Villa Of The Week: Casa de la Era, Andalucia
Andalucia's 'pueblos blancos' get jammed with tourists. But there are quieter ones to enjoy if you know where to look. Like El Gastor. Stay at Casa de la Era and you'll be on the doorstep
Sunday 28 May 2006
The holiday of your dreams always needs a killer view. And as you relax on the terrace of Casa de la Era, you won't be disappointed. Your eyes are drawn across the valley floor to the turquoise lake at the foot of Zahara de la Sierra and the rugged mountains of the Unesco-protected Sierra de Grazalema. Overhead, see the griffon vultures float on the warm thermals.
You're staying on the edge of a classic pueblo blanco, or white village. But this is far from the maddening crowds of Ronda and Gaucin. Here, in the north of Cadiz province, low-impact rural tourism is the name of the game. In the 1980s, bus tours from the costas brought day-trippers in search of these beautiful mountain settlements. Now, encouraged by the local government, the villages offer discerning travellers an opportunity to enjoy great local produce, as well as a tranquil place to stay.
Perched halfway up a hillside, Casa de la Era is set in olive groves. When I visited, the nearest neighbour, a few hundred metres below, was having a family gathering and as the siesta passed into evening the quiet hubbub was replaced by a female voice singing asoleá, a wistful flamenco.
Only 10 minutes' drive from El Gastor, in one of the most picturesque areas of Andalucia's interior.
The comfort factor
The house is decorated in the Spanish country style, with warm earthy colours. Wooden furniture from Ronda and a massive dining table are the main features of the living space. A double-height ceiling helps air to circulate in summer and an open fire gives you somewhere to cosy up on chilly autumnal nights. The three large bedrooms (two doubles and one twin) have attractive metal-framed beds. The well-appointed kitchen is supplied with everything you'll need to prepare the marathon lunches that are a feature of local life.
There is plenty of well-chosen outdoor furniture for al-fresco dining and lounging. While you chill out on the terrace, the kids can run riot in the gated and fenced garden, stay cool in the pool or burn excess energy playing table tennis.
There are two spacious bathrooms: one en suite with a walk-in shower, the other has a large bath and shower.
The food and drink
The cheese, cold meat, bread, butter, milk and a decent Rioja in the welcome hamper should tide you over until you make the journey to the local shops. In El Gastor you'll find a few bars, three or four restaurants and a small general store. The tangy local olive oil is sought after. Also worth looking for is a local red wine, Fabio Montano, produced in Prado del Rey by 100-year-old Bodega Rivero.
The house works well for two small families or for a parents-kids-grandparents holiday. Most visitors will travel independently and the area is very popular with Spaniards enjoying weekend breaks from Seville.
Although surrounded by parkland, you are only 30 minutes from the historic town of Ronda, one hour from the sherry bodegas in Jerez and well-positioned for Cadiz's pueblos blancos. There are numerous picnic spots around the lake: head for the areas sign-posted zona recreativa. The tourist offices in El Gastor or Zahara can supply walking guides, maps and advice on where permits are needed for protected zones.
An unsurfaced track winds uphill to the villa. Clear directions are provided, although it might be best not to arrive in the dark. The villa is on one level and there is a ramp down to the swimming pool terrace. Children welcome. No dogs.
Prices with Simpson Travel start at £345 per person for one week, including return flights and car hire.
Casa de la Era, near El Gastor, Cadiz, is available through Simpson Travel (0845-811 6503; simpson travel.com).
Liked that? Try these
* Vejer de La Frontera is a charming white village, a 15-minute drive from the beautiful beach at El Palmar. Try the four-room Escondrijo (00 34 956 447 438; escondrijo.com).
* Casa La Loba (00 34 956 412 051; casalaloba.com) is a small B&B set in a townhouse in the old town of Medina Sidonia, in the hills above Cadiz
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