This spring Trasierra celebrates the return to its stoves of Scott's daughter Gioconda, the host last year of a British food program filmed at the estate. "My goal is to bring the quality of the cooking up to the level of the house," she says. On the docket are herb-wrapped loin of tuna, pot-roasted quail with mustard-dressed beets, and fig tart with tobacco sirop. Whole suckling pig is cooked on a grill made to Gioconda's specifications.
Since her mother had made such a point about the pastime possibilities at Trasierra, I thought it would be fun to put Scott to the test. On my next visit, I told her, I wanted to spend an hour every morning with a Sufi. In the afternoons, I hoped to learn to tame lavender into topiary. And since I've always wanted to learn beekeeping, I asked her to line up a visit to a honey farm.
She didn't flinch.
Cazalla de la Sierra; 34/954-884-324; doubles from $311.
"He's more English than the English."
People never tire of saying it of Gonzalo del Río y González-Gordon, and he never tires of hearing it. The description refers to the Spaniard's plummy 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 neighborhood.
Folded into a severely handsome four-story town house built in 1847, Casa No. 7 has 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 needed 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 anything for me.
Hotels are there to accommodate me, I was raised to believe, not the other way around. 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 Río y González-Gordon has lovingly decorated for his guests, with its Staffordshire dogs and breezily displayed pictures of Prince Philip and the Prince of Kent in silver frames. Euro for euro, No. 7 is probably the best lodging value in Seville.
The pictures of royals are easily explained. Del Río y González-Gordon is nobody less than the scion of the Tio Pepe sherry dynasty; another branch of his tree includes the Gordons of gin fame. As his pedigree makes all but obvious, he did not open No. 7 to fatten his portfolio. He did it as a diversion. His name connotes such wealth in this part of Spain (Jerez de la Frontera, the center 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 Río 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 Vírgenes, and it turned out the building was for sale. I hadn't wanted to undertake a full restoration, but its bones and location were too good to pass up."
Del Río y González-Gordon glassed over the courtyard, furnishing it with just a few gutsy architectural antiques. They make a nice antidote to the Anglophilia 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 at No. 7: 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 nestlike 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.