The villa – looks like it has been there forever
Hugh and Jane Arbuthnott built Almuna over 20 years ago on the site of an ancient orange grove, however it looks like it has been there forever. The Arbuthnotts, along with their son Hughie and his wife Clare, run walking and riding holidays from the villa along with holidays specialising in almost every other activity you could imagine from bird watching to painting.
The location of the villa is incredible. Almuna’s wisteria framed terrace looks out over rolling hills and onto the orange tiled roofs of the nearby village of Gaucin. In the distance the Strait of Gibraltar is clearly visible bookmarked by the “Pillars of Hercules”, the rock of Gibraltar and the mountain of Jebul Musa across the sea in Morocco.
The villa has the flagstone floors and soaring white ceilings of a traditional Spanish residence with the comforts of an English country house like a drawing room with a roaring fire that is lit to ward off the cold nights and a heavily laden drinks trolley which is always available to guests. Bedrooms are clustered around a stone paved courtyard and the scent of jasmine hangs in the air. They have simple rush matting lining the floors and comfortable beds laden with thick, white duvets.
A house party at Almuna is precisely the sort of holiday to have when you do not want to organise a thing. The Arbuthnott’s do everything for you from explaining the history of the nearby castle of Gaucin, to taking you to the best local tapas bars (and ordering for you) to guiding you on walking tours or horse riding treks through the surrounding countryside. The Arbuthnott’s host house parties for groups or there are certain dates during the year when you can join in as a single person or couple. The itinerary is planned around the guests and can be as jam packed or as laid back as requested.
This is Spain, so food and drink was a major part of the house party experience. Breakfast served on the covered terrace was a multi course affair starting with fruit salad, toasted muesli and yoghurt, moving on to local sausages and bacon and finishing with thick slices of toast slathered with homemade, runny marmalade.
Wildflowers on walk to Ronda
As soon as breakfast was finished it was almost time for elevenses (this was my kind of place). This could be a slice of home made fruit cake and lemonade profferred by Jane halfway along a walk or slices of chorizo and a tumbler of sherry pulled from a saddle bag at a break in a horse ride.
Stopping for elevenses of chorizo and sherry while horse riding
In true Spanish style lunch was a late and lengthy affair. After our morning of horse riding through local cork forests we returned to Almuna to discover Paco, a long time employee of the Arbruthnott’s, finishing a huge dish of vibrant saffron hued paella. Studded with prawns, clams and slithers of chicken Paco’s paella was sensationally flavoursome.
However, my favourite lunch was eaten in an olive grove looking up at the arches of the famous bridge in Ronda. We had walked for three hours to reach Ronda and we were greeted by Jane and Hugh bearing a picnic of chilled tumblers of gazpacho, slices of tortilla and a hearty stew of garbanzo and chorizo.
Garbanzo and chorizo stew
Dinner was Jane’s domain and was always at the villa, seated around a long table laden with bottles of wine. Jane’s cooking is simple but flavoursome and draws from local produce along with the farm’s own extensive vegetable garden. It was not fancy food but it was prepared with love, care and skill.
Red peppers and egg plants
We ate plates of slow roasted peppers and egg plants which might be followed by a main course of a tiny quail each to be pulled apart using our fingers. Dessert was home made cake or a huge round of cheese baked in the oven until it was runny and teamed with slices of pear and grapes.
Sherry tasting in the drawing room
A house party at Almuna won’t suit everyone, if you like to organise things yourself or prefer more solitary holidays it is probably not your cup of tea. However for those who want the luxury of local knowledge and an off-the-beaten experience of Andalucia without having to lift a finger, the Arbuthnott’s house party is just about perfect. The thing that really makes the Almuna experience is the warmth and hospitality of the Arbuthnott family. They are very proper and thoroughly British (Hughie and Clare are even attending the Royal wedding) but at the same time the Arbuthnott’s know exactly how to make everyone feel comfortable and relaxed. From Jane’s tales of when she first arrived in Andalucia to Hugh’s impromptu sherry tasting sessions it is clear the Arbuthnott’s know how to entertain and truly spoil their guests. It is impossible to leave without feeling you have been temporarily adopted into the clan.
Hughie, Clare, Jane and Hugh Arbuthnott
Details: Arbuthnott Holidays
, Finca Almuna, 29480 Gaucin, Spain (Ph 0034 952151148) Damage: Budget breaking although on this occasion I did not have to pay. The cost is from £1,000 per person for a week’s house party but it includes absolutely everything. Accomodation, airport transfer, activities, food, free flowing drinks and anything else you can think of is included.
Gourmet Chick was a guest of the Arbuthnott’s.
Video footage of our room at Almuna