Since opening its doors last year, Finca La Donaira has firmly found its place at the top of many a travel bucket list. An eco-escape with a difference; home to white washed walls, laid back luxury and a refined farm to table ethos, it is little wonder why La Donaira is one of the most talked about hotels in Europe at the moment. Travel expert, Maudie, steps through its doors and into the saddle at Andalucia’s hottest new retreat.
Having spent a few days on Spain’s busy coastline, we drove two hours into the sweeping hills of Andalucia, via an excellent tapas bar in the charming hillside town of Ronda, Elpere Tapas. After pulling into the picture perfect pueblo blanco of El Gastor, we were met by our host, Gloria, outside a traditional tapas bar linked to the property. Our bags were whisked away and put into the farm’s Land Rover and before we knew it, we were leaving our hire car behind and setting off along the long, unassuming driveway to La Donaira. This is all part of the experience at the hotel. There, an organic, sustainable ethos is put first, alongside the aim of leaving as little footprint on the land as possible.
The rolling hills of Andalucia have been described as the Tuscany of Spain; sparsely populated and an excellent growing region for everything from olives to vines. La Donaira’s owner bought the property 10 years ago as a passion project and as a result everything about it is special. Our bedroom tops the list of the most beautiful hotel rooms I’ve ever stayed in, complete with a four-poster bed, a huge copper bathtub and multiple French windows which offered endless views of the countryside. The walls are adorned with incredible art and everywhere you look personal touches give the entire place a discreetly luxurious and homely feel.
Although La Donaira has largely been touted as a luxury retreat for horse lovers (of which I am one), it is as much for foodies and nature enthusiasts. Fabi, the head cook, takes such pride in her farm-to-table dining, focusing primarily on vegetarian food and using ingredients straight from the garden – the organic garden there rivals that at the renowned French Laundry. My husband was especially delighted to see the greens he’d seen picked at 6pm turn up on his plate by 9!
The food is of incredible quality and guests can choose from organic wine made at La Donaira or something different from the wine cellar. My two-year old daughter Tiggy was catered for beautifully, she was served home-made breads, pastas and an abundance of fresh fruit. We ate together at breakfast and lunch before all taking a big afternoon siesta and she enjoyed dinner before the adults in the evening. Once she had gone to bed, we enjoyed sitting around the big communal farm table to feast, spending time with the other guests, many of whom we’ve kept in touch with since. One night, we enjoyed a table for two with spectacular views across the flower-strewn hills of the region.
A highlight of our stay was exploring the property’s medicinal gardens, going in search of birds and bees and smelling the very many beautiful flowers and herbs. Tiggy enjoyed pottering about and watering the plants. The garden is the owner’s brother’s pride and joy so a tour is a must. The spring water fed swimming pool and spa was also a hit, benefiting from wall-length windows overlooking the countryside. When we weren’t wandering around the grounds, we were visiting the resident chickens, baby lambs and goats or exploring the grounds with young agricultural students, who told us about the organic farming methods they use and the projects underway there. It takes a big team to keep a place like that running. Whilst I was out riding, my daughter was happy up at the hill top stables with her daddy, watching the dressage riders trotting around the ring and visiting the ‘baby horses’. The stables even have a kitchen stocked with organic apple juice and La Donaira’s signature beer which pleased both father and daughter alike.
I took the opportunity to ride out with Shamus, the resident horse-whisperer and a fountain of knowledge on training horses. One ride took us up to a spectacular look out point over the farm, and another took us to the village of El Gastor, getting into the Andalusian spirit of using a horse as a mode of transport. The Lusitano horse was the first-horse to wear a saddle, they are an incredible breed and La Donaira is home to over 70 of the very best.
La Donaira is more than a hotel, it is like staying in someone’s magnificent home. You’ll get the most out of a stay here if you go with the flow, enjoy meeting fellow travelers, aren’t shy to ask for anything you need or want to do and are inquisitive. It’s a work in progress, with farm-to-table cooking classes constantly coming onto the menu and ambitious wine producing projects being introduced all the time. It’s a special kind of place with a beautiful vision that stays with you long after you’ve checked out. I am already plotting when I can return for a weekend escape with friends to see what’s new on the menu.