With just a touch of the Addams Family about its Mudéjar façade, the Alfonso XIII dominates Seville's historic centre. It was built to house super-rich visitors to the Great Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929. Unfortunately, that was upstaged by the even greater Wall Street Crash of the same year, and the empty hotel positively echoed. The Alfonso has come a long way since, winning awards and hosting such luminaries as Angelina Jolie.
You almost feel you're breaching several arcane codes of etiquette just by entering the imposing lobby. The staff are polite but formal, and no expense has been spared on the decor. Huge chandeliers, elaborate carvings and vibrant azulejos (glazed tiles) contrast with exposed geometric brickwork and sturdy wrought iron. Everything is done for effect, and that effect is one of strength and wealth. Fortunately, the central patio with its fountain and orange trees is altogether more delicate. Here, guests can drink cava with their breakfast or linger over pastries from a local artisan company, Cortadillo de Cidra.
The hotel has recently built a Piazza Martini over one of the garden terraces. This white and red bar, all cushions and sofas, is the one place where it's possible to sprawl and relax. The open-air pool is also a comfort zone, although beware; it's not heated. Pools in sultry Seville are primarily there to cool you down. The best thing about the Alfonso is the sense that you are in the centre not just of the city, but of the life of the city. The hotel has grown into the role envisaged by King Alfonso when he drew up its plans in 1916. Limousines pull up more frequently than airlines touch down at He`athrow. As they say locally: Aquí está el todo Sevilla – all Seville is here.
Hotel Alfonso XIII, San Fernando 2, Seville, Spain (00 34 95 491 7000; www.starwoodhotels.com/luxury).
It's not surprising that such a hotel occupies the best position in the city. The palatial cigarette factory where Carmen would have worked sits to the right of the Alfonso. Palacio de San Telmo is just behind, between the hotel and the Guadalquivir river. Three of Seville's top sights – the cathedral, the Alcazar palace and the Archivo de Indias – are five minutes' walk away. You can almost hear the other hotels complaining: "It's just not fair."
Time from international airport: allow 20 minutes from San Pablo airport and €20 (£15.40) in a metered taxi.
Back in 1929, bedrooms and public areas were designed to keep guests cool rather than comfy. There is virtually nowhere to curl up with a good book. In fact, it's difficult to imagine anyone curling up in the Alfonso. The beds are huge, dark and canopied. Rooms are shuttered against the heat. Because the hotel was begun in 1916, when lifts had yet to reach Seville, the best rooms are on the piano nobile, not on the top floor. Lifts have now been installed – as has air conditioning – but the cheaper rooms are still those with low ceilings and great views up on the third.
Freebies: All bathroom products are by Molton Brown with Eau d'Orange Verte sprays by Hermès.
Keeping in touch: Flatscreen TVs offer satellite channels, and there are broadband connections in bedrooms, charged at €30 (£23) for 24 hours. Wi-Fi (€5/£3.80 per hour) is available in the public areas.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at €273 (£210) per night, including breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Hotel Doña Maria (00 34 95 422 4990; www.hdmaria.com) was built in the 14th century by an adviser and confidant of King Peter the Cruel. It overlooks the cathedral and is close to the royal palace, to which it used to be linked by a secret passageway. Doubles from €188 (£145), including breakfast.