Inside the Andalusian retreat bringing new life to luxury eco-travel

An idyllic countryside scene on a hillside

Appreciation for the land is at the heart of the Spanish escape, La Donaira, from the expansive landscape to the in-house Michelin-star chef’s menu

By Darcie Imbert    All images courtesy of La Donaira    Sunday 27 September, 2020    Short read

Perched atop the arid folds of Andalusia’s Serranía de Ronda, La Donaira is an education in a new order of luxury experience where nature reigns supreme. Amidst a growing awareness of the human impact on the environment, the pillars of conventional luxury have been dismantled to reveal a growing desire to reconnect with nature. La Donaira is not just a retreat, it’s an ecological project that blends tradition with innovation to create a modern utopia. 

In keeping with the strict policy prohibiting guest cars on the estate, we left ours in the whitewashed village of El Gastor on an early Sunday morning. Our driver arrived just as flamenco music started to stir through the sleepy streets, emanating from crackling speakers on every street corner. Climbing up through the rugged terrain, the expansiveness of the property, untamed and wild, made the journey feel almost safari-like. Lusitano horses galloped across undulating hills, chickens pottered against a backdrop of craggy mountains, and sheep grazed on wild grass.
A bed in a cabin with muslin over the top
A dog lying on a doormat in the sun
With only nine rooms, La Donaira has a pleasant intimacy and familiarity – guests are encouraged to make use of the record player and curated library, featuring literary classics by George Orwell and Primo Levi, accompanied by The Noma Guide To Fermentation. The space is designed to reinvigorate our bond with nature, with floor-to-ceiling windows framing the surrounding landscape, and the natural swimming pools filled with mountainous water and lined with wild herbs.

Set in 1,700 acres of rolling terrain, biodynamic farm La Dehesa Biodinámica is what makes La Donaira much more than a retreat. La Donaira considers the act of eating a powerful tool for change, given that agriculture is a key player in the environmental crisis. The farm itself consists of olive and almond groves, organic orchards and vineyards, and green valleys dotted with experimental plantations. They have bees, sheep, goats, chickens and rare breeds of cattle, which are moved around the estate regularly to keep the land fertile.
Some horses under a tree in the sunshine
A man in a checked shirt and beard
A dish with parma ham fanned out
A dimly lit dining room table
The farm is also a source of education and collaboration, and La Donaira’s volunteer scheme encourages both locals and international travellers who are interested in alternative farming methods to exchange knowledge and ideas. Guests can roam freely through the land and learn about their farming methods, spend time at the natural spa, or do yoga overlooking the mountains. Many are drawn to La Donaira for the Lusitano horses, bred using calming natural horsemanship techniques, providing an opportunity for beginners to experience the landscape on horseback. 

The philosophy of the farm is reinforced in the kitchen by Michelin-star chef Fredrik Andersson, who uses every meal to communicate the culinary ethos of La Donaira. ‘Here, we have at least two days to start a dialogue with guests about what we care about: recultivating a connection to the land’. Lunch and dinner is a five-course affair accompanied by natural wines, produced on site or from low-intervention producers across Europe. Andersson concepts menus based on what has been gathered from the farm that morning, using ingredients in their most authentic form to create delicate flavours layered with skill and meaning.