If there is one region in Spain that is widely known, it’s Andalusia. This is hardly surprising, as it is also Spain’s largest region. I managed to find a hidden gem, tucked away in the south-western part of Andalusia, a part of Spain that is often overlooked, but with some of the most beautiful bays and beaches, most of them completely empty throughout the year. The surroundings are unique, and rather like a western movie set; desert-like and rough….allow me to introduce you to NP Cabo de Gata – Nijar. Nineteen years ago, this is where Charo Garcia lost her heart, and she traded her hectic life in Madrid for this self-created sanctuary.

It’s a bit of a drive from Malaga – the nearest airport is Almeria, by the way – and, to be honest, at one point the arid landscape full of plastic greenhouses becomes rather off-putting: they’re everywhere, this is where for instance our green beans, available to us all year, are grown. Not a very charming holiday destination….. But I drive on determinedly and as soon as I get off the highway, I enter a sort of no man’s land, desert-like, sloping – beautiful red earth tones interspersed with the occasional palm tree. It’s as if I’m in North Africa rather than in the south of Spain. What bizarre surroundings! I stop in the nearest large town for some last grocery shopping (tip: the smaller villages don’t really offer all that much) to stock up my fridge and follow the directions towards my Local Hideaway: Charo’s domain. After having identified myself at the gate, a very charismatic Charo welcomes me warmly, her sympathetic cousin Tania, who takes care of day-to-day business, at her side. Behind the gate is a wonderful surprise: a vast desert garden that Charo has landscaped, plant by plant, all by herself. It’s full of works of art and centrally located are the former stables of the old cortijo (farm) that have been turned into 3 apartments. The main house, where Charo lives, is a bit higher up. What a wonderful place!

The apartments are connected and sleep either two (one apartment) or four (two apartments) guests. I’m staying in the middle apartment, tastefully decorated with all sorts of vintage trinkets, a large kitchen, two bedrooms, a lovely bathroom, a living room complete with working fire place and, the icing on the cake: a terrace with wonderful view of the garden, the swimming pool and the surroundings. If you’re looking for a bit more space, be sure to book the other apartment for four, which features a larger terrace. The other apartment, with its enormous living room and wonderful terrace is perfect for two.

The vast garden offers a BBQ for common use, a lovely swimming pool with honesty bar for cold drinks, a Jacuzzi, and several cosy seating areas that allow you to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Sustainability is highly valued here; everything is done as ecologically responsible as possible. Waste is recycled, water (including the water in the swimming pool) comes from a well, the rooms feature purified water, the irrigated garden is maintained ecologically, only organic materials are used for cleaning and organic soap is available in the showers.

That evening, sitting on my terrace with a glass of wine and a home-made salad, a feeling of tranquility washes over me as I’m watching a fantastic sunset that colours the surrounding hills red. And when the sun has finally set, a new and amazing spectacle appears: countless stars light up the sky. What a magical place this is!

And I haven’t even told you about the surroundings yet! A paradise for beach lovers and the possibilities are endless. Even in the peak season (slightly busier – but that’s nothing compared to the other tourist beaches) there is always an empty bay to be found somewhere. Don’t be surprised if you come across the occasional nudist…. Some of the beaches are popular ;-)! There is also an extensive network of hiking trails for taking long walks. The fishing villages offer lovely fresh fish and a trip to Almeria, where they serve the best complimentary tapas with your drinks, is also worth it. And what’s more, this destination is wonderful throughout the year….of course, it’s hot in the summer, but the sun is almost always shining and during the winter months, the evenings are cool and allow you to snuggle up in front of the fireplace.

Charo’s cortijo is a Local Hideaway in the purest sense of the word, an extraordinary oasis in the fascinating surroundings of ‘off the beaten track’ NP Cabo de Gata-Nijar!