…I hear you ask…My sentiments exactly.
‘Torrox? Where’s Torrox?’ Should we care?
That was more or less my opinion until I actually spent time in the mountain town, east of Malaga.
As a travel writer I had been invited together with other travel journalists from across Europe for a FAM trip – a familiarisation experience, intended to introduce the highlights of the area of Torrox. The local hotel that was to host us was being given the chance to showcase the area. They hoped to convince us as to, ‘Why should guests stay in Torrox?’
For me that was a very valid question! I wasn’t really looking forward to it.
I was wrong, and I hope some of you reading this will have the opportunity to be proved wrong too.
Last month I was invited by a UK TV show to visit a small Brit-run, family hotel in Torrox Pueblo, in the area known as Axarquia.
I thought twice about it as although parts of Axarquia are truly charming, and it boasts some stunning natural scenery, the mountain town of Torrox Pueblox and its corresponding coastal strip of Torrox Costa are not exactly renowned for their picturesque qualities.
The beach at Torrox Costa is quite attractive- not the buildings though – head up to Torrox Pueblo for a more authentic Andalusian experience
24 hours in Axarquia
Yet I accepted the invitation, and after 24 hours in Torrox I certainly had a different perspective, having been shown a little of the hidden charm of this regular Andalusian town.
My home for the night was La Casa Hotel – a small property, with 8 comfortable rooms, run by Neil, Sarah and Karen and to be featured on the Channel 5 show, ‘The Hotel Inspector’ hosted by Alex Polizzi, airing on Thursday 28th May, 2015.
The hotel looked in great shape, so maybe Alex had already worked her magic by the time we arrived. Either way Alex was eager to introduce the family and let them showcase Torrox and its environs.
However just let me say that this is no chic mountain village like Vejer de la Frontera, or dramatically beautifully town like Ronda. No, Torrox is an authentic, working town – what you see is what you get.
In fact Axarquia positions itself strongly on its authentic credentials, as opposed to the better known and more developed Costa del Sol. Here, despite some ugly coastal development and construction of rural houses in the countryside, Axarquia is still fairly peaceful – as a writer I would be tempted to describe it as the ‘hidden Spain’ or the ‘authentic Andalucia’.
There are a few notable Axarquia towns, such as the pretty seaside resort of Nerja, and the charmingly quaint village of Frigiliana, but these are overwhelmed with visitors in summer and even in winter they feel slightly disconnected from Spain, due to the high number of foreign residents living there, many of whom don’t speak Spanish or fully integrate with the local way of life.
The charming view from the terrace of Hotel La Casa
Torrox prides itself on having the best climate in Europe – an attractive microclimate thanks to the mountains and sea that together keep things from getting excessively hot in summer or uncomfortably cold in winter. The day I arrived the town lived up to its reputation, as coming from my home in Marbella, on the western Costa del Sol, it was unseasonably chilly and rainy, yet as I climbed the winding road to the town of Torrox, I was enjoying clear skies and sunshine.
La Casa Hotel
As in most historic towns in Southern Spain, access by car can be tricky. Torrox has a large free car park at the entrance of the town where it is advisable to ditch the car and walk or get the little shuttle bus.
There is another carpark in the old quarter, which although harder to reach (it involves passing through some heart-stoppingly narrow lanes), is more convenient for the Hotel La Casa, my home for the night.
This is not the type of hotel I would normally choose for a stay – anyone that follows me online knows I love period boutique properties with lots of authentic details and a kitchen that serves local food; or alternatively upscale plush properties where I can lose myself in a fantasy world of decadent luxury.
With Sarah, co-owner and Alex Polizzi – photo from the lovely Marianne at East of Malaga.
La Casa is neither, yet I really enjoyed my stay! My hosts are the authentic element of the hotel. They are truly welcoming and fun people. They make no excuses for running a hotel for Brits, serving UK style breakfast cereals and croissants at breakfast, and offering an international menu in their in-house restaurant, which although very tasty, offered few cues that the hotel is in Spain. Yet at the end of the day they want guests to feel comfortable, and they are very good at that.
The owners, sisters Karen and Sarah, and Sarah’s husband Neil are great hosts. Staying at Hotel La Casa is not about them, it’s all about their guests. I’ve stayed at a hundred and one small and boutique hotels and often when they are owner-run, it becomes all about the hosts – their interests, their idea of style, their schedule, their idea of cleanliness, their idea of comfort – and somehow the guests just have to fit in. I often think that too many people go into hospitality without any training, expertise and often lacking the fundamental desire to make guests feel welcome.
That’s where things are different at Hotel La Casa. As soon as I arrived it was clear that this family-run property is very welcoming. It may not be oozing Andalusian charm, or filled with antiques and period features reflecting the area, but it is filled with plenty of laughter, goodwill and a very welcoming energy. The hotel is immaculately clean and beautifully presented and has lots of personal details, including some paintings by Karen.
What’s more prices at the hotel are remarkably good value ranging from just 59 euro for a standard double in low season to a modest 135 euro for the suite, the best room in the hotel, in high season.
As a funny aside, I can’t help but mention that my guest room was called ‘Matador’. For me that wasn’t a great start. Evocative yes, but in a good way? I’m not so sure. In fact in Castilian Spanish that’s a real ‘no-no’. For foreigners it may just be a cliché, a reference to Andalusian bullfighters but in Spanish it is not the right term for fighter, here they are called ‘toreadors’ – matador simply means ‘killer’ – not a very enticing name for a bedroom – Bates Motel comes to mind. For me it showed a slight lack of understanding of the local culture.
Yet as my visit progressed I realised these judgements were probably unfair. The sisters threw themselves into the culture and the language, without fear – certainly more than most foreigners do here in Southern Spain, and clearly with their families growing up in the village, these hotel owners really are part of the local communinity. Also, I couldn’t help but be impressed by my guest room personalised welcome letter and gift basket of local produce, whihc helped to tie the property back to its location (as well as a bottle of red wine – oh, they know how to win me over!).
My hosts took time to create an itinerary to showcase their area. I have to admit to being familiar with some of the highlights, such as the stunning, world-class Nerja caves and beautiful little ‘lost village’ of El Acebuchal but there were also other fascinating details like a visit to a local olive oil mill – tasty oil that I would have loved to have seen in the hotel, on the breakfast table.
The itinerary certainly reinforced to me just how well-placed Torrox is for visitors looking to explore this part of Southern Spain. If one wants to hike the extraordinary natural park of the Sierras of Tejeda, Almijara and Almara (a favourite of mine), enjoy a day trip to Granada and see the Alhambra, or explore the sights of Axarquia, then one can do a lot worse than stay at the great value, welcoming and comfortable La Casa Hotel in Torrox. It’s an unpretentious, authentic town where even in summer you will avoid the crowds of visitors and instead feel part of a normal, uncontrived community.
At the end of my 24 hours in Torrox, I sat enjoying a cold beer in the main square as the sun went down, and I really quite liked the town! Yes, you know what, it is the hidden Spain, it is off the beaten track, it is off the tourist trail, so head-on over and experience something authentic!
(I will do a feature in SUR in English, but wait to tie it in with a local feria like the famous Migas festival).
Plazuela de Barajas No. 3
Tel: (+34) 952 53 5471
P.S. 29 May, 2015 –
Having watched the show last night I was really pleased to see that the sisters came over so well on camera – I think anyone watching the programme couldn’t help but want them to succeed.
On a personal note it was a pity that the contributions from the journalists were edited (I did say more than just a comment about arisan bread and organic tomatoes, promise! :). Each of us made some valuabe suggestions to how the property could succeed; for example I know that if the sisters collaborated with local guides and small group travel companies specialising in nature, hiking, food and culture tours I confident they could win clients. The natural park on their doorstep there is a significant potential for this type of quality rural tourism…