Corral del Rey
Summer in the UK has been wetter than a flannel in a fishpond, so Mr Smith and I, despite being midway through seven hours of waiting at Stansted airport, are understandably excited about the prospect of getting away from it all. We’re heading off to Corral del Rey in Seville – known in Spain as ‘the frying pan’ – where it’s going to be hot, hot, hot. This excitement has resulted in Mr Smith packing just shorts and flip-flops and Mrs Smith buying her third pair of sunglasses at the airport. We’ve read in our guidebook that most savvy Sevillians escape the furnace-like city during the summer months. More fool them. They’ve obviously never spent a July in Newington Green.
Our first task, on arrival, is to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. This is easier said than done. We’re forced to abandon our very British notion of queuing, and after plenty of hand gesticulations and many fumbling attempts to recall those Spanish GCSE lessons from way back, we are finally dropped outside Corral del Rey – a beautiful 17th-century townhouse in the city’s old Barrio Alfalfa quarter. Hotel manager Enrique comes out to meet us, refreshing mint-and-lemon drinks in hand, and leads us inside to two large squishy sofas in the entrance hall.
After a day of travelling and an hour’s exposure to Seville’s soaring temperatures, all I want to do is lie down. But Mr Smith – and Enrique – have other ideas. As they talk tapas, I wearily wend my way up a winding iron staircase to our room. The enormous bed looks so inviting, and the pillows seem to be calling out for me to lay my head on them, but I resist. One slick of mascara later and I’m ready to go.
Enrique has suggested we try Sevillian institution Casa Robles, and has furnished Mr Smith with the directions, so off we go. Several glasses of Rioja and dishes of variously sauced squid later and I’m almost ready to drop. Mr Smith, coming to terms with this bustling city far quicker than me, manages to navigate us back through the labyrinthine streets to Corral del Rey. I’m fast asleep before Mr Smith can even close the stunning, impenetrable original shutters in our room.
We awake the next morning, fully refreshed courtesy of the comfiest bed in Andalucia, and realise the breakfast cut-off point has been and gone. Some barrio exploration – and some coffee and churros – is definitely in order. As Mr Smith showers, I find myself idly fiddling with a remote control that’s been left on the bedside table. It’s got more buttons than the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, and I soon discover that it controls the TV, the lights and, most importantly, the expertly curated in-room iPod. A couple of presses later, and music starts pumping out of previously unnoticed speakers in the bathroom – much to Mr Smith’s surprise. By the time I’m in there, the shower cubicle has become my own karaoke box, and I treat the citizens of Seville to a medley of the Specials, Johnny Cash and the Cure – finishing with an encore of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
Once out in the streets, we find that the city’s narrow streets, high buildings, and abundance of canopies and awnings suit our translucent complexions very well indeed. We breakfast quickly, standing up in a backstreet café, and make our way to Seville’s main square, dominated by the formidable Catedral de Santa María de la Sede. A potent symbol of the city’s Moorish past, the gothic cathedral is built on the site of a 12th-century mosque and incorporates many of its features. Mr Smith and I, both lovers of good design, wander around its enormous interior, nodding agreeably at the gargantuan altarpiece and nave, and decide to stuff the heat and climb to the top of Giralda bell tower. At the summit of the tower, once the mosque’s minaret, we enjoy 360-degree views of the city. We descend and head straight to the nearest bar for an ice-cold beer.
It’s so hot outside that I feel myself drooping like a geranium in a parched window box, and I manage to persuade Mr Smith to come back to the hotel with me. We make a beeline for the rooftop plunge pool, and immerse ourselves in its cooling, cucumber-fresh waters. As we bob up and down, Enrique appears with two glasses of wine and sets them by the side. The lure of these proves way too strong, and we soon emerge to wrap ourselves in fluffy dressing gowns and head up to the terrace’s upper tier, where we sip from our glasses and gaze out across the rooftops of the city. The cathedral dominates the skyline, and we marvel at our earlier feat of ascension.
After a late-afternoon siesta, we head out to another fantastic Enrique recommendation – tapas bar La Sacristia, in the Barrio Santa Cruz. Sitting on small wooden tables that seep out of the restaurant onto the street, we alternate between people-watching and picking at the various delicious dishes of cheese, fish and meat before us. After overhearing snatches of conversation from the next table, we discover that the adjacent couple are also staying at Corral del Rey, and we begin a conversation that culminates in us agreeing to accompany them to a flamenco display in an orange-scented square just around the corner. We watch the skirt-twirling, heel-stamping and castanet-clicking action for a while, allowing ourselves to be lulled into an almost trance-like state by the relentless, driving guitar rhythms.
When the display comes to an end, we lead our new-found friends around the streets of the barrio, searching for a rooftop bar that I’m sure I remember Enrique mentioning in one of our chats. When we first arrive at the Doña María Hotel, and walk through the lounge and up a staircase, I can’t help but wonder whether our patron’s taste has gone slightly astray – a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel this ain’t. But, once out on the roof, sitting between a spotlit swimming pool and the towering giralda, and sipping glasses of chilled cava while bats swoop through the air above us, I can’t believe I ever questioned him. Enrique, after all, is the living embodiment of Corral del Rey: laid-back, friendly and very, very cool. And that’s three good reasons why, were I a Sevillian, I wouldn’t be fleeing the city in summer.
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Smith extra at Corral del Rey
A bottle of manzanilla sherry or a tin of hacienda-made olive oil