WE were hunkered down behind some ornamental bushes, targets in focus, like Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt in a scene from The New Avengers. Two daft tourists with Nikons, creeping around the grounds of a chichi country estate near Vejer, stalking our prey.
There must have been at least a dozen of them: an ostentation of jewel-coloured cocks (to use the pukkah collective noun for peafowl) and a modesty of brown hens (my own made-up word). And they weren’t cooperating one bit.
“I could do with a drink but the bar looks closed,” I called from behind a potted ficus, wanting to give up this wild peacock chase.
“Shush, you’ll scare them,” hissed Dave, as our photo opportunity scuttled off into the undergrowth, fan tails furled in sheer bloody-mindedness. “The light isn’t right, anyway,” he forgave me. “Too many shadows.”
Another David Attenborough moment blown…
But what an astonishing place, this Montenmedio Golf & Country Club … a curious hybrid that can’t quite decide whether it’s a golf course, a natural park, an equestrian centre or an alfresco art museum. If you’ve ever wanted to step into a Salvador Dalí painting, this is the surreal thing! (To find it, look out for km 43 on the N340 Tarifa-to-Cádiz road.)
Private roads meander beneath cork oaks and umbrella pines to the green wellie set’s idea of heaven: extraordinary artworks a la derecha, Paintball and quad bikes a la izquierda, posh restaurants with strutting peacocks straight ahead, polo fields, paddocks, pure bred Spanish horses, pure fresh air and indigenous wildlife over yonder. All immaculately designed and laid out in an area 30 times the size of Lords Cricket Ground.
For the original owner, Antonio Blázquez (no mean horseman and golfer himself), it was the realisation of a dream to open “a unique and special tourist destination that brings together nature, culture, sports and dining.”
To think he spent all that money and none of my friends and acquaintances know about it!
Dave did know about it – but he’d forgotten. It came back to him during one of those what-shall-we-do-at-the-weekend discussions.
“There was this huge park with a lake and deer … a pine forest with weird sculptures … and an amazing centenary oak tree … We had lunch with the owner, nine courses! But that was years ago, it might not be open …”
He called a friend and it was. And, what’s more, said the friend, it’s quite famous. They hold Spain’s equivalent of the Burghley Horse Trials there.
“Can we go, oh please can we go,” I cried, jumping about with journalistic fervour, scenting a story.
We went. And it was all there, as Dave had said (though looking a little neglected, he added). The lake was closed, pending maintenance, and there wasn’t an antler in sight.
But we saw the pine forest sculptures (you follow a trail signposted with yellow mushrooms so you don’t get lost)…and some very odd installations hiding in Nissen huts. A helpful girl in reception opened them up for us. “We’re a bit out of the way so we don’t get as many visitors as we’d like,” she told us in Spanish. “Or the funding, since ‘la Crisis’.”
This amazing open air museum run by the NMAC Foundation showcases the installations, sculptures, photography, videos and architectural fantasies of some 40 international artists, assembled to their specifications in situ by local technicians.
Some of the exhibits play music or gush water as visitors approach. Only the artists know why.
The artists are quite famous (they’re all on Wikipedia), like Serbian-born Marina Abramovic, known in America as ‘the grandmother of performance art”. We must have taken a wrong turn as we missed her performance (a horse sculpture) entirely.
Montenmedio is famous for its equestrian centre. It’s immense, as are the horses. We watched proud Andalusian beasts pivoting on two back heels as they reared up to take fences without displacing a hair on the heads of their poker-backed riders.
These riders have excellent seats, I thought … one or two of the men in particular!
They were limbering up for The Sunshine Tour … only the biggest winter equestrian event in Europe! Inspired by David Broome, the former World Show Jumping Champion, 1,500 blue-blooded horses and riders from 46 countries are competing for a six-figure prize pot.
You’ve missed the dressage (sorry) but you can catch the showjumping until March 24.
I’m not a horsey person (I like them but they scare me) but the facilities at Montenmedio sound pretty hard to miss, though we managed to (we must have taken a wrong turn): 1,300 horse boxes, 250 tack rooms, 22 arenas for show jumping, dressage and carriage driving competitions, a 60-hectare cross-country park for two-day eventing, a veterinary clinic, an optical fibre system for filming …
The view of Vejer de la Frontera from the first hole of the golf course, scattered on the distant hilltop like pearl sugar on a cinnamon bun, is a compelling reason to take up the sport. Another is that there’s no one leaning over their garden gate to photograph your lousy swing.
This must be the only non-urbanised golf course in Spain (and let’s hope it stays that way). The only spectators have fur or feathers. The deer we didn’t see are fenced off in the forest but pheasant, partridges, wood pigeon, rabbits and various small burrowing rodents all have the freedom of this fairway to heaven (probably much to the chagrin of the green keepers).
The clubhouse is super-swanky (the words ‘hallowed’ and ‘costly’ spring to mind. (If you’re bringing the kids, for God’s sake keep them away from the ornaments!)
Here, out back, Dave rediscovered his magnificent centenary oak tree.
There’s a nice-looking hotel too – The Hacienda (used by several overseas tour companies, as the beaches of Zahara de los Atunes are only 10 kilometres down the road). But the bar was shut.
It was while looking for a working fountain with which to slake a four-hour thirst that we spotted an exotic flash of turquoise … Peacocks! At least a dozen of them, racing across the deserted bar terrace like fugitives from a Dalí painting.
We hadn’t got a single photo of a pheasant, a partridge, a wood pigeon, a rabbit or a small burrowing rodent (we must have taken a wrong turn). The peacocks were our chance for a David Attenborough moment!
Which of course, we messed up, as you can see.
Oh well, there’s always next time.