Two Great Castle Hotels in Spain

These two lovely castle hotels are in Malaga province, Andalucia one overlooking Malaga town and port with the Mediterranean Sea as its backdrop. The other in the mountain town of  Monda not far inland from the coast of Marbella.

Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina

Wind up from the coast, through a now residential area, and you’ll discover this old summer palace/mansion built on the site of a castle with some romantic ruins within the grounds.

Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina, Malaga

Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina was built by King Phillip IV in 1624 as part of the city’s defences but it didn’t survive long and by the early 20th century the fortress was in ruins. Manuel Loring, Count of Mieres and local of Malaga  had a summer residence built next to it to catch those cooling sea breezes in the heat of July and August.

Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina, Malaga

French architects Levard and Lahalle designed the neo-Arabian style palace which now sits overlooking the bay of Malaga. It was named Castillo de Santa Catalina and is now a 4* star hotel maintaining many original aspects, now shabby-chic decor and of course those fabulous views from its heyday.

With only eight rooms you really do feel like the king of the castle here, we barely saw another guest on our stay.

Hotel Castillo de Monda

Climb up from the coast into the mountains and you’ll find lots of small towns but the most impressive is the town of Monda with its castle atop and town almost surrounding it. The castle with its origins in the IX century was conquered by the Catholic Kings and ordered to be pulled down in 1485 but it wasn’t until an uprising in 1568 that it was practically raised to the ground.

Hotel Castillo de Monda, Malaga

These days there is very  little of the original structure to be seen but the Castle today was designed in a traditional style. The hotel entrance is accessed by a high entry gate and pretty patio, all 25 rooms have lovely views and the salt pool, bar and restaurant on the top floor even better ones.

Hotel Castillo de Monda, Malaga

This is a privately managed hotel and offers relaxation, spa treatments, we had the salt pool to ourselves and it has a very good restaurant so there’s no need to leave your castle at all.

 

Read my review of Hotel Castillo de Santa Catalina

See Hotel Castillo de Monda on my Only Spain ~ Boutique Hotels site

 

 

 

Hotel Breakfasts are Very Important

Why are some hotel breakfasts so bad? I just have to say….

Breakfast is something I can take  or leave at home. Nothing special, important yes but a banquet no. There’s never time. So when away, for me the breakfast really is the make or break of a great hotel. It’s often my last impression as we eat and leave. It’s the way for hotels to really sing and dance but often it’s very disappointing.

Hotel La Gastocasa Breakfast

Hotel La Gastocasa

A great hotel, and I presume most hotels want to be great at what they provide, have to lay on a finale – the final spread. So why don’t they? How often have you looked over the selection and felt let down?  With no real desire to eat because it’s so uninspiring. What about the coffee machine? Does it grumble like an old man? Take ages? And then the coffee is just plain awful.

Hotel Viento 10
Hotel Viento 10

For larger hotels, yes it’s more difficult but I’m talking about those small, boutique, charming hotels that forget their charm in the morning, like a lover who sneaks out in the night.

Hotel Los Castaños
Hotel Los Castaños

What does it for me? Juice has to be juice. Freshly squeezed. Personally grapefruit or orange or the chance to have a mixture. I don’t want bacon and eggs but hubby would if on offer and freshly cooked but not when congealing and cold.

A choice of wholemeal bread and a toaster that doesn’t take forever then spit the toast out or loose it at the back. Extra virgen olive oil, fresh tomatoes preferably grated,  a choice of chopped fruit  and good coffee, made to order or maybe an Earl Grey tea (but I often have a tea bag with me.)

 

Hotel Breakfasts are Very Important – to me. Are they to you? Please leave a comment and  let me know what you think and/or some great and not so great breakfasts you’ve experienced.

The Hotel Breakfasts in the photos are ones I paricularly enjoyed and the hotels are on my Only Spain ~ Boutique Hotels site. I’ve linked each to its page below.

Hotel Viento 10, Cordoba

Hotel La Gastrocasa, Gandia

Hotel Los Castaños, Malaga

See my post on Two Great Small Hotels.

Avila and Hotel Valderrabanos

My first to visit to Avila was one of pure surprise and delight. Having chosen a hotel within the city walls  our ( with hubby ) explorations began. Normally I research and vaguely plan what to do when heading to a new place, plot the must-sees, maybe the odd good eating place or two, this time it’d been so busy I hadn’t looked at anything.

City Walls, Avila

Our drive was long but Spanish roads inland are often very quiet and nearly always have great views. On arriving in Avila our first sighting of the city walls was a ‘wow’ moment. We had many more. The huge city walls which are intact stretch 2km or so around the old city and most surprising after living in the heat of Andalucia, and in summer, was grass. Outside the walls were carpets of deep, green grass, something we miss being English. What a fabulous contrast that bright blue sky and green, green grass.

City Walls, Avila

As Avila is the highest city in Spain you can imagine the views from the city walls are pretty impressive, they are. Walking the ramparts around about half of the walls is amazing. Most towers are accessible too. I tried to imagine what the inside of the city walls were like in the days the castle was needed for protection, now it’s pretty much full of buildings, and some lovely ones there are.

Hotel Valderabbanos, Avila

Hotel Valderrabanos, a XIV century palace, is right next to the cathedral in a pedestrian plaza, close to loads of fabulous monuments. The Hotel has recently undergone renovations and  the once shabby chic hotel, now  is comfortably charming, with some gorgeous original features, wide corridors, stained glass windows and gorgeous old wooden doors. I’m rather partial to ancient wooden doors.

Hotel Valderabbanos, Avila

Would I stay there again? Yes but, seeing as we rarely stay in the stay place twice because of wanting to experience other hotels too, it’s unlikely.

The main problem with this and other hotels within the city walls is the lack of parking but unloading is allowed then the car has to be taken outside the walls and parked. It is rather pleasant that vehicles are limited in the monumental areas so I can’t have it all ways I guess!

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Being a moutainous area and cold in winter, we’d seen snow sticks on the access roads, one of the specialities of Avila is its huge steaks. T-bones and rump beef, pork and lamb the latter which is rather rare in Andalucia barbecued or chargrilled. These are definitely the dishes you should sample here, meat lover or not.

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona Flamenco Show

I’m not a stranger to Flamenco, I live in Spain. I’ve seen the real spontaneous raw song and dance, also several not good ‘tourist shows’ so when I was invited to the new City Hall Flamenco Show  and as I was going to Barcelona for a Writers Retreat I took the plunge and two of my course mates along. We all loved it!

Flamenco Dancer, City Hall, Barcelona

 

This is what I wote on the retreat about the Show when given the prompt: A Time you Were Really Present…

Entering, a narrow front door, the street noise receded the further along the darkening corridor we went. Rounding a corner notes of piped music wafted upwards, which grew louder as we descended into a sensuous cavern, soft lighting, chairs and a stage set the scene, we wait. Expectant, hesitant, excited.

The music and lights fade, curtains open and the show begins. Four men, three women start clapping, not loud, not fast. The speed picks up, then builds with feet also tapping. One dancer rises, poised. The guitar joins in and the swirling, mesmerizing dancer in red-layered dress begins. Stamping. Clapping, whirling, swirling. Faster, slower, softer, louder. I’m being wooed, played with, absorbed, aroused, she has my attention, louder, faster, excited, she has me. The climax, the eruption of clapping from all around. I breathe, I applaud. Sweaty, exhausted, satisfied I lean back in my chair.

Then it begins again, a different song, another dance but the same intensity, then another and another. I’m overawed, overwhelmed, emotional, content.

That’s what the City Hall Flamenco show did for me!

Flamenco Dancer, City Hall, Barcelona

 

A fabulous experience and atmosphere which we recommended the Writers Retreat added to the itinerary. Why? The seven performers were obviously a troop, they talked and laughed together, and improvised. It wasn’t a perfectly rehearsed, stick-to-the-plot show. They teased each other, followed each other and enjoyed themselves. I felt as though it was a jamming session to them, raw, real and passionate.

Where’s the show?  City Hall, Rambla de Catalunya, 2

When’s the show? Thursday to Sunday  7:30 pm and 9:30 pm

What’s their website? City Hall Flamenco

Flamenco Dancer, City Hall, Barcelona

I was given complimentary tickets to the show, I would pay to go again.

 

 

Two Fabulous, Small, Owner-run, Adult-only, Foodie Hotels

This year I’ve gallivanted around Spain again, covering lots of kilometres, new and interesting places and staying in some really great Boutique Hotels for OnlySpain. Here I’m going to share two  very lovely, small, owner-run hotels that  also cook and serve great food and don’t allow young children.

One at a beach destination but not on the beach and the other a rural mountain village hotel – both are fabulous. Enjoy.

Hotel La Gastrocasa

Gandia is a beach town in the Valencia region on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, not a spot you’d think of for a quiet escape. Hotel La Gastrocasa offers just that, away from the hubble and bubble of the beach but only five minutes or so by free-to-use hotel bike. In a sleepy urbanisation this once family villa is now a gorgeous 5-bedroom adult-only hotel.

Hotel La  Gastrocasa

Hubby and I stayed two nights and couldn’t fault a thing. The service, by the family, the food and presentation, by the family, the individually decorated rooms (yes, I got to see them all) and the fabulous breakfast spread.

Hotel La Gastocasa Breakfast

For a real country-feel escape yet on the coast  with the beach nearby then this charming hotel is for you.

Read more about Hotel La Gastrocasa.

Hotel Los Castaños

Cartijima, a small, white village in the huge mountain range Serrania de Ronda is home to the lovely Hotel Los Castaños. A quiet, sleepy town providing the perfect setting for a step-back in time, relaxing stay.

Hotel Los Castanos

Hotel Los Castaños with only six rooms provides an escape, a base for walking, great hosts and home-cooked food, you’ll feel as if you’re staying with friends, perfectly relaxed and at home-comfortable.

Hotel Los Castanos

Huge rolling mountain views from some rooms and the pretty  roof terrace are to die for, it is impossible to see those views and not take a deep breath of calming satisfaction. Our one-night stay was just spot on, had we stayed longer I, who cannot draw or paint, would have had a go, with the provided artist materials, to capture those enormous views.

Read more about Hotel Los Castaños.

See my post featuring Hotel Los Castaños Hotel Breakfasts are Very Important

 

Home Swap in Marbella, Spain

I had done a couple of home swaps before but this was my first with LoveHomeSwap a site I’ve been with for a couple of years and had lots of requests from, but never actually swapped through them.

Marbella

Their system is easy and I like the fact it is from the outset contact, via the website, with the owner of the potential swap. In this case a lovely Spanish lady with an apartment in Marbella. It was short notice and looked like we were going to be seven for part of the stay, so the number the potential swap could accomodate and number of bedrooms and bathrooms was a major consideration.

Marbella

From the first positive reply we were on our way to Marbella or to be precise Nueva Andalucia just inland from Puerto Banus. Communication is easy and only when a swap has been agreed are contact details available to see. In this case we did a points swap, meaning we booked using accumulated points rather than a simultaneous swap which are in my opinion much easier to agree on.

Marbella
We had a  couple from Taiwan stay in our holiday home which gave us a nice lot of points to spend on what and where we wanted to go. Our criteria comfortably large enough for us all, hubby, 3 sons and two girlfriends and nearish a beach preferably with pool or access to a pool.

Love Home Swap Marbella

Booked and paid was quick and easy then contact details and address and suddenly we were on our way excited to discover our new roof. It was absolutely great, better than the practically non-existant website blurb with one of the biggest and most fabulous pools  I’ve ever seen.

]Marbella

The apartment was perfect, terrace overlooking the gardens with pool view, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and 15 minutes walk from Puerto Banus. A great time was had by all, nobody was ready to leave and now it’s time to peruse our next escape with the points we still have in hand. Where to next?

 

 

Off-roading 4×4 Land Rovers on the Andalucia Mountain Tracks

Andalucia is a huge mountainous region. One sierra or mountain range rolls into another across the south of Spain meaning a huge network of tracks and dry river beds ideal for mountain biking, quads or 4×4 off roading.

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I’ve often explored rugged tracks around where I live in my estate car, which is not ideal, so when the opportunity of driving a 4×4 Land Rover defender around the sierras in Granada came my way I happily jumped in behind the wheel. Actually I didn’t jump, they are higher than I thought.

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Three of us were in one Land Rover and we were six vehicles in all. Stage one was the easier bit, partly  road and mostly dry river beds with jutting out tree trunks, large stones and at times slippy wet puddles. I chose to drive first, each stage being about an hour so doing as told and keeping both hands firmly on the steering wheel with thumbs on the outside (in case of jarring) off we went. What fun!

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We stopped for photo calls and driver swaps as the river bed terrain changed and the driving a bit more skilful with the need of a lower gear ratio and careful manoeuvring.

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The river beds became open countryside with stunning surreal landscapes, steep climbs and hairpin bends on the pine-covered mountain slopes.

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Now the back-seat driver I could enjoy the scenery  more and relax between jolts.

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After winding and climbing with no other sign of life around we reached the Vereda de Chirlata, a spot of Natural Interest and at midday a lot of heat  haze too! But what incredible far-reaching landscapes, disappearing into the horizon with no sign of life or habitiation.

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We then wound down to civilisation again, leaving the wild, stunning mountain views behind, an experience not to be forgotten with wishes to repeat it in spring or autumn.

Many thanks to my co-drivers Abi and Jesu,  TurGranada the official tourist board for the GXPerience blog trip especially Raul also known as MisterBackstage for his humour, joie de vivre, planning skills and lack of sleep, Garnata Tours who provide many different types of activities and tours around Granada province  and Sports Adventures who own the Land Rovers and plan vespa, quad, Land Rover, car treks and rallies in Spain and Northern Africa.