A slice of Spanish Heaven with Sue Barker

We all have our favourite places. Paris, for instance, is close to my heart (for reasons which will be obvious to tennis fans with long memories). Wimbledon too, where I both competed and subsequently enjoyed a wonderful broadcasting career. Florida, where my husband and I like to spend the British winter months. And so the list goes on.

I live in the Cotswolds – not too far from HPB’s Buckland Court home, as it happens – and I consider the area a slice of heaven. That honey-coloured limestone, the picture-perfect towns and villages, the gently rolling hills… for me, it’s close to perfection.

The Cotswolds’ proximity to London and Birmingham is a bonus – because though I’ve retired from broadcasting, I feel like I’ve never been busier! I seem forever to be in a car or on a train on the way to or from a meeting or a speaking engagement; and I love it.

But sometimes it’s nice to stop, and let the world spin on without you – just for a while. To go somewhere different, and feel your cares fall away. Which is exactly what happened when I took a trip to El Pueblito de Alfaix, the Bond’s southern Spanish site in Almería province, in April of this year.

El Pueblito de Alfaix, Almeria

El Pueblito – HPB’s “little village” – was added to the portfolio in 2010. It was built from new, but you’d never know it; the site’s original 90-odd properties, plus restaurant (the Jacaranda), clubroom, sports and leisure facilities were constructed in such a way as to look timeless, with a real friendly, village-y feel. A lot of thought went into the layout of the place, so that everywhere you might want to get to is easily accessible from wherever your property is situated.

“My” property – a new villa, close to the almost-as-new lengths swimming pool (the site has been added to, over the years) – was perfect, with contemporary style, facilities and amenities (I was particularly taken with the kitchen) and fabulous views of the Sierra Cabrera mountains to the north. The gardens were lovely, close to their best (by the time you read this El Pueblito will be a riot of colour) and to sit outside in the warm sunshine, with a glass of wine in hand, my toes stirring the waters of the swimming pool, the bee-eaters flying overhead and the sparrows chirruping in the crowns of the surrounding palm trees, making the place alive with birdsong? Bliss.

During the summer, under the aegis of local guide José Contreras, El Pueblito runs regular trips to the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park, a haven for exotic flora (much of which is endemic to the park) and fauna, particularly avifauna including flamingos, purple herons, storks, cranes and much more besides.

These excursions were still some way off in April, but I was nonetheless keen to explore some of the surrounding area, and jumped at the chance of a “jeep safari” into the Sierra Cabrera foothills with Din Tehrani, owner of La Venta de Alfaix, the small shop/bar/restaurant adjacent to the site.

Sue on jeep safari

Sierra Cabrera is a desert – scrubby plants scratching a living among the arid rocks and stones – but far from deserted; animals, both wild and semi-domesticated, abound, especially goats. Indeed, the word “cabrera” means goatherd; and I was fortunate to meet a few. I came away with a sense of continuance – of lives lived timelessly, according to the seasons.

Back on site I went walkabout, and as well as fellow Bondholders met some of the many site staff who go out of their way to make an El Pueblito holiday so pleasurable – including Juan Francisco, the tennis coach. I may well look Juan up again on my next visit; I reckon my game could use a few tips these days!And then wound up at the Jacaranda for a drink, a delicious dinner – and an unexpected treat: an evening of flamenco with dancer Ana Belen Caparros accompanied by Luis Miguel Contreras, a sizzling-hot young guitarist. Seriously: could it get more Spanish? I understand El Pueblito has engaged Ana and Luis to give regular performances every Wednesday; to my mind reason enough on its own to head for Almería.

Sue’s villa in El Pueblito

Show over, it was dark but still warm. I returned to my villa and sat outside, listening to a stillness punctuated only by the distant, soft tolling of a bell, down in Alfaix. The church, I imagine; not that it matters.

I love my UK Bond holidays. I visit St Brides Castle, the Bond’s Pembrokeshire home, a lot. And I can’t wait to go to Lucker Hall, HPB’s Northumberland site, this September.

But the tranquillity and peace of El Pueblito that evening, after a fun-filled and exciting few days, was something very special. Truly, a slice of Spanish heaven.  

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