I have a favourite travel companion in my life, which comes as no surprise, but every now and then, I get a “girls weekend” away. These don’t happen all the time, but I was a lucky girl and got not one, but two in the same month (yes, Mrs. O also went with other friends to Los Cabos, in Mexico).
Mr. O is usually very understanding (as he jets away on his boys golf weekends), but him and the other 2 husbands were not impressed this time. We did tell them where we were going at first, and they didn’t take much notice. They must have thought: “Oh, South of Spain, sure, a bit of sun and gambas”. But then I wrote a post announcing my travel plans for the month – and must confess I was really surprised how the three of them actually do read the blog. They did a little research on the hotel we were staying at, the fab Finca Cortesin and initiated a protest, they even commented on the blog and promised to boycott our instagram feeds. They were so jealous, it was beyond belief. We agreed that we were going to try it, “just to see if we liked it”. If it was girls’ approved, well, then we would return. To cut a long story short, I need to earn some serious brownie points and fast.
Finca Cortesin, our destination is located between Estepona and Sotogrande (give or take) and is served by two airports – Malaga (AGP) and Gibraltar (GIB). The latter actually seemed to be a better option as it was only 30 minutes away and flights times were better (and from Heathrow, which is more convenient to me than Gatwick). Plus… I would get to land at the iconic Rock and its quirky airport – the runway crosses the main road into Gibraltar, so traffic (both pedestrian and motorised) goes to a standstill when a plane lands.
We landed and it was a beautiful sunny day and within minutes we were in duty-free land (Gibraltar is not part of the European Union) and outside Gibraltar’s swanky new airport. We had hired a car on the Spanish side (note to self: possibly not one to repeat as a) there are no mainstream car rental agents, only local ones and b) it was weird to be picked up at Burger King’s car park and taken to a hotel’s basement a mile away to sign the rental papers). Crossing the border with our luggage was OK (and slightly exciting) and the car seemed nice and worked… so away we went..
Following a couple of hiccups (totally self-inflicted as we took, for some bizarre reason, the mountain road instead of the dual carriageway, which would have taken half an hour… – where were the boys??), we finally arrived at the stunning Finca. It didn’t disappoint in any way – understated, beautifully decorated, and I will never forget my first glimpse of the pool and the view. Mrs. O muy contenta!
Both myself and Trudi (Terene was joining us from Geneva via Malaga) were hungry, so after our welcome drink, we decided it was time for lunch. I decided that Trudi needed to get right into Spanish mode and we feasted in one of my favourite Spanish dishes – huevos rotos con patatas y ibérico, which translates as chips (French fries for you lovely Americans), fried eggs and iberico ham. If that isn’t Spain on a plate, I don’t know what is!
We spent a lazy afternoon at the hotel, while waiting for Terene, whose arrival was obviously toasted with a lovely bottle of Cava. For dinner, we indulged on Chef Lutz’s dining delicacies, and you can read about our stay in detail, right here.
After a lovely breakfast at the hotel, we spent the morning checking out the pools (spoiled for choice, we decided to give the 30-metre one a go). The things one does in the name of research. But what I was really looking forward on this trip, was to meet the lovely Michelle Chaplow, with whom I have been tweeting for over a year. Michelle is a renowned international luxury hotel photographer and over time we have bonded over our shared love of swish suites and BA tier points.
Michelle took us out for lunch in nearby Estepona. You know by now how I love getting my hands dirty (food wise!) and will go pretty much anywhere for real food. So we discovered this little place (a firm favourite of hers) by the port. We enjoyed some of life’s simple pleasures such as gambas, boquerones, calamares with a side of tinto de verano (red white on ice and lemonade). It was simply perfect and we went back for more every single day!
Michelle dropped us off at Finca Cortesin’s Beach Club, where we snoozed in the sun – it was simply perfect.
Before dinner, we headed towards Sotogrande, a nice part of the world, known for its tradition and polo matches. I must confess I was a bit disappointed with the marina, which seemed a bit dead. I don’t know if it was the fact that we were there before the season started, but there didn’t seem to be much to do. Oh well!
That evening, we enjoyed a fab Argentinian meal at Cancha II, which overlooked the Ayala polo fields. Very nice indeed!
After a lazy breakfast, it was time for some R&R, which was obviously much deserved. This time around, we simply stayed, the whole day, at the 50-metre pool (nice to have a choice and a change of scenery!).
Our afternoon was spent at the fabulous spa, where we enjoyed great massages… seriously, could you ask for a more peaceful girls getaway?
After the obligatory Gin & Tonic at the hotel bar, we headed to the nearby Venta Garcia restaurant, where Jesus, the owner, looked after us as if we were part of his family. We had a great meal, paired with even more incredible wine, which we absolutely adored.
Our last full day arrived much quicker than we thought – being on Finca Cortesin time is a dangerous thing, as sadly it goes too quickly. But after, guess what, a day by the pool and another one of those lunches, we decided it was time to help the local economy (and hopefully buy some more shoes).
We made our way to Marbella, which brought back so many childhood memories as for over 20 years, I holidayed with my family in this part of the world. Sadly, the recession made some changes to this quaint little town. The old part is still worth a visit, but not for retail purposes.
So we needed to take matters in our own hands and made our way to Puerto Banus marina, where one can appreciate some serious boat eye candy.. and do some serious shopping. It was also interesting to see how much the “crowd” had changed since my last visit, a good 10 years ago. I may be brave and say it wasn’t for the better, but life is what it is.
In Puerto Banus you can find a great selection of shopping, and at El Corte Ingles department store (one of my spiritual places, as you know), I couldn’t resist these lovely shoes. Guess which colour I bought?
It can be said that we girls behaved, shopping wise – but the temptation was too much to bear, so we had to make up for it with calories, and that could only mean one thing: a pizza and a chocolate crepe at Picasso, which by the queues we saw, remains a firm favourite and didn’t disappoint… I will leave you with the visual evidence.
No matter how decadent Puerto Banus got, it is still quite pretty, and I loved just walking around it. If you just ignored the crowds, it was like as if nothing changed – all I remembered was there, but with even some better shops. And needless to say, we were out of there before 10pm.
We couldn’t believe it, but it was time to go back home, to our respective airports. And I can’t tell you how hard it was to leave Finca Cortesin – once you have been “cortesined”, you know it – and I may have refused to check out.
Which was totally fine by them, as they know I will be back as soon as I can.
PS. Our rental car return on the Spanish side of the Gibraltar border was horrible, to say the least. We intended to visit Gibraltar, so our friend Terene came with us to return our car. We had trouble finding the “hotel” and had we not had her, we would have had to walk a mile back to the border and cross it. Not fun. The alternative is to hire a car on the Gibraltar side (thankfully, we saw an Avis counter and enquired when we got to the airport), but the problem is that you may have to queue for hours (we saw the queue, it wasn’t good) to cross the border. And don’t forget that the roads close when planes land, and you want your plane to land, if you see what I mean. So it is a lose-lose situation and I can’t figure out a way around it. Possibly, the best way is to have a private transfer to and from the airport and sort out a car at the hotel. Or use Malaga airport!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Finca Cortesin, who looked after us like princesses. We promised to go back and take the husbands and we are pretty sure they would love it. Terene made good and has already been for a whole week with the rest of her flock. I need to go back asap.