The Secret Hotels of Andalucía

Pitch for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

By Reid Bramblett


These are the Secret Hotels of Andalucía: Old Moorish homes in the city center, farm complexes in the mountains, converted Renaissance townhouses, and medieval ducal palaces—all starting as low as €38 to €90 ($49 to $117) for a double room. Few charge more than €120 ($156) even in high season.

Below I've assembled a grab bag of 19 potentials in a variety of destinations scattered across Andalucía, from the major tourist stops (Seville, Cordoba, Granada), to the best of the smaller cities, medieval towns, and countryside.

This is just a "proof of concept" document, not a formal pitch (which explains the sometimes telegraphic text)—a collection of possibilities, not a final list. We're really spoilt for choice here. I merely want to present samples of all types of options.

Since Secret Hotels pieces really sell themselves on the imagery—the "Oh my God, I just have to go there right now" reaction to paging through the magazine—I'll illustrate each with a series of pics (grabbed from the hotels' own Web sites, which explains the size and resolution discrepancies), followed by summaries of some of the more intriguing aspects of each property.

Price ranges quoted are for standard double rooms and reflects both low and high seasons (leaving off any price spike that occurs only on a handful of special days, like Easter or the local Fiesta).

Hostería Lineros 38

Cordoba From €40 ($52)

Description: Rooms done with boutique flair and Arabian Nights-styling set in a in a Mujédar /Moorish-style building in the heart of the historic center, 300 yards from the Mezquite Mosque and Cathedral. The rooms are gorgeous; the rates positively phenomenal.

Details: Calle Lineros 38, tel. +34-957-482-517, Doubles €40–€94.

Fundación Casa de Medina Sidonia

Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Cádíz) From €60 ($78)

Description: In one of the most famous sherry towns, just up the Costa de la Luz from Cádiz, you can live like a duke for under $100 a night. This ducal palace in the heart of the city was founded in the 11th century (and rebuilt in the 15th century) on the foundations of an Arab ribat, and it retains many Moorish architectural influences.

It has belonged to the Dukes of Medina Sidonias since 1297 (one of the line, Duke Alonso Perez de Guzmán el Bueno, was in charge of the vaunted Spanish Armada when it was famously defeated by Sir Francis Drake in 1588). Until she died last year, the palace was the home of the 21st Duchess of Medina Sidonia and her historical research foundation.

(Aside: The Red Duchess is a great story. She inherited her title in 1955 at age 19, divorced her husband—scandalously, at the time—spent time in prison when in her 60s for opposing Franco, and, just a few days before her death in 2008, married her longtime secretary—and apparent lesbian lover—Lilianne Dahlmann, who has now inherited the palace and its famous archives, one of Europe's greatest and most precious private collection of medieval documents.)

But it's not even the deep history that really sells this place; it's the elegant rooms themselves. In addition to a tearoom open to the public, there are nine guest rooms in the hospedería of the original, Arab-inflected wing of the palace. They feature period furnishings, painted tile floors, and views over the Doñana National Park across the Guadalquivir River at the point where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

How it is they start at only €60 is beyond me.

Details: Plaza de los Condes de Niebla 1, tel. +34-956-360-161, Doubles €60–€120.

Hotel Simón

Seville From €50 ($65)

Description: This 18th-century mansion in the historic center—on a side street just a block from the cathedral—manages to give off that wonderful feeling of a Seville hotel from yesteryear. It just feels authentic—perhaps because it was the flagship of Spain's first hotel chain, started in the 19th century by the Simón family (they sold it to the Aguayo family at the end of the Civil War, which still runs the joint).

From the central courtyard draped in greenery around fountain in the middle (where check-in and breakfast happen), you ascend wide staircases to dimly-let halls paved in hand-painted tiles—wonderfully aged and cracked in places—with salons where paintings are lit by chandeliers.

Very Olde World elegant. Rooms vary widely, but even the simplest ones are well-decorated rooms, with gauzy curtains that billow with the breeze.

Details: C/ García de Vinuesa 19, tel. +34-95-422-6660, Doubles €50–€120.

Hotel America

Granada From €90 ($117)

Description: Everybody visits Granada to tour the vast Moorish castle complex called the Alhambra, and the chance to stay in the Alhambra would be like a bit bunking down at Vatican City or sleeping inside the Tower of London.

Not that staying in the Alhambra is a secret. Everyone who does a little research on Andalucia quickly discovers the famous and fantastic Parador de Granada on Alhambra grounds. Then they see that it is expensive (from €311), and routinely books up a full year in advance, and they move on to find a place elsewhere in town.

Little do they know about the Hotel América.

This is a private summer home from the 19th century turned into a Victorian hotel in the 1920s (in the Garzón family since the 1930s), and it, too, is inside the gates of the Alhambra, just steps away from its more famous neighbor, the parador, and 100 yards from the Court of the Lions. The chance to sleep over inside the quiet grounds, when all the tourists have melted away and the sounds revert to bird song and the quiet babble of fountains, is one of those travel experiences of a lifetime.

So much the better that the America is also pretty gorgeous inside: all wood-beamed ceilings, exposed brick and stonework, and Moorish accents. In keeping with the calm, quiet atmosphere, there are no TVs (but there is free WiFi).

The 17 rooms overlook either the garden courtyard shaded by grape vines, or the Royal Street of the Alhambra, with the Alhambra gardens and Sierra Nevada mountains in the background. At the high end of rates, it's a bit of a splurge for us (Granada seems to be in general, as you'll see in the next option), but in this case it is undoubtedly well worth it.

Details: C/ Real de la Alhambra 53, tel. +34-958-227-471, Doubles €90–€160.

Hotel Casa Morisca

Granada From €86 ($112)

Description: Since this town home was built in the 15th century, before the Reconquista, it retains traces of its Moorish pool and gallery of columns around the patio. It's in the Albayzin district of the old city at the foot of the Alhambra Hill, so many rooms come with fab views of the Alhambra directly above—and you’re perfectly sited to visit both the Alhambra and the sights around town on foot.

The rooms have wood ceilings, antique or contemporary wooden furnishings with Moorish styling, and all the comforts (TV, minibar, A/C, free WiFi). The owners have kept a stricter eye on historical restoration than most other old hotels in town (local craftsmen doing repairs must use only the original building materials, like clay tiles and lime mortar).

They couldn't alter the "new" (17th-century) façade, but when they wanted to restore the turret on the top floor, they dug up a photograph from 1859 so they could get the details just right. Twelve of the 14 rooms ring in at the prices below, but there are two special rooms (at €150–€198) and I couldn't resist including (at the end) an image of the Mirador (the one with the Alhambra out the window) and one of the double with sitting room (with its 15th century painted wood ceiling)

Details: Cuesta de la Victoria, 9, tel. +34-958-221-100, Doubles €86–€214.

Las Cuevas El Abanico

Granada From €70 ($91)

Description: The Sacromonte is the gypsy quarter of Granada, a famous hillside hamlet made up of whitewashed cave-homes burrowed into the low hill across from Alhambra. Tourists flock here in the evenings for flamenco shows (especially the Oriental gypsy zambra variant) and then quickly file back out again. A few lucky ones stay to spend the night in their every own cave-home.

No, these five troglodyte apartments are not fancy (no TV or telephones), but that's part of the point. You're living like people have on this hill for hundreds of years. There's no A/C because you don't need it; these whitewashed houses dug into the hillside keep a constant, cool temperature even when it's broiling out (and stay cozy warm in winter with the help of a fireplace).

Plus you get a kitchen, a flower-bedecked patio, a short stroll through the old Arabic Albayzín quarter to the Alhambra, and amazing bragging rights for having stayed in the famous cave-houses. Minimum stay of 2 nights.

Note: If we want to keep the cave concept but go with one of the other hotels above for Granada, there are several other cave-house hotels in Andalucía. Rates for these countryside caves are around €67–€85 for a one-bedroom (sleeping 2), or €104-€140 for a two-bedroom (sleeping 4). Here are a few options:,,

Details: Verea de Enmedio 89, Sacromonte, tel. +34-958-226-199, 1BR cave-house (for 1-2 people) €70; 2BR cave-house (for 1-4) €110.

La Casa Grande

Arcos de la Frontera From €71 ($92)

Description: Arcos is the anchor town of the famous Route of the Pueblos Blancos connecting a series of whitewashed towns and villages across the provinces of Málaga and Cádiz.

This manor house built in the center of Arcos in 1729 by a knightly family and bought in 1998 and converted into a hotel by Barcelona native Elena Posa. It sits on the edge of a cliff with gorgeous countryside views—some rooms have private terraces overlooking the Guadalete River.

A roof terrace lets all guests enjoy the panorama—stretching from the farm fields below and mountains in the distance to the castle and churches of the medieval city close at hand. Otherwise, life centers around the central glass-covered courtyard. Rooms vary, but all have whitewashed walls and wood-beamed ceilings, locally hand-woven bedspreads and carpets, and bathrooms tiles from Fes, Morocco.

The owner favors organic, earthy textures, so everything is made of wood, clay, iron, marble, stone, cotton, silk, or linen.

Details: Maldonado 10, tel. +34-956-703-930, Doubles €71–€85 (€95 during fiestas), or €92–€98 (€111 in fiesta) for one with a private terrace; jr. suite €82–€119.

Posada Los Cántaros

Sierra de Gibralgalia (Málaga)From €84 ($109)

Description: Is there such a thing as a boutique farmhouse hotel? A Belgian-Spanish couple fun this one of just five rooms in a 19th century farmhouse 23 miles inland from Málaga. This place screams Spanish country refinement in its decor: Terracotta floors, stone fireplaces, candles, embroidered sheets, and hand-painted ceramic tile headboards. Funky touches like incense and "chromatherapy" showers (water changes color with temperature). There's a pool in the gardens, and the restaurant serves hearty but refined mountain fare (grilled meats, cheese fondues, Iberico ham, etc).

Details: Don Ramon 29569 Sierra de Gibralgalia, Málaga. tel. +34-952-423-563, Doubles €84 (superior/suites €129–€152).

Hotel San Gabriel

Ronda From €60 ($78)

Description: Ronda—a gaggle of houses crowding to the edge of a gorge that drops away on three sides—is the most spectacular of the Pueblos Blancos, a series of whitewashed towns in the Andalusian interior (I threw in a few shots of the town below). It's also the birthplace of one of Andalucía's most famous (albeit controversial) exports: the modern bullfight.

This hotel opened about a decade ago in an Andalusian house from 1726 in the heart of the historic old town. Rooms vary widely, with a mix of rich brocades and curtains, exposed brick, terracotta floors, Moorish accents in tile work, the occasional Art Nouveau flourish, lichen-spotted roof tiles, and plaster walls painted in warm, sort colors.

Free WiFi, a plant-filled patio with a fountain, pre-dinner glasses of sherry in the wine cellar, a poetry corner that looks like a bespoke private office, and a tiny movie room with seats salvaged from the town's old cinema.

Details: C/ Marqueses De Moctezuma 19, tel. +34-952-190-392, Doubles €88–€98 (from €60 with online specials).

Alcazar de la Reina

Carmona From €64 ($83)

Description: Massive Mujédar fortress filled with centuries of royal intrigue (illicit loves, betrayals, executions, and successions). Now a four-star hotel with decidedly non-four-star prices, plus a pool, sauna, massage room, restaurants, tapas bar, pub, and other high-end amenities.

Details: C/ Hermana Concepción Orellana 2, tel. +34-954-196-200, Doubles. €64–€110.

Alquería de los Lentos

Niguelas From €75 ($97)

Description: In his rambles around Andalcucia immortalized in Alhambra, Washington Irving mentioned the "murmuring sound of water" rising from "yon a Moorish mill" in the village of Nigüelas, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada National Park (15 minutes from Granada, 20 minutes from the Alpujarras villages).

That 16th century mill has now become of the best rural retreats in Spain, a family-run property of 16 rooms—all suites—spread around the grounds, with 7 in the old mill, 4 in the store house, and 5 in the converted stables. All combine rustic elements with modern comforts and styling: exposed ceiling beams and brick walls, horseshoe arch doorways, terracotta floors, and elegantly unobtrusive furnishings. Most have private terraces and wood-burning stoves.

The old irrigation canals still bubble and burble though the property, and the pond has been converted into a swimming pool, and there's a Moorish hammam (steam bath). They can arrange horseback rides, mountain bike tours, plenty of hiking, and more. There's also a restaurant serving country cuisine. This place is an ideal countryside inn—especially for the price.

Details: Camino de los Molinos, tel. +34-958-777-850, Doubles from €75.

Cortijo La Torrera

Outside Lùjar (near Motril) From €38 ($49)

Description: I really have only two things to say. Look at the pictures above. Now look at the price. Wow. I mean, it’s not fancy, but if it's a rural retreat you're after, the price is unbeatable.

This is a 150-year-old traditional Spanish cortijo (country farmhouse) at the foot of the Sierra Nevadas, less than two miles from the beach, about 90 minutes outside Granada. It's small: just four doubles and a cottage. The rooms all have separate entrances, a small pool, wine bar, and a reading/TV room.

Details: Rambla de Lujar, tel. +34-958-349-139, Doubles €38–€50.


Benhavis (near Marbella) From €99 ($129)

Description: This place really feels like that Spanish home you've always wanted to have in a sunny Moorish village in the hills above the chic Costal del Sol resort of Marbella.

Each room has a fanciful name conjuring up adventure in olden times ("The Alchemist's Laboratory," The Horse Thief's Hideout," "The Spice Traders Caravan"). They're wonderfully decorated; go to the site for 360-deg views of each.

It also has a highly regarded restaurant serving refined local cuisine.

Details: Calle Pilar 3, Benhavis, Malaga, tel. +34-952-856-026, Doubles €99-€139.

Alqueria de Morayma

Ctra. Càdiar From €58 ($75)

Description: Eco-tourism resort and farm complex on 40 hectares of organic vineyards and trees (almond, fig, olive, fruit) in the Alpujarra mountains of Granada province, overlooking the Sierra Nevada National Park.

There are 18 rooms (from €62) and 4 apartments (the latter top out at a whopping €104 for a two-bedroom house) mixing country furnishings and antiques, local textiles and ceramics, with lots of lovely wood carving in the details.

The rustic restaurant with roaring fireplace (in warm weather: dine on a terrace with views) serves traditional stews, migas, and other local dishes—and, of course, their own organic wines—with set lunch menus at €12.

Library, outdoor pool, lots of trekking possibilities—you gotta love a place that, in addition to driving directions, also has this in their website's "How to get here" section: "If you are arriving on foot we are 2 km downstream from Cadiar following the banks of the river Guadalfeo."

Details: Ctra. Càdiar, tel. +34-958-343-221 or +34-958-343-303, Doubles €58–€66.

On Beaches

Since Andalucía is also famous for the Costa del Sol and other beach breaks for Brits we'd be remiss in not including a beach side option. Port of the problem, though, is that most of the beaches are unbroken lines of sprawling resorts and cement-block hotel towers. Also, prices tend to spike pretty pricey in high season.

Also to keep in mind: the Costa del Sol (Mediterranean) beaches have grey sand; for the more visually appealing yellow sand, we'd need to focus on the Costa del Luz (Atlantic). My preliminary research has tuned up at least a few options of how to address this:

Barceló Isla Canela

Ayamonte From €75 ($97)

Description: A resort, yes, but a relatively modestly sized one, and very nice with thoroughly reasonable rates. (And in truth, if what beachgoers are after is a resort, not a B&B, perhaps we owe it to them to find the best version of that out there.)

It's also on Isla Canela, a far less developed and less package tour-saturated beach, but a pretty one, where low tide creates many small sandbar islands. It lies at the far north end of Costa del Luz—in fact, some rooms facing west probably have views over Portugal, which is just across the Rio Guadiana channel 1.6 miles away. Open May–Oct.

Details: Paseo de los Gavilanes, Isla Canela, tel. +34-959-477-124, Doubles €75–€117.

Hotel Playa de Regla

Chipiona (near Jerez) From €66 ($86)

Description: This fits at least one bill: right on the beach, but decidedly not a modern hotel complex. It's a thoroughly Andalucían-looking property, 28 colonial-styled converted from an early 20th century family home of white stucco, Spanish roof tiles, and wrought-iron balconies. There's a also a roof terrace for sunset cocktails.

Details: Paseo Costa de la Luz 29, Chipiona (Cadiz), Tel. +34-956-372-769, Doubles €66–€137.

100% Fun

Tarifa From €80 ($104)

Description: Overlooking the dunes and wide horseshoe of wave-pounded sand comprising one of Europe's top kitebording and windsurfing beaches.

Got its silly name because it started as a surfer shop, then the owners built vaguely post-modern Polynesian-style bungalows nestled into the tropical garden terraces behind, put in fountains and tribal-style sculptures, a pool, and a Tex Mex restaurant, and suddenly they had a surfer hangout par excellence along the Costa del Luz.

Details: Along the E-5 from Cadiz to Malaga at km marker 76 (8km from Tarifa). Tel. +34-672-027-593, , Doubles €80-€135.

Hotel La Chancla

Málaga From €39 ($51)

Description: A suitably beach bum sort of place, nine intensely cheap rooms in a little yellow bungalow by the sands of the Costa del Sol in the Pedregalajo fishing quarter of Málaga. Rooftop hot tub, popular bar (maybe a problem at night?), free WiFi.

Details: Paseo Maritimo El Pedregal 64, Pedregalejo, Malaga. tel. +34-952-206-900, Doubles €39–€79.

The Town House

Marbella From €125 ($162)

Description: This place is run by Swedes, and it shows, with a rather more restrained modern style than your typical Spanish proeprty. It's 300 yards from the beach boardwalk in the historic center of the resort town of Marbella—chichiest of the Costa del Sol towns, which makes this place something of a find since its prices are not astronomical (and only slightly above the others on this list).

Details: C/Alderete 7 at Plaza Tetuán, tel. +34-952-901-791, Doubles €125–€145.

Pitch by:
Reid Bramblett