You Can Solve All the World’s Problems in a Garden
The Hindus speak of the purusharthas, or the four aims of a balanced life as the blueprint for human fulfillment: duty/ethics, prosperity, pleasure, and the pursuit of liberation. As a travel professional these ideas have always resonated with me, as I appreciate the finer things in life but have often found that luxury and pleasure as many define it comes at a cost to human capital or to the environment. There is something inherently wrong with a system where one person’s pleasure means another person’s suffering, and I’ve always sat rather uneasily in the luxury travel heap, in between these two extremes. It may seem odd to make this connection from spiritual beliefs to social-economic systems to a hotel in southern Spain I’m about to introduce, but it makes perfect sense to me. Isn’t equilibrium what we should all be striving for in life? Among our social relations, in our work/life balance, in our connection with the greater world? And where better to recalibrate these things than on a great vacation?
Enter my new neighbor to town (or more specifically, an hour away from my beloved Jerez, in the Sierra de Cadiz hills) that has revitalized my thinking and shown me the way forward for a luxury tourism for our times: balanced, interconnected, and in synergy with nature. I’m referring to the bodhisattva bretheren of La Donaira, a low key luxury finca (Andalusian farmhouse) set deep in the hills above the sleepy white village of El Gastor.
You may think I’m waxing just a bit too poetic, but believe me when I say that it’s taken a year of thinking about the place (I visited soon after they opened in late 2016) to understand the sensations my stay produced, and what Donaira means to the greater world. It’s the 7-bedroom, 2-yurt evolving project of a well-to-do Austrian expat and a collection of like-minded partners, who, like so many, after reaching a certain level of financial success, asked themselves the tough questions of the meaning of life and their place in the word. The answer came back in the form of La Donaira- a balanced and enlightened mix of permaculture farm and luxury eco-resort, without the “hippyness” of the former or the pretensions of the latter.
This is not a straight-forward hotel experience. Tucked away in the mountains at about the half-way point between Sevilla and Malaga, the journey starts at a local’s bar in a tiny hamlet where you’re whisked up a hill in one of the property’s Land Rovers, taking you away from worldy concerns and towards a nature-driven re-awakening.
Rooms here are that magical mix where traditional materials (old stones, thick and whitewashed walls hand built from native clays) have been smartly blended with modern, unobtrusive fittings, comfortable beds, excellent lighting, and minimal décor that both relaxes and reflects a sense of place. The communal areas have been carefully designed and thought out to give the guest the sense that they are simultaneously in a home but also in an ephemeral space, where the emphasis is on getting back to basics: no tvs, telephones, minibars or safes in the rooms, or locks on the doors. There is wi-fi (boo), which works only in the lounge areas of the finca, for the obsessed that are too busy to notice the fantastic collection of books on a wide array of interesting topics. As an avid reader who is sick of hotel “libraries” featuring seven copies of Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons”, the first thing I wanted to do was grab a book of the shelf and settle in for several hours next to the roaring fire.
Nourishment is a major component of Donaira’s philosophy. For starters, you’re welcome to walk through their permaculture garden and pick native herbs to brew your own tea, and the kitchen brings together the harvests from their farm, including their own delicious olive oil, balanced with meat from livestock raised on their land, and chickens that roam freely. It’s farm-to-table at its Andalusian finest, with creative culinary productions that make each meal an event, taken communally and irrigated with bio-dynamic wines from a small but well stocked cellar.
Donaira has a pleasant indoor spa and outdoor naturally filtered infinity pool (chemical free, the run off irrigates some crops down hill), and can offer a number of wellness treatments, or yoga classes on request. For those who love riding, an excellent stable of Lusitanians is kept here and Seamus, the chap who looks after them, will help you unlock the secrets of “horse whispering”. I told you this was a special place.
What it’s not great for is as a base for far-reaching exploration of the region. There’s some spectacular hiking to do in the area, and although you can technically visit nearby Ronda and the pueblos blancos (white villages), the remoteness of La Donaira almost induces you to stay put, and frankly, I’d clear some time in my schedule to focus on the serious task of relaxing, and save the touring around once you’re ready to head on to another destination.
Donaira attempts to redefine our world and set priorities where they should be: cooperation with nature, community, borrowing from past knowledge to forage with new understanding into the future. It may not be for everyone’s travel tastes (or wallets, as it comes at a price), but lovers of places with personality, respect for nature and holistic approaches to living while not sacrificing their kama, will find nirvana in this Andalusian idyll.
Sebastian plans Trufflepig’s Spain, Morocco and Portugal trips from his home in…. in…. actually we’re not ever quite sure exactly where he is. Email him here to find out.