Many travel destinations are greater and more complex than their reputation. Milan is more than just fashion, Paris more than just food, Berlin more than just nightlife and the Costa del Sol more than just Brits abroad.
In fact, Costa del Sol has a fascinating and ancient history, stretching back to the Phoenicians and beyond via Roman, Visigoth, Muslim Arab and Catholic conquistadors. And while the region has more recently been conquered by British package holidaymakers, away from the fish and chip shops, Irish pubs and Sambucca shots, it also has some areas of serious beauty and high luxury. And the highest of them all may just be Finca Cortesin.
Finca Cortesin is a luxury hotel with a style that is entirely its own. So adventurous is its decoration that walking from one side of the hotel is like visiting five or six lavish establishments rather than just one.
The Michelin starred Kabuki Raw restaurant looks as if it has been styled by Japanese hipsters, one outdoor terrace looks like a slice of the Alhambra, rooms are arranged around monastic cloisters, and the main bar looks as if it has been torn from the set of a Wes Anderson film. It sounds anarchic, but it works marvellously – there is always something new and delightful to look at.
What to do at Finca Cortesin
More than just a hotel, Finca Cortesin offers exceptional dining options, high-quality spa treatments, golf courses, three pools, an art gallery, shops and just a short drive down the road, its very own private beach club.
The Week Portfolio visited for a weekend, but it would be easy to stay for a week or longer without ever getting bored. And while the hotel is obviously set up for the fine weather the Costa del Sol enjoys most of the year around, even on a wet and windy weekend like the one we experienced, there is plenty to do.
One highlight is the spa itself. Not only is it extensive, stretching to 2,200 sq m, but it also offers a wide range of treatments, including facial and body treatments, massages, thermal baths and a fitness centre. The spa also features a 25m indoor heated salt-water swimming pool. It is kept lukewarm rather than boiling hot, so is perfect for swimming as well as just splashing about. If you really want a workout, personal trainers are also available to assist on request.
Of course, many people’s visit will be more about relaxation than exertion, and this is where the hotel’s spa facilities come in. With ten individual treatment rooms and one double bed suite, complete with heated floors and your own choice of music and scent, you will be guaranteed a treatment tailored to the way you like to be manipulated. Products come from Biologique Recherche and the massages, this reviewer can happily report, are pure bliss.
If your idea of a holiday is more active than passive, then the golf facilities at Finca Cortesin will likely lure you away from the spa.
Ranked as one of the top five courses in Spain by Golf World magazine, Finca Cortesin’s course is a demanding par 72, measuring 6,802 metres from the back tees, and features more than 100 bunkers. There is also a driving range which looks out to mountains on your left and the sea on your right. It is hard to think of a more scenic spot to fine tune your swing.
Beyond the hotel
If, after all that indulgence, you are not quite ready to venture out into the real world, Finca Cortesin offers a halfway-house in the form of its own private beach club. Drop in to reception and hop in one of the waiting transports and you will be whisked ten minutes down the road to a small complex on the edge of the water, where you can dine, plunge or just lie about reading.
If you are ready to go see some sites, Finca Cortesin is also an excellent gateway to some of Andalusia’s most fascinating cities.
Just over an hour’s drive away is the hilltop town of Ronda, notable for the massive stone bridge that links the two halves of the split town. It looks like something from the imagination of Steve Jackson, a fantasy setting worthy of any of his Lord of the Rings films.
Worth visiting too for its Plaza de Toros, the oldest bullring in Spain, though Seville vies for that title with a technicality based on the commencement of its construction. Anyway, Ronda’s was the first to host an actual bullfight.
Slightly further afield is the sleepy city of Jerez de la Frontera, which can be reached within an hour and a half. The town is most famous for its sherry, and there are plenty of great bodega tours to be had here, but the town is also home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art Foundation, where some of the world’s greatest horses are trained to dance, ride in unison, pull carriages and more.
If you come at the right time of year (February to March), Jerez also stages a flamenco festival – part of the so-called ‘Holy trinity’ of flamenco events, with parallel celebrations also held in Cadiz and Seville. Come for the official shows or stay out late in any of the town’s main bars and the flamenco will eventually come to you – the performers tend to stay out most evenings until the wee small hours, singing, clapping and dancing the night away.
Granada is a little further off, at two and a half hours’ drive away, but it is a must for anyone hoping to get an appreciation of the region’s rich history.
In its ramparts the Alhambra tells the story of the pitched battles fought between Christian and Moor throughout the region over centuries, culminating in the reconquista that Isabella of Castile and her husband Ferdinand of Aragon finished off in Granada in the 15th century.
What to eat
With five restaurants on site to choose from, guests have plenty of dining options during their stay at Finca Cortesin.
At the top of the heap is Kabuki Raw, the Michelin-starred Japanese tapas restaurant, which treats diners to a cavalcade of courses, each featuring some kind of raw fish or Japanese-inspired delicacy.
Highlights on the menu include the wild shrimp tortillas, which manage somehow to improve on that classic traditional Spanish dish, and the usuzukuri (exceptionally thinly sliced fish) with soft bread. At its best, Japanese food reveals the flavour of the fish itself – this usuzukuri does exactly that, allowing the rich, clean almost creamy flavour of the fish to surface. The concept of a chic Japanese restaurant on Spain’s southern coast might seem strange, but good cooking is good cooking, wherever you find it.
The other main restaurant in the hotel is El Jardín de Lutz. From the amuse bouche that arrives before the meal, it is clear that this is no ordinary hotel restaurant. Foie gras dipped in chocolate and shaped into a lolly; this is ambitious cookery rather than hotel buffet. Techniques from Kabuki Raw are evident here too, for example the Gallega Octopus, which comes raw and sliced paper-thin. Other dishes are unapologetically Spanish – the cod in its own “Gazpachuelo” stew with a light alioli, broad beans and potatoes is Spain on a plate. And delicious at that.
After a game of golf, you can have a good light lunch at the Blue Bar and down at the Beach Club, the restaurant does a very fine paella.
Don Giovani meanwhile serves classical Italian, with a wide range of fresh pasta options.
All the restaurants in Finca Cortesin also stock legs of the very finest Cinco Jotas jamon, which is reason to travel to Spain in itself. The exceptional ham is the very best in the world, streets ahead of even the best prosciuttos, in this reviewer’s humble opinion. A marvel of Spanish cuisine.
When to go
Finca Cortesin is unquestionably best in the sunshine, but fortunately the region gets plenty of it. You can confidently come here expecting to return home with a tan any time from March to October.
How to get there
British Airways flies to Malaga from around £80 return. The hotel is still an hour from there, but if you don’t fancy the drive, Finca Cortesin can send a car to collect you.
How to book
Room rates at Finca Cortesin start from €585 (£515) per night in a junior suite on a bed and breakfast basis in low season. For more information and booking, visit: fincacortesin.com