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Andalusia's Hotel Scene

Casa Morisca Hotel

Is there anyone who doesn't know the Parador de Granada?Until Casa Morisca redrew the hotelscape in this medieval Moorish kingdom crowned by the Alhambra, the Parador was the only game in town. The reason so many people want to stay there is that it's actually part of the 13th-century palace complex. The downside is that almost everything else of interest in Granada—shops, restaurants, other monuments—is 10 minutes away by taxi.

But at Casa Morisca you can have it both ways. The hotel faces a sun-soaked street in the Albaicín, the ancient Arab quarter, at the bottom of the hill on which the Alhambra stands. The location pays off in views of the palace gardens, towers, and colonnades that cannot be oversold. Indeed, no one back home will believe you when you tell them that for $206 you took your evening bath while gazing out at some of the most renowned battlements in history. Casa Morisca is also within easy striking distance of fiery flamenco, garlicky tapas, and the city's crop of funky new teterías—lounges offering Moroccan mint tea and a drag on a narghile.

An unimpeachable location and jaw-dropping views aren't the only things the hotel has going for it. If Casa Morisca could figure out a way to charge for tranquillity, it would make a fortune.Sealing the hotel's success are 14 lean but comfortable guest rooms sensitively inserted into a house built between 1492, when Ferdinand and Isabella reestablished Christian rule over the city, and the mid 16th century. (A Morisco was a Muslim who remained after the conquest.)

"What makes the house unusual is the confluence of Renaissance, Gothic, and Islamic styles," says Carlos Sánchez, the architect who restored the hotel and owns it. "At Casa Morisca there are scrolled squinches, circular corbels, and a polychrome wood ceiling with a frieze of Arabic calligraphy. Another feature is the gallery that spirals around the atrium, like the ramp at New York's Guggenheim Museum. Part of my work was opening up this gallery, which had been enclosed and now provides access to many of the accommodations."

Some are better than others. Avoid rooms that have windows only on the courtyard. Number 10 has a proper sitting area, making it an especially good value. Numbers 14 and 15 look out on the Alhambra. At these prices, you could even go crazy and treat yourself to the lone suite—just $236—which has a painted ceiling original to the hotel, a six-foot-long, wheat-colored silk sofa, and a romantic sleeping alcove. Drawing on the grammar of Moorish ornament, Sánchez created many of Casa Morisca's furnishings. Headboards suggest keyhole arches. Bedside tables reference the curves of Islamic design.

Sánchez's informed design is a long way from the rather cookie-cutter feel of the rooms at the Parador, where there's a waiting list to get on the waiting list. Word is still trickling out about Casa Morisca, but I wouldn't wait to go. The best moment to catch a great hotel is when it's still catching on, cruising beneath the radar.
9 Cuesta de la Victoria, Granada; 34/958-221-100; www.hotelcasamorisca.com; doubles from $135.

Trasierra

It's amazing the way Trasierra keeps reinventing itself. Just when you think you know it, the inn does a quarter-turn, inviting you to think of it in a new, fresh way. The 16th-century olive oil estate, in Cazalla de la Sierra, first made a name for itself offering plein air watercolor classes. Its success led to a famously inventive menu of entertainments, including cooking demos, wildflower walks, and visits to bodegas and bull ranches. Currently in the works are detox weekends, scenes from Carmen staged in the courtyard, even tap dancing instruction. Anything goes.

"When you are as open as we are, and have only seven guest rooms and a cottage, all sorts of things are possible," says Charlotte Scott, Trasierra's mistress. "If someone is interested in something we don't already offer, I'll do everything I can to make it happen."

Exactly a quarter of a century ago, Scott threw in the swatch book as one of those hands-on, can-do decorators in which London seems to specialize. She deserted the city to restore Trasierra and raise a family on 3,000 acres of olive, orange, chestnut, and cork trees. Later, friends talked Scott into making the patchwork beauty and languid atmosphere she had created pay for themselves by turning part of the house into an inn. This was before Cazalla de la Sierra was even a twinkle in the eye of Manuel Morales de Jódar, the owner of Palacio de San Benito down the road. The two hoteliers enjoy a playful rivalry. Well, maybe not so playful. "I'm very fond of Manuel Carlos," Scott told me. "But he must stop hijacking my guests!"

Scott and de Jódar's styles are as different as brocade and burlap. Her melting pot stirs together bits and bobs from India, the Maghreb, England (the petticoat lampshades are a scream), and, naturally, Spain. The look is sentimental, serendipitous, and what used to be known as bohemian. To experience it at its best, book the Studio or Blue Room. The latter has lacy straw mats and fluffy Flokati rugs tossed over a glossy white floor; a snowy hand-crocheted bedcover; and whitewashed masonry banquettes with cushions wrapped in rag rugs. A kaleidoscope of printed fabrics mixes Souleiado and John Stefanidis with budget remnants from the Cazalla market. The bath mat is a vintage Hermès beach towel.

The generous laissez-faire policies that shape a stay at Trasierra are of a piece with the inn's design. Scott's governing motto is Feel free. In a note left in the guest rooms, she says that her four children, ages 18 to 24, are friendly and bilingual, so "feel free to call on them." Breakfast is served in the breakfast room, where "dressing gowns are welcome," but "if you are anti-social, feel free to take a tray to a quiet place." At dinner, "feel free to look fabulous." The note adds that there is no such thing as being over- or underdressed, just badly dressed. (Amen.)

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