We miss two turnings and chance upon the cobbled square, where the dapper Belgian manager of V Boutique Hotel in Spain’s Cadiz Province awaits. Greetings over, she leads our curious caravan up the hill – she, our chaperone king of the castle; Mr Smith the Grand Old Duke of York; and me, Humpty Dumpty, slipping about in my heels, eyes on stalks, praying for some semblance of a pavement.
A 17th-century Andalucian stone house turned boutique hotel that appears out of nowhere at the peak of Vejer de la Frontera’s elephant-grey labyrinth of enchanted streets, V, at first glance, is all jasmine-scented courtyards, soothing Ella Fitzgerald melodies, hidden enclaves and cradling stone ceilings. The silence of our room and the lure of a bed wide enough to accommodate an orgy is enough for me to coax Mr Smith – eager to sample the native nightlife – into playing hooky, and soaking away our journey with a bottle of finest Rioja on our balcony.
The half-moon panorama, night-flecked with the halogen stars of mankind, keeps us guessing – is that the sea, Tangiers, a train we spy before us? I’d seen from photographs that most of the rooms at V have deep, open-plan, two-person baths with rainforest showers – but, like the town, and the hotel itself, they are Moorishly semi-concealed. Screens, pillars, frosted glass – hidden, intriguing, seductive, yet ever-present… Reader, we didn’t surface.
Until the morning, that is, when the lure of the vista catapults me out of bed and to the window. V is situated up on a hilltop, and the view is an ever-changing fairytale kaleidoscope stretching from the 14th century crenellations of the castle down to a verdant green plateau, punctured by chalk quarries, winding trains and jade glades, which seems to stretch out to infinity. It is so remarkable that even two such committed somniacs as we are roused for a lingering breakfast of eggs benedict au panorama on our lavender-potted private sunbathing terrace.
Mr Smith falls back to sleep and I teeter atop the cobblestones toward the town square in search of flat shoes. Only I keep getting diverted – by the creamy café con leche in a bar that seems to double as a refuge for the village gossips; beguiling ateliers – a man crafting origami objects by hand at a table in his gallery (later, Mr Smith will convince me that I don’t really need an oversized paper fish) and a designer stitching camelskin in her handbag-cum-workshop.
Vejer’s Visigothic cobbled streets – settled by the Moors in the eighth century and now a World Heritage site – teem with hidden wonders. Like its backdrop, V is brimful of nooks and surprises, from the rooftop Jacuzzi looking out over the ocean to the 12 exquisite, individually designed rooms showcasing evocative features such as mezzanines, lawn terraces with birdcages, libraries and antique furniture everywhere. Staff are switched on and obliging, yet invisible. But perhaps the most astonishing feature is the glass spiral staircase descending into the base of V’s 350-year-old well, now a spa comprised of two conical caverns that incorporate flowers, a bath and authentic Ayurvedic massages in subterranean bliss.
Mr Smith has woken and we eschew Vejer’s fine restaurants in favour of crisp dorada and pineapple ice cream in balsamic reduction on V’s rooftop terrace, where the 360-degree views and cooling infinity water features foil the searing heat. It’s siesta time and Vejer falls silent. We lose ourselves in the ramparts of the town – all roads seem eventually to lead to where you want to be: the Moorish castle, the church, the Jewish quarter with its brass-hand doorknockers. As we survey the astonishing view, Mr Smith tells Rapunzel that if she lets her hair down the prince will be able to reach her. We return to the hotel and I murmur that I think he already has, as we curl up and wonder at the soothing natural materials – glass features everywhere, stone walls evocatively distressed, luxuriously cocooned between underheated marble floors and original beamed ceilings – and are sung to sleep by a chorus of birds tweeting and dogs barking to mark the end of siesta time.
Back in our room we had tittered over menus advertising ‘Peppers with Garlic Minced Chef’ and ‘Scrambled Staff’. One hour later, we make our way in a taxi blaring flamenco through the dense, pulsing undergrowth of Santa Lucia. Like an apparition, La Tajea, a farmhouse restaurant, appears and we dine on succulent, bloody ox so fresh it might have been vanquished in that afternoon’s bullfight and razor-sharp lomo submerged in a creamy, pinenut sauce, seated against a wall of glass separating us from the verdant, illuminated garden outside. Afterwards, we return to Vejer and pull up ringside seats at the bar of La Bodeguita, a hive of activity in the Spanish tradition, where we sip Havana and coke into the small hours.
In the morning we linger in the Jacuzzi, luxuriating in the sight of our next destination – Tangiers, the craggy northern tip of Morocco that looms over the horizon, just 35 minutes away by catamaran. That day we stop by nearby El Palmar, lunching at La Chanca, a former 16th-century tuna factory, then make like true Brits as I strip down to my pink bikini, and Mr Smith holds my hand while we sunbathe and eat ice creams on the beach. On our balcony, Mr Smith had asked whether Sleeping Beauty wanted the prince to come over the fields to find her. ‘Darling,’ I tell him, ‘this is the kind of place I could happily sleep in for 100 years.’