For the discerning traveller looking for picturesque, unspoilt nature, authentic local gastronomy and a touch of luxury and style, there is no need to go far afield; it’s all right here in southern Spain
It may have taken some time, but Andalucía is becoming increasingly recognised not just for its sun and sea, but for much broader attributes and qualities. These encompass artisan, organic food and gastronomy; some of Europe’s finest natural parks and beaches; and the new breed of luxury boutique hotels and resorts with authentic design and character.
The renaissance in Andalucia’s artisan foods, like Huelva’s exceptional ‘jamón ibérico’ cured ham; the region’s organic cheeses; and of course Jaen’s olive oil liquid gold means that southern Spain’s food producers are finding their rightful place on the world stage.
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 star of the show. 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 at the forefront of the new style of both boutique and exclusive resort hospitality catering for the discerning independent traveller.
What’s more, for many of us this luxurious and beautiful Andalucía is on our doorstep; there is no need to take a flight, just pack a weekend bag and go west!
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 estate 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.
That Andaluz influence is also felt at its destination restaurant, Schilo, which fuses contemporary Asian influences with some classic recipes, using ingredients grown in its own estate orchards and allotments.
So expect signature dishes such as Green Tomato Gazpacho with Langoustines, Daikon Salad and Ginger.
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 country’s finest boutique hotels, which are attracting a new generation and a new type of visitor to Spain.
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.
Take for example Casa la Siesta, near the culturally and architecturally rich town of Vejer. Created and run my 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.
As with Finca Cortesin, the theme of regional provenance in the interior design is continued here too, with wonderful, tiled floors made with reclaimed antique Andalusian and Iberian ceramics.
This new generation of boutique hotel is intimate, relaxed, and has a rustic chic style that perfectly complements this corner of authentic Andalucía, whilst still offering those luxuries like an swimming pool that make a rural retreat a holiday experience.
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.
Next time you feel the urge to escape, remember that an indulgent, authentic, healthy break is closer than you think; it’s right here in Andalucía.