While it doesn’t seem quite right to start my tale of our stay in a charming and romantic old mill, nestling on an Andalucian hillside, with anything but a celebration of what made it such a wonderful weekend away, allow me a few words on Malaga, just so I can get it out of the way. Not the ideal gateway to Spain for the discerning traveller, it is a concrete theme park, with drink-all-you-can bars and eat-all-you-can restaurants fronting a burn-all-you-can beach.
But there is good news, too. You soon realise that though this high-rise hell may be many miles long, it’s only about four blocks deep. Head inland and the tourist trap soon vanishes. It never ceases to amaze me how close the beauty and character of real Spain is to the most overdeveloped, soulless resorts. Most of our drive from Malaga airport to Ronda was through the rugged, glorious – and almost entirely deserted – landscape of southern Andalucía.
I should also take this opportunity to mention Mrs Smith’s new toy: a satnav system. This Mr Smith had long decried these devices, saying that they were for those too stupid to read maps. Reader, I was wrong. We used to fight like cat and dog over directions. No longer: now we cruise about in harmony, navigated and reassured by that strange RP voice emanating from the speakers.
Modern technology got us to Hotel la Fuente de la Higuera in under an hour, and we were instantly smitten. It is a rather stately converted 18th-century olive mill, set into a hillside with views over to Ronda and the surrounding rugged sierras. The gardens are just as impressive: a soft, lush contrast to the craggy mountains around them, forming a well-watered oasis around a swimming pool. The glorious setting meant our hopes were high for a fabulous room, too, and we were not disappointed. We walked into a beautifully cool, calm living room with an eclectic mix of furniture, including comfy wicker chairs and antique leather loungers. Curiously, there is also a fireplace – curious because it’s difficult to imagine a toasty fire when it’s 40?C outside.
We were assured that it does snow here in the winter. Further into our suite we found a generous bedroom, with canopied beds and doors opening onto a lavender-filled garden, and a huge bathroom, whose cool stone floor is exactly what you want under your feet on a baking summer’s day. The bathroom’s other key feature, which we noticed perhaps a little too late, is a picture window by the bath. I didn’t register the window, or the curtains hanging limply by its sides, until I’d just got out of the bath. I do hope I didn’t give any of the other guests a fright.
As soon as we’d finished admiring our new temporary home, we wanted to go and explore some of the dramatic landscape around us. We got a taxi into the centre of Ronda, a beautiful and historic town that straddles the El Tajo gorge. In the cool of the early evening, we wandered around the old town and through a beautiful park before stopping for a drink at the Restaurante del Escudero, on a terrace overlooking the gorge. Sipping glasses of chilled rosado we watched a coppery sun set over the dusty Andalucian hills. Apologies if I’ve come over a little Hallmark on you, but it really was a perfect moment.
After our sundowners, we moved on to Tragabuches, Escudero’s sister eaterie. Now, Mrs Smith is a veggie and, in our experience, the Spanish are not preoccupied by vegetarian needs. Worse, Ronda’s culinary speciality centres around oxtail, perhaps a nod to the local bullring, one of the oldest in Spain. Luckily, Tragabuches is no run-of-the-mill tapas bar: it has a Michelin star and the food is fabulous. As well as delighting us with some gorgeous meat-free items from the tasting menu, its chefs also very graciously prepared a perfect, melt-in-the-mouth mushroom risotto especially for Mrs Smith.
Having dined at the most expensive restaurant in town (though reasonable by our London standards), it seemed only right to have a nightcap in a rough-and-ready local bar. The place was great (unfortunately the details of its whereabouts are lost in a boozy haze). On leaving, though, we ran into problems. Ronda isn’t really that touristy. In many ways, this is wonderful, but it’s not so wonderful when you need a cab home at 01h and the streets are more or less deserted. It’s even worse when you’ve had a few too many sherries, and you only have your room key as an indicator of where you need to get to.
Luckily, our problem became a nice little adventure when we managed to befriend some local builders, using my very patchy Spanish and a few forlorn facial expressions. By an amazing stroke of luck, one of these builders had helped renovate our hotel, and was happy to give us a lift home. I like to think this was thanks to my charming language skills, but it was more likely due to his admiration of the beautiful Mrs Smith.
The next day, a little weary from our sherry-fuelled shenanigans, we felt La Fuente de la Higuera came into its own. The garden is the ideal place to laze around reading, taking an occasional swim when the heat gets too much. Indeed, we did little except relax, enjoy our surroundings, eat the hotel’s excellent home cooking, and chat to our friendly Dutch hosts, Pom and Tina.
We atoned for our laziness the following day, by visiting Grazalema and Zahara de la Sierra, two of the famous ‘white villages’ of Andalucía. These are in the Parque Natural de la Sierra de Grazalema, and offer rugged rural Spain at its finest. We lunched on some very fine tapas and then went hiking in the mountains. Like true Brits, we did this in the midday sun, when the temperature was up in the forties. We managed to avoid heatstroke, though, and the views were stunning. The pleasure was all the greater because we knew that, by squeezing some culture and physical activity into one day, we’d be able to do nothing by the pool of La Fuente for the rest of our stay – with a clear conscience.
Anonymously reviewed by Rhymer Rigby (Adventure traveller)
Reviews of La Fuente de la Higuera from Smith members
Whenever you book a stay through us, we’ll invite you to comment when you get back. Read the Guestbook entries below to see what real-life Mr & Mrs Smiths have said about this hotel…
I liked the peace and quiet; beautiful scenery; lovely large bedroom and bathroom; private terrace; friendly staff and welcome; good breakfasts; friendships made at dinner; and good location for touring area
Dinners are a bit expensive and choice quite limited; honesty bar is a good idea but drinks are a bit pricy.
Fiona Ron, BlackSmith stayed on 20 May 2013
This hotel is a perfect example of the excellent quality and service to be expected at a Mr & Mrs Smith hotel. For a girls’ weekend away we booked the two-bedroom suite and it was absolutely fabulous. From the moment we arrived we were warmly welcomed by the manager Javier. At 1pm our room was ready early and we realised that this hotel was going to be the perfect location for friends now all living on different continents and so time together is very precious. The room itself was beautifully styled – the beds are enormous so perfect for friends sharing. There is only one bathroom but it wasn't a problem at all. The view from the terrace was breathtaking and the tub was great – slightly disappointing it's just a tub and there are no bubbles, but still fabulous. The food is incredible; we ate at the hotel for every meal except one night out in Ronda where we took another Smith recommendation and went to Carmen del Ronda. We were lucky to get a table even at 10pm so make sure you book. To maximise our pool time our flight home wasn't until 7pm and the hotel accommodated this amazingly, allowing us to check out at 4pm. They couldn't have done more for us. I can't recommend this hotel enough for a wonderfully relaxing retreat.
Katie, SilverSmith stayed on 13 Jul 2012
We had a very relaxing 2 days at the hotel. We never intended or in fact needed to step outside the walls of the residence. The staff were great, the quality of the hotel was better than expected. Pom the owner was always on hand if needed. We even managed to catch the Euro Finals in the reception with the Spanish staff and other guests much to the pleasure of my wife. The quality of food was excellent although at a high price. We will return without hesitation.
Stephen, BlackSmith stayed on 18 Jun 2012
We recommend dragging yourself away from the delights of the hotel for a walk along the valley into Ronda village. A two and a half hour walk brings you to the bottom of the gorge and some steps leave the Calle del Prado to arrive in the middle of old Ronda. It is a lovely walk taking in olive groves, beautiful views across the valley and the approach to the back of the gorge, which is just delightful. You can enjoy excellent tapas at Traga Tapas, before taking the direct route back – one hour through the initially non-scenic selection of car showrooms and garages, before crossing the railway line, after which it is pretty much all downhill – so on your return you deserve a beer or a glass of the splendid house white.
Susanna, BlackSmith stayed on 4 May 2012