Mike Winn and his wife Tess always felt very much at home when they stayed in this villa in southern Spain. Called El Noque, it offered them understated comfort and some over-the-top sunsets that were framed by a foreground of wide fields and a background of the Andalusian hills. While the couple had rented several retreats over the years, including homes in Tuscany, Provence and Mallorca, it was this sun-washed cortijo, with its courtyard, horse paddocks and olive groves, that felt to them like the family homestead, welcoming four generations of their clan during the times they rented it.
Mike admits that before his initial visit he held some reservations about the type of home he could find in this area that hugs the Alboran Sea. “I thought it would be all high-rise blocks overlooking the sea. But we’re up in the mountainous area. It’s not touristy. You’ve got these glorious mountains and the fresh air,” he says.
He remembers at one point sitting on the side of the property where he and his wife would watch that sunset. He thought about what a buyer would have to do to preserve the feel of this place, which looks upon the Grazalema National Park. The fields that lead the eye to the mountains are such a key part of the atmosphere. “I said whoever buys this place will have to buy the fields in front,” remembers Mike.
Back home in the UK, he happened to be reading The Sunday Times and his eyes fell upon a full-page ad announcing the sale of the 20-acre retreat. He couldn’t believe it. He felt an immediate need to claim what had become a family tradition. “It was our villa,” he says. “We all went ‘Wow!’ And right away we knew. There was no discussion.” So without hesitation, he and his wife dipped into their savings to make the purchase happen. They also decided to buy the fields Mike had talked about that sunset evening.
The couple bought the property in 2009 from a man named Ed Wood, who had restored the old farmhouse after he purchased it in 2005 in a dilapidated state. “It had been owned [before] by two eccentric and English spinster sisters who had 67 cats,” said Mike, who says the sisters had been there for about 15 years. “Ed gutted the entire place.” The two men have remained friends and as Mike says, “He was sad to let it go.”
For a home that has been entirely renovated, it does not give in to modernism. The interior sports white plaster walls with archways and exposed joists in a traditional Spanish style. There are French doors to let in light and terracotta tiles that keep the place cool. The bedrooms on the second floor are all white and airy, with classic Spanish shutters that open up to fields full of wildflowers. Tess has filled the spaces with tasteful antiques of blond wood, along with rattan chairs, plush sofas and love seats in light shades. “We live in an old house in the UK, so my wife is pretty good at picking antiques,” Mike says, giving an example of a set of Spanish doors Tess found and turned sideways to make a headboard. “She retained the old rustic charm.”
Outside, the grounds are a lounger’s paradise. The swimming area is separated from the rest of the home, with an al fresco dining area under one of the thatched-roof shelters, and an outdoor living room located under the other. “There’s room to seat eight in the shade,” says Mike of the outdoor living room. Also around the pool, on the grass, are hammocks and chaises longues. Further out, there are paddocks and an outdoor corralled area for their horses, while the grounds contain 400 olive trees. There’s always a bottle of olive oil from their grove on hand in the kitchen.
The property overlooks a cobblestone courtyard with a fountain and tall wooden doors with cast-iron detail. You can also lounge on the other side of the building, looking onto a landscaped grassy area surrounded by trees, including fig, plane, almond, walnut, pomegranate, weeping willows and bamboo. “It’s rural, quiet and beautiful,” says Mike of El Noque.
The seven-bedroom, six-bathroom villa had always been very popular when Mike and his family were renting it, and has remained a destination for many since the family bought it six years ago. “We rented it out for 34 weeks this last year,” he says, a record season. The villa has also doubled as a wellness retreat and an outdoor wedding chapel on a few occasions.
The historic town of Ronda is only a five-minute drive from the property. It’s known for dramatic escarpments and views, and served as location inspiration for Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. It’s also considered to be the birthplace of modern bullfighting. “It has the oldest bull ring in Spain” says Mike, adding that it’s a proper working town and not just a place for tourists. A favorite restaurant of his and many others is El Muelle de Arriate, located in what was once the town’s train station.
There are good food options at the villa as well, with a cook on hand who, among her many talents, can cook a mean paella. Visitors can use the well-stocked kitchen to cook their own meals, and Mike and Tess can organise cooking and flamenco classes on request. Mike, a long-time jazz radio host, has also mstocked the house with hundreds of CDs and DVDs, enough to keep music aficionados busy for days. Despite its rural location, the villa is just one hour from the string of Marbella beaches, and close enough to Seville, Granada and the nearby pueblos blancos (white villages) for ample day trips. There are many activities close at hand, including horseback riding, skiing, paragliding, hot air ballooning, tennis and golf and, believe it or not, Morocco is just a day trip away.
Find out more about La Huerta El Noque