The sunset over the mountains pictured from Casa de Laila Glamping in Alhaurín. :: A. FORBES
Enjoy the magic of nights under canvas or the freedom of the open road in a camper van, and all with a touch of indulgence
Just north of the Sierra de Mijas mountains one still finds old orchards of fruit and citrus trees, reminders of a time when the fertile plain of the Guadalhorce river valley was once one of the most important agricultural areas in Malaga province.
Among one of these orchards, on the edge of the white town of Alhaurín el Grande, shaded by citrus, avocado, pomegranate, fig and plum trees, one finds vintage style canvas tents.
This is ‘Casa de Laila’, a place where guests enjoy the magic and romance of a night under canvas, yet without leaving behind some of life’s little luxuries.
Created by Anne Marie, previously an advertising executive in her native Netherlands, together with her husband Benjamin, a former professional athlete from Australia, this retreat is part of the growing ‘Glamping’ phenomenon, embraced by those wanting unique, experiential travel.
Said to be first coined ten years ago by US author, environmentalist and farm-style B&B owner MaryJane Butters, ‘Glamping’ is the notion of camping with a touch of glamour.
At Casa de Laila, it is the chance to experience the romanticised beauty of a night under the stars but also with the home comforts that many of us are unwilling to give up, like a comfy bed, Wi-Fi, great food, hot showers and real loos.
No sooner had I caught sight of my tent, tucked under the branches of orange and persimmon trees, with the smell of lavender filling the air, I was smitten. Well, for a start the tent was already pitched, and then looking inside, it was furnished with a full sized double bed!
Carpets and chandeliers
The new, vintage-style tents are based on the 19th century ‘Bell Tent’ once used by the British Cavalry, a classic canvas design that offers plenty of space, with room to stand up. In the centre of the circular space is a bed, with a thick comfortable mattress with crisp white linens that could easily be in a posh B&B. The style is pared back, simple yet with evocative Bedouin and North African touches, such as colourful kilim rugs, Moroccan lanterns and woven cotton carpets, whilst hanging from the centre of the tent is a rustic, metalwork candle chandelier.
As the sun set over the Sierra de las Nieves, the branches of the orchard were silhouetted against the canvas, creating an hypnotic, natural shadow play of subtly moving leaves that couldn’t help but relax me.
In fact it’s fair to say the calming ambiance of Casa de Laila seems to embrace you upon arrival. Anne Marie and Benjamin are both vegetarian and offer wholesome, organic evening meals three times a week on the terrace, as well as a programme of yoga, meditation and massage for those seeking more of a traditional retreat.
Otherwise, one can unwind with a book or e-reader in your own private hammock, play backgammon on the outside table by each tent, splash about in the lagoon-shaped swimming pool, or help yourself to a fine wine or cold beer from the honesty bar.
For those with wanderlust, then a ‘road trip’ holiday always excites. Spain, especially Andalucía, is one of the best places to hit the highway. The back roads and motorways of southern Spain are relatively uncrowded and the journey can easily be as much fun as the destination, certainly when it’s a case of Glamping on the move.
Campervans are no longer associated with just adventurous retired people with the time and imagination to explore the open road. Now new generations have discovered the fun of taking your home with you, and more and more rental firms are meeting the growing demand for well-equipped, innovative campers for the stylish nomad.
Glamping on wheels
I decided to explore in a campervan from Flamenco Campers, a small family-run operation based in Alhaurín del la Torre, created by Gonzalo and Carolina, whose passion for the great outdoors, and the freedom to discover it, led to them making it their full time business.
The couple’s Glamping travels in their first campervan called ‘Manuela’, have taken them across Europe and North Africa. Now they rent a small fleet of personalised campers, imaginatively presented and named, allowing others to indulge their adventurous spirit, exploring and discovering Andalucía.
For my experience of Glamping on wheels, I chose ‘Pepa’ to be my home-from-home for a few nights; a well-equipped campervan full of personality, with her blue and white polka-dot design. The entire van had been fitted out by Westfalia making use of pretty much every square centimetre.
There were two fold out (and very comfortable) double beds; a small kitchen with stove and fridge; a compact wardrobe, plenty of lockers; and an al fresco shower. Choose a contemporary campervan like this and you can expect plenty of attention to detail, from flexible LED reading lights by the bed, to a sound system that allows you to plug in a smartphone or MP3 player.
Tucked in the glove box was a guide and discount card to southern Spain’s best campsites, and then the rest was up to me.
I took the coast road to the wilderness of Almeria’s Cabo de Gata natural park. I soon become familiar with the feel of the camper, which drove much like a car.
Within a few hours I was surrounded by the peace and tranquillity of the park’s semi-arid landscape, punctuated by volcanic mountains and architectural flowering agave plants; little wonder this striking place was a favourite of Sergio Leone for his ‘Spaghetti westerns’ and remains a popular location for film, television and advertising shoots. There was something special about exploring rural back roads, passing through villages that have been used in classic movies including a ‘Fist Full of Dollars’ and ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
Pulling up on the beach near the former gold-mining town of Rodalquilar, it was time to make a pot of coffee. The evocative smell of lighting the kitchen stove quickly brought back childhood memories of UK camping trips, but the view out over the Mediterranean was something uniquely Andalusian, and the Glamping comforts of the campervan were most definitely 21st century.
Off-season the Guardia Civil often tolerate campers staying overnight by some of the more remote beaches, allowing you to end the day with a bottle of wine as the sun sets over the horizon, and then next day, wake to the sound of the waves hitting the shore.
Night under stars
However there are also plenty of rural campsites providing legitimate and environmentally sound places to stay the night. Most have onsite utilities, hot showers, and restaurants; ideal for families looking for a more sociable experience.
Glamping on the move is about freedom and self-sufficiency. An opportunity to be surrounded by nature and still indulge in a few home-from-home comforts.
From log cabins, vintage boats and rustic lodges to shaded tents and wandering campervans, the options for a Glamping break in Andalucía increasingly delight and inspire stylish travellers to discover the beauty of southern Spain.