19 October 2016

Stay at El Palacio de San Benito, Cazalla de la Sierra

Mid September found hubby & I en route to Cazalla de la Sierra a small town nestled in Hornachuelos Natural Park about an hours drive north from Sevilla city. A white mountain town, well-maintained, full of character (and Anis distilleries) castle, bull ring, church, a cork pressing factory, which was closed both times we tried to visit, a nice find of a Bib Gourmand restaurant and our abode for the night El Palacio de San Benito a charming, luxurious private home guest house.

A wonderful combination of an ancient church and modern reconstruction of an ancient coaching inn with internal Andalucian patio which is also like a museum. Think setting for a period drama and classic Home and Garden Magazine spread combined with a National Trust property full of charm and character, antiques and charisma and a friendly larger than life designer owner who is often present and more than welcoming.

On the main street into town, it's very peaceful. Go in the large entranceway with hefty double wooden doors and the flowing fountain of the interior pario melts away stress. A feeling of peace and calm settles the soul and relax you will, either in the patio itself or on one of the ancient settles or settees in the cosy corridors surrounding the arched, plant-filled, open-air or blind-topped patio.

If even more privacy is required then retire to your room. Ours was Del Infante, the name given to a baby or young child, especially of regal birth, complete with a high canopy, florally decorated four poster bed and matching cot, which we haven't needed for a long while, and a lovely small open fireplace, plus our own charming small plant-walled patio with fountain.

It would have been easy to imagine myself being laced into a bodice by my personal maid, gown laid out on the bed and helped being dressed only to retire to the library, wafting my fan and being a damn nuisance like Mrs Bennett of Pride & Predujice fame. But alas! I tended to my own toilet and made it to dinner without assisstance although hubby the key keeper locked our door with a huge gold ingot-like key fob. I'm a great fan of Jane Austen and a little knowledgeable about English history but rather ignorant of the Spanish aristocracy and their habits and hardships. And though I sometimes fantasize about living back in those times I would in fact hate all that dressing up.

The incredible dining room is for special occasions and larger parties than we were, but what a spot, a film set, again I feel very under-dressed and in a time warp,

I've seen a few Spanish renovations, the Alhambra being one of the greatest. San Benito Palace wowed me the same when I found out part was original and part new. An incredible feat and more than once I thought 'surely this is original.' By the end of our stay my first impressions hadn't waned. This is my style of hotel, my inner want, forget shabby chic, chic modern or modernist, give me old dark wooden furniture and beams, floral fabrics, huge oil paintings, antiques, four poster beds and I feel at home. History, historical, romantic, vintage that's El Palacio.

Enter the hefty, old, made for a carriage wooden entrance doors with me? You can rent El Palacio like a hotel or guest house by the room by the night or rent the whole amazing property for a week or so, a wedding, a banquet, film or photo shoot whatever the reason you go - you'll fall for its charm.

See my Monday Morning Photos of Palacio de San Benito the Via Verde de la Sierra Norte de Sevilla near San Benito.

My post on El Palacio de San Benito on Luxury Spain Travel and Bib Gourmand Restaurante Agustina in Cazalla de la Sierra.

17 October 2016

Monday Morning Photo - La Sagrada Familia

The incredible, amazingly detailed La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona a must-visit Gaudi creation.

03 October 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Palacio de San Benito

Details, details at the lovely Palacio de San Benito, a great place to stay in Cazalla de la Segura within the Hornachuelos Natural Park in  Sevilla province.

26 September 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Via Verde de la Sierra Norte de Sevilla

Fancy a cycle? The rolling Natural Park which hosts the Via Verde de la  Sierra Norte de Sevilla offers fabulous views.

12 September 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Jaen from the Rooftop

Jaen city from the rooftop bar La Novena. See the enormous cathedral in front of the mountains in the background.

08 September 2016

Hotel Castillo de Monda

It wasn't my first trip to Monda, a white town in the mountains behind Marbella, but this time I made it to the top of the castle.

On my previous visit we'd headed up the hill, I don't know whether it's a man's thing or just my hubby, but show him a mountain and he wants to go to the top. So we did. We slogged up the long, winding driveway to the castle only to find it wasn't open for the beer we wanted or the water we needed.

This time it was under new management, newly refurbished, we were driving and we had a reservation so I knew we'd get inside the door. And what doors they are. First through the plant-bedecked main entry gate which appeared to have a bedroom above it, through a pretty patio with inviting tables, chairs and parasols for coffee or a beer but without the lovely views from higher up.

The fabulous entrance door, hefty and wooden, opens onto a charming reception area with gorgeous blue/gree, brown/white antique Moroccan patterned floor tiles. Ancient old doors and antique tile floors are a big passion of mine, I was already won over.

The hotel/castle was built on and into rock and the hotel has some lovely details and corners within the hotel to remind you, then when you are up on the sixth floor the views fall away on both sides and you really are king of the castle looking down upon creation and Monda town.

Our fifth floor room with four-poster bed, views over the town and the distant mountains kept the cameras busy for a while, so too did the huge bathroom with more of those incredible  old tiles, a huge-for-two jacuzzi bath and a great shower. What impressed me most was the great toiletries but not in small take-away or throw-away samples but large bottles, fixed in the shower, to cut down on waste and plastics.

Once we'd photographed our room, before making a mess which we seem to do very quickly, making them most unphotogenic, we headed upstairs to the sixth floor bar, restaurant, lovely patio, enormous views and rooftop pool.

The charming Moorish decor bar leads out to a pretty plant-filled patio with little corner tables and different level areas inviting you to partake of the air, views and a beer or two. We succumbed.

With limited time and the welcome beer finished we had to test the pool before dinner. I loved the swimming pool, when all I could see was mountains and sky what an enjoyable, relaxing view and a salt pool (more eco-friendly points) made a very welcome change from chlorine.

Dinner was one of the best meals I've had in Spain. We're used to tapas and sharing but we had our own plate and choice, all different from each others, but we still had to share - well taste and test. It was all very good indeed, we were too busy looking, eating and sampling a very good wine to take any photos - sorry.

The Hotel Castillo de Monda is an all round great hotel, often you get good views, or service but mediocre food or not very impressive surroundings - this one comes tops in all of those and eco-friendly too. Is there more than this? I was very content in my role of Queen of the castle for the night. Would I go back? Definitely, perhaps with a little more time for a spa treatment or two.

I was a guest for the night at Hotel Castillo de Monda but the dinner and wine bill was ours!

Hotel Castillo de Monda website or see the Castillo on Booking.com for prices and instant reservations.

This hotel will soon be added to my OnlySpain ~ Boutique Hotel collection

28 August 2016

Alto Genal Valley in the Mountains near Ronda

If you prefer the mountains to the sea, nature to shops and have ever been to and liked the Alpujarras, the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada in Granada province, dotted with white hillside villages, you will like the Serrania de Ronda.

The area includes mountain ranges and no-end of unspoilt white villages and a blue one too. The area of the Alto Genal Valley near the famous bridge and town of Ronda was a new discovery for hubby and I.

On a recent escape from home in the Spain's main olive-growing province of Jaen we headed south into the sun and wild mountains. This is fabulous walking country, its main crop is sweet chestnuts and a smattering of olive trees, nothing like the quantity we'd left behind. Our home in the Sierra Sur de Jaen as the name suggests is mountainous – Sierra meaning 'mountain range' but nowhere near as huge, wild and stunning as what we encountered.

It was work that took us away, checking out Hotel Los Castaños for OnlySpain, but I have trouble feeling like I'm working when the sun's shining, it's so peaceful all around, the views go on forever and there's a beer in hand.

The Alto Genal Valley is a collection of seven undiscovered mountain villages close to the Costa del Sol but world's apart in many ways. The area has been lived in since around 40,000 BC, cave paintings from the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages can be seen in the incredible caves Cueva de la Pileta, an incredible visit. Don't forget walking shoes or trainers and a jumper if you go, even in the heat of summer.

After the Stone Age dwellers, Iberians, Phoenicians, Celts and Romans trod these mountains followed by the Visigoths until the Moors from North Africa crossed into southern Spain and it became Al-Andalus. The name is thought to have come from Vandals one of the tribes that invaded the area now called Andalucia in Spanish and Andalucia in English.

Evidence of these people can be seen throughout the village with narrow streets and inward looking houses in family blocks, street names and the remaining Moorish arch.

Life not only stands still here but also diminishes as young people have to leave to find work. Once the countryside would have employed them all, now a lack of jobs means a lack of the younger generation too, which rather sadly adds to the charm and peace of these villages.

17 August 2016

A Writers Retreat, Barcelona, Spain

Last week was a couple of first time experiences for me, both really good. It was my first writers retreat and my first trip to Barcelona (in twenty years of living in Spain.) Both were great. I drove 2.15 hours to Malaga airport, flew to Barcelona and arrived at the hotel on the manic La Rambla as the others were meeting to begin the writing retreat.

That first part I didn't enjoy! I live in peaceful countryside and arrived to a multitud of people, noise, traffic and a group of women I didn't know - scary.

I've never liked meeting new people. In particular having to introduce myself with everyone looking at me. I might sound like a teenager. I'm not and haven't been for 34 years. Do the maths.

Taking a Break - Parc Güell

By the end of four nights, five days of writing, sharing, laughing, exploring, wining, dining and the odd tear I'd had the most amazing time and experience.

The 'girls' were great, we were a small, international group. We had and gave lots of encouragement, drank plenty of wine, saw a fair bit of Gaudi and did some kilometres pavement pounding. Now I feel more than ready and confident to do it again. It helped, encouraged and animated me as a writer but also, as a shy person with baggage, it helped me grow and mature from that unsure teenager into someone who feels happier in her older, saggier, baggier skin.

Have you been on a writers retreat?

Would you like to but are confident enough?

Please comment and share your thoughts or experiences or if you'd like to ask any questions you can find my email on the About page.

Read my article written on the plane on the way home from the Pink Pangea Writer Retreat - High and Low

15 August 2016

Monday Morning Photo - The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

This week it's Monday Morning Photos! It was so hard just choosing four from Gaudi's incredible, stunning Sagrada Familia or Holy Family church in Barcelona my first visit, but not my last.

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

The Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

See the Monday Morning Photo list.

08 August 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Olive Oil Museum, Baeza

Workings with (stuffed) mule at the fascinating Olive Oil Mill/Museum - El Museo de la Cultura del Olivo de la Hacienda La Laguna near Baeza in Jaen.

El Museo de la Cultura del Olivo de la Hacienda La Laguna, Olive Oil Museum

See the Monday Morning Photo List.

01 August 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Ubeda, UNESCO Renaissance City

One of the many lovely buildings in Renaissance Ubeda, a city I grow to like more and more on each visit.

28 July 2016

Comares - the Highest and Prettiest White Village in Axarquia, Malaga

Comares, around an hour by car from Malaga airport, is one of the highest (703m) and prettiest white villages in the province of Malaga. Located in the foothills of the Montes de Malaga mountains it is one of the 31 villages that make up the area called Axarquía.

Our drive, from home in the north of Andalucia, brought us to Comares the longest and windiest but most breathtaking way. Comares appears and disappears with every twist and turn of the road and the many hairpin bends as it's perched on a rocky outcrop with stunning views all around.

Our entrance to the village was blocked as cars were being kept out ready for the Fiesta Verdiales which unfortunately for us was the next day and we had to leave early. A stroll up the steep streets revealed balconies to rival Ronda with far-reaching views down to the Mediterranean Sea at Velez-Malaga. Reaching the top the pretty plaza festooned in fluttering yellow/red and green/white flags also revealed our abode for the night - El Molino de los Abuelos.

This gorgeous, ancient olive oil mill, although I don't for the life of me understand why an olive mill was built at the top of a steep
hill, is charmingly, warpingly, lovely. Full of pots, plants, dark wooden beams, cobbled patios and in the main room, now a restaurant, the original olive oil press and machinery is still intact. There's also a bodega - the storage rooms with the ceramic storage jars and all the old tools and equipment decorating every spare spot, a museum in itself.

Our pretty little bedroom was one of only six delightful rooms, we left our bags had a quick refresh and went down to explore more. My camera constantly in hand as the hotel opened to a lovely patio area with it's own little balcony and large view with a refreshing breeze and even more welcome cold beer.

As usual we had arrived later than planned so instead of exploring we dined in. The menu, service and food was very good, we sat in fading daylight then moonlight, candle lit, with the mountains silhouetted and twinkling lights of Torre del Mar, 24 km away on the coast, we both said we'd go back - but we probably won't as there are so many other places to explore!

Before breakfast, with cameras in hands, we watched the morning light change on the mountains and the mist lift from the main balcony then turned to explore the village. An abundance of ceramic and tile plaques informed us about some of its history dating back to the third century. We followed tile footprints around the charming narrow streets with vestiges of its Moorish past spilling out from tiny viewing points, and plazas culminating at the castle.

Once one of the main defenses for Omar Ben Hafsun and protection for the ruins found on the Mazmullar plateau about four kilometres away. Two towers from the town wall still remain and the castle and Arab water storage at the highest point provide fabulous views - to the south olive and almond groves cover the rolling mountains and to the north a more dramatic mountainous skyline.

We left Comares sadly but pleased to have discovered its charms and wound down some more narrowish roads with stunning views until rounding one hairpin bend produced a simultaneous 'wow' as the road appeared to drive directly into the sea. A satisfied hubby thoroughly enjoyed driving until I had to ask to swap as my stomach wasn't keeping up with the twisting, turning road and rather unusally I was glad to see the main A7 coast road and civilisation coming closer.

See the Monday Morning Photo of Comares

Or OnlySpain my collection of Boutique Hotels in Spain which will soon include Molino de los Abuelos.

25 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Comares Spanish White Village View

I'd never before been to the area of Axarquia let alone one of the highest white village, Comares. Go, the views are amazing...

.. and the roads too! This photo is from one of the many view points looking north -ish, looking south is stunning too.

Read the post - Comares - Prettiest and Highest White Village in Malaga Province

18 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - Ronda Bridge, Cliff and Drop

The Bridge, cliff-top houses and the sheer drop is just one of the sites that make Ronda a fascinating, historical town worthy of a few days or in my case a few trips.

Other great places to visit if in Ronda:

To stay Hotel Los Castanos in one of the nearby white villages

Setenil de las Bodegas my favourite and one of the most fascinating White Villages with houses built on, into and on top of rock.

See the Monday Morning Photo list for inspiration

11 July 2016

Monday Morning Photo - 4x4 Land Rover Tour in Granada Province

Some of the stunning scenery from a fabulous 4x4 excursion with Sports Adventure and Garnata Tours covering mountain tracks and dry river beds in the mountains around Guadix, Granada.

See my GRXperience Day One Overview post