Last weekend in Andalucia a great escape suddenly seemed essential. Searing temperatures and a mini village fiesta which brought forth an all-night disco – boom boom – soon drove us out of our little village in search of a more peaceful idyll for 24 hours. Two nights of fiesta-ing were enough. So after a phone-call and an hour and a half’s drive, including some bumps along a dirt-track through the wild Subbetica hills, we arrived at Zuheros.
Zuheros is like a mirage, a picture perfect white village spilling down a craggy hillside beside a 9th century Moorish tower atop a huge rock. Mention the village to anyone in the area and they say “oh yes, the bat cave” (which lies uphill and is more often closed than open) but in fact the village itself has oodles of charm, so who needs smelly bats. Beautifully maintained whitewashed façades show off typical quirky details of Andalucia and there’s a clear sense of community. As we arrived in the main square, the end of a church service unleashed a flow of humanity, women madly flapping fans and men doing their best to sidle off to the bars. And in these times of economic misery, it was telling to spot a poster tacked to a wall naming and shaming local officials who were vastly overpaid and / or redundant.
One great advantage of Spain is its rural hotels off the beaten track where you can find a room at the last minute – in high season at that. Our destination, the Hacienda Minerva, was just outside the village right beside the much-used Via Verde, an old olive railway now reincarnated as a brilliant track for cyclists, runners and walkers. The entire piste stretches over 100km between the provinces of Cordoba and Jaen – although all we managed was a pre-breakfast stroll next morning before the heat set in.
In mid-afternoon, the only place to go was the breezy pool, small but stunningly situated on a terrace overlooking undulating olive groves. But the real USP of this 25-room hotel is its labyrinthine, rambling lay-out and unexpected features: patio after patio brimming with jasmine, lavender, laurel and geraniums, lofty towers, archways, passageways, roof-terraces, ancient olive-press machinery, a library of 10,000 books, a vaulted hammam with three little pools of different temperatures…It all felt like a dream of a distant and hedonistic Moorish past, even more magical at night. Except that Luis, a member of the family that owns it, told us the entire hacienda was re-built from ruins in 2004-2008. You could have fooled me, it looked so authentic.
Dozens of swallows had also taken a fancy to it, some even nesting up in the rafters of a passageway, their tiny offspring gaping soundlessly. Our own nest oops room was cool and comfortable, though unexciting in terms of furnishing (at 75€ / night, it was good value). Dinner was acceptable, nada mas, easily surpassed by the huge views from the roof terrace and the twinkly inky night sky. Breakfast came up trumps with my fave Andalucian treat – large and crisp Ines Rosales olive-oil pastries wrapped in wax-paper (enthused about in a previous post). Even better, they were twinned with a more crumbly kind of biscuit, the Torta de Aguilera from Antequera, never encountered before. Both oozed traditional Spain style and worked divinely with a robust café con leche.
Another swim was followed by a motorised meander before we landed back at our house to the south. With the entire village now slumbering quietly, we felt it was mission accomplished.