I knew it was time for a break when I began to have nightmares about sanding and painting the boat. I awoke to the realisation that it had been over two months since we had taken any time away. The Captain and I have been on an intense mission to complete the winter refit. We had immersed ourselves into our work. So much so that, we had lost all sense of time and normality. What day of the month was it? What was the day of the week?! It turned out it was a Sunday, I was head to toe in white dust from sanding paint and the Captain had disappeared into the abyss of the Lazarette with a bunch of tools. It was time for a getaway, a breather, a total switch off.
I began to plan our great escape, an exciting weekend away from the list of jobs. Thats right, these sea creatures were heading inland, away from boats and away from the ocean. A trip heading inland to the mountains. Remote, rustic and rural.
We set our course inland from the Costa Blanca coastline, west, towards central Spain, approximately a five hour drive. As the sun lowered in the sky and gradually melted over the horizon we began to wind our way up the slopes of the Sierra Moren Mountains. With an areal view of Jaen, a sea of olive trees stretching out before us into the distance. The approach was an adventure in itself. Somewhere hidden in this stunning countryside was a three mile track that meanders its way through a dense forest of olive trees leading to a farmhouse, El Anadio, home of a traditional Spanish bullfighting ranch. The ranch is totally remote, buried in the hills and utterly beautiful. As we bounced the car up the beaten, bumpy track in the disappearing light, we rolled down the windows only to hear the sounds of birds chattering and the faint lowering of distant cattle. The 19th century farmhouse was a welcoming surprise, originally constructed by the ranch’s old farmers and cowboys. Since the middle of the 19th century, successive generations of the same family have remained here and dedicated themselves to breeding the magnificent, fighting, Santa Coloma bull.
The farmhouse is wrapped around an inner courtyard with a cooling, trickling fountain in the centre. The bedrooms were originally the old managers quarters. Our room was traditional and atmospherically lit. It had a gloriously warming wood burner for the cooler evenings; heavily beamed ceilings, indian artefacts, taurine prints, unusual antiques and a mountain of fluffy, snow white towels. Laid out upon the stone floor was a worn cowhide rug supplied from the family’s own herd of cattle. The wardrobe was heavy, made from old oak and was probably as old as the building itself.
The hostess, Maria invited us into the dining room for dinner. A roaring fire was crackling in the corner of the room. The smell of burning wood and freshly baked bread filled the air. It was warm, welcoming and cosy. Our dining table over looked the paddocks beyond, where the young bulls are collected to be fed.
The menu is set at El Anadio. The dishes are inspired by the local produce and fruits of the land. The meals are served by Maria’s eldest daughter Romona. Rustic homemade bread served with locally pressed olive oil, which had a fresh, peppery taste. Delicious, hearty, home cooked meals were served to us at every sitting. Simple hearty food, beautifully presented salads to start, with cold jamon. For the main course, locally sourced, thick cuts of beef would be served with well seasoned sauces and roasted vegetables. Desserts constantly surprised as we indulged ourselves with chocolate fondue and creme brûlée.
Each morning a refreshing display of fruit, baskets of home baked muffins and bread would be placed on an old, oak serving table with choice of homemade raspberry and fig jam. Freshly squeezed orange juice from the ranches own orange orchard is always available. Alternatively, toasted bread, with a topping of chopped tomatoes and a fresh fried egg would also be on offer. An added drizzle of the peppery olive oil went down extremely well!
Upon waking on our first morning we realised how very special El Anadio was. The views from the garden across the mountains confirmed that we had travelled to a natural, unspoilt landscape. We were far off the beaten track. El Anadio sits where the air is cool and the bulls wander among the oak groves. Behind the farmhouse, is a bull fighting ring that is surrounded by the incredible panoramic scenery beyond. The bull ring is a large circle with a surrounding stone wall providing seating for an audience to sit safely behind. A long corridor constructed from the same stone, is used to guide the bull into the arena. It is where the bulls enter and leave the ring and is controlled by a heavy metal lifting gate. El Anadio also offers training to brave souls who wish to become professional bull fighters.
Vivacious, generous Maria is passionate about preserving the toro bravo breed and is delighted to accompany guests on horseback, or drive their 4×4, for a tour of the farm. We travelled in the back of an old and dusty, Spanish built, Santana Land Rover. We rocked about in the back as we meandered along the bumpy tracks that lead through the orchards and pastures. It was explained to us that surrogate cows, studs, calves, bulls and bullocks are separated into fields according to their year of birth. Through these groups they are then sorted according to their characteristics, then they would be separated again.
The rangers on horseback identify the fighting bulls looking for strength of character and courageousness. Once selected the tails are usually docked to help identification. The herd of bulls is continually observed by the rangers for further signs of quality and strength.
The heifers are also carefully chosen for breeding to preserve the quality and strength of spirit in the herd. All of the cattle are branded with the El Anadio symbol.
A sunset horse ride through the estate was truly magical and the perfect way to view this rural retreat. We set off riding with our western style saddles, the sky was glowing with hues of oranges, pinks and deep blues. The olive trees and oak groves became silhouettes as the sun disappeared behind the rolling hills. We felt relaxed and peaceful ambling along on our noble steeds who were very sure hooked as they knew the familiar route along the hillside. A magical conclusion to a spectacular and memorable weekend!
We altered our journeys route back to the boat the following morning. Travelling through Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park. With an area of 2,000 square kilometres, it is the largest protected area in Spain and the second largest in Europe. Wild boar, deer and wolves roam the forests with vultures and golden eagles soaring above the rocks, these are just a few examples of the fur, feather and fauna that inhabit this immense park. We kept our eyes sharp as we followed the narrow road that winds its way along the cliffs. The Sierras de Cazorla is dramatic countryside. Towering rock walls and deep valleys mix with lush forests of corsican pine. Its highest mountain peaks reach more than two thousand meters in height. Cascading waterfalls crash into the turquoise Guadalquivir River that fills the snaking 20km long reservoir, the Emblase del Tranco.
After an awe inspiring cruise through this dramatic landscape, we pulled over for lunch at a roadside taverna. Treating ourselves to tortilla and cold ham before heading back to the Costa Blanca coastline feeling inspired, refreshed and revitalised.
By Eliza Brown