Most world-class luxury retreats will cater to your every whim. Can a couple of nights away from the hustle and bustle of life change you? If any weekend getaway can be transformative, it is Andalucía’s Finca La Donaira


La Donaira, described as an exclusive eco-escape and situated on 1,700-acres in the spectacular Serranía de Ronda. The current owner purchased the land in 2002 and developed it into an equestrian estate. As well as 81 thoroughbred Lusitano horses, it is now home to many animals. 300 sheep, 200 hens, 32 goats, 61 rare cattle, a few resident pooches and an array of wild birds.

Bought in 2005, the 700 hectares of the land cultivated following the principles of Rudolf Steiner. Today, La Dehesa Biodinámica produces 95 per cent of consumption on the estate (humans and animals). Last year this included 5,488 kilos of olives (462 litres extra virgin olive oil). Furthermore 528 kilos of almonds, over 2,000 kilos of Petit Verdot and Blaufränkish grapes and 236 kilos of medicinal honey.

Leave Your Car and Your Worries Behind

Named one of Spain’s most charming hotels by Vogue in 2018, this boutique-style hotel opened in 2015. This mountain oasis, at 850 metres altitude, will reconnect you with nature and make you feel truly alive.

Even before you get there, you know this will be no ordinary stay. Hotel guests leave their cars in the village of El Gastor and get chauffeured the remaining way. Probably a good thing, as the jaw-dropping views are such that one could easily let go of the wheel.

On arrival, La Donaira’s press director María is waiting to give us a tour. “This is not a normal hotel,” she explains. “We want our guests to feel as if they are at home. We are like a family so there are no room keys and everybody eats at the same table.”

A Real Transformation

If this sounds too flower-child-like for you, don’t worry. They have transformed the hundred-year-old whitewashed Cortijo into a state-of-the-art facility. There are seven distinct guest quarters and two 50m2 yurts for those who prefer glamping in the quasi-wild.

Furnished with a mixture of French farm antiques, original art and a few retro-modern touches. Each room in the main house has its unique characteristics. An airy split-level suite where a natural rock grows out of the floor and the snow-white canopy bed is covered in lambskin. Thus ensuring an extra-deep sleep. Bathtubs are William Holland, showers and taps custom designed. Handmade natural soaps, shampoos and lotions are in the bathrooms.

Throughout the estate, there are other unique features. Beeswax candles burning and vases with freshly cut flowers, so every corner breathes sweet vibrant life.

From Steinways to Stallions

Such a sanctuary might inspire you to find a bench to meditate on the state of the soul. However, for more active visitors there are no lack of activities. In the morning, do sun salutations on the yoga platform with only the sierra as audience. Try one of many walking trails, borrow a mountain bike, take a trail ride. Wander around the medicinal garden, or pick your own free-range eggs for breakfast.

In the afternoon, book a lesson in natural horsemanship with Seamus, the resident ‘horse whisperer’. He has been with the horses since birth and understands their instincts and forms of communication.  He is able to train them without causing stress or fear. Lusitanos are the worlds oldest-known saddle horses and La Donaira aims to preserve and evolve the species through natural breeding. Noble, strong and intelligent, they are well suited for dressage and ideal partners for horse therapy.

Sustainability & Innovation

“This is peace,” says German-born Gloria, as she stops by a field of pregnant mares on our way to the vegetable garden. She is responsible for La Dehesa Biodinámica, a permaculture project that includes land cultivation and ecological animal husbandry. Based on sustainability and innovation, they re-educate visitors about holistic farming practices. Family Sundays have recently been introduced.  Guests can observe what happens when a farm is treated as a functional ecosystem – and taste the result.

Almost everything served at the hotel is picked minutes before. As if on cue, the chef comes speeding down the hill in an electric golf cart. He has come to gather his last additions for lunch.

Bee Beds Or Horseback Yoga?

La Donaira offers all the amenities of a high-end resort, and much more. For those needing help unwinding, there is yoga on horseback, known as grounding. Done on the back of the stallion Dante, this exercise involves strength, balance and trust.

Paula, starts by letting you pet and talk to the horse, finally walking it to an enclosed riding circle. When mounted and led, she prompts you to do simple stretching exercises. With her calming voice, Paula helps you relax into the natural rhythm of this powerful animal. I thought I was afraid of horses…

Another not-to-be-missed activity is meditating on a Bed of Bees (who can resist such a name!). The estate began natural beekeeping, focusing on genetic improvement and strengthening of the bees’ immune system. There are currently 30 hives in trees, trunks and regular wooden box units. Putting three together creates the so-called bee bed, which I am soon to meditate on.

Dressed in full beekeeper suits, Paula and I approach the hives to observe these hard-working insects. Moving behind the hives, I lie down on the wooden platform on top of the bees. When the lid closes (yes, there are breathing holes), you feel as if you are in a buzzing echo chamber. It is probably the closest you will ever come to these amazing creatures that are essential to life on earth.

A Pampering Paradise

After all this action, you might yearn for some pampering. Perhaps a lavender manicure or a sweet almond oil massage in their secluded massage hut?

Though full capacity at La Donaira is 22 guests, you never feel crowded. In fact, you sometimes wonder where the other guests are. As a result, you can have the entire spa to yourself, swim in the spring-fed outdoor pool or indoor infinity pool. Even sweat in the log-heated sauna, detox in the hammam, or plunge into the ice pool!

Indoor types will find a Steinway grand piano, guitars, a vinyl collection. There’s a home cinema and more books than you can possibly read during your stay. Surrounded by floor to ceiling windows, add a glass of La Donaira 2010 organic Syrah. Welcome to heaven on earth.

Zero Km Field-To-Fork Experience

We have our first lunch at a reclaimed wood table on the terrace in the company of a family from Portugal. The majority of la Donaira’s guests are foreign, and most are repeat costumers. Comments in the guest book are extremely positive. “The experience exceeded our highest expectations, so much that we extended our stay by a night within an hour of arriving…”

The kitchen is the heart of La Donaira, where guests share meals and can observe the cooks at work. Nicky will serve you breakfasts like you have never eaten before. With fresh juices, fresh warm bread, organic honey, jams, butter, yoghurt, and fruit, all grown and made on site.  Whether you eat in the kitchen, the library or in the living room, the table is set beautifully. French linen, a rosemary sprig and antique silverware.

The food at La Donaira is a chapter in itself. Both lunch and dinner include at least half a dozen dishes, arriving as succulent sculptures on the plate. Impeccably presented, topped by micro greens and edible flowers. Fabienne serves each dish with pride, giving detailed descriptions of the taste symphony we are about to enjoy. This all-organic, zero-kilometre cuisine is created by their Swedish chef Fredrik and his team. Each ends with a pièce de résistance dessert, such as a sorbet from almonds grown just down the hill.

Until Next Time

After a leisurely dinner we lounge on generous leather couches awaiting nightfall to go stargazing with David the astronomer. Nobody is at the grand piano tonight, since the owner is not here and my amateur tinkling simply won’t do…

Besides the eco-retreat, La Donaira offers summer concerts, organic cooking classes, wine workshops, and lectures on sustainable farming. Sharing knowledge is part of their all-encompassing philosophy. This is particularly apparent in the international volunteer program, where people from diverse backgrounds contribute skills and ideas. Therefore returning home with new knowledge and awareness.

The staff is also a virtual United Nations, adding to the poly-culture that La Donaira is so passionate about. There is no apparent hierarchy and everybody is on first names.

When I ask María what they hope the guests will get out of their stay, she answers without hesitation.“Respect! Respecting our environment. You have to be very cynical not to be affected by this place. We hope to inspire all who come here to a healthier, more sustainable way of life. ” In short, La Donaira has been a sensory journey like no other.

Simply being here is therapeutic. As we leave, we realise that though we arrived as just another pair of visitors, we are leaving as friends. And what I can promise is that this is not goodbye, but Hasta Luego!

For more information visit: About the writer: Karethe Linaae is a Norwegian writer, editor and author living in Ronda. Her book Casita 26 – Searching for a Slice of Andalusian Paradise is available on Amazon. For more information, please go to


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