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Andalusia's Hotel Scene

You have to admire a B&B that is honest enough to admit its flaws. The reservationist is always careful to point out the Green Room's lack of privacy. Then again, maybe Casa No. 7 is otherwise full, and you're even more crazed to stay there than I was. In which case, grab it.
7 Calle Vírgenes, Seville; 34/954-221-581; www.casanumero7.com; doubles from $216.

El Bulli Hotel Hacienda Benazuza

This sprawling country-house hotel 20 minutes west of Seville puttered along for years before its owners hit on an idea that increased not just their own fortunes but Andalusia's in general. In 1999, Benazuza brokered a deal with Ferran Adrià to take over its food operations. In a doubtful bit of gimmickry, the hotel's main restaurant is a museum-like showcase for what Adrià pedantically considers his greatest hits. The menu even trumpets the date each dish was created. Viva el márketing. Such is Adrià's pulling power, Benazuza's name was lengthened to include that of El Bulli, Adrià's mythic restaurant northeast of Barcelona, and come they do. In an age of dignitary chefs, destination restaurants, and people who travel to eat, the arrival in Andalusia of this restless agitator hasn't hurt.

I was prepared for the 44 guest rooms (and everything else) to be upstaged by Adrià, but I am happy to report that Benazuza holds its own purely as a hotel, muchas gracias. It would take more than powdered foie gras to steal the thunder of a hacienda that, in the 1500's, was a self-sufficient village. Still having trouble picturing the scale of the estate?Think 246-foot-high palm trees and a 4,000-square-foot courtyard.

Of the dozens of hotels I visited in Andalusia, Benazuza is the only one I think really earns the designation "luxury." Grand, self-aware, and imperious, it's the hotel as infanta. "I know I'm great," you can imagine her saying. "And I know you think I'm great. Now what are you going to do about it?"

If words like posh, tasteful, and refined had any currency left, they'd go a long way toward describing Benazuza's aesthetic MO. Brawny antiques, sisal carpets in fashion colors, ceramic pinecone lamps—you know the look. I've never been inside the house of an old, upper-class family in southern Spain, but this is how I imagine it might look. Hotels these days are always going on about how their rooms don't feel like hotel rooms, yet it's rarely true. It is here.

Tradition is only a slice of the story at Benazuza: there's also a strong fantasy element. Lawn beds are sheltered by tarpaulins and hung with sheer curtains. The pool turns so many corners—disappearing behind ocher walls and eruptions of lush vegetation—you lose count. La Alberca, the poolside restaurant, is a tented dream of Morocco. In La Abacería, a tapas bar, the dado is faced with the woven grass panels used throughout Andalusia as window blinds. Muy, muy chic.

Less chic is the way Benazuza crowds its calendar with private events. I was always caught in the jaws of some huge group disembarking for lunch; very unpleasant. On the other hand, the hotel's big-deal restaurant, La Alquería, was less than half full the night I was there, which surprised me, given the hype.

Dozens of little dishes make up a typical Adrià meal, so I'll just mention the palette of gelatin squares—imprisoned essence of carrot, turnip, and other vegetables. In their deconstructivist way, they were signature Adrià. But I found that a little deconstructivism goes a long way. My banquet was more interesting than delicious, and exhausting.

Benazuza is just one of a proposed collection of El Bulli hotels. Before long, people all over the world may be eating pulverized popcorn reformed into kernels.
Calle Vírgen de las Nieves, Sanlúcar la Mayor; 34/955-703-344; www.elbullihotel.com; doubles from $380.


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