Travel: Mas de la Serra, Spain

Dramatically lit against the blue-black sky, Mas de la Serra looks more like a golden fairytale castle than a former farmhouse.

This dramatic venue is the brainchild of Alasdair Grant (of the Grant Distillery family), whose other job is as a producer of television travel programmes. He spent eight years transforming a near-derelict property into an eight-bedroom boutique hotel, which can also be rented as a self-catering property, sleeping 16 to 20.

The location is idyllic. Matarranya, in eastern Spain, is often called the Tuscany of Spain, though its hushed, vertiginous ancient hill towns reminded me even more of Tuscany's near neighbour, Umbria, which is no bad thing.

The house is situated where Aragon, Catalunya and Valencia meet, an area unfrequented by non-Spaniards. Mas de la Serra, set on a 50-acre almond farm, boasts three sitting rooms with fireplaces, a home cinema, a map room, a wine cellar and honesty bar, and beautiful bedrooms.

My duplex suite featured a Victorian bathtub in the sleeping loft, placed to take advantage of the mountain views. The toilet came out of Margaret Thatcher's Chelsea home in the 1970s. Spotted languishing in a skip by Grant's grandmother, it was rescued and repurposed as a plant stand for many years, before being returned to its original function in this holiday home.

Elsewhere, the house has a steam room, an infinity pool and inviting terraces. It's within Puertos de Beceite national park, the second largest in Spain, where guests can take wildlife tours. But even from the house you can catch glimpses of endangered Spanish ibex (cabra hispanica) or countless bird species. The area is also ideal for trekking, kayaking and quad biking.

You'll be treated like royalty. Luis and Jenny pamper guests to a five-star standard, including babysitting, and airport transfers. Grant recommends the half-board option for group hire, which includes daily breakfast and five other meals a week, lunch or dinner, plus complete access to the kitchen facilities for extra meals.

On our short visit we managed an outing to Establo de Crystal in Valderrobres, where English ex-pat Tamzin Jones runs an equestrian school. Once mounted (they use English saddles), we enjoyed a leisurely two-hour hack through the mountains, passing vineyards, olive and almond groves, and pine and oak forests. Treks are tailored to the group's experience. I hadn't been on a horse since my teens, but the fundamentals haven't changed, and it sure beats hiking in such hilly terrain. The horses were docile and familiar with the trek, so I left them to do the hard work while I enjoyed the scenery and focused on keeping my back straight and my heels down.

We also hunted for truffles and took a trip into Valderrobres (where there's a Saturday market), via Rafleas.The latter is an exquisite village, quiet as a ghost town when we visited during siesta-time. Scooting round the back of an old wash house where, our guide promised, we'd get to see Spain's equivalent of an outside "Steamie", we were happily surprised to find two old dears in action. "I have a washing machine at home," one insisted, "but it's such a nice day!"

Indeed it was. Though it was late September, even this high into the mountains the days were sunny, and warm enough to invite us to linger outdoors. Despite all the mod-cons, it wasn't difficult imagining how the region was hundreds of years ago, when Catherine of Aragon's ancestors held power. If you've written off Spain as a tourist trap, Mas de la Serra and its environs will definitely inspire a rethink.

THE FACTS

Exclusive weekly rental of Mas de la Serra starts from 3,600, which includes accommodation for 16-20 guests, full English breakfast and five evening meals, with full concierge service and taxes. A double room, bed and breakfast, is priced from 110 per room per night, plus taxes. Tel: 07970 610316, visit www.masdelaserra.com or e-mail al@masdelaserra.com Ryanair flies from Edinburgh to Barcelona El Prat on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays, www.ryanair.com, prices start from 14.99.

Visit www.holidays.scotsman.com for more UK holidays

&#149 This article was first published in The Scotsman on 23 April 2011