For the discerning traveller looking for picturesque, unspoilt nature, authentic local gastronomy and a touch of luxury and style, they can find it all right here in southern Spain
It may have taken some time, but Andalucía is finally being recognised internationally for more than just for its sun and sea. Artisan, organic food and gastronomy; some of Europe’s finest natural parks and beaches; and the new generation of luxury boutique hotels and resorts with authentic design and character are helping make Andalucia a more sophisticated and compelling destination.
The renewed interest in Andalucia’s artisan foods, Huelva’s exceptional ‘jamón ibérico’ cured ham; the region’s organic cheeses; and of course Jaen’s ‘liquid gold’ olive oil means that southern Spain’s food producers are finding their rightful place on the world stage. Then of course there are the wines…where do I start? The sherries of Jerez, the new wave wineries in Ronda and Axarquia, the white wines from Granada…there are so may to discover and enjoy.
Likewise, no longer are just a few developed kilometres of beaches or signature golf courses sold as the dream Spanish holiday; now Andalucía’s rich and diverse flora and fauna is the reason to book that plane ticket. This southern part of the Iberian peninsula boasts more protected natural areas than almost anywhere else in Europe with biodiversity that is unique on the planet. This is attracting not only nature lovers but creating a surge in adventure and activity breaks that is redefining Andalucía as a travel destination from the coast to the mountains.
The same is true in terms of hospitality. Where once Andalucía might have focused more on the all inclusive, package holiday market, now the south of Spain is developing its boutique B&Bs, small, characterful hotels and exclusive resorts catering for the discerning independent traveller.
Before arriving in the exclusive enclave of Sotogrande, home to some of Europe’s best sailing, polo and golf, one finds a traditional Andalusian estate; its rolling pastures, punctuated by thousand year old olive trees and twisted pines, offer sweeping Mediterranean views. This once private family finca is now public thanks to the significant 350 million euro investment that has transformed it into the luxury resort, Finca Cortesin.
The finca captures the contemporary, world-class identity of Andalucía; with a seductive mix of the old, such as charming rustic white walls, shady bougainvillea clad arcades and peaceful courtyards; with the new, including high tech, upscale guest suites designed by Ana and Christina Calderón, impeccable service and attention to detail that the modern traveller demands.
The hotel’s spa, complete with Spain’s only snow cave is open to non residents, as is the golf course, offering locals the chance to also experience the estate.
Too often the charm of Andalucía’s creative, decorative past has been ignored in preference to bland international minimalism, but at Finca Cortesin one is surrounded by artisan beauty. The property has been interior designed by the late Duarte Pinto Coelho, an acclaimed Portuguese interior designer who made Spain his home. His exceptional creativity and skill in creating unique and timeless spaces is demonstrated everywhere here; from the historic, hand laid, reclaimed stone floor in the entrance lobby and atrium, to the stunning Andalusian courtyard and the Al Andaluz style north African chill out area. The relaxed El Jardín restaurant recreates the style of an Andalusian kitchen with antique Iberian pottery, vintage utensils and old tiles. This attention to design and regional provenance creates a unique experience.
Continue west and one enters the quintessential Andalusian province of Cadiz, with its unspoilt historic villages, pristine beaches and huge natural parks of Mediterranean pines and cork oaks.
Development was slow to take off here, so the area has the charm and beauty that many believe no longer exists in Southern Spain. Small scale hospitality has taken off and family run guest houses and intimate hotels are common here. In and around the stunning hilltop ‘pueblo blanco’ of Vejer de la Frontera for example, one finds a selection of some of the region’s finest boutique hotels, which are attracting a new generation of international and domestic visitor.
The area makes for a wonderful weekend break, with the opportunity to relax on the exceptional beaches of the Costa de la Luz, hike in the mountains and forests, or simply relax, chill out and eat really well.
In fact gastronomy is now a major driver in the travel business and in western Andalucía the hospitality sector is using regional, organic cuisine to help define the experience for the visitor.
Annie B’s Kitchen, in Vejer de la Frontera is a great example of the blossoming food scene in Vejer. Annie has created an acclaimed cooking school at her Casa Alegre home, where clients from all over the world come to learn the joys of preparing Andalusian dishes with fresh local produce. Annie is also a qualified Sherry Educator, so expect to be seduced by the pleasures of Cadiz’s most famous tipple, Jerez.
Just outside Vejer one finds Casa la Siesta. Created by Brit couple Lee and Amelia Thornley, this characterful rural retreat offers guests home cooked meals made from ingredients grown in the garden or sourced locally from producers and farmers markets; so a break here is more than just an escape, it’s a chance to discover new flavours and traditional recipes with a modern twist.
The guest rooms are individually and creatively decorated, with a mix of contemporary comforts like roll top baths, rain forest showers and king size beds, together with authentic features and antiques.
My real favourite though is Hotel Casa del Califa, right on the charming square in the heart of the Vejer. The property is chock-ful of charater, and really encompasses the flavour of Al Andalus. There’s a good restaurant with large patio for summer. The rooms are understated, elegant and comfortable. The hotel’s location means one can walk to everything in the town.
In the last few years Vejer has seen a significant investment – the small local market has been given a chic make-over, there are new restaurants, and the local bars have upped their game, offering great quality tapas and dishes.
To really help unwind, visit the natural Costa de la Luz, less than half an hour from Vejer. It’s no longer a secret that these wide golden sandy beaches are amongst the best in Spain; and thanks to the lack of development, the coastline is unspoilt. Here the wind is often funnelled by the strait of Gibraltar, making water sports very popular, so expect the regular sight of the broad crescents of surfer’s kites dominating the near horizon.
In the autumn the altantic winds can be chilly, but it’s a joy to take a bracing walk along the beaches in the bright sunshine.
I was hosted by Finca Cortesin and Casa La Siesta but this has not influenced my piece. I was a private guest at the Califa. I am a friend of Anne’s B. Please bear in mind that this site and my articles are intended as entertainment only and not a definitive resource for purchasing decisions. Before making any travel or purchasing decision I recommend that you seek as much information as possible from various sources including review sites, guide books and other blogs. If you act based on my writing you do so at your own risk. If you wish to add anything to this piece, simply comment using the WordPress or Facebook plug-in.