Was it good? Probably our best family holiday ever.
Why? Where do I start?
Here: I slowly sip this same delicious white wine, and think of seven key reasons…
The Finca deserves more depth (to come later) than this initial list inspired by my first sip of wine. For now you should know that Gwen and Bart are genuine and lovely people, who have completely embraced life in Extremadura since they took the plunge almost six years ago, when they left their native Belgium. Their full immersion into Spanish life means they know and understand the local people, their language and customs, and all things essential, which proved invaluable at 2am one night when No. 1 needed urgent medical assistance.
Each pool is different, and we tried them all before settling on three favourites. Our nearest pool at Villasbuenas de Gata was simple, charming and beautiful. By watching the locals we worked out the perfect place to sit for the last of the evening sun, and the best angles for satisfyingly big jumps into the water. For less confident swimmers, the shallow parts were clear and stunning. Plus the small bar served beer and ice cream - always welcome :-)
Not being members of an extended Spanish family, we weren’t quite as practised as they, and used the restaurant above the pools for a cheap and cheerful lunch and break from the hot sun.
7. Javi y Mercedes. First it was my husband who kept getting lost (apparently) in their Alimentación (grocery shop) in the village. He’d stop the car on our way back to the Finca, pop in for…...milk, wine, olives, cheese…never a long list, but he’d spend forever. One day, the rest of us decided we didn’t want to wait, so after 5 minutes we followed my husband in. He was communicating in an interesting fashion with Javi and Mercedes, while smiling customers sat on a couple of chairs, waiting their turn to be served. No one was in a hurry (least of all my husband). My husband spoke Spanglish, Javi and Mercedes took turns to understand him, and between them it worked. They spoke back in Spanish (mostly) but had some ability in Spanglish too. We visited Javi and Mercedes most days after that just for the merry linguistic exchange, even if we needed nothing.
We love camping, but not in the rain. We like being in the great outdoors close to nature, but not all of us like to share showers and toilets (sorry but we’re not hardcore camping folk). So the Finca ticked a bucket-load of boxes for us:
- Our home was a supremely comfortable, huge safari tent with proper beds, wardrobes and bathroom, and a fully functioning kitchen area. Luxury. We breakfasted in warm sunshine on the spacious terrace, and after a day at the piscinas returned to cook and eat, whilst watching the shadows slowly deepen and change in the reds, browns and oranges of the earth, then disappear as day became night.
- No gadgets. I guess this could be perceived as a minus point by some teenagers…and adults….well, of course we’d all taken some, but there was no wifi to connect with the online world once we were there. (unless you were close to Gwen and Bart’s house, but I didn’t tell the kids that). We played cards and music, talked, joked, and argued (you never escape that on holiday, no matter how far off the beaten track you go), and absorbed our surroundings.
- Nature. And the peace (except for the aforementioned occasional cross words). We woke to the gentle sound of bells as the sheep wandered over the land. Native holm oaks and cork oaks gave us welcome shade during the hottest part of the day. The scene from our tent was natural, wild and unaltered in hundreds of years. It reminded us of Africa. Or cowboy country. There’s a beautiful, honest roughness to the landscape. And I couldn’t get enough of the skies. I must’ve taken hundreds of photos of the skies alone. At night you gaze upwards at the unparalleled night sky and see more shooting stars in one week than you might in a lifetime.
- The kids did chores willingly. They took compost to the chickens, fed the sheep, and talked to Gwen and Bart working in their vegetable garden (Gwen and Bart worked – I’m not sure the kids did).
- ·Self-sufficiency. We are not self-sufficient at home, but I wish we were. Gwen and Bart showed us how it could be done. They generate their own electricity, have meat from their lambs, cheese from their sheep, eggs from the chickens, veg from their garden. Gwen’s tomatoes are something else. She grows every kind you could think of. If you get the chance, accept Gwen and Bart’s offer of a 3-course meal with them at their house (15 euros pp, children half-price). A sumptuous self-sufficient feast, washed down with delicious local wines.
- The dogs. I am the meanest mum in the world who will not allow her children to have a dog. They all agree on this. Imagine their delight in finding not one, but four dogs at the Finca (one is an occasional and very welcome visitor).
Last word (I promise)…my No. 1 and I share a love of Ben Fogle’s tv show “New Lives in the Wild“. After our first evening at the Finca, we had the same thought: Ben Fogle should visit Gwen and Bart at their Finca. It's wild, it's beautiful, and just a bit different. So come on Ben, what do you think? The Belgians have beaten you to it….surely it’s now time for the Brits to find out why Finca las Cañadas is so special?
PS. Yes, we are going back :-)
Click here to find out everything else you need to know about Finca las Cañadas: http://fincalascanadas.com
Prices for the safari tents range from 495 euros per week in low season.
For more on the unspoilt region Extremadura, click here: http://www.turismoextremadura.com/viajar/turismo/en/index.html
And for more of those divine platefuls of food, go to Bar los Portales in Gata: https://www.facebook.com/lasjanonas