Our taxi is bombing down the moonlit motorway, the garrulous driver jabbering away incomprehensibly. Uncharacteristically, Mr Smith and I are silent (all that remains of my GCSE Spanish is a smattering of stationery terms – una goma, una calculadora y un sacapuntas – and I can’t see this spicing up the conversation). Suddenly, Córdoba appears before us, its lights winking in the darkness like gold dust on velvet. Mr Smith nearly ruins the sense of mystery when he spies a sign for a shop called Porcenalosa on the roadside, and declares, ‘They have one of those in Wandsworth.’ But I’m practised in selective hearing, and ignore him.
As we enter the city, walled ramparts slide into view like a dinosaur’s jagged back, and we pass grandiose palaces, nocturnal teenagers, and neon-lit tapas bars. In a tangle of side streets, the car slows down and purrs into a stone archway, lit by glimmering floor lights. A dapper concierge emerges from Hospes Palacio del Bailío’s courtyard to take our luggage, usher us into the sleek lobby and guide us past pearlescent wall panels, elegant sofas in silvery mushroom and burnt orange, and sparkly globe lights like giant baubles. Our white-walled corner room is more than roomy – there’s a sitting area with two leather chairs, Juliet-balconied windows overlooking the outdoor pool, a gargantuan grey-granite bathroom, and a bed fit for a bordello, its fabric headboard decorated with Moorish curlicues.
Mr Smith looks for liquor, while I discover an in-room treat: plump berries and cake dipped in dark chocolate. Our intentions of exploring vanish, and we order in steaming bowls of spaghetti bolognese, crack open a bottle of red, and run a bubble bath. Tub time makes way for bedtime, when I risk a thorn in my (back)side by sitting on a spiky, blush-pink rose adorning the duvet. Thankfully Mr Smith rescues it – and my posterior.
‘Where are you?’ he bleats plaintively the next morning, so I roll across our white-sheeted expanse and prod him reassuringly. It’s a struggle to abandon our blankety kingdom, but I’ve heard that the hotel restaurant is glass-floored, with Roman ruins on show underneath. I love a lie-in, but that’s definitely worth getting out of bed for.
Senzone, the Andalucían restaurant is the heart of the hotel. It’s a glass-ceilinged atrium with sculpted chairs and plump velvet sofas, pillars and mosaics visible below, and a mural of a palace occupying an entire wall. The Roman influence extends to the orgiastic approach to catering. Athletically, I polish off 15 items (I counted) from the breakfast buffet. Then I order fried eggs with roast garlic, bacon and spicy sausage. The waiter looks impressed. I order churros with hot chocolate. The waiter looks askance. Mr Smith doesn’t bat an eyelid.
Having breakfasted for Britain, it’s time to explore, and we set off hand in hand, admiring the narrow streets, creamy stone façades and cool, peaceful courtyards. We queue up for the Alcázar of the Christians and wander the castle’s gorgeous gardens. After another edifying dose of mediaeval magnificence care of the Great Mosque of Córdoba, we head for tapas at Bar Santos. Here we devour pavement-sized slabs of tortilla de patata and sip crisp, cold beer while admiring a bride in a white froth of lace, posing for pictures in a flower-bedecked garden. Hours could easily trickle away like this, but spa treatments await.
Back at our boutique hotel, we’re issued with bathrobes and slippers and guided down a spiral staircase, where we can hear a rush of water. The Roman baths are dark and cavernous, with an L-shaped pool split into three sections: cold, less cold and slightly less cold. This intimate hideaway is a seductive little lair (I guess that’s where the cold water comes in handy), but thankfully, Mr Smith and I remain within the bounds of decency.
Soon it’s massage time – Mr Smith plumps for a sports pummelling, and I opt for an Ayurvedic one. As I lie back, I congratulate myself on my choice, especially when I hear whimpering sounds issuing from my beloved’s bed. 50 minutes later, we’re reunited and Mr Smith, I’m glad to see, is still in one piece, though he limps a little when we get into the lift.
We’re booked in for dinner, so I hog the shower while Mr Smith soaks in the bath. Having donned our finery, there’s time for champagne cocktails in the bar – a subterranean stone-walled space with lipstick-red lights, decorated with black and white photographs of a matador. (‘He looks very Spanish,’ Mr Smith utters sagely.) Our drinks come long and strong, and it’s lucky we’re eating soon, because the alcoholic kick and the cigar smoke wafting from the international playboy nearby are making me woozy.
Clinging to sobriety, we claim our table. The dusky night sky dims the restaurant romantically, and there are just a few other couples dining around us, with a clutch of staff, like fish, weaving noiselessly between tables. The meal becomes a blissful blur of silky pea soup with a parmesan foam, fat scallops with tissue-thin ham, and crispy suckling pork with a cloud of amanth seeds. After coffee mousse with a chocolate truffle, we abandon our seats in favour of one of those cushioned sofas.
It’s there that my memory fails me, as regrettably, the red wine sends me to sleep, and poor Mr Smith has to lug me up the stairs (limping and all). Admittedly, I would have to confess this snoozy end to a boozy night has happened before – but never in such sublime surroundings.