Scribbler in Seville

A cosy night in Cortes

Cortes de la Frontera, a delightfully off-the-beaten-track pueblo blanco near Ronda.

This weekend my family and I took a well-earned break from the usual monotony of me not being able to tear myself away from the computer, and my son not being able to tear himself away from the television, too often accompanied by his father, and had a night away. Without TV or computer. And boy, did it feel good. (OK, I took my iPhone, but used it as a map, and to listen to BBC World Service on Sunday morning, in place of my favourite gadget.)

We stayed at a gorgeous little cottage* in a hill-town called Cortes de la Frontera, near Ronda. Not being one of the famous ones (Arcos, Vejer etc), it is delightfully untouristy. This weekend the Jornadas Micologicas (Mushroom Days) were taking place, so there were plenty of hikers around. But it’s not geared up for tourists in an all-signs-also-in-English way, if you know what I mean.

The place where we stayed, a two-bedroom house in a teeny terrace, used to be inhabited by a family with ten children (one of them lives next door, and his daughter helps look after the property). My own kids were thrilled to hear that the mules used to sleep in what was now their bedroom (“What were their beds like, Mum?” asked my five-year-old. Priceless.) and the pigs in their bathroom, as well as horses and chickens. Upstairs was given over to animal feed – they must have got through a fair few sacks. This is now a spacious, attic-y bedroom with an indulgently large bathroom (Like, Like) and its own terrace – the views over the town to the mountains are breathtaking. And the silence is glorious.

When the (English) owners converted the house, they did a clever job of keeping its character, with traditional super-steep stairs (which the two-year-old – neurotically forewarned, “Careful!”, “Slowly!” – loved negotiating, proudly announcing each time: “Mummy, Mummy, I did it on my own!”). There are pretty wooden window-shutters, the type where you can either open the middle part only, to let the light in, or the whole thing, for air. Add to these the wooden lintels over the doorways and windows, and the exposed beams in the ceiling, and you feel like you’ve gone back a few centuries – we should have hung up a ham, or a leather gourd full of wine.

Just what you need on a chilly autumn evening in a mountain village: a wood-burning stove.

It was pretty parky at night, but a wood-fired stove made the (TV-free) sitting room wonderfully snug and cosy. The house has no doors inside, just curtains to divide the rooms from each other, so the warmth and woody aroma filled the whole casa. One of the best things about staying in an owner-owned rental property, as opposed to a less characterful, perhaps better equipped (I missed my microwave) property, is that the people to whom it belongs leave their mark on it, so you know you’re looking at books and pictures which have been owned or chosen personally, according to their own taste.

I particularly recommend Complete Mediterranean Wildlife (blue spine), which is superbly illustrated. I will be ordering my own copy.

They had an amazing selection of guidebooks and maps, especially for hikers and birdwatchers, as this is prime walking and twitching territory. As an avid collector of books on Spain, this tickled my fancy no end. Novels and games were also provided, and they had even left out some children’s books for my kids – a thoughtful gesture which was highly appreciated when the small ones were wide awake and running around at 7am on Sunday.

I also loved the colourful earthenware bowls and Andalucian-themed prints (a bull, a park in Cadiz). There was even a CD player with case full of discs which, spookily, I own several of – Portishead, Macy Gray, Madonna (Ray of Light, since you ask). The kids danced to Macy Gray in the way only small children can – enthusastically, arhythmically and hilariously.

Son dancing to CDs provided with house. Result: entertained, tired child and entertained, happy mother.

The house’s owners, who have a new company which rents out bijou one-off properties all over Andalucia, pride themselves on their knowledge of the area – notably, its history, terrain and cuisine – having lived here for 12 years. Their personal touch was evident even before we set out, with a whole sheaf of notes covering topics from a guide to Spanish pronunciation, to how and where to shop (the empasis is on small, local suppliers – the company is aimed at foodies), to little-known Roman sites in the area. We followed their advice on some short, family-friendly outings, badly needed for this bunch of lazy, indoorsy suburbanites.

Our adventures will be related in the next post – stay tuned…

* We stayed at La Casa del Arriero in Cortes de la Frontera as guests of The 2’s Company Travel. However, as this is I my first post written in association with a company, it’s very important that I tell you this: the opinions expressed here are exactly as they would have been, had we been paying clients. I’ve never been known for biting my tongue, nor do I have any intention of compromising my journalistic integrity.

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