Travel: Andalucia without advice: a tale of two travel writers

A remote cottage with a swimming pool, high up in the hills of Andalucia, sounded an ideal escape from the word processor. Then reality set in.

FRED WRITES travel articles for a living; I edit guidebooks. You might have thought that, between us, we could arrange a trouble-free self- catering holiday in southern Spain. If only. We arrived at Gatwick far too late to find the off-site car park we'd booked and ended up paying a fortune in the on-site NCP car park.

At Malaga airport, we couldn't locate the car-hire office. Nor the tour operator rep for directions to our cottage. Had I forgotten to tell the company what flight we were on? Tears and recriminations followed. Eventually, both car hire office and rep materialised. We drove into the night and the mountains behind the Costa del Sol.

Our destination was Finca Paquita, a small complex of cottages that shared a swimming pool below the remote hilltop pueblo blanco (white town) of Zahara de la Sierra. This had seemed an ideal rural retreat. It sounded basic, but was cheap and, in the words of the brochure, "the only sounds audible in the pure mountain air are the gushing waters of the stream and the bird chatter in apple trees". It was the early hours of the morning when, after driving down several dirt tracks in pitch darkness, we arrived at the finca.

In the darkness, we couldn't make out much of our immediate surroundings. In the morning, we raised the kitchen blind excitedly to reveal piles of sand and rubble, a cement mixer and workmen building a path just feet from the cottage's terrace. The pool was empty, and instead of the "lovely recliners" we'd been promised, it was surrounded by knee-high grass and weeds.

The situation was a red rag to Fred, who likes to think his middle names are Consumer Champion. He phoned the company and asked if it would be possible to move. That evening, we received a visit from Penny, the rep. She was fairly apologetic about the work (apparently, it had been been delayed by rain). And yes, they did have a free property we could move to - nothing less than a three-bedroom villa in seven acres of grounds with a private pool. It took us about 10 seconds to decide to take our free upgrade.

Once we'd found La Huerta, the villa surpassed our expectations. Though only a few miles inland from the Costa del Sol, it looked up towards the whitewashed cubes of the pueblo blanco of Casares. The meadows above it were yellow and pink carpets: I counted 20 types of wild flower in a single square yard.

The owners, Brian and Barbara, lived (in considerably less comfort) at the bottom of the garden. We didn't see much of them, but made friends with their menagerie of animals which included Ruth the donkey, whose whinnying served as our early morning call. Everything was blissful - except the weather. We hadn't bothered to read the "When to go" sections in our guidebooks. In our early May week, sometimes the skies were overcast; the rest of the time it bucketed down.

We were soon forced into sightseeing. We covered hundreds of miles of wiggily mountain roads, dodging thunder and lightning one day, in search of the perfect pueblo blanco. Fred began to fill notebooks, and we passed the time competing for the best similes and metaphors Evenings were too chilly to stay at home, but we found it surprisingly difficult to find appealing places to eat in and around Casares.Our only success was an hour's drive up in the mountains, a romantic restaurant in the hamlet of Benalauria, where we dined well on local produce. Since the weather was lousy and we pined for more good food, we decided to forgo our last night at La Huerta and head up to Seville.

Of course, hours before we left, the skies cleared and our pool actually looked inviting. It was in fact freezing, but we enjoyed drying off in the sun. Our arrival in Seville was embarrassing. Having circled the car-free alleys of the old quarter vainly trying to reach our hotel, I had to walk to it and ask the porter to come and park the car for us.

The city was heaven - a gastronomic idyll after our culinary wilderness. We spent our last two days testing its reputation as world capital of the tapas bar, discussing future holiday options over glasses of fino. A backpacking trip visiting one of my brothers in Madagascar had been long on the agenda but, by now, housesitting for another brother in Sheffield seemed more appropriate.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?