Join the Sotogrande jet set
Given the awesome backdrop of the towering Rock of Gibraltar and a view across the strikingly blue Straits to the mountains of Morocco peering through the heat haze, my drive to Sotogrande could not have been more spectacular.
As I downed a cooling San MIguel, accompanied by a mouth-watering plate of tapas, I reflected on how my day was representing Spain's Costa del Sol at its best.
Ironically, while it's brewed in Spain, that iconic beverage I was savouring is actually a Filipino brand. The far-off Philippine Islands are also where the visionary creators of Sotogrande – the largest custom-built resort and private residential development in all of Andaluçia – originally came from.
The delightfully named Joseph Rafael McMicking e Ynchausti and his wife Mercedes Zobel de Ayala y Roxas discovered the then totally rural area in 1962 and went about buying up five farms to provide the terrain on which to build an exquisitely beautiful jet-set resort and the accompanying secure private estates. Like Topsy, it grew and among its many facilities today Sotogrande features five magnificent golf courses, including the world-famous Valderrama and San Roque championship layouts.
These days, Sotogrande is regarded as a showcase for the international good life, with a kaleidoscope of magnificent architectural styles on display, from traditional Andaluçian and Moorish inspiration through to cutting-edge 21st Century show homes.
In 2008, three of the resort’s signature buildings, including the Zobel’s own property, were declared by the local government as being of cultural importance – protecting them from ever being altered or demolished.
It’s new building rather than pulling things down that has been making the headlines in Sotogrande recently.
The sparkling NH Hotel Almenara and its surrounding private town houses and villas are set on the 27-hole Almenara golf course, designed by Ryder Cup champion and respected course architect David Thomas.
With 148 superbly luxurious guest rooms, a state-of-the-art Elysium spa, two pools and two world-class restaurants, NH Hotel Almenara, which is operated by the well-known and rapidly expanding NH Hotels group, is more than merely a golfer’s getaway.
As well as the formal Gala restaurant and the more casual Veinteeocho, which spills out onto the terrace, the NH Hotel Almenara operates the thoroughly laid-back Cucurucho Beach Club, with its bar, bistro and comprehensive range of land, sand and sea sports’ facilities, from tennis to wind-surfing.
NH World is today responsible for administering and marketing a large part of the whole Sotogrande estate. It has a wide variety of properties available for sale.
You could spend your dream home time there watching the world go by, keeping an eye open for such celebs as Tony Blair, José Maria Aznar and HRH Prince Louis Alphonse de Bourbon – pretender to the throne of France.
Or you could do as I did and take to the road, driving through cork forests, vineyards and grain fields to explore one of the most beautiful – and sun-blessed – corners of Spain.
Beyond Gibraltar and the frontier town of Algeciras, the road clung to the dizzying cliff edge, skirting a succession of delectably unspoiled bays until reaching Tarifa, the picturesque and historic one-time customs town that guards the entrance to the Mediterannean and from which our word ‘tariff’ is derived.
Further along the coast I reached the big City of Cadiz, with its canyons of modern high-rises but also featuring some magnificent buildings from the golden age of 17th and 18th Century Spain.
Another hour or so brought me to Jerez, the spaciously elegant capital of the sherry wine industry, where most of the bodegas offer guided tours.
Given very poor road signage, it’s a lot easier to find your way into the town than out of it. If anything, that did me a favour, putting me onto a delightful and lightly trafficked back riad that returned me to Sotogrande through gently rolling country, arriving in time for a stylishly presented high tea.
Gibraltar Airport is just 25 dual carriageway kilometers west and low cost flights are available from there to the UK, making NH Hotel Almenara perfect for a high-life weekend escape and Sotogrande as a whole an inviting home in the sun for holidays are permanent residence.
The hotel is also attractive to corporate event organisers, with four dedicated meeting rooms, the largest of them Carteia, capable of accommodating 560 theatre-style or hosting a banquet for 120, or a reception for 1,000.