Molino Rio Alajar

Alajar, Seville, Spain Book from

A tranquil self-catering retreat close to one of Andalucia’s most beautiful mountain villages
Wrapped round by forests of oak and chestnut, reached by the narrowest of lanes flanked by ancient dry-stone walls, there can be few settings as lovely as this. When I arrived, 2 dogs were lazing in the sun, a gardener was turning soil in the vegetable garden, and a dozen birdsongs punctuated the afternoon stillness. Río Alájar is a true rural retreat, but without a hint of horsehair shirt.

Your home-from-home will be one of 6 seductively intimate guest cottages which horseshoe around the upper reaches of a broad sweep of garden, looking out to the verdant Alajar valley. The guiding ethos of the Molino is to respect your privacy even though, if the mood takes you, there’s a charming sitting room and library in the old mill house across the way. The network of footpaths which lead out from here are as beautiful as any in southern Spain, and for stay-at-homes there's a shared pool, a tennis court, table football and even guitar lessons. You'll be pushed to find a better base for a week of rural ramblings or indulgent family R&R.

Highs

  • This hidden corner of west Andalucia is beautiful with a capital ‘B’, and Alajar is the prettiest of the Aracena villages
  • The Molino is set up with kids in mind and this place is simply perfect for a relaxing family holiday - there were masses of bambinos running around during our summer 2013 revisit
  • The peaceful Aracena-Aroche Natural Park brims with waymarked footpaths; you can book a week's self-guided walking
  • The feel-good factor of the natural surroundings is matched by the cosy and welcoming cottage interiors
  • There's an organic vegetable garden which you’re welcome to plunder for your self-catered meals

Lows

  • Arrival is by way of a long, narrow lane that was laid down with horses and carts in mind; it seems a bit of an ordeal the first time, but you soon get used to it
  • You're in a remote part of Andalucia: don't expect much English to be spoken in the villages
  • There's no catering: Peter and Monica can provide a welcome hamper and shopping service, but you'll need to do the cooking (or walk into Alajar for meals)
  • Bear in mind there's a 7-night minimum stay during peak season
  • Expect to see lots of kids around during the school holidays (a plus for some)

Best time to go

Summers sizzle in Andalucia so unless you’re a real sun worshipper, spring and autumn are the best times of year to come. The wild flowers come out from February onwards and make walking a double delight. The forests take on a very different hue in autumn when the leaves of the chestnut trees are on the turn; this is also a great time to be in the Aracena Park. If you’re prepared to risk a bit of rain, come in winter. Seeing the coppiced, sculptural forms of the chestnut trees cloaked in mist is a sight never to be forgotten - and that’s exactly when those wonderful wild mushrooms are beginning to push through.

Our top tips

Monica and Peter have always pitched Molino at the walking community and if you follow a few of their detailed intineraries you’ll be hooked on this area. Most visitors are from northern Europe, many from the owners’ native Holland, and a few from the USA. And the place is deservedly popular with families.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Cottages
  • 6 cottages
  • Self-catering
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Tennis Court
  • Bicycles Available
  • Guest lounge/library
  • Table football
  • Horse + donkey rides
Room:

Rooms

Creating the 6 guest cottages was a labour of love for Peter and Monica, the Molino’s Dutch owners. All of the base elements were locally sourced; chestnut beamed and planked ceilings, terracotta floor tiles and walls of locally-quarried red sandstone which give the buildings a really warm, integrated feel.

Each casita has a lounge and a kitchen-diner (often open-plan), and they're decorated with an appealing mix of locally crafted and antique furniture. They have a good range of comforts too: underfloor heating (and a hearth or woodburner for winter), air-con, DVD and CD players in the living room (you can borrow discs from the communal library), and a phone that communicates with the reception area. Each house has a terrace for outdoor dining, and the abundance of greenery between the cottages guarantees your privacy.

Bedrooms are simple and rustic, with iron beds and colourful bedlinen. Most have medium-sized ensuite bathrooms with pretty hand-painted sinks and Moroccan-style rain showers; just 1 has a bathtub.

The largest cottages are La Ciguena and El Conejo which can sleep 6 at a push but which are perfect for a family of 4. Both have 2 small twins (or singles) leading off from a gallery above the lounge/diner which share a shower room on the ground floor, as well as a larger double-bedded room with an ensuite bathroom; La Ciguena’s has an independent entrance.

La Zoya (sleeps up to 4) has a double and a twin, both with shower rooms and a gorgeous sweep of mountain views from its raised, half-moon terrace. La Tortuga (sleeps 5) is slightly larger with a double and a triple, both with ensuite shower rooms. Like La Zoya, it has been built on just one level.

El Aguila (sleeps 4) is rather smaller: it has a double bedroom as well as 2 single beds hoisted up on a mezzanine level above the open-plan lounge/diner and are accessed via a spiral staircase. Kids would love it, though it would also make a good choice for 2 adults. This cottage has a full length bathtub. Last and littlest is El Buho (sleeps 2); it has an open-plan, bed-sit style which makes the most of the reduced dimensions. This cosy living unit has a shower rather than bathroom.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Barbeque
  • Cd player
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Dvd player
  • Fireplace
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Kitchen
  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Phone
  • Tv
  • WiFi

Eating

All of the cottages’ kitchens have been really well kitted out and are much more than the afterthought that you often come across in self-catering units. Each has a gas hob, an electric oven, a microwave and a fridge (but no dishwasher); there's plenty of stainless steel cookware, cutlery and crockery, and a terrace for outdoor dining in summer. Once you’ve eaten a first supper outside, with a spectacular sunset to accompany your meal, you’ll be loath to dine anywhere else.

Peter and Monica can provide a welcome hamper of goodies; you’ll be set up for your first supper and breakfast, though you may wish to do a big shop before you arrive. They can also do interim shops for you if, for example, you are off hiking and need picnic ingredients. But half the fun of shopping in Alajar is trying out your hand at Spanish or gesticulating at what you want; expect constant good nature from those on the other side of the counter. And you can supplement your purchases with all kinds of veggies dug straight from the huerta (veggie patch), which has been lovingly planted out by Jose María, Molino’s green-fingered maestro. From mid October through to March you’ll be able to find wild mushrooms for sale in the shops, or you can go in search of your own (see Activities). Over in the reception/sitting room area you'll find a fridge full of cold drinks as well as a selection of local wines - that's in case you haven't shopped for your own drinks.

If you prefer to eat out you can walk into the village in just over 15 minutes. There are a couple of cheap-and-cheerful bars on the square where you can try the local wine with tapas. The best of them is the atmospheric Meson El Corcho which is stuffed full of curios, all made entirely from cork. There’s a second excellent restaurant in the village, El Padrino, but it is only open on Fridays, Saturdays and on Sundays for lunch. If you get a chance to eat here, don’t miss it; you can pre-book a 3-course dinner with wine-tastings through the hotel. Otherwise, for a memorable supper, drive to the next village to the east, Linares de la Sierra, and to Restaurante Los Arrieros, one of the top eateries in the Park (closed Mondays). Hardly surprising that pork - this variant stewed in white wine and onions - is the specialty.

Features include:

  • Children meals
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Microwave
  • Oven
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Shopping service
  • Welcome hamper
  • self-catering
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Walk straight out from the Molino and into a network of ancient cobbled footpaths; Peter can supply detailed route maps for 6 or more day circuits, as well as trustworthy advice on flora (iris, orchids, peonies, gladioli) and fauna (hoopoes, bee-eaters, vultures)

  • If you want help carrying your picnic (or your children), hire one of their donkeys, which come with a friendly Spanish guide. Horse riding and bird-watching trips can also be arranged direct from the cottages

  • Explore the rolling hills of the Sierra de Aracena and Picos de Aroche Natural Park (to give its full name)

  • Wander into the village (15 minutes away) to pick up provisions, then clamber up the hill to the extraordinary hermitage of Pena de Arias Montano which crowns the cliff behind the village

  • Visit the Rio Tinto mines: the scale of these open-cast mines is beyond belief, the colours extraordinary, and the Victorian-style houses weirdly incongruous

  • Drive into Aracena (20 minutes) to visit the 13th-century church and ruined castle of the Knights Templar on the hill above town; then descend into the stalactite-festooned Gruta de las Maravillas (Cave Of Wonders)

  • Play a game of tennis or table football, take a dip in the communal pool, then relax in the shade of one of the century-old oak trees

  • Book some guitar lessons or a week-long Spanish course (3 hours/day Mon-Fri; 2 different levels); or reserve your place on a mushrooming week (October-March; includes a 3-hour guided walk midweek)

  • On the rare rainy day, borrow a book, CD or DVD from the library and settle down in your living room with a glass of Rioja

  • Take a day trip to Seville - it's only 90 minutes each way

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Horse-riding
  • Language courses
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Tennis
  • Trekking

Kids

The Molino is really well set up to cater for children. There are the dogs to walk and play with, 3 donkeys to be ridden, as well as a toddlers' paddling pool, a tennis court, boules, outdoor chess and table football. And there are a hundred adventures just waiting to happen out in the surrounding woodland. Nearly all of the cottages would suit families of 3 or 4 people, and 2 can sleep up to 6. Babysitting can be arranged and this is a place where children are treated as guests like any others, rather than a nuisance.

Best for:

All ages

Family friendly accommodation:

The largest cottages, La Ciguena and El Conejo, are good for a family of 4 and sleep up to 6. For a smaller or young family, Aquila has a special kids room (sleeping up to 2) and has books, toys and a bathtub (all others have showers).

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available by arrangement. See Rates.

Baby equipment:

  • 8 cots
  • High chair
  • Stair gates where needed
  • Pushchair
  • Baby backpack
  • Baby bedding
  • Baby bath
  • Baby tent
  • Baby blankets (for the lawn)

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Children's meals:

It's self-catering and the nearest shop is 1.5km away, so you do need to get organised. There is a shopping service and child-friendly eateries nearby and the kitchen is well equipped, with a microwave and blender.

Kids Activities on site:

  • Fenced outdoor swimming pool
  • Toddler's paddling pool
  • Sandpit
  • Donkeys
  • Children's DVDs
  • Games and outdoor toys: petanque, table tennis, table football, outdoor chess

Kids Activities nearby:

  • Old steam train rides through the Rio Tinto mines (30km)
  • Cave of wonders (Aracena, 14km)
  • Wild animal park (35km)

Families Should Know:

It's dog and pushchair friendly; the main downside is that you're 1.5 hours from the airport.

Distances:

  • Airport: 1.5 hours
  • Hospital: 45 minutes
  • Doctor: 25 minutes
Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
8/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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Rates for Molino Rio Alajar