Great for: Experiencing Seville's historical roots without sacrificing the perks of a five-star hotel.
What is it? Large hotel
Will set you back: 175 – 1780 euros p/n
As one of Starwood Hotel’s Luxury Collection group, Hotel Alfonso XIII is the jewel in the crown that is the captivating city of Seville. Originally built in 1929 to accommodate the influx of tourists entering the city for the Ibero-American Expo, the hotel was also frequently used by King Alfonso XIII as office quarters during his reign. One look at the decadent lobby is enough to understand why ‘The Alfonso’ is often wrongly assumed to have been a palace before it was a hotel – because it is, well, absolutely beautiful. Seville’s Moorish roots are evident at every turn as intricate, coloured tiles, over-the-top flower arrangements and elegant light fittings have you transfixed. A few steps further into the hotel and you arrive at the picturesque courtyard that serves as the typical Sevillan-style centre of the grand building, and this quick introduction is really all it takes to make the call: we have never seen a hotel quite so stunning, or quite as Instagram-worthy as Hotel Alfonso XIII.
One of the best things about Hotel Alfonso XIII is the building itself. Although it was refurbished a few years ago, it is original and intact. The vintage elevators take you back in time and you can’t help but let your imagination run wild as you walk the corridors, conjuring images of all of the people who would have walked the same halls of this incredibly large and cavernous hotel over the past 8o years. As the cultural capital of the south of Spain and the hottest city in the country due to its proximity to Africa, one of the most interesting things about the city and therefore, the hotel, is its unique design footprint. Seville is in the region of Anadulsia, which is utterly different from other regions in Spain, and the hotel’s design is highly demonstrative of this unique regional identity. The Sevillan aesthetic is full of Mudéjar influence with its strong Moorish architecture and decoration, and the hotel features grand arches, ceramic tile and brickwork, and wrought-iron. The hotel literally feels like a palace and the renovations have left the hotel looking sparkly and new while retaining its historical heritage. We stayed in a Deluxe Queen Room with Moorish design. Other rooms in the hotel are designed with an Andalusian or Castillian theme and each has a different feel. Our room had a view over the central courtyard and the room was medium-sized and simple in design. The bathroom is definitely the hero of the room with its copper and white-checkered tiles that add an air of opulence to the room and tie back into the grand feeling of the communal areas of the hotel. The room itself, with its wooden furniture and bed frame, simple white linen and splashes of red soft furnishings, is pleasant enough but not representative of the grandiose feel in the rest of the hotel.
Throughout the communal areas, there is so much beauty to look at both in a quick glance and with further examination of detail, that this hotel is simply a design buff’s must-see. Everything from the flooring to the furniture to the chandelier light fittings and the tiles on the walls mean that it’s impossible for you to forget where you are in the world – and this is one of the hallmarks of the Alfonso XIII. You could never make the mistake of thinking you are anywhere other than Seville, because the signature of this rich city is scrawled all over this work-of-art hotel.
We stayed in a Deluxe Queen room which was comfortable enough, although we found that the walls are rather thin which can make things rather uncomfortable at times. A bi-product of old buildings, this, of course, is hard to avoid and the rest of room was pleasant. There were unfortunately no luxury extras included in our room, such as a coffee capsule machine, and in fact even basic coffee-making facilities were nowhere to be found. The king size bed is two singles pushed together (commonplace in Europe), which means you get the ridge in the middle of the bed and this is unfortunately a pet hate of mine, but otherwise the bed was comfortable.
The bathroom in the Deluxe Queen Room is really stunning, and has twin basins (a must for any five-star hotel) as well as a bathtub which is a bonus. If you can, we recommend upgrading to a Grand Deluxe Room or even higher to get the authentic five-star experience at The Alfonso, and a room that is more suited to the discerning traveller.
The Alfonso is a gargantuan hotel and so naturally has plenty of facilities for its guests including an outdoor pool, beauty parlour and a museum (yes, you read that right – a museum). The pool is perhaps not luxurious enough, however, and a little on the small side compared to the number of rooms (151) and correlating guests wanting to use it. With the soaring temperatures Seville experiences (it is the hottest city in Spain), the pool was always packed during our stay and many of the loungers are on the grass rather than pool-side to allow for more people, and this doesn’t have quite the same luxurious feeling – it tends to feel a little like sardines in a can.
The loungers have buzzers to call staff to your side to take food and drink orders, however many of the buzzers don’t work and you’re left trying to catch the attention of a constantly moving staff member which is a little frustrating when trying to relax. What we did love, though, was the little ice-cream station by the pool – the guests seemed to love this addition and it’s a very cute (and apt) touch for the sweltering climate.
Overall I had an excellent impression of service at Alfonso XIII. Dining at Ena by Carles Abellan was a treat thanks to the outstanding sommelier, Gregory, as was breakfast on the outdoor terrace courtesy of the food and beverage manager there. The only downfall was the front desk and concierge service, the latter of which was always given with a serve of attitude by a female member of staff which made me feel as though asking for local recommendations was an inconvenience. A smile goes a long way, but this opinion was apparently not shared by the front desk staff during out stay, and this was unfortunately the thorn on the rose in an otherwise good hospitality experience.
Wow. What an absolute joy it is to eat at the hotel’s tapas restaurant, Ena by Carles Abellan, situated on the terrace at the front of the hotel and open to the public. We had, hands down, the best meal of our entire three weeks in Spain at this restaurant and it would be a crying shame if you didn’t experience the culinary delights of Ena by Carles Abellan while staying in Seville. The food is simply exquisite and of an equal standard to that of some of the Michelin-starred and hatted restaurants we have eaten at around the world, but thankfully lacks the finicky arrogance often found on the plate at many of these establishments. The unique thing about Ena is the food concept: tapas that “proposes a new gastronomic meeting point” by combining two traditional cooking styles: Catalonian and Andalusian. Flavour is king at Ena, with surprising and simply delicious ingredient combinations, the flavours of which I can still conjure in my mind a month later. Be sure to sample the corvina ceviche with avocado and sweet onions, as well as the “Mc Foie” (beef hamburger with ganache of foie-gras). Better yet, opt for matching wines so you can relish the full experience while admiring the view from the terrace while the restaurant’s misting fans keep you cool. Other options for dining and drinking include the beautiful San Fernando restaurant positioned surrounding the central courtyard, as well as one of the coolest-looking bars you have ever seen, Bar Americano, which will transport you back to the 1930s. There is also a bar with casual dining by the pool. Breakfast is a buffet affair with the addition of an eggs station and table service for coffee, tea and juice. It doesn’t come close to comparing with the buffet breakfasts offered by, for example, South East Asian hotels such as The Datai and The Samaya but for a quick breakfast it’s good enough, and it’s worth it just for the luxurious and elegant room and courtyard the breakfast is served in.
The Alfonso is in an ideal location in Seville in the vibrant neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, next to the Reales Alcazares (Royal Palace) and the Cathedral. As the location of the old Jewish Quarter, you have the majority of gorgeous restaurants and bars within walking distance of the hotel, and all the highlights of Seville are easily located by foot or a quick tram ride. The streets of this old town are colourful and full of life, and an ideal day is spent simply ambling around and taking in the beautiful buildings and history before heading back to The Alfonso to cool off in the pool.
grand-scale hotel where historical roots and modern-day facilities collide