Sophie McAdam discovers an irresistible blend of old and new where you can discover fine wine, mouthwatering food and sumptious decor…all in the heart of hidden rural Spain.
Los Castaños is a sophisticated boutique hotel located just twenty minutes drive from the picturesque town of Ronda. This romantic hilltop fortress is one of the most visited towns in the region, but few tourists venture south to explore the beauty of the surrounding area: the Genal valley, where virgin forests of pine and cork cling to steep mountains and old men with mules lovingly tend almond and orange groves.
This stunning backdrop is home to golden eagles, vultures, wild boar and deer- not to mention many rare plant and mushroom species- making it the perfect weekend location for climbers, birdwatchers, botanists and walkers.
The Genal valley is also dotted with arguably the most traditional and beautiful of Andalusia’s pueblos blancos, including the village of Cartajima, where proprietor Di Beach chose to open her impressive hotel.
‘I wanted to create something extremely beautiful and luxurious´, Di explains. ‘You look out from this charming place to see rough and rugged mountains and houses with tumbledown walls. It’s the contrast between the luxury of the hotel and the traditional lifestyle of the village that I love.´
In Autumn, Cartajima (population 300) is transformed into a blaze of golds and oranges as the chestnut trees begin to fruit. They are harvested in October and November, providing an excuse (along with the annual Cata de Mosto festival which shouldn’t be missed) for much local merriment.
All rooms at Los Castaños are en-suite and boast a king sized bed and balcony. Di bought the building 10 years ago and has been open for eight, after two years painstakingly rebuilding and redecorating the hotel to its lavish five star Moroccan style.
Di lived in Estepona on the Costa del Sol in the 1970’s- which at that time was a small and very traditional fishing village- and then spent years yachting around the world on a boat she had built with her ex partner, raising two children, studying anthropology as a mature student and finally putting down roots in San Francisco.
‘But after 13 years in the States, I knew I wanted to be back in Andalucia, the place where I’d left my heart.’ Di explains. ‘I’d already conceived the idea of running a hotel,’ she says. ‘But this isn’t a money-making venture, it’s a lifestyle: my own personal stage.’
After four months of looking for the perfect location, Di noticed she had overlooked the white villages south of Ronda, and immediately knew she had found the right place when she first arrived in Cartajima.
‘I had several criteria to meet’, She explains. ‘To be the first foreigner in a village, to be in a traditional and challenging place, to be within easy reach of both the coast and a large town, and to have gorgeous scenery.’
Di runs the hotel with her partner John, whom she met when she was ten years old. She was born in England but had spent her childhood in Canada up until that point. ‘I was taken back to Cheltenham,’ she explains. ‘But it wasn’t home to me. John was in my class and he fell in love with me. He held my hand and made sure I was ok.’
Just four years ago, Di attended a school reunion and saw John for the first time since childhood. ‘The spark was still there,’ she laughs, ‘so he came to join me in Spain.’
Food and Drink
A typical meal at Los Castaños would be Gambas al Ajillo followed by Moroccan Chicken and Couscous followed by chocolate brownies. The wine choices, apart from a selection of Riojas, are Ronda’s finest, such as the seis y seis.
‘Food is very important and very interesting to me,’ says Di. ‘I love to cook and I love to experiment. I try to blend North African flavours with traditional food of Southern Spain.’
‘When I first opened I wanted to source everything locally,’ she explains. ‘I started investigating local wine and back then I found there wasn’t much, but now there are 17 vineyards around the Ronda area, two of which are ecological and organic; the wines are superb.’
For more information and booking, please visit
Originally published in Baywatch magazine (Spain)