Romance and relaxation in southern Spain

by Beate.Oera-Roderick

The most romantic break of my life started with candlelit tapas and poolside sangria in Seville and ended in Extremadura, in a hotel so heart-breakingly beautiful we could barely step outside

My definition of peace, calm and beauty will forever be bound to the My definition of peace, calm and beauty will forever be bound to the Hospederia Convento de la Parra, an old convent in a small village surrounded by gentle hills and olive groves in rural Spain. We arrived there after a short stay in Seville, where we spent the evenings wandering from tapas bar to tapas bar, the fragrance of lemon and orange trees fresh in the air. 

Having only a short time in the Andalucian capital, we rented bikes as a means to see the main sites, starting with a visit to a bakery to buy some picnic food. Rolling between the palaces, cathedrals and bullrings on excellent cycle roads, we eventually found the Guadalquivir accompanied by a broad, cobbled path, where we stopped for our picnic. The river was teeming with life, all manner of boats and vessels milling around on the slow current, whilst fishermen were overlooking from the opposite bank. 

After two days in Seville we drove north, entering Extremadura in search of Hospederia Convento de la Parra. We found the brilliant white walls and the clean beauty of the convent left undisturbed by clutter, the simple design carefully conceived to highlight its natural beauty.  Daybeds lined the colonnade above the cloister, shaded by day and starlit by night, and there were peaceful fountains, quiet walkways and secluded sunspots to lose ourselves in everywhere. It was a hotel designed for peace, rest and relaxation.

The convent only has 21 rooms, many placed in the nuns’ cells, and is largely devoid of modern commodities. TVs, internet access and hairdryers are all absent, replaced instead by a library with books left by visitors and chess and backgammon sets; we would take the boards to the shaded daybeds overlooking the cloister, where we discovered, to my great chagrin, that my husband is the superior chess player. 

Lunch was served wherever we fancied it, and we would eat goat’s cheese salad and blood pudding with sweet pepper sauce in the courtyard, or chocolate fondue with fresh fruit by the pool. The food was consistently delicious, with a dinner menu that changed each night, served in the cloister, the stars twinkling at us from high above.

The beauty of the convent, with its many nooks and crannies, was that we rarely met our fellow guests outside breakfast and dinner, and the pool was no different. A tiered fountain led down to the pool area, which was small, but also largely empty. No sound penetrated the walls, and we often fell asleep on the soft beds, lulled by the gentle sound of the fountain.

We had booked our stay with no notion of what we might find in Extremadura, and were concerned that five days might be too long with little to do. We needn’t have worried, as the area is rich in history and nature. Extremadura is an autonomous region of Spain, directly north of Seville, and one of the most sparsely populated with few tourists. The area is famous for its conquistadors – Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro are but two of its famous sons, the subjects of many statues and the reason why many of the local place names can be found in South America as well. It was also a Roman province, Merida being one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire.

In spring the land is lush and fragrant, and the nature reserves are a must for visitors, but coming in the middle of summer, we found the landscape striking, an almost barren and unforgiving land, apart from hills upon hills covered in gnarled olive trees. Lone towers and castles kept watch on some of the hill tops, reminders of a turbulent past, the rolling land stretching out beneath them under a hazy sun. Small towns and villages seemed almost frozen in time. This is a place where tapas are served the original way, arriving unordered when having a drink at a bar.

Truth be told, however, for all our concerns, we ended up seeing very little – the convent was simply too beautiful to leave, and short drives to Zafra and Jerez de los Caballeros was all we managed to do before yearning for the simple beauty of our oasis. It felt like our private little haven, and a selfish part of me does not want to share it with the world, but keep it a secret for those few lucky individuals who have discovered it.

In Jerez we found another bullring and we considered going to watch a bullfight. The bulls grazing under the olive trees in Extremadura made us think otherwise, however. They seemed so content with life, munching grass, perhaps surrounded by a few cows, that we did not want to see them fight. And content is what we were too. Ultimately, this is what Hospederia Convento de la Parra provides; time and space to listen and relax, whisper sweet nothings and reconnect in a place entirely untouched by the stresses of the world.

Where to stay

• Hospederia Convento de la Parra
Double rooms from €120.
www.laparra.net
Tel: 00 34 924 682 692

• Hotel Dona Maria
Fantastic location and rooftop swimming pool overlooking the Giralda in Seville. Double rooms from appr. €120.
www.hdmaria.com/eng/
Tel: 00 34 954 224 990
 

Beate.Oera-Roderick

I first caught the travel bug sitting in the harbour in Cannes, basking in the sun whilst eating blueberries from the local market. I was 17, travelling on my own for the first time and revelled in the intense feeling of freedom. Two years later, I made a journey though Nepal and Tibet, sleeping in flooded tents, digging trucks out of muddy avalanches and seeing precious few showers, and yet loving every second. My fate was sealed.

I am Norwegian, and so naturally crave a degree of mountains, fjords and solitude, though I also love city living with its people, pace and martini cocktails. Now married to a lovely Englishman, I live in London, the perfect gateway to the world - so diverse and multicultural, it is the closest I've come to travelling whilst staying still in one place. You can visit my blog at www.thesocialcyclist.com, where I chart my adventures with a bike and a picnic basket, quite frequently abroad.

Favourite places: London, Vienna, Lisbon & Seville. Cusco, St. Paul de Vence, Extremadura & Tisvildeleje. The Trondheimsfjord. Mountains everywhere; Alps, Pyrenees, Himalayas, Andes and Skallen, the little mountain top near my home town.