A view of Casares (iStock)

    Andalucía: Historic charm beyond the beach

    24 April 2018

    Andalucía is a region ripe for rediscovery. It is lush, undulating hills and stunning, white-washed villages, ancient castles, sun-drenched vineyards and sandy beaches hugged by both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It has a rich cultural history as the birthplace of flamenco and bullfighting and is home to spectacular Hispano-Moorish architecture.

    This so much more to this southerly part of Spain than the Costa del Sol and sprawling on a sunlounger. We are staying in the boutique resort of Finca Cortesin, which is, much like its rural location, one of Spain’s best-kept secrets. Opened in 2009, and an hour’s drive away from Malaga, it is 215 hectares of five-star seclusion in the hills of Casares; the only noise comes in the form of the exotic birdsong from the sprawling gardens’ winged inhabitants.

    The resort is inspired by traditional Andalucian architecture which has been realised so seamlessly, that it often feels older than its nine years, effortlessly kidding you into the belief that you are strolling through a 16th century Moorish palace. It plays heavily on these touches (it is an hour’s boat ride away from Morocco) with a central courtyard and seating area reminiscent of a north African souk. The level of luxury is unpretentious; grand but not alienating. It manages to feel immediately like home; if your home was ludicrously well designed and came with self-replenishing macaroons and a bath tub the size of a small flat in Camden.

    The Finca Cortesin

    The rooms are stunning, contemporary and yet designed with an eye for eccentric detail that is apparent throughout the hotel. With 4m high ceilings, they fit with the palatial proportions of a hotel filled with light and space, which boasts four  saltwater pools, three restaurants, a world-famous golf course, an award-winning spa (the massages are out-of-this-world) and a restrained beach club on Bahia de Casares, a five-minute drive away.

    Most excitingly, yhe hotel is in a prime location for exploration; both nearby and further afield. Andalucía’s main cities; Granada, Cordoba and Seville are easy day trips if you get up with the lark, while Gibraltar is a much-more-civilised 25 minutes away. Yet it’s the local, perhaps less-known spots that prove a unique draw.

    The white-washed adjacent town of Casares is like a Spanish Santorini. It’s charming to stroll through, and filled with historical points of interest; from the Moorish castle and various churches to the Roman Hediona Baths. Grab lunch in the foothills of Casares at The Forge Restaurant, a 200-year-old converted country house that serves traditional and local fare.

    A bullfighting arena in Ronda (iStock)

    You can head further north (roughly an hour’s drive from the hotel) to the stunning town of Ronda, built to straddle a huge gap in the mountains, sitting grandly above El Tajo gorge. It’s regarded as the birthplace of modern bullfighting, was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway and is the burial place of Orsen Welles’ ashes. Churches and museums are plentiful, as are great eateries (try Almocabar for Andalucian specialities). Those wishing to base themselves in Ronda are also well-served by hotels. Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera is a charming former olive mill with brilliant views and Molino del Arco is a converted farmhouse with surprisingly cheap rates.

    On our second night we ate at Finca Cortesin’s Michelin-starred Kabuki Raw, a favourite of the region and not just for guests of the hotel. The concept sounds nauseating (Spanish Sushi fusion anyone?) but the result was staggeringly good. On our last day, we braved the hotel’s beach club despite a downpour, enjoying a lovely lunch in its covered restaurant (don’t miss the paella).

    We then headed to Marbella Old Town, which is only half an hour away by car. With white-washed houses and brightly painted facades, Parisian-style winding streets and leafy squares with outdoor bars and restaurants, it can also make a great base for a weekend escape. Check out The Town House boutique hotel for a great central location. Though Marbella is easy to dismiss for its party reputation, like its Balearic sibling Ibiza, its Old Town is an overlooked delight.

    Finca Cortesin room rates start at €580 a night,