THE Finca Cortesin hotel is bringing glamour back to the Costa del Sol. Kate Wickers finds calm far from the chaotic coastal resorts
On the over-developed but ever-popular Costa del Sol, most sunseekers from Britain, Germany, and more recently, Russia trip off the plane from Malaga airport to the hefty resorts of Torremolinos and Feungirola. Even Marbella, once a darling of the jet set, is short on glamour these days. But all is not lost.
Allure has returned to the region in the form of Finca Cortesin, just 52 miles from Malaga.
Although it’s a new build, you’d never guess. The time-honoured finca (rural estate) style with whitewashed stone walls, open courtyards and gardens full of native citrus trees and palms sits perfectly in the Andalusian countryside.
There’s a big buzz about its pristine championship golf course, but there’s much more to this place than 18 holes and men discussing Jack Nicklaus (he manages the academy here) like he’s an old friend. I glanced briefly at the immaculate fairway, then turned my attention to the quirky side of Finca Cortesin – like the chocolate flowers planted in a pot in my room and the al fresco Indian and Moroccan lounges. Nothing here has been bought from interior design shops in bulk, so no two suites are the same. And if you take a fancy to one of the unusual furnishings, the hotel will let you buy it.
Our suite had a fresh Mediterranean feel, with soft furnishings of citrus yellows and pretty olive branch chandeliers, but I would have been equally happy in a room with purple elephant wallpaper or a collection of wooden hats. It sounds a little wacky but it works beautifully.
The hotel lies just outside the town of Casares, where Julius Caesar was reportedly cured of a liver complaint in the nearby sulphuric springs of Hedionda. It’s an appealing place with white sugarcube houses piled on the hillside and a 12th-century castle built by occupying Moors. It’s how the Costa del Sol used to be, and is particularly eye-catching early in the evening when the houses turn from pallid to pink, and the village square, the Plaza de Espana, becomes a hub of social activity with children splashing water from the fountain of Carlos III, gushing since 1785. For the finest views of the sunset we sat on the roof terrace of La Bodeguita de Enmedio, sipping chilled cava and nibbling at green olives the size of gobstoppers.
We opted for the taster menu at El Jardin de Lutz, which takes an innovative look at Spain’s classic dishes and often turns them on their head, such as a green gazpacho made with flat beans and smoked sturgeon, a delicious alternative to the usual tomato. Our favourite spot soon became the Moroccan lounge with its red velvet chairs, mosaic floor and dazzling multi-coloured coffered wooden ceiling facing a tropical plant-filled courtyard.
Alberto, head barman, is something of a legend. He’s made martinis for Sean Connery, who gave him a 007 bartender’s jacket, and in 1986 his sangria won a gold medal in Palma’s annual cocktail competition. We were in safe hands. He has stuck to this winning recipe ever since and it’s the most delicious sangria I’ve ever tasted – a far cry from the overly sweet fruit punch I’ve been dished up before.
“Where is everyone?” asked my friend Vivien as we chose our sun loungers at the near-deserted Pool 35, one of two stunning pools (the other known simply as Pool 50) named by length. It was a good question, as the hotel was at 80 per cent capacity. But isn’t that just the epitome of luxury: feeling like you’re the only guest in a full hotel?
On the sunniest days, of which there are many, most guests shuttle down to Cortesin’s exclusive beach club, a cool pearl-white clapboard sunspot on the edge of the beach, just a mile away. But we’d got used to the solitude and, lovely as the Beach Club was with its perfect palm symmetry and great seafood restaurant, we preferred the company of yellow butterflies and swifts to French ladies chattering on their mobiles.
Sotogrande is the largest privately owned residential area in Spain, covering eight square miles, and many of Spain’s richest families have houses here. There’s a polo club and numerous golf courses, including the famous Valderrama, which hosts the Volvo Masters and Ryder Cup. It used to be gated but now anyone can wander in, so we took the 15-minute cab ride to the attractive port.
We wandered around the manicured gardens and Moorish buildings of lime green and cobalt blue, stopping to browse in the marina’s chic and surprisingly reasonably priced boutiques before settling on the terrace of Café Ke to watch the yachts sail the Straits of Gibraltar, its famous rock just visible through the haze. On a clear day you can see all the way to Morocco, but we made do with watching the well tanned and well heeled hop on and off their luxury cruisers.
We were lazy the rest of the time – lying by the gorgeous palm-shaded pools, enjoying long lunches, then walking them off in the sun-drenched gardens. I had more than one Alice in Wonderland moment as I tripped through arches festooned with rambling roses and pergolas covered in jasmine.
If you can bear to be inside, the Spa is a lovely respite from soaring summer temperatures, with the ultimate cool-down option: a snow cave that maintains a temperature of –12C. The idea is that you take a handful of snow and rub yourself down, but I lasted barely a minute, hopping from foot to foot and shrieking as a snow icicle dropped on my head and slithered down my back. As well as 67 suites, there are villas to rent and buy. I poked my nose into number ten, a favourite of crooner Michael Bublé’s. The staff at Finca Cortesin don’t go in for name-dropping, but it’s common knowledge that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Sir Patrick Stewart have stayed there.
Kabuki Raw, the hotel’s signature restaurant has exciting food: basil sorbet, crackers made with miniscule prawns, Wagyu beef teriyaki and sushi made from local fish.
Foam parties, all-night clubs and greasy spoon cafes may be a mere 10km away, but you’d never guess it. Thankfully, the most raucous it gets at Finca Cortesin is a rub down with snow, Alberto’s award-winning sangria and sushi.
I know which I prefer.
• Jet2 (www.jet2.com) flies from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Malaga from around £95 return. A junior suite at Finca Cortesin (9 Carretera de Casares, Km 2, 29690 Casares, Malaga, Spain, tel:+34 952 93 78 00) starts at £363, based on two people sharing and inclusive of breakfast. Go to www.fincacortesin.com for details of the latest offers.