Adrian and Hannah Stone outside Las Piedras hotel. / J. RHODES

The couple making holidays accessible for all

Hannah and Adrian Stone have run Las Piedras in the Axarquía for the last 20 years, having worked in the care and travel sectors

JENNIE RHODES

Hannah and Adrian Stone have run Las Piedras hotel in Alcaucín, in the Axarquía, for 20 years. The couple, originally from South Wales, came up with the idea of running a hotel catering specifically for wheelchair users and people with learning disabilities, having worked in the care sector and had experience of taking people with restricted mobility away on holiday.

They identified a gap in the holiday market and had seen firsthand the lack of easily accessible accommodation and tourist attractions.

The couple have recently collaborated with the team who organised a bus from Nerja to bring back a group of Ukrainian refugees, hosting them for a weekend when they first arrived and before they went to longer-term accommodation.

The pair had also lived abroad – in fact they met when they were both working at a ski resort in France – so the idea of starting their new venture in a foreign country wasn't an obstacle. Although, despite being "fairly nomadic", as they describe themselves, they didn't know the south of Spain at the time.

Hannah's parents were renting a house in Torrox Pueblo and the couple came to stay. It was while they were there that they started to look around for possible properties. Driving back from a skiing trip to the Sierra Nevada one day, they drove past an old building on the Zafarraya road just outside Alcaucín village. The property in question had been the Hotel Montecarlo and then later Bar Camara but had been abandoned for 15 years.

"Older locals have told us that they remember coming here to dance. We think it was a very communal place for the neighbours in this area as it's outside the village," explain Hannah, 46 and Adrian, 52.

It took the couple, along with a host of volunteers, one year to get the place ready for their first guests. They had their first bookings at Christmas 2003. "We learned how to build that year. People were staying in tents and lots of beer got drunk," the couple reflected, laughing and in awe of what they managed to achieve. "I was so concerned I couldn't sleep," Adrian says, revealing that this first group was actually the people he had previously worked for in the UK and with whom he had stayed in contact.

Just to add to the pressure, they found out at the same time that Hannah was pregnant with their first child. "We've always been faced with a certain level of challenge," Hannah says, laughing off the situation. The couple now have two teenage children.

Since then the hotel has gone from strength to strength and the company has been able to offer full package holidays, including fully adapted vehicles to pick guests up from the airport and organise trips to all of the tourist attractions in the area, from the Alhambra, to city visits and the local beaches. "If there's a festival, or Easter processions, then we'll take people to see them," says Adrian, adding that accessibility has got much better in Spain, as it has in the UK and other parts of the world over the years. "The accessible beach in Torre del Mar is fantastic now," he comments.

Covid-19

Like the rest of the hospitality industry, Covid-19 hit Las Piedras hard. They went from looking forward to a good 2020 with plenty of bookings to none, overnight. "We'd just done a lot of renovation work to the place, confident that 2020 was looking good," the couple explained. They even had guests staying when Spain went into lockdown who they had to help to get back to the UK when their flights were cancelled and nobody knew what was going on.

However, used to the "trials and tribulations" of the industry, the couple adapted to the new situation quickly. Along with another staff member, Hannah started up a catering business, taking home-cooked food to people in the surrounding villages.

When things started to open up again they began offering lunch and afternoon tea at the hotel and continued with the catering. They also opened up the hotel to the mainstream Spanish market

The couple say they are beginning to see bookings picking up from their original client base and are hoping that things will start to return to normal now that restrictions are being lifted in Spain and the UK.