Liz Todd, husband Matthew, daughters Catherine, 3, and Hannah, 1, and grandparents John and Sheila visited a Rustical Travel villa in Andalucia, Spain.
Why we went
With a toddler and baby in tow, relaxing summer holidays are more important than ever. Guaranteed sunshine, sandy beaches and a swimming pool ticked the boxes for all our party, so we headed to a villa close to the Andalucian town of Mojacar on the coast of Southern Spain.
We booked our home for the week through Rustical Travel, a Spanish-based company specialising in rural villas off the beaten track. Our three-bedroom holiday home was typical of their stylish, simple properties - tastefully decorated with minimal clutter so the equivalent of Spanish chintz was nowhere to be seen.
We flew into Alicante and drove west along the coast for two hours to reach the town of Mojacar, with its collection of white cubist houses clinging haphazardly to the hilltop. Rustical Travel provided comprehensive driving directions that even included Google street view photos of potentially tricky junctions so we easily located our villa, which was in a quiet residential area outside Mojacar Old Town and up the hill from the long beachfront strip of Mojacar Playa.
We fell in love with the infinity swimming pool with its incredible views down to the Mediterranean Sea as soon as we arrived. Catherine wanted to jump straight in but after a long journey we settled on a compromise - dinner on the terrace overlooking the pool.
The accommodation itself was wonderfully spacious with three large bedrooms, three good-sized bathrooms, plenty of living room space and both indoor and outdoor dining areas. As promised it was clutter-free - no tacky straw donkeys on display.
Grandparents John and Sheila (my in-laws) soon relaxed into holiday mode, despite the presence of our energetic toddler and baby Hannah, who had recently learnt to walk and was determined to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Catherine would have happily spent every day pottering in and out of the pool in her armbands and goggles, which suited us grown ups because it gave us a chance to unwind in relative peace and tranquillity.
Five minutes’ drive down the hill brought us to Mojacar Playa, an enormous 10-mile stretch of beaches offering everything from sandy little coves to long strips of restaurants and bars. We were perfectly placed to enjoy a stroll west along the beach - there’s a newly-built promenade away from the road with just a smattering of little cafes that is perfect for families with young children. The beach itself was pleasantly sandy and not at all crowded - we went in late May and although this was outside the main holiday season it was a warm 22 to 26C. In July and August it gets to around 31C but even then the sea breezes keep the area fresher than Spain’s oppressively hot interior.
Further afield lies Cabo de Gata National Park, an hour’s drive from Mojacar along some mountain roads frequently described in holiday brochures as a "driving experience". The views along the coastline were spectacular and as we descended we could glimpse the rocky coves and hidden inlets of some of Spain’s most beautiful - and least crowded - beaches.
Cabo de Gata has just been voted Europe’s second best secret spot in a recent Lonely Planet book on the top secret places in Europe and we had a fun day out in the little village of Agua Amarga, on the very edge of the park. We enjoyed lunch at a seafood restaurant right on the beach and the girls played happily in the sand and dipped a toe in the sea.
The hilltop towns
We spent a day wandering through the tiny cobbled streets and narrow alleys of Mojacar Old Town, stumbling across hidden squares lined with cafes. Terracotta plant pots filled with vibrant geraniums hung on the whitewashed walls and there were breathtaking views on sweeping terraces looking down to the sea.
Every Wednesday morning the hilltop comes alive with a busy market selling everything from souvenir fridge magnets to sarongs and leather bags. There is also a huge selection of fruit and vegetable stalls selling a vast array of locally grown produce. We stocked up on delicious ripe apricots and cherries, melons, juicy pears and the tastiest Spanish oranges, all for a fraction of the price we have to pay in the UK. Home-cured meats, chorizo and local fresh cheeses were all available too - we bought enough for quite a few dinners.
The Tourist Information Office was a wealth of information - we picked up some leaflets on interesting walking routes and set off the next day for Bedar, another little hilltop town further inland. The area has a rich history of both agriculture and iron ore mining and the guided walks reflected that, with fairly easy to follow instructions and explanations on what to see. It was a good way of exploring a bit further, helping us to understand what daily life was like in the area before tourists descended and villa owners needed water to fill swimming pools instead of irrigating crops.
What we ate
Trekking through what feels like wilderness to a three-year-old builds up an appetite and there were numerous restaurants promising ‘Menu del Dia’ for hungry hikers. The lunchtime specials are offered across the region and are excellent value - usually only €10-12 for three hearty courses, and sometimes even with a cold beer included.
We were spoilt for choice in Mojacar Old Town in particular, with freshly caught sardines catching our eye one day in a lovely little square. Many of the bars and cafes also offer little plates of tapas, meaning you can pick lots of things and sample just about every delicacy available.
The restaurants were very child-friendly, playing with our girls and offering a ‘princess chair’ booster seat. Close to the villa was La Parata Restaurant with its enormous Menu Del Dia portions and very drinkable Rosada de la Casa, the house rose wine.
We ate lunch out every day and had our own tapas feasts each evening back at the villa, which worked well for us because it involved minimum cooking and maximum wow factor. But we also bought takeaway paella one evening - many of the restaurants in Mojacar Playa advertised this - and were thrilled. Not for the Spanish those disposable takeaway cartons, our dinner had to be carefully driven home in two vast paella pans sitting flat in the boot! We were slightly bemused when the waiters casually told us they didn’t need the pans because they had more than enough, and we should drop the dishes off the next morning. But then paella is at the heart of Spanish good times. Heaven forbid it would ever run out.
Rustical Travel specialise in rural villas across Spain and visit all their properties to ensure they meet the company’s stylish, unspoilt credentials. They offer detailed local information packs with tips and advice on what to see and where to go in the surrounding area.
Liz and her family stayed in Rustical Travel’s three-bedroom villa close to Mojacar, which sleeps six and costs from €760 for a week’s accommodation. Find out more at www.rusticaltravel.com
The accommodation is close to both Almeria and Alicante airports, which are served daily by airlines including British Airways, EasyJet, Iberia and Monarch.
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