WHEN the owners of Cordoba’s most charming boutique hotel decided to expand a few years ago they knew there would be something below the building next door.
But what the Hospes Palacio del Bailio couldn’t have known was the extent of what they would find, including an almost perfectly intact Roman villa, replete with columns and mosaics.
Now, in a wonderful conversion the team have managed to fuse this basement discovery with an underground spa, as well as their main restaurant, Arbequina, on the ground floor.
It is here, during breakfast, lunch or dinner, that guests can marvel at the sheer weight of history at play in this wonderful Andalucian city.
Indeed, there is no better place to stay in Cordoba that offers such a good sense of what this ancient Roman (later Moorish) city can offer.
For this 16th century palace sits on its own small hill in the heart of Cordoba’s casco historico, featuring a series of stunning leafy patios and gardens that help keep the hotel cool in summer.
Even better, the five-star hotel has four-star prices off season (ie now until March, outside key holidays, or in the heat of the summer) when you can get a double room for €150 including vat.
And what lovely rooms they are, particularly the junior suites, facing into the main garden, with its amazing mix of citrus and palms and, of course, enticing pool.
But all the bedrooms are sumptuous, with a deep mix of luxury materials, such as the velvet headboards, while the bathroom products were of a high quality and came appropriately with dressing gowns and slippers.
My junior suite was particularly impressive, particularly with its fresco paintings of historical scenes and its unusual aerodynamic roll-top bath.
What I liked most however, was the arrival at the palace through an ancient arch, onto cobbles, where carriages once disgorged their privileged visitors before turning around another large leafy ivy-clad patio.
It was so evocative of centuries past and has been so carefully restored with nothing out of place.
From here you’re into the lobby, which blends contemporary chic with avant-garde fittings and furnishings, while all the original decor, including the 18th century frescoes in the main patio have been carefully restored.
This is a lovely place to start the day taking breakfast, which generously runs until 11.30am, before it converts into the main restaurant, now with talented Javier Moreno at the helm.
While already a reference in the Michelin guide Moreno should take this to new levels – hopefully a star – after his years spent working with three Michelin star genius Angel León in Cadiz.
A frequent traveller to Japan, he has worked for a number of years in Budapest, and loves ‘fusion food’.
“My food is constantly changing and evolving thanks to all my frequent journeys and travel,” he told ABC newspaper last month.
The hotel appropriately doffs its cap to famous local bullfighter Manolete, who was so rated in his 1940s heyday, that a film was made starring Adrien Brody and Penelope Cruz in 2008.
The Cordoba matador died in a tragic goring in nearby Linares in 1947, but his legend lives on thanks to a collection of wonderful black and white photographs on the walls of the atmospheric hotel bar.
A likely visitor to the 16th-century palace, Manolete was said to love the Cristo de los Faroles square right behind the hotel, so the placement is fitting.
One other major key benefit of staying at the palace is its location. While it is in the pedestrianised casco historico you are not in the main drag so you won’t get swamped with tourists like in the Jewish or Patio quarters, which are still only a ten minute walk away.
For more information visit www.hospes.com/es/palacio-bailio or call (34) 957 498 993