny spur off the end of a much larger San Jose and is half hidden by the Church of San Nicolás. As the little street gradually doglegged left, we wondered whether we'd have suck in our breath for the taxi to slip through the tapering space between the townhouses facades. We arrived just as an American family were decamping. "Fabulous", the wife said when I asked her how their stay had been. And so proved ours too.

The five-storey hotel is built around a traditional Sevillano atrium-courtyard, which González-Gordon roofed over as part of the renewal. There's just a whiff of New Orleans as you step through the wrought-iron doorway and look up to see the flights of inner balconies. The hotel has only six rooms, all air-conditioned, and except for the two rooftop rooms, each is named for its dominant colour. We were in the Blue Room, at the top of the house, a snug space but with a good-sized bathroom - and the advantage of being one flight from the wonderful rooftop terrace. We recouped there in the late afternoon over glasses of Tio Pepe sherry. We also like the larger Yellow Room, which has a Juliet balcony overlooking the street, but we decided to play it safe when the manager told us the window glazing was only single and that sometimes the street was noisy. Kudos for frankness.

When he's there, González doubles at the concierge. At his suggestion we went too the tapas bar La Trastienda - with some trepidation, given its scruffy looks - and had to agree the seafood was superb. He sent us off to the decidedly local El Rinconcillo, saying the tapas were good enough, but that the tiled, old-fashioned interior was worth the price of admission. (Also true). He even promised to met an appointment with his tailor on my next visit after I confessed coveting his sports jacket. (Saville Row, I was sure, given González-Gordon's anglophileness, but no, the 89 year old Armando is in Jerez and González-Gordon says Armando "used to do things for my grandfather and father").

What is finally amazing about hotel Casa No. 7 hotel is the bill. Rooms cost 26,000 pesetas a night - about $1140. We had just spent more than $300 a night at the Hacienda Benazuza outside Seville, admittedly much grander but in the end much less satisfying than Casa No. 7 hotel because the staff are so impersonal and the hotel does such a solid group business.

You could easily get $200 a night here, I told González-Gordon, who seemed to loath to think about room rates at all. "I know that I could", he said, "but I want to take it slow". I can't ever remember hearing an hotelier say that.

So get to hotel Casa No. 7 now. While Señor González-Gordon is offering a very unusual deal: boutique rooms at budget prices and a worldly personal touch which, of course, is priceless.