If you are in southern Spain, anywhere within 50 to 100 miles of Ronda, you just have to come to this place.
It is a hotel created from an old mill, complete with mill race beside it, and has developed over the years since it opened in 1987 into a genuinely comfortable, beautifully located, totally restful gastro-hotel.
When I studied A Level Spanish very many years ago there used to be an essay title that cropped up on the essay paper most years – “España; pais de contrastes” (Spain, country of contrasts). This hotel illustrates that statement well. I want to say “it’s totally Andaluz in décor, atmosphere, history, in its charming personnel and in its cuisine and wines”; all of this is true. However it is also owned by an English couple, not born and bred Andaluces. I want to say “the rooms look rustic in a typically Andaluz way, with the beautiful natural colours of that region”. All of that is true, but it is also true to say that the fittings are modern, that almost everything actually works and that the towels are big enough for a normal person.
I love the fact that there is no TV in the rooms, taking up space and cluttering up the lovely décor. Most people who need a screen bring one with them these days anyway. At the time of writing (July 2015) there is excellent wi-fi in parts of the hotel, although wifi in rural Spain is inevitably less strong than in urban areas and some rooms do not have an effective signal so don’t rely on catching up with the latest episode of Holby City in bed each night. (This naturally enough begs the question – why would you want to?? You are staying in this glorious place, let reality take over from fiction for a while!)
I’ve said that the owners are English, but all the staff are from the local area so the sounds of Spain still permeate the cool corridors and shady dining terrace as they chat to each other and to you if you choose to practice your Spanish. Most of them speak English too, and some speak other languages, and whatever the language there is always someone who will do their best to give any help that is needed.
The food here is very good; if you are a hotel guest, there is a good breakfast buffet, and you can also order eggs in any way you want. Because there is warm crispy bacon and grilled mushrooms on the buffet table you can end up with an English breakfast if you want.
But lunch and dinner are the stars, along with the attentive service of staff who treat you like people, not just paying public. On this visit the weather was hot, so for lunch I had a beautifully-textured gazpacho which came not only with some chopped accompaniments as you would expect but also with a small blob of olive oil ice cream in the middle.
My friend had a sizzling pil-pil, then we shared a small plate of round croquetas, very light and with different flavours such as squid ink, prawn and fish.
We then avoided the heat of the afternoon in all the pleasurable little ways that this location offers – lie by pool, swim, read by pool, swim, lie in shade, swim, lie in sun, swim, stroll through gardens, swim etc. If it had been colder we might have strolled along the river Guadiaro, stopping to watch the trout from time to time, or for very little money we might have taken the local train up to Ronda or down to Algeciras on the coast. But frankly, my dear, it was too damn hot.
Soon it was supper time, and again we had the enjoyable dilemma of what to choose as we sat again on the dining terrace by the mill-race. This time I opted for a cold pea, mint and ginger soup which was delicious and in which the ginger was only just noticeable, just as it should be. My friend had beef carpaccio with wasabi ice cream – charcuterie products are a speciality of this little town, and are always excellent, and the wasabi ice cream worked surprisingly well. We then both had the caramelised baby squid.
We had enormous pleasure choosing a local wine – we know from previous visits that the red wines of Ronda are an up-and-coming delight. Unlike in many parts of Spain the producers in the Ronda area don’t just try and reproduce the same flavour every year in industrial quantities, they take more of the French approach and roll with the punches that each year gives them. We ended up with a glass first of Bodega Conrad’s Leona Hermosa white, the most delicious mix of Moscatel Grano Menudo, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc, followed by the delicious Niño León red, a mix of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc