For a grand yet rustic escape to the Andalucian countryside.
Set the scene
Hacienda San Rafael lies in Andalucía’s agricultural heartland, midway between Seville and Jerez de la Frontera. A long, private driveway off the old Seville to Jerez road brings you to the heart of the estate and the 18th century hacienda, its façade painted white with yellow trimmings, in characteristic local fashion. Ancient trees and vibrant gardens immediately surrounding the old farmhouse create the sense of an oasis amidst vast and rolling fields of sunflower, cotton, and wheat, where the horizon stretches unblemished for miles in all directions and the twinkling lights of distant villages appear after nightfall. A door within a door of the Hacienda’s traditional wooden entrance leads to an inner sanctum – an exquisite, arcaded courtyard festooned with bougainvillaea.
The Hacienda, a former olive farm, has been owned by the same family for the last 150 years, passing through the generations to Kuky Mora-Figueroa and her English husband, Tim Reid. Between them, having watched the estate fall into an increasing state of dilapidation, they decided to breathe new life into old bones, transforming the hacienda into a small, exquisite hotel back in the early 1990s. Though they have since handed over the running of the hotel to their two sons, Anthony and Patrick, Kuky’s and Tim’s imprint still defines the look and feel of the place which overflows with family heirlooms and treasures – photographs, books, art, furniture, decorative trinkets – uniting a combined Spanish/English heritage and a life of travel under one roof. The hotel feels like a veritable home from home and visitors are welcomed like honoured guests at a private house party. Don’t be alarmed, there’s no requirement for guests to mix and mingle, though many choose to do so.
The family also owns Corral del Rey, a small converted palacio in the heart of Seville, a five- minute walk from the cathedral, which makes for a perfect twin-centre stay mixing city and countryside.
11 rooms (either deluxe or grand deluxe) occupy the courtyard. All of these are two-storey, with bedrooms and sitting areas divided between the two floors, linked by a wrought-iron spiral staircase. There are shared terraces to the front and access to the gardens to the rear where there are two swimming pools. A third pool is shared by guests of the three standalone thatched casitas, each of which has its own private garden and choza (a thatched outside sitting/eating area). No matter where you stay, the decorative vibe is the same: terracotta tiled floors, wooden shutters, and an eclectic mix of fabrics, artefacts and furniture sourced from Morocco, India or the Far East, carefully blended with Spanish antiques. A handsomely designed six-bedroom private villa opened during the pandemic, which can also be divided in half to create two, three-bedroom villas if the property is not rented as a whole.
Food and drink
There is no restaurant per se. Instead, every meal is a moveable feast that can be taken wherever you choose – on your terrace, by the pool, in the garden – but tables tend to be set up in the courtyard (on warm nights) or in the dining room (on cooler nights). The food served is always fresh, local, unfussy and delicious but some might find the menu slightly limited. Continental breakfast is brought to your private terrace at a time of your choice; a light lunch of salads and tapas is available for guests who aren’t out and about; and dinner is a set three-course menu (including wine) discussed at breakfast and tailored, if necessary, to suit individual dietary requirements. The favoured tipple of course is sherry, more likely than not from one of Jerez’s famous bodegas, best sipped beneath the jacaranda tree at the front of the Hacienda with a golden view over fields of sunflowers. Or head to the outdoor bar for a more convivial atmosphere.
Hacienda San Rafael has no spa. Massages and yoga, however, can be organised on request. There is a padel tennis court for the energetic and a boules pitch for the less so.
Due to the isolated location of Hacienda San Rafael it is essential to have a car, and the area is rich in places to discover. Beyond obvious excursions to Seville or Jerez (ask the hotel to secure entry to the Royal Alcazar palace or the best of the bodegas) are many of the famous pueblos blancos (white towns) – Zahara de la Sierra and Grazalema are two of the closest and the best. Hit the beach, go horse-riding or hiking, watch a bullfight or a flamenco show, or twitch and tweet in the Donana National Park.
The staff are super-friendly and go out of their way to make guests comfortable and happy. Chief amongst them is co-owner Anthony Reid, who knows the area inside out and has put together a curated package of local experiences. Be sure to mine him for insider tips on the best places to eat, the best beaches to visit, the best place to park your car should you drive to Seville. He has access to the top specialist guides in the area, many of whom are personal friends, and his willingness to help his guests is astonishing.
Children are welcome at Hacienda San Rafael but the hotel is better suited to babes in arms or toddlers than older children, who may not find quite enough to keep themselves entertained. Highchairs are available, menus can be adapted for children, extra beds or cots can be placed in the rooms and babysitting can be arranged in the evening.
Various initiatives have been employed at the hotel to embrace more sustainable practices, including a small solar plant to power up the Hacienda. With rising temperatures, however, the most precious commodity in the region is water. Underground cisterns collect every drop of rain that falls and the garden is carefully watered via a drip irrigation system. A future project is to phase in the replanting of olives throughout the estate – a less thirsty option than the crops currently grown there.
The whole hotel is on ground floor level and where the occasional step exists ramps are provided for wheelchair access. Two rooms – one deluxe room in the hotel and one in the private villa – have been adapted for guests with limited mobility. The gardens are accessible to wheelchair users.
Anything left to mention
The garden is one of the highlights at Hacienda San Rafael, having grown and matured over the last 30 years. Since the heat in this part of Spain can be intoxicating in high summer, the garden is always a welcome place of refuge. Jasmine, jacaranda, bottlebrush, olive, lavender, rose and bougainvillaea run riot throughout the property in a profusion of scent and colour. The birdsong is pretty good, too.