Perched above the stunning Zahara reservoir, the vista seems to go on almost forever, well at least to the classic white town of Olvera which cascades down a distant hill like a wedding cake.
Sandwiched between the Sierra de Grazalema and Serrania de Ronda, the Arabic stronghold of Zahara wasn’t a bad place to open a hotel and restaurant.
Sitting high on a promontary with a Crusader castle looking down, this is one of Andalucia’s most evocative places to explore and the nearby walks are celebrated around the world.
Opened by savvy Londoner Mona and her New York beau Stefan Crites, they have created what could be one of Andalucia’s greatest escapes.
While well connected both in the UK and on the Costa del Sol, the couple decided they wanted to find the perfect rural area to bring up their two young children, Kasim and Mahalia who are normally buzzing about at weekends.
And with Al Lago they have cleverly managed to inject some upmarket cosmopolitan flair into the best of local Andalucian flair.
The frequently changing menu – that is currently entitled ‘from orchard and farm’ – has a heavy emphasis on fresh vegetables and fruit.
Indeed, the couple have recently acquired a nearby smallholding, where they are busily growing and planning dozens of different – and completely organic – vegetables.
“It is coming on bit by bit as this is only our first year,” explains Mona. “But there will be plenty of plums, tomatoes, lettuces and figs gracing our tables this summer… well what the rabbits haven’t eaten!.”
Having learnt his trade in New York, much of it under celebrity chef Sam de Marco, Stefan can certainly please the palate.
His ajo blanco with watermelon granita is legendary, as is his seared duck breast in Malaga wine with pears, apple and new potatoes.
Chargrilled vegetables with local goats cheese is always a good starter and the home-made liver pate with quince and raisons soaked in Pedro Ximenez will not let you down.
I particularly liked the local trout stuffed with Iberican ham and my main course of slow roasted lamb with almonds and couscous was tender and tasty.
I’m sure the desserts are good, but I never manage to get past Stefan’s super rich New York style vanilla cheesecake that sits at the top of the list.
The couple are enfuriatingly capable and nothing stands still.
There are always plenty of plans for expansion, despite the new huerta, frequent additions to the wine list, and the recent addition of five charming bedrooms upstairs.
Part of their strength (and perhaps vital in the current recession) you will certainly enjoy the flamenco shows on Saturdays – introduced by the bilingual Kasim – and whole weekends are occasionally given over to ‘Indian feasts’, inspired by Mona’s subcontinent upbringing.
But, back to that terrace, which, quite frankly, is impossible to beat on a hot sunny day.
Al Lago Hotel and Restaurant, Zahara de la Sierra
Tel: 956 123 032
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