Seville | Hotel Doña María

doña maria

The Doña Maria is a four-star hotel that boasts a perfect central location just across the square from the Cathedral, and close to the Alcázar Palace and Barrio Santa Cruz, making it ideal for sightseeing. These days it seems to be best known for its busy modern roof terrace, which is open year-round, where both guests and public can enjoy a drink while admiring the excellent view of the Cathedral and Giralda Tower. An upper terrace has a small swimming pool reserved for guests, and regular live music events are scheduled during the summer. Check their Facebook Page for concert details.

The building is a Casa Palacio dating back to the 14th century, and though there aren’t really any clues to such antiquity, the hotel, which opened in 1965, does still have the elegant style and manner of a bygone age, including some interesting old prints on the walls. There’s a substantial lounge with a pretty plant-filled patio next to reception, and a separate bar next door.

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The hotel has 64 rooms, mostly variations on double rooms, although triple rooms, and double rooms with a salon are also available. Our second-floor room was a superior double with two 105 cm single beds (double bed also available), and was quite spacious, with a balcony that had a nice view of Virgen de los Reyes square. It was equipped with a desk, minibar/fridge, TV, and ample closet space. Nice bathroom with twin sinks, good water pressure, and a standard selection of toiletries.

The room was clean and comfortable, with nice firm mattresses, and charming old-style décor. My only real complaint about the room was the lack of power outlets, making it difficult to keep our devices charged. However there was decent free WIFI throughout the hotel and multi-plug extension cords are available at the front desk if, like me, you travel with phone, tablet and laptop.

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Although there is no restaurant, a standard buffet breakfast is available in the Patio de Cristal, and there are lots of tapas bars and restaurants in the immediate vicinity. Hotel staff are happy to give you recommendations.

The perfect location and the rooftop pool and bar are the main attractions of this hotel, making it a good mid-priced option for a stay in Seville

Hotel Doña Maria
Calle Don Remondo, 19
Sevilla
Tel: +34 954 224 990

Disclaimer: Myself and my companion were invited as guests of the hotel, but all opinions here are my own.

Foodie Hub Tapas Awards

foodie hubAbout three years ago my Twitter pal Niamh @eatlikeagirl got in touch with me about joining a new foodie venture called Chowzter, headed by the dynamic and totally food obsessed Jeffrey Merrihue @jeffreymerrihue, who is also at the helm of @mofilm, as well as being the driving force behind Chowzter (now the newly rebranded @FoodieHub). So okay, I put up my Seville page on Foodie Hub, which I was very pleased with, and then last summer (2014) Jeffrey showed up close to my doorstep and asked if I was free one day to show him my favourite bars in Sevilla. Well, if there is something I LOVE doing it’s exactly that. Plus I was interested in actually meeting Jeffrey. And it was so much fun. We did a crazy afternoon “tapeo extremo” visiting an outrageous number of Sevilla bars in a ridiculously short amount of time, and then repeated the exercise a couple of days later in Malaga with the newly initiated Victor from @WeLoveMalaga. And not only was it great fun, but I got to meet Jeffrey, which made all the difference from this simply being an interesting project I was adding my name to… well, to being a wonderful and crazy foodie adventure that just gets better and better.

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Fast forward to Summer 2015… Jeffrey was going to be back in Marbella and suggested a meet-up/dinner with all the FoodieHub Spain experts, which (of course!) promptly morphed into an epic tapas weekend in Malaga & Marbella, and also gave birth to the FoodieHub Essential Tapas Guide. I love that this is a “living online guide” that is always growing as we add more to it. Here are some highlights from our Malaga FoodieHub tapas tour…

malaga foodiehub tapas tour (1) malaga foodiehub tapas tour (2) malaga foodiehub tapas tour (3)

After this “light lunch” we were whisked away to Marbella for the Main Event. The Essential Tapas Awards event and an exquisite beach-side dinner at the elegant Restaurante Santiago. Rather than MORE food pics I shall just post this lovely photo taken by Victor, which for me captured the gorgeous ambiance of the setting where we dined like royalty.

victor

Here is a shot of the awards handed out earlier in the evening…

foodiehub winners

It was an amazing weekend and really great to meet up again with some of the Spain food experts I already knew, as well as getting to meet the others. But the extra special treat for me was after I came home and got to present the FoodieHub award for Essential Traditional Tapa to my “family” at Bodeguita Romero. Father and son Pedro & Alejandro Romero were thrilled that their spectacular pringá montadito had won.

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romero (1)

You can download the free FoodieHub app here, and keep up with global foodie news on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Also check out the amazing FoodieHub YouTube page, but only if you’re not hungry! It’s a real honour – and also lots of fun – being a part of the FoodieHub team.

Córdoba | Hotel Balcón de Córdoba

balcon cordoba bedroomAlthough “just” a 4-star hotel, Balcón de Córdoba is one of the growing number of luxury boutique hotels that has the look and feel of a 5-star and offers exquisite attention to detail. Just a couple of minutes from the Mezquita, and with a discreet back entrance into the small square at the top of Calle de las Flores, it’s a friendly and comfortable 10 room hotel in a 17th century building arranged around three courtyards. The style is a blend of Moorish, Castilian and Flemish, with intricate “china Cordobés” floors in the patios, over 100 archaeological pieces to delight the eye, and rooftop terraces looking over the city.

balcon cordobaGuests can opt for a chauffeured pick up at the Cordoba train station or from any airport in Andalucia, and valet parking is also available. Upon arrival you are given a short tour of the hotel, its patios and rooftop views before being shown to your room. I like this very personal touch and especially that it is at once very professional without being stuffy. From the moment you arrive you feel at once at home and very well looked after.

balcon cordoba royal suiteThe Royal Suite is 72 square metres and is immediately welcoming. Like all the rooms in the hotel it is tastefully done out in pale whites, off-whites and soothing earth-tones. You enter through a lovely reception area, which has a desk and small table in front of a large window overlooking the central courtyard, and then continue on to a cosy salon with comfy chairs and a sofa. The charming bathroom and spacious bedroom comprise the second half of the L-shaped space, with a claw-footed bathtub at the far end of the bedroom. Fluffy robes and slippers are placed at the foot of the bed.

balcon cordoba rooftopsFor the record I was hosted by Hotel Balcón de Córdoba, but all opinions here are my own. Frankly it was hard to find any fault as every detail was perfection. My only honest “complaint” was that the potato in the breakfast tortilla was a bit undercooked. There is excellent WiFi connection throughout the hotel, the staff are attentive and truly understand the needs of a diverse clientelle. It’s a great small team that truly enjoys interacting and being a part of creating a very special Cordoba experience. Highly recommended.

Hotel Balcón de Córdoba
Encarnación, 8
Tel 957 498 478

 

Córdoba | Palacio Viana Revisited

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Much ado is (justifiably) made about Córdoba’s annual Patio Festival with its colourful flower-festooned patios, posadas and alleyways in full bloom, though I personally prefer to go a week or so after the festival to avoid the crowds. And one of my favourite places in Córdoba to visit any time of year is the Palacio de Viana, Córdoba’s very special Patio Museum. It consists of 12 patios and a garden spread through and around the buildings of the palace, each designed and planted in its own unique style. As well as Moorish and classically influenced patio gardens there are also the gardeners’ patios, the Patio of Los Gatos, an old patio de Vecinos that was incorporated into the palace in the 18th century, and the modern courtyard of the columns.

patio viana revisited (3)Although the spring and early summer are the most obvious time to visit (I had visited twice before in summer), I was recently there again in November on a dull cloudy day that threatened – but didn’t quite manage – to rain, and I discovered that the patios in winter have a unique charm that doesn’t exist in other seasons. Most notably that the many orange trees are full of fruit. There was also an art exhibit of sculptures by Cordobés artist Aurelio Teno with works spread out through the various patios.

Winter is also an ideal time to take the guided tour of the house and its impressive collections of furniture, books, paintings, ceramics and much else besides, accumulated through the centuries by its wealthy owners. It’s a fascinating journey through their lives that complements the gardens outside.

patio viana revisited (2)Palacio de Viana
Plaza de Don Gome, 2
Tel: +34 957 496 741

Opening hours: Tue-Sat 10.00-19.00 / Sun 10.00-15.00
Jul-Aug 9.00-15.00
Closed Mondays
Price: 5 euros patios, 8 euros complete

Jaén | Hotel Xauen

jaen - hotel xuaen (1)At the end of my Jaén Getaway I met up with my friend and fellow trip planner Rachel Webb, who lives just outside Jaén city. I’d just got in from Úbeda so she picked me up at the bus station and brought me to the hotel, which was easy enough to access, with a place to park temporarily while I signed in and took my luggage up to my room.

First impression of my room was that it was a bit dreary. It had a balcony and nice view of the square, but the old-style furnishings and bed covers seemed a bit tired and quite a contrast from the slick modern art and decor in the common rooms, breakfast area and bar. The rooftop bar and solarium is also smartly decked out and offers a splendid view of the city.

jaen - hotel xuaen (2)Breakfast was good, with fresh coffee and juice made to order at the bar. Once again the WiFi only seemed to work in the common rooms downstairs, so I made use of that over breakfast to catch up on emails.  And dreariness aside, my room was comfortable, though I’d say if you are a light sleeper then ask for a room that doesn’t face the square as the bars there stay open quite late. Basic comfort, great location, good for a night or maybe two in the centre of Jaén.

Hotel Xauen
Plaza Deán Mazas, 3
Jaén
Tel 953 24 07 89

Baeza | TRH Ciudad de Baeza Hotel

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The TRH Baeza proved to be in a perfect location just inside the old town, and just around the corner from the Paseo de la Constitución – the town’s social centre (we were there immediately after the local feria, and the awnings were still up) – and the local market. The hotel itself, although making much of the fact that it’s in a 16th century convent, doesn’t really have a historical feel, though it retains the ground floor of the original colonnaded courtyard (a pleasant space with tables where you can enjoy a coffee, drink or snack), with the bars, restaurant and other public areas arranged around it.

For the rest it’s an essentially modern building, and none the worse for that. Our standard double room was comfortably spacious, with pleasant enough décor. The first room we were shown had very noisy air-conditioning, but we were moved straight away to the mirror-image room next door, which didn’t. Breakfast was okay, a fairly typical hotel buffet.
baeza - hotel trh (2)A few complaints. The WiFi really didn’t work well, and I was told the hotel “was having a problem with Telefonica” (this has happened in almost every hotel I’ve ever been to lately). The cheap wall-mounted soap dispenser in the bathroom was weird enough in itself, giving a “public bathroom” feel, and then fell off the wall just after we got there. Also I wasn’t told when booking a couple of days earlier that there were roadworks in the narrow street outside our room (and the hotel entrance). I know that roadworks are outside the hotel’s control, just feel I should have been told, although in the end it didn’t really affect our stay.

The convenient location was what really saved this place for me. I did check out a couple other boutique hotels while I was there, which were charming, but up (and I mean UP) small winding streets further from the “action”.  I’d say the TRH Baeza is good for a short stay – it’s comfortable, next to everything, and good value.

TRH Ciudad de Baeza
Baeza
Concepción, 3
953 748 130

Úbeda | Hotel Rosaleda de Don Pedro

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The Rosaleda de Don Pedro is right in the middle of the old centre of Úbeda, making it a perfect base from which to explore, although it’s a bit of a trek from the bus station. Part of the Sercotel Hotels group of 3-5 star hotels (the Rosaleda has 3 stars) there’s a full range of rooms from singles to junior suites. There is also has an outdoor pool and terrace which we didn’t have time to enjoy, but it looked very nice.

ubeda - roselada (2)Our standard double room was up on the 4th (top) floor, with a sloping ceiling that added to its rather rustic feel, but made the bathroom sink and mirror a little inconvenient. Well okay, useless really (had to do hair and make-up out in the room). It could also have used a few more power sockets, and you had to keep signing in to connect to the WiFi, which got a bit frustrating.

But these minor complaints aside, the room was quite spacious and comfortable, and we really enjoyed our two-night stay. I especially loved the fabulous view from the window – a cascade of rooftops on the hill below, and took multiple photos of it at different times of the day. In fact I loved it so much that when the very helpful staff offered to move me to a poolside room with a better WiFi connection, I chose to stay with my view and work downstairs in the comfy TV room, with rustic wooden tables and leather chairs.

Breakfast was fairly “standard hotel”, adequate but nothing special. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and the bar in front of reception is open all day long. Overall, excellent value for money, and I’d be very happy to stay here again.

Hotel Rosaleda de Don Pedro
Úbeda
Obispo Toral, 2
953 796 111

Tapeo Extremo™

jeffrey me victorJeffrey, me and Victor in Málaga

I can’t even begin to count the ways that Twitter has changed my life, but this is yet another one. Back in late 2012 my Twitter pal Niamh Shields @eatlikeagirl got in touch with me about joining a new international foodie venture called Chowzter,. At first glance Chowzter didn’t seem like the sort of thing I’d be interested in (though I remember years ago saying the same thing about Twitter!) but I decided to give it a go as it had been recommended by Niamh and there wasn’t a lot of work required to set it up. Thus I became their Sevilla food expert.

Then about ten days ago I got to meet Chowzter founder Jeffrey Merrihue @jeffreymerrihue. He was holidaying in Marbella and came up to Sevilla for the day to do a tapas tour with me, which morphed into a tapeo extremo (a term coined by my friend and travel writer Annie Bennett @anniebennett a few years ago when we went out for tapas – I have no idea why! 😉 ). That day Jeffrey and I broke my personal record by visiting 7 tapas bars in 4 hours.

tapeo extremo sevilla 08-08-14Tapeo Extremo Sevilla 08-08-14 | 7 tapas bars in 4 hours

Chowzter began as an argument between two well-travelled food-obsessed brothers about where to get the “best this-or-that” in every city they visited. Not Michelin star fare (everybody knows where to find that), but fabulous day-to-day local food. Fast feasts. The trick was to find passionate locals who wanted to share their knowledge. Which now includes me. And now also includes Victor Garrido @welovemalaga, who runs the best tapas and walking tours in Málaga. At first Jeffrey asked Victor if he wanted to meet him in Marbella, but then mentioned that he’d never had good food in Málaga (!!!). And when he asked if I wanted to come down for the day too… well, it just had to be another Tapeo Extremo!

tapeo extremo malaga 14-08-14Tapeo Extremo Málaga 14-08-14 | 10 tapas bars in 4 hours

Jeffrey, Victor and I met in front of the Atarazanas Market in the centre of Málaga and what happened next was epic. Of course you can’t “properly” visit every excellent tapas bar in any city in just one afternoon, but the purpose of tapeo extremo (if there needs to be one) is to show someone with huge interest and little time as much as possible. Both tapeos were wonderful, though I think Málaga had the advantage of the bars being closer together, having both Victor and me as guides, and also knowing by that time that Jeffrey was a complete food maniac (had I known this in Sevilla we would have got into more taxis). But I’m sure that Jeffrey will agree that both Victor and I killed it, and we both loved showing someone around who clearly appreciated the best. In fact, Jeffrey’s enthusiasm was so contagious that I’m now helping find “chief Chowzters” for other areas in Spain and Portugal. So watch this space and also @SevillaTapas for future developments. And thanks again for a great couple of days, Jeffrey. Hasta pronto!

Jerez | Hotel Bellas Artes

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Given its 4-star rating, some nice photos on the website, and a few good reviews/recommendations, the Hotel Bellas Artes turned out to be something of a disappointment. There was nothing wrong with the location in a little square near the Cathedral in the old city, and I’m generally a fan of small hotels (19 rooms in this case) in historic buildings (an old palace), but the Bellas Artes seemed somehow uncared for, almost down on its luck. Though it does photograph well – even my pics here have it looking nicer than it actually was.
hotel bellas artes (2)The first two rooms we were offered on the top floor were small and dark, and the promised “Cathedral view” was laughable… if you leaned out a side window in the bathroom, yes, you could see the Cathedral. The room on the first floor, where we eventually stayed, though larger, and with a nice view onto the square (spoiled by windows so dirty you could barely see through them), was still a bit depressing. More seemed to have been spent on acquiring the necessities for extra stars (eg the out of place wall-mounted flat screen TV, a Nespresso machine on the already cluttered small desk), than on cleaning and maintenance. Curtains were discoloured and frayed, the toilet seat was chipped in several places, lamps had burned out bulbs, hallway carpets were badly stained. Sad.

There is free Wi-Fi, but the connection in our room was patchy. A small roof terrace with a jacuzzi has a nice view of the Cathedral, and there’s a small breakfast room. Service was friendly enough, but a little lacklustre. We wanted to change hotels but were told that because we’d booked online they wouldn’t refund the second night. So we did our best to stay out as much as possible and just use the hotel room to sleep and shower. This really shouldn’t be a 4 star hotel. Not recommended.

Hotel Bellas Artes
Jerez de la Frontera
Plaza del Arroyo, 45
Tel 956 348 430

Madrid | Room Mate Hotel Mario

mario superior room
Third time totally lucky! This was my third stay at a Room Mate Hotel, and this time it was Mario, the original Room Mate hotel, in the heart of Madrid just off Plaza Ópera. An easy metro ride from Atocha station, I was there within half an hour of arriving in town. Check in was quick and welcoming, and I really appreciated that complimentary bottle of mineral water (why don’t more places do this?).

My spacious superior room was on the first floor with a balcony facing the street. Bright and charming, I loved that I could open the balcony doors and enjoy a pretty leafy green view. Super comfy bed (as usual at Room Mate) along with plenty of closet space, which included a mini bar and safe. The attractive grey & white tiled bathroom had a full bath and shower (with detachable shower head). I’m getting a bit hooked on the lovely bath products at Room Mate, especially the body lotion, but those hairdryers! Useless for anyone with longish hair. Also, the bathroom lighting could be better – I had to do makeup in front of the full-length mirror next to the balcony. Not a serious hardship, but thought I should mention it.

mario collage[click on image to enlarge]

As I always travel with three devices (notebook, iPad and iPhone) I was very happy to see lots of well-placed electical sockets around the room, and I was also pleased with the excellent (free!) WiFi connection. This time I had breakfast included but mostly went for fruit and coffee as I had lots of serious eating to do throughout the day (occupational hazard!). Have to say I’m not a fan of the “buffet breakfast”, but I did enjoy my coffee in the sunny breakfast room. It was a nice start to the day.

I think what I loved most about my three-night stay was feeling like I was in a cosy barrio, and overlooking that pretty street scene every day. A home away from home.

Room Mate Mario
C/ Campomanes 4
Tel. 915 488 548
Madrid