HEADING SOUTHEAST FROM SEVILLE, we drove for 55 miles toward the town of Villamartin. The HOTEL CORTIJO SOTO REAL is set on a magnificent 5,000-acre estate, and having entered its heavy iron gates, we continued through olive groves for another 10 minutes before reaching the grand amber and white manor house. During the 1950s, the property was greatly extended by an Arab prince, who bred bulls and used it as a family retreat. In 2001, however, the property was sold to its current Belgian owner, who has since created a country house hotel with 25 rooms divided among the Palacio (which contains six stunning suites, including "El Torreon," a tower suite with sweeping views over the surrounding countryside), the new Cortijo wing and the Plaza de Toros, a villa adjacent to an old bullfighting ring.

An excellent lunch on a sunny terrace overlooking the large swimming pool was followed by a long walk through the fields and then a dip in the indoor pool, part of aspacious spa that alsoincludes a hammam,sauna,

Jacuzzi and several jet showers. Before dinner, we decided to take a glass of manzanilla (a type of fino sherry) in the drawing room, and so happened upon the charming owner, who divides his time between this property and others in Namibia and Phoenix, Ariz. It quickly became apparent why this is such an exceptionally pleasant hotel, as he is a friendly and worldly man who is both a natural host and a connoisseur of fine hotels.

Our room in the Cortijo wing was spacious and beautifully designed, with ochre-painted walls, Moorish style lattice doors and terra-cotta floors. In addition to a separate sitting area, it had a private terrace. A lavish bath provided a whirlpool tub and Hermes toiletries. Activities on the estate include mountain biking, partridge shooting and riding. As well as a selection of pure Spanish and Spanish-Arabian horses, the hotel has two horse-drawn carriages available for picnics.