Arguably the best start to any holiday is that rush of euphoria you get when the plane you’re travelling on finally lifts off for lands and places new.
Regardless of how far you’re going, or for how long, there’s nothing to beat the slightly giddy feeling that comes with leaving normal life behind.
And Andalucía, on Spain’s southern coast, is a great destination for escapism. Just a three hours flight from London, it nevertheless feels like a different world with palm trees, Moorish architecture and a warm Mediterranean breeze that hits you the moment you step off the plane.
ABOVE: Everything looks so much better on horseback...
Why it’s hot
With its balmy weather, plethora of beaches and thriving nightlife, Málaga, one of the major thoroughfares to Andalucía, has long been a hot spot for travellers in search of bargain breaks in the sun.
For a truly unique experience, however, it’s worth heading out of the city to the surrounding countryside – something of a hidden gem in the Costa del Sol’s crown. Here, olive groves stretch lazily over hillsides and valleys as far as the eye can see. Picturesque villages with terracotta and white buildings appear now and again, amid lush green woodland, rivers and mountainous peaks.
It’s in the middle of this wilderness that Barceló La Bobadilla, one of the Leading Small Hotels of The World, is based. La Bobadilla is not the kind of place you stumble on by accident. Set in 1,000 acres of private and protected grounds, it’s accessed via a long, winding drive that gives you plenty of time to appreciate the isolation and beauty of the landscape.
ABOVE: La Bobadilla - a gem in the Costa del Sol's crown
The hotel itself is enormous, created to mirror a traditional Andalucían palace with a network of interconnecting walkways, courtyards, fountains and pools. Even the reception area is majestic, with elegant stone arches and white marble columns that pay homage to the region’s nearby landmarks including the Alhambra fortress in Granada and the Great Mosque of Córdoba.
La Bobadilla was actually built in 1985 but you would be hard pushed to guess it; every nook and cranny has been designed with the region’s Moorish heritage in mind. Wander down a corridor and you’ll chance across a cupola with stained wooden benches, mosaic tiling and an ornate lantern here and there. Or heading out to one of the restaurants, you may stumble upon a simple and exquisitely designed waterway, flanked by honeysuckle bushes and carefully manicured palm tree plants.
ABOVE: A far cry from your average reception area
Out in the main courtyard, you can grab a locally brewed (and very moreish) Alhambra beer overlooking an impossibly cute whitewash chapel, where the hotel holds flamenco performances and the occasional wedding ceremony.
Even the rooms are suitably majestic, with inviting terracotta stone balconies, cool paved flooring and minimalistic dark teak furniture. The giant egg-shaped baths are a must-try, as is the welcome bottle of local Spanish sherry. The turn-down service includes a note detailing the weather of the day ahead – a genius touch that recognises the fact that there’s no better way of going to sleep than in the knowledge of a full day’s sun to come.
ABOVE: A room with a (rather fantastic) view
If you’re after the full bling factor, book into one of the hotel’s two imperial suites, which come complete with their own indoor hot tubs and palatial terraces overlooking the forest skyline.
Eating and drinking
ABOVE: Purple enough to make Heston Blumenthal jealous
If you love rich and creative food, you’ll be in for a treat at La Bobadilla. The hotel is home to the region’s only five star restaurant, La Finca. In the elegant surroundings of this villa-style restaurant, with plush furnishings and an outdoor terrace overlooking the olive groves, chefs serve up delicacies such as baked sea bass on a bed of cuttlefish noodles and duck confit with potato blinis.
ABOVE: Chocolate soufflé anyone?
The presentation of these dishes is second to none; roasted lobster is delicately balanced beneath a lurid purple salad leaf, grilled butterfish comes heaped beneath a mosaic of watercress and rocket, and homemade violet ice-cream is served up with a spring of cranberries and a chocolate soufflé that oozes sauce in a very satisfying way.
For something a little less formal (but equally delicious), head to the neighbouring El Cortijo restaurant where you can feast on “light” starters such as feta cheese and walnut lasagne, overlooking the resort’s Jurassic Park-style landscape. Follow up with something more hearty – strips of swordfish with Andalucían garden vegetables, maybe, or Iberian pork marinated in mustard dressing and rosemary juice.
ABOVE: Order the sea bass for food that borders on art
Breakfasts come fit for a king, with a buffet that covers everything from fruit kebabs to freshly baked doughnuts and a generous spread of local hams and cheeses. For the brave, foolhardy or non-hungover, there’s also breakfast Cava.
ABOVE: Quad bike to your heart's content
If you do one thing
It’s worth popping by La Bobadilla’s haven-like spa with various hydrotherapy pools, heated ceramic loungers and treatments such as the two hour-long Moroccan Essence massage. And for sun-lovers, there’s a gladiator-style 1500 square meter outdoor pool out on the lawn.
But the highlight of this place has to be its outstanding setting; the miles of olive groves, protected oak woodlands and muddy trails that will tempt even the most reluctant adventurer.
You can tackle this vast wilderness by foot, horseback, quad bike or bicycle (hire is included in the room rate). Any way is great to get out and about and explore the capillary of footpaths that spread out around the resort. There are hidden riverside glades, fields full of wild gladioli and sage, a protected deer reserve and awesome panoramic views.
Standing at the top of a hill overlooking the glades with the sun beating down, the smell of honeysuckle in the air and wood pigeons cawing in the background, you’ll feel as far away from the humdrum of everyday life as it’s possible to be.
ABOVE: We challenge you not to want a dip
Practical but useful
Head to Andalucía in late spring to make the most of outdoor activities without the heat and crowds that come with the summer rush. It’s also the best time to appreciate the region’s landscape in bloom. Budget airlines like Monarch operate return flights to Málaga from Birmingham, East Midlands, London Gatwick, London Luton and Manchester airports.
Rates at Barceló La Bobadilla start from €190 per night, based on two sharing and including breakfast (barcelolabobadilla.com +34 958 32 18 61)
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year round flights to Malaga with fares, including taxes, starting from £47.99 one way (£83.99 return). For further information or to book Monarch flights, visit monarch.co.uk