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South-east Spain: the best places to eat, drink and stay

Escape the crowds and head to a lesser-known corner of the Mediterranean. Seared scallops with white bean and truffle purée and leisurely bike rides to local markets are just two of the many reasons to visit south-east Spain.

La Escondida (the hidden one) is a luxury hotel, 35 minutes’ drive inland from Alicante. It opened last October with just 10 rooms, each furnished with original beams and stonework, relaxing, muted colours, and views over a tranquil valley  fringed with pine-forested mountains surrounding olive and almond groves and nterspersed with medieval Moorish watchtowers. It comes as a surprise that this isn’t the country’s latest parador, but a new venture from former England and Barcelona football manager Terry Venables and his wife Yvette. 

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They bought the estate 20 years ago, having fallen in love with the area, with the intention of doing something with it – a soccer school was one idea – when Terry left international football. In the event, they turned to hospitality.

The hotel’s main building was constructed as a hunting lodge in the 19th century. The recent renovations, under the guidance of Yvette and designer Hannah Lohan, have taken this heritage and added subtle contemporary comfort. There are two pools – one outdoor and one in, in a room to the side of which massages and other treatments are available – and many activities available.

Hire a mountain bike and set off on a guided ride through the olive groves and pine forest (unless you want to combust, don’t set off at noon). Or pedal to the markets at nearby Torremanzanas and Cocentaina (on Sundays and Thursdays, respectively) to buy olives, salted almonds and handmade sausages.

That the hotel is well managed is scarcely surprising – on our visit, Terry and his wife were serving alongside the waiting staff. Interacting bilingually with the crowd of expats and Spanish locals, Terry often took his instantly recognisable hand’s-on-hips sideline stance as he watched his well-picked team in action.

All of the ingredients for English head chef, Darren Bunn’s, Mediterranean menu are either locally sourced or grown in La Escondida’s garden. Dining is either on the terrace overlooking the valley or in the cool, stone-walled restaurant complete with wooden chairs and tablecloths. We ate our way through most of the menu during our two-day stay: the stars of the show are the starter of beautifully fresh pan-seared scallops, white bean and truffle purée and light-as-a-feather cep foam, the main of delicate saddle of rabbit, intensely savoury potato, parmesan and garlic croquettes, roasted shallots and baby vegetables from the hotel’s own garden. And as for the white chocolate and raspberry millefeuille: back of the net!


How to do it: Double rooms at La Escondida cost from €140 b&b. Return flights from Gatwick to Alicante from £55.99 (monarch.co.uk). More information: spain.info


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