The beautiful white village of Cazalla de la Sierra, hidden within the rolling countryside of oak forests and rural ‘dehesa’ estates that make up Seville’s Sierra Norte, had until recently remained a secret to me.
So, my invitation to stay at the El Palacio de San Benito, a historical palatial guesthouse hotel in the historic village of Cazalla de la Sierra, was one I was enthusiastic to accept.
Over the years, I’ve got to know Andalucía well, having explored many of the region’s rural and urban treasures, yet somehow, I’d missed the charming village of Cazalla de la Sierra, with its noble architecture that tells of a rich and aristocratic of past.
The village is north of the capital, Seville, where Andalucía reaches Extremadura but the journey is easy thanks to the motorway and modern roads.
Here, surrounded by acorn oaks is the white village, with grand old houses, historic churches and palaces.
El Palacio de San Benito is easy to find as one enters the village, it’s elegant vine-covered facade facing onto a quiet village street.
The ornate doorway with carved crest above sets the scene for an elaborately decorated home which now offers comfortable accommodation.
When it first opened as a hotel in the early ’00s, it was acclaimed as one of the finest rural hotels in Andalucía. Since then the property has become less high profile, and become more relaxed, although the owner is now keen to have the Palace back in the limelight.
Antonio, a member of the team, offered a genuine welcome upon our arrival. At present, there is no general manager for the property, so as a guest expect an informal, homespun experience. This is like staying in a wealthy friend’s private home with all the idiosyncrasies one might experience when staying in an old house.
We were invited to afternoon tea in the library, an opportunity to meet Manuel Morales de Jodar, the owner.
The flamboyant, Chinese themed library, although a relatively recent addition to the property, has a wonderful vintage feel, capturing the flavour of the great houses of European where the voyages and discoveries of the golden age were celebrated.
Over Earl Grey Tea and cake, the owner Manolo (as he liked to be called) recounted stories and legends about the palace. Speaking in Spanish and English, Manolo, an expert in fine art, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim in NYC, explained the details of the many personal artefacts in the house, brought together, or received as gifts over the years from friends in the world of art and fashion, and now curated into a fascinating collection.
Our evocatively named room was ‘El Rey’, The King; appropriate for a palace I guess. The room was spacious, with a high ceiling of eucalyptus beams and clay tiles, and traditional shuttered windows looking out over the street and village.
The floor was of waxed terracotta tiles, a rustic touch that contrasted with a few extravagant furnishings such as a large gilt mirror that ran the width of the beds, rococo style chairs (with a Spanish Royal history I was told), thick fabric curtains and interesting ornamental details such as an antique birds cage.
The bathroom was a comfortable size with an enamelled bath with shower over, heated bath rail etc.
The room was well-heated (an important consideration, as here in the Sierra it can get cold in winter) , and there was A/C for the summer. The space needed a few little maintenance touches like fixing the curtain pelmet etc. but overall had a rather compelling ambiance. As I say, it’s like staying in an old country house with all it is benefits and eccentricities.
Before it got dark we went and explored the village – its streets are full of fascinating architecture. Look out too for the local anise distilleries.
The village of Cazalla de la Sierra is famous for its aniseed flavoured liqueur – made from the Mediterranean herb that grows profusely in Andalucía.
The property is built around a typical Andalusian patio courtyard, a real sun trap, with sun loungers and chairs.
Above, on a higher terrace is an extravagant Seville style fountain over a large pool, which in summer is a refreshing plunge pool for guests.
Dinner was in the hotel. There is a wonderfully decadent formal dining room that looks like something straight out of a period drama; as well as an informal dining room where breakfast is served.
Evening meals are prepared upon request – so let the palace know ahead of time so they can go to the morning market.
Despite the grandeur of the setting the service is relaxed, and at times a little haphazard, from the friendly yet inexperienced team.
Breakfast needs to be ordered the night before. It’s not a buffet – but brought to the table. In my experience dishes didn’t always arrive at the table in the logical order (your bacon might arrive with the yoghurt and before the eggs) but everything was fresh and tasty.
Overall I rather enjoyed my stay. Don’t expect a typical hotel experience or even a well-polished guest house stay – no, this is something very different. The plumbing might groan, or the waiter might forget your second pot of coffee, but the fabulous decor, historic architecture and homespun welcome combine to make for a unique and memorable stay.
Paseo del Moro, 41370 Cazalla de la Sierra, Sevilla
Tel; (+34) 954 883 336