Middle-aged touring musicians are hard to please when it comes to hotels. In fact, these days, this particular one refuses to stay in anything between a tent and zillion-star luxury. Or at least she did, until Finca Naranja...
‘I need a holiday’ I say. We are crossing the Sierrana de Ronda on our way from the Costa del Luz. Cork forests change to lush orange groves and griffin vultures wheel high now above chestnut trees, but Mr Smith and I hardly blink. We have been on the road for the best part of three months and we are exhausted.
‘I want to go home’ says Mr Smith as, just past Ronda, we follow the understated orange globe of a signpost down a pockmarked road. Hay bales dot the landscape. Mules eat figs from the trees. There are miles of sunflowers and our spirits are lifting as we turn into Finca Naranja.
The first thing we love about this Spanish farmhouse turned hotel is that it has no front desk. Hearing our ‘hola’ our hostess, Conchita, appears from her own home and greets us. She leads us down a pathway, ducking under a walnut tree from which a turquoise hammock is strung. We pass a tantalising pool over which a stone Buddha keeps watch, and we stop in front of a small, whitewashed house. On its low wall are pots of geraniums and a basket of fresh walnuts, and on our private terrace, partly shaded by a canopy of twigs, are two bright blue chairs and a table on which plates and eggcups are set. Suddenly I know what the second thing I love is going to be about this fancy farmhouse: no awkward hotel breakfast! No guests seeing our upside-down faces, no couples judging our non-conversation. It will just be me, fresh coffee, and Mr Smith.
‘There’s an espresso maker in the cupboard, ham and eggs in the fridge, and I will deliver fresh bread in the morning,’ says Conchita before, then she disappears.
Light floods in from all four sets of French windows. After a shower and a glass of the welcome cava, Mr Smith and I flop on the bed under a beamed cathedral ceiling. For a bit of ‘Playschool’ fun (Mr Smith has a soft spot for the kids TV classic and he hums its theme tune regularly), Mr Smith decides to close the western set of windows and keep the southern set open. ‘Are we reclining comfortably?’ he asks. ‘Then we will begin...'
In pours the razor-sharp light through the front windows. We are honeymooners lying in a field of sunflowers. The mountains glow mauve and raw sienna in the afternoon haze. The azure pool fills us with longing. Pillows on a raised platform at the poolside lure us. Strips of blue cotton shiver like prayer flags in the breeze. ‘And now...’ says Mr Smith, closing the southern set (prematurely I think) and opening those to the side ‘...what will we see through the west-facing windows?’ Sunlight streams in toasty and orange. We are campers in a ploughed field. The ribbon of a track weaves through the hot valley and tugs us towards a sunset trek. Bee-eaters sing and distant cowbells ring. 'Here,' I think. as we open all the windows to the elements like canvas flaps onto the wild, 'is my ultimate luxury tent.
A cork pops nearby. Peering out, we see a couple preparing bright salads on their terrace. We would love to follow suit but, despite the well-equipped kitchen, we have no provisions of our own and must drive back to Ronda for our evening meal. We are so torn, however, that for a moment we consider fasting in order to stay in this rural haven.
In Ronda, we walk the cobbled streets of the deserted old town, past stone doorways and under wrought-iron balconies abloom with bay laurel. We search for the perfect bar (the one, we know from experience, with the most litter on the floor) and when we find it I order the special, which is morcilla. This the girl translates by pointing to a sausage and saying sangue. It tastes like a cross between blood and dripping. When we return home, for that is indeed how it feels, the half moon is diving behind the mountain like an illuminated shark fin. We lounge by the pool watching shooting stars, drinking more cava.
'And here', I think, as I gaze into the milky way, 'are my zillion stars'.
Conchita is a Dutch architect who lived in Indonesia for 20 years. This explains both the Eastern design accent and her success in creating a comfortable, spacious and affordable environment using simple and mostly local materials. Stone, polished plaster, Indonesian wood carvings, marble and a touch of leather. It also, we believe, explains the offerings. These take the form of warm home-baked bread, a basket of crisp, fragrant apples from the tree and the bowl of vegetables from her organic garden that appears when Conchita discovers that, though we would like to stay at Finca Naranja for our second evening, it is a bank holiday and we cannot shop for supper. She even lays on two boutique versions of our cats who we are missing. Now that’s what I call service.
At Finca Naranja guests are utterly spoiled. There are no gilded edges or gossiping maids to distract, and yet you feel watched over: by Conchita, maybe even a Buddha or two, and above all by glorious Andalucian nature.