PRESS SECTION - Travel & Leisure
Casa Nº 7 Hotel
"He's more English than the English". People never tire of saying it of Gonzalo del Rio y González-Gordon, and he never tires of hearing it. The description refers to the Spaniard's plumy British accent, his Jack Russell terrier and the bed-and-breakfast he owns on a narrow street adjacent to the Barrio Santa Cruz, Seville's loveliest, most desirable neighbourhood.
Folded into a severely handsome four storey town house built in 1847, Casa No. 7 Hotelhas just six rooms. If that doesn't send up a red flag, it should. Reservations aren't scarce; they're beyond scarce. Of course, that's all I need to hear.
Right on cue, the B&B was full for the dates I requested, and for the dates on either side of the dates I requested. I have a sophisticated network of contacts on the ground in Spain, and not one of them could do any for me.
Hotels are there to accommodate me, I was raised to believe, not the other way round. But consumed with curiosity, I made an exception and shuffled my itinerary. Twenty three phone calls and three dozen e-mails later, my room was confirmed.
Despite a pretty but disabled courtyard fountain and the disappearance for hours at a time of the only person able to make a restaurant reservation, the struggle definitely paid off. Certainly it takes a stronger man than I to resist the drawing room del Rio y González-Gordon has lovingly decorated for his guests, with its Staffordshire dogs and breezily displayed pictures of Prince Philip and the Duke of Kent in silver frames. Euro for euro, No. 7 Hotel is probably the best lodging value in Seville.
The pictures of royals are easily explained. Del Rio González-Gordon is nobody less than the scion of the Tio Pepe sherry dynasty: another branch of his tree includes the Gordon's of gin fame. As his pedigree makes all but obvious, he did not open No. 7 Hotel to fatten his portfolio, he did it as a diversion. His name connotes such wealth in this part of Spain (Jerez la Frontera, the centre of sherry production, lies South of Seville) most people assume he inherited a piece of family property and decided to do it up. But Del Rio y González-Gordon actually had to go shopping for his B&B, suffering real estate agents and disappointments, just like you and me.
"I was out with a broker," he remembers, "and to explain how the market in old restored houses had dried up, he gestured to a near ruin, saying that places like this were all that was left. We were in front of number seven Calle Virgenes, and it turned out the building was for sale. I hadn't wanted to undertake a full restoration, but it's bones and location were too good to pass up".
Del Rio y González-Gordon glassed over the courtyard, furnishing it with just a few gutsy architectural antiques. They make a nice antidote to the Anglophobia of the breakfast rooms, where a persuasive case is made for polished mahogany, willowware and crustless toast. To summon the butler for more, you lift your pinkie, then ring a little bell, and did I mention that the butler wears white jersey gloves.
There are two categories of rooms in No. 7 Hotel: the Yellow Room and Everything else. The former is the B&B's biggest and most charismatic, with a fresh mix of checks and farm-scene toile de jouy, a Juliet balcony and both a tub and stall shower. The nest-like room No. 2, a good second choice for lovebirds, is the only one with en suite access to the rooftop terrace. Pull up a chair, phone down for a sherry, and take in the Giralda, the 12th century bell tower of Seville's cathedral.
You have to admire a B&B that is honest enough to admit its flaws. The receptionist is always careful to point out the Green Room's lack of privacy. Then again, maybe Casa No. 7 Hotel is otherwise full and you're even more crazed to stay there than I was. In which case grab it.