The small Andalucian village of Casares rests between Estepona and Sotogrande, recognisable from its whitewashed properties scattered down the hillside like spilled sugar cubes. The story goes that upon encountering the baths of nearby La Hedionda, Julius Caesar’s liver complaint was cured by the healing powers of the sulphuric water, and thus the village’s name was born.
My own visit to Casares had no such effect on my liver, in fact - at the mercy of Finca Cortesin’s exceptional wine list – it had quite the opposite. Located just over 10km south of Casares, Finca was completed in 2009. Inspired by an exotic blend of local architecture and late interior designer Duarte Pinto Coehlo’s previous clientele (Spanish princesses and Indian maharajas among them), the hotel is reminiscent of a palace or monastery rediscovered. No surprise, considering the huge, heavy doors from an ancient Portugese monastery (“we chose the doors, then had to build the space to fit them” General Manager Rene Zimmer explained), millennia-old olive trees, the antique art collection and décor flown in from a Moroccan riad.
That said, it is a place of immense calm and comfort rather than unnecessary decadence. The first thing you notice is the abundance of open space; it’s hard to resist the urge to run, childlike, through verdant courtyards in search of infinite hiding places and secluded alcoves. The soaring ceilings, soft furnishings and abundance of light create a peaceful ambience that, rumour has it, has true rakes like Sir Patrick Stewart returning time and again.
One of Finca’s three restaurants, Kabuki Raw delivered on its Michelin star promise of Japanese-Andalucian fusion cuisine. ‘Kabuki’ refers to a type of Japanese theatre that combines song, dance and skill, and with an open kitchen, it was hard not to be completely enraptured by the performance of the expert chefs headed up by Luis Olarra. A fifteen-course tasting menu flawlessly blended seafood sourced daily from the local fisheries and organic vegetables grown on site at Finca with flavours of the Orient. Traditional nigiri had a creative yet uncomplicated approach; the smallest (and most perfectly cooked) fried quails’ egg you’ve ever seen, baby organic carrots, miniature steak tartare - the simplicity of each dish deceptive, packed with flavour and culinary skill as it is. Consistent with the theatrical inspiration, the courses are divided into four ‘acts’, each bringing a culinary plot twist worth waiting for.