In the middle of glorious Spanish nowhere, Andalucia’s Cortijo del Marqués is a beautifully restored 19th-century manor turned luxury boutique hotel. Lounge poolside, ramble hand-in-hand through fields of olive trees and sunflowers, then dine in a candlelit courtyard.
Double rooms from £109.44 (€129), including tax at 10 per cent.
Rates usually include a buffet breakfast of cold cuts, cheeses, cereals, breads and cakes.
Staying in high summer? All of the Cortijo's rooms are blissfully air-conditioning cooled.
The hotel will be closed from November to mid-March over winter.
At the hotel
Gardens, free WiFi throughout, mountain bikes for hire (€10 each). In rooms: free bottled water and La Chinata toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
El Torreón, in the old tower, which boasts wraparound windows for all-angles surveying of the olive trees plus scrumptious red mosaic tiles. Up a flight of stairs in the tower is El Mirador, which has attractive high-beam ceiling and a roll-top bath from where you can peep out over the Cortijo’s rooftops to the surrounding hills via a wall-length window. All rooms have beautiful old tiling on the floors and many have wonderful views from oversized, old-fashioned windows. Rooms in the main house are lighter and a touch more luxurious, but if it’s quirks you’re after (like the old pigeon niches in the middle of the El Palomar Suite, say) then book one of the outhouses.
A little door leads to the unheated outdoor pool, open from early May until late October. There’s a shaded seating area with loungers for crashing out with a paperback or iPod and beyond the low stone walls rolling hills are visible all around. At the other end of the garden, the chapel’s outer walls provide a striking backdrop.
Laidback and lovely, the Cortijo is quite the perfect place for losing track of time in a paperback. Explore the Spanish theme with something old-school (Don Quixote perhaps) or something to make you laugh (Tim Moore’s Travels with my Donkey).
A minimum stay of three nights applies for stays over Easter weekend.
Make for the wood-burning fire in colder months; in summer perched beside the arched glass doors, which are flung open to let in all that country air.
Floaty maxi dresses for lounging, crisp white cotton tees for showing off his sunkissed skin.
What the dining room lacks in visual splendour it makes up for with personable service and lovingly prepared food. It’s one three-course menu suits all. Wherever possible ingredients for the modern Mediterranean dishes (think stewed veal with greens) come straight from the Cortijo’s market garden and orchard and there’s an Arabic oven in the grounds that can be lit for larger groups (if you’re in luck and there are enough of you, you’ll get to enjoy slow-cooked lamb or suckling pig).
There’s no actual bar to sit at but you can always order a jug of sangria for lounging by the pool or sip a g&t in the courtyard at sundown. Drinks are available throughout the day and you can order plates of manchego, chorizo or Iberian jamón, too. The downstairs lobby is light and cool – perfect for morning coffee and a catch-up with the papers.
Breakfast's served between 9am and 10.30pm, lunch between 1.30pm and a leisurely 4pm and dinner from 8pm till 10pm. Drinks can be ordered until 10.30pm.
Half an hour north of Granada, between Andalucia’s Sierra del Pozuelo and the Sierra Arana mountain ranges, Cortijo del Marqués is tucked away in Albolote, down a 4km-long gravelly road and surrounded by olive groves and fields of sunflowers and wheat.
Smallish Granada-Jaén Airport is 25km away – about 35 minutes by car – and receives visits from various domestic and European flights, with many connecting via Madrid or Barcelona. Malaga airport, a 90-minute drive, gets more and more frequent visits from international carriers.
Granada rail station is 30 minutes by car with connections to Malaga, Sevilla, Cordoba, Madrid and all other major Spanish towns (via Antequera).
If you want to get about independently you’ll definitely need to hire a car: the access road alone is 4km long. The hotel is just off the A44 that runs between Granada and Jaén. From the main road, take the 108 exit (marked Deifontes), turn onto the service road at the roundabout and then follow the signs. On-site parking is free. The GPS coordinates for the roundabout, from where the service road starts, are N37°19.515 and W3°38.157.
Worth getting out of bed for
Horse riding, mountain biking and walking tours can all be arranged by the hotel – as can skiing on the Sierra Nevada. There are cultural excursions on offer too, including flamenco shows. Andalucia is the soul of real Spain – drive for 30 minutes to Granada and your journey takes in distant rugged mountains and fragrant orange and almond trees – dismiss preconceptions of nasty neon and ugly overdevelopment. Granada houses the Alhambra – Spain’s number one tourist honeypot, which dates from the 9th century. Its intriguing history – in the 1300s, it was converted into a palace and gardens by the last Muslim rulers of Spain before ultimately being commandeered by conquering Catholics after the 1492 Reconquista – makes for a fascinating archi-tour and it stands today as one of Europe’s most important historic records of Moorish architecture. Support wolf conservation and learn a bit more about el lobo itself at Antequera’sLobo Park, about 40 minutes away by car. All the animals that roam free here do so in an entirely natural environment – the difference being that they were probably reared within the park itself so they’re used to being around humans.
Funnily enough, the remote Andalucian countryside isn't over-endowed with eateries, but if you head down the road from the Cortijo to Albolote, Restaurante Romero on Carretera Jaén offers typical Spanish cooking. There’s an outdoor terrace and bar and on summer nights you’ll often find the barbecue lit. Further afield, refined La Finca at Barceló La Bobadilla, is the area’s sole restaurant to hold Five Forks (Tenedores) on account of Antonio Organero’s creative flair and precise plating up. Expect a gazpacho menu (lobster or eel and dill) alongside dishes such as tomato jelly with vegetable ragout and baby calamari. The wine cellar wins awards.
If you’re in Granada visiting the Alhambra, stop by La Buena Vida on Calle Almireceros. It has a good selection of Spanish beer and some excellent, keenly priced tapas (try the tapenade, goat’s cheese with honey or chicken paté). It's lively, authentic and perennially popular.
In the Eighties, my father printed my mother a T-shirt reading, ‘I don’t want to go to Granada!’ It became a running joke I never understood, assuming it to be ugly, or worse, an inland Fuengirola. It turns out she was simply worried about debilitating heat. Now, about to embark on a roadtrip into the heart of mountainous Andalusia, Mr Smith and I panic we’re driving into the lion’s mouth.
Spoiler alert: Granada has a dry heat that doesn’t incapacitate. Over the next few days our heroes are to horse ride barefoot in the Alpujarra, meet a toeless expeditioner, soak in Europe’s first Arabic Baths, sample spit-roasted swallows and get lost in the Sierra Nevada – while still finding time to enjoy each other in the lush Spanish countryside.
We get to El Cortijo del Marqués later than planned. I blame the city’s thermometer. On arrival in Granada, it boasts a photogenic 43 degrees. We celebrate with gin. And more gin. We love bohemian cave bars! We love gin! We don’t love the resultant hangover. Finally on our way from our previous hotel, a brief stop-off at the architecturally stunning Alhambra turns into a lengthier attraction. For five hours we play out an Arabian Nights fantasy in the ancient Arabic and Moorish kingdom of passion and palaces – pausing only for the occasional ‘moreish’ gag. I blame Spain’s oversized goldfish bowl measures of juniper juice. Awesome tip: audio guides. My favourite Alhambra excerpt: ‘Could this be the room where the Albencerraj family were cruelly murdered? Probably not.’
‘Perform a U-turn when possible.’ Mr Smith’s overreliance on satnav means that we’re circling the roundabout at the hotel turnoff nine times. That’s because El Cortijo is 4km up a Gooolemap-dodging dirt track through green olive groves and seductive amber hills where bunnies float and butterflies bounce.
Originally a convent, El Cortijo was converted into a manor house by a wealthy marquess in the 18th century and after serving as a civil war barracks ended up being abandonded. The original rural features of the rooms remain – stable troughs, pigeonholes, and even a sunken mosaic bath worthy of an orgy for the naughtiest of marqueses. As the smiley Heather leads us through the cobblestoned courtyard of whitewashed and terracotta walls to the classily concealed pool and dining areas, we pass water features to rival the Alhambra. The only other sound is from a flight of swallows as they move in unison from one courtyard tree to the next. (I learn the collective noun later when I Google it – this was to be a techno-free holiday.)
With vintage bedside tables, a 1900s writing desk and retro rotary light switches, our room, El Mirador, is old-school romantic. We open every one of its 10 windows to provide a 360-degree lookout over the unreal landscape (and a peepshow for the birds). Padding to the rustic bathroom in matching gowns, we agree there’s enough space to swing a stallion, although you’d hit its head on the wooden beams. No laptop necessary here, the view from this freestanding bath has got something better – those hills.
As Mr Smith’s dumped espadrilles start to give the bathroom an Alhambra hum, we head to El Cortijo’s large dining room, which was converted from an old horse stable. The chef has prepared a traditional Andalusian menu of salmorejo, a local soup similar to gazpacho, and a hearty stew – exactly what Mr Smith and I fancy after being hungover for 10 hours. Now pass the wine list.
By breakfast it’s time to saddle up and see the scenery, and a fine example of Spanish masculinity appears (not Mr Smith). The horse-wrangling gaucho introduces my white hornless unicorn as Rocket, then instructs, ‘Don’t relax! This is not a chair.’ With a belly full of jamon, queso and nerves, mounting a mare for the very first time proves the perfect way to embrace the surrounding olive groves. Mr Smith and I are starring in our own romantic non-fiction – until his steed empties his bladder in a distinctly unchair-like way.
Watersports over, it’s not long before we’re snoozing by El Cortijo’s unpretentious pool in prep for a chilled tapas-crawl in the neighbouring whitewashed villages. Substitute ‘chilled’ for ‘I’m chucking this satnav out the window’ and ‘neighbouring’ for ‘How the hell did we accidentally drive up a mountain?’ We’re lost at an ear-popping 1,400m altitude in the beautiful Sierra Nevada, having passed dizzy precipices, winding cliffs and typical Andalusian villages built like eagles’ nests in the cliffs. Mr Smith and I are so high, we’ve reached a ski station. The limping owner, José Luis Conde, informs us he lost his big toe when it froze on one of his expeditions. If we don’t want to go back on ourselves, we can trek to our intended destination of Capilieira on foot. But it will take 12 days. And I like my toes. Plus, we’re on a tapas-tip.
In Andalusia there is such a thing as a free lunch. You buy a drink, they give you a tapa. In Granada’s whitewashed Jewish Quarter, El Realejo, drinking on an empty stomach is not an option. Now, I love traditional places, but the more the oldies stare, the more experimental I get with the local cuisine. These feeders keep the tapas coming. Even when that razor clam, squid and snail give me goosebumps, I swallow. And that is exactly how, in the buzzing Bar Los Altramuces, we end up being served pajarillos fritos – deep-fried swallows – beaks, feet ’n’ all.
I draw the line at swallowing swallow. Retinas scarred, we crank up the indulgence with a midnight soak and sensual massage in the old hammam Arabic baths. Ignoring the solitary old man with moobs in Speedos, we float together in Alhambra-like opulence under the star-shaped lights. Lit only by muted constellations, we’re not sure where the bathing ends and the silent journey back to tranquil El Cortijo begins. We’re blooming Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia.
‘I don’t want to go to Granada!’ Pah. Unless you’re a swallow.