Michelle Obama will come within six kilometres of Cartajima today on her way to visit Ronda. But she will never know we are here! The map certainly wouldn’t reveal the secret.
Who would be idiotic enough to open a hotel in a village that is not on most maps! Many people, including bank managers, agreed that I was nuts when I decided to do just that. But for me it was one of main appeals of Cartajima.
Perhaps because it is undiscovered, it is a little paradise of a village. Surrounded by a vast landscape of chestnut forests and craggy peaks, it is a quaint place. Villagers cling to their traditions but take quick trips into the twenty-first century before retreating once more to the ancient and familiar. These flirtations with modernity are often surprising – a baby born out of wedlock no longer carries a stigma, few widows lleva el luto for the rest of their lives, every house has a large television which is on most of the day.
But they still stare when foreigners appear in the village. They don’t understand why they come; the concept of a vacation is alien. They are even more puzzled when they realise that the strangers are clearly intending to walk to the next village just for fun.
When I opened my little hotel right in the middle of the village in 2004, they agreed with my bank manager that it was an odd thing to do. After completing the construction and all the finishing touches, I invited them to an Open House so all the villagers could come and poke about. But the concept is still hard to grasp – to go to another place to pay to go to sleep? Why would you do that?
Similarly, the locals would never pay to go out to eat and yet Cartajima has the best for miles around. Spaniards from the cities and foreignors who come to stay comment on the excellence of the food at the local bar where Baltasar and Amalia serve traditional Andalucian fare: simple salads lightly dressed, delicious fried fish, aubergine chips, and, Amalia’s finest hour, divine green peppers fried in olive oil and drenched with sea salt. The vegetables come out of Baltasar’s garden and on many occasions he sends my guests off with a basket to pick their own peppers.
Cartajima is a taste of traditional old Spain, authentic Andalucia: the simple food, the incredible vistas, the eagles overhead, the quiet trails between villages, the sheer beauty of the place. See for yourself – if you can find us! Michelle didn’t!