We were invited to represent the province of Malaga on the Boutique Hotel Spain site, truly an honour to be listed with like-minded owner-operated hotels in Spain. We were asked to complete this interview to showcase Los Castaños. It is here in full – quite long!
Presentation: Hosts and name of the hotel:
Di Beach has been described as an anthropologist, world traveller and yachtswoman but in reality she is none of those. She has a degree in anthropology (with highest honours) granted by the University of Berkeley, California when she was long past the traditional age for graduating. She has lived in eight or nine countries but has never been west of Mexico or east of the Seychelles. She has sailed more than 20,000 miles but it wasn´t her idea so she doesn´t feel she warrants the accolade of yachtswoman; deck hand would be closer the mark. But she has been a successful food truck entrepreneur before it was trendy; several years were spent as a computer tutor to the wealthy dames of San Francisco in their opulent penthouses; and most recently she built a romantic boutique hotel in a small village in southern Spain to which discerning hikers and nature lovers come to walk the lovely valley trails among the sweet chestnut trees and return to savour Di’s delicious dinners, fruit of her wandering lifestyle.
John and Di were childhood sweethearts at junior school in England many years ago and have only in the last ten years renewed their love. He has the ability to fix anything except CD players. I am not at liberty to tell you anything about his former life or he would have to kill you.
The name of the hotel reflects the Alto Genal Valley where it is located. The mountain slopes are covered in sweet chestnut trees – castaños in Spanish – and sweet chestnuts – castañas in Spanish – are the basis of the local economy. It seemed a fitting name.
How did the hotel start and what does it mean to you?
I was living in San Francisco and frankly, much as I love the city, I was yearning for Europe. I had left my heart in Andalucia in the seventies and longed to return. From somewhere came the idea of this beautiful place with every comfort but in a challenging environment. I returned in 2001 and searched for three months before I found Cartajima which ticked all my boxes. I bought three old houses and tried to restore them but, as they hadn´t been lived in for years, they were too far ruined to support a new structure. They were knocked down and the hotel built on the site. But I insisted that, although it should embrace my philosphy of air and light and extreme comfort, it should have a lived-in look. It was tricky to get the plasterers, for example, to not make the walls dead straight with sharp corners. The hotel is my social life. I love my guests, the majority of whom form a friendship with us and continue to keep in touch after they have left. It is my passion and my major preoccupation. I want it to be perfect and spend many hours looking for ways to improve on its perfection.
Describe a typical day in your hotel?
One of the things I love most about my life is the uncertainty. No two days are the same. The ebb and flow of guests with different problems and requests creates a life of constant stimulation and challenge for John and me. We might be making reservations for our favourite restaurant for a guest, booking a wine tour for another, explaining a walking route in the valley to a third person. All this over a hearty breakfast! My employee, Silvia, a local lass, comes in to clean the rooms and public areas and we often end up having a quick drink with her in the local bar at the end of her work day. The evenings are my favourite time in the day when the guests gather for a chat before dinner. It is fascinating how many serendipitous connections are made – my guests always seem to find something of interest or in common with another guest. Very often they choose to move the dinner tables so they can sit together and continue their conversation – their choice, not ours. The atmosphere of the hotel seems to promote connection.
Describe a typical guest of Los Castaños.
Our guests come from all over the world – they are mostly professional people, academics, lots of members of the medical profession, intelligent, articulate, educated. They are all wonderful. The reasons they come are either for hiking, for birdwatching, to visit Ronda, or as a base to visit the romantic cities of Andalucia. We also offer a superb place to retreat, to chill out!
Describe a stay with you that you would recommend:
We are just fifteen minutes drive from Ronda which is a fascinating old town but has become very busy in recent years. The best plan we can offer is to come to stay for us for two nights. Enjoy dinner at the hotel your first evening, have a bracing breakfast and then head into town with our detailed guided tour of the old town which takes you past most of the monuments. Either do what the Spanish do and have a big lunch at one of our recommended restaurants or go for a tapa or two. Return in time for a siesta in your own private space and absorb all the wonderful sights you have seen. Either have dinner again with us or choose from our list of recommended places in our valley. If you aren´t in a hurry the next day we can arrange a visit to a local vineyard before you head off to your next destination. Or if you would like to see something different, we can reserve you a place on a tour of a paleolithic cave used by our early ancestors.
What is the best review you have had from a guest?
We get many wonderful compliments from our guests but the recurring themes are the feeling of being at home but without the chores :-), the luxury, the peacefulness, and most of all the measured attention we give to our guests. Here is a typical recent example from Tripadvisor:
“There are places to stay because it’s convenient but there are places to stay because they are special. There are many reasons to stay here: wonderful views, walks, pretty village, but you could get that in other places. Los Castaños is special because of Di and John. The whole house and the rooms are carefully thought out, nothing is forgotten. It’s relaxing and comfortable. Di’s food is sooooo delicious I always come home inspired. We stay in many many little hotels but this one we return to over and over again already looking forward to next year.”
What is the most interesting dish that you serve?
There isn´t one particular dish that I would pick out of my repertoire. The cuisine at Los Castaños is based on Spanish and North African flavours. I call is Western Mediterranean. Always lots of fresh vegetables which our guests appreciate as they are not served very much in many restaurants. I like to serve new surprises – things my guests have never eaten before such as panisse with black garlic alioli, or fried olives.
Which is the favourite spot of the hotel?
The rooftop terrace with its panoramic views is the most sought-after place in the hotel after the privacy and comfort of one´s own room. The feeling of peace and tranquillity experienced on the terrace is unsurpassable. One can just hear a couple of children playing in the street below or the clatter of the old men playing dominoes in the bar in the square. The very occasional motorbike just to remind you that this is a living breathing village and not a resort.