Travel: Finca el Cerrillo

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When is a hotel not a hotel? When it is the Finca el Cerrillo – one of the best kept secrets of southern Spain

Owned by the aptly named Gordon and Sue Kind, the now restored 200-year-old farmhouse that serves as one of Andalucia’s best kept secrets was used as an olive mill from 1805 until 1960.

It sounds like a cliché calling this place a home from home – but the number of visitors who return are testament to the welcome this fascinating property offers its guests.

During the 1960s the Finca el Cerrillo became a hide-out for artists and remained so for over 30 years, no doubt because the sweeping views of the Sierra Almijara proffered ideal opportunities to capture mountain life and its colourful scenery.

When Gordon and Sue took over the property in 2001 it had become ramshackled and in need of considerable care – which has been given in vast quantities to create a unique residence, mixing all the luxury of a top class hotel with the benefits of being at home with friends.

The “honesty” bar is a refreshing take on hospitality. If you fancy a drink, help yourself and write down what you had on your own list. The total is added up at the end of the holiday – no questions asked. Being treated with such respect creates a valuable feeling of trust – and a remarkable sense of relaxation.

Many people say they are looking for something “different” when they go on their holidays – often involving anything from throwing themselves off mountains in the hope their survival will fuel sufficient gratitude to appreciate life from a different level, to trekking across terrorist country where the likelihood of being captured as a political pawn is highly likely.

For the rest of us who find that daily life provides enough adrenalin-fuelled stress, the opportunity to sit by a private pool and enjoy the privilege of total peace and quiet (ignoring interruptions from the natural environment such as the song of various cricket-like creatures or the occasional parading chameleon) is just heavenly.

Once fully recuperated there are many opportunities for light activities. Walking isn’t the easy option when you are in the surrounding mountain sides of the Finca el Cerrillo. In fact the leaders have to ensure reasonable fitness by taking their groups on a short hike before initiating the full programme – to see who makes it back up the hill without tempting heart failure. All fitness levels are catered for, however, so if physical activity has been a stranger for a while, suitable routes will be found.

Then there is the variety of courses for the artistic – from water colour painting to scriptwriting. The nooks and crannies of the Finca provide sustenance for every muse – and the vistas of rolling landscapes with small Spanish villages, going about their everyday life, allow visitors the opportunity to reflect at their leisure. All in the interests of creativity, of course.

While there are many opportunities to take on the courses offered by the Finca el Cerrillo, there is no need to be in the slightest bit academic about any of it. Scriptwriting, for example, is led by former Coronation Street and Emmerdale script editor, Graham Carlisle. Even with absolutely no experience he makes his pupils feel like experts after day one. With such knowledge it is therefore important to spend much of the day reflecting on one’s innate ability rather than working oneself too hard on producing any hard evidence. Strangely, though, all participants manage to produce their own scripts by the end of the week – while also involving themselves fully in all social activity and entertainment.

Whatever you are looking for in a holiday, it is unlikely that you’d plan to find what is available at the Finca el Cerrillo – because you won’t know what you might find possible until you get there.