By Kate Hawkins
Iíve never been somebody that finds a great place to go on holiday and then returns there year after year, holiday time is precious and Iím all for seeing as much of the world as I can. However, El Rancho has proved to be a big exception, luring my boyfriend and I back twice in the space of six months! I genuinely feel that weíve stumbled upon a bit of a gem, so much so that I have to admit to almost wanting to keep it a secretÖ
On our first visit to El Rancho, despite arriving at a pretty unsociable hour we were met by owners Jacque and Garret and immediately welcomed into their home. We sat around until the early hours over a bottle or wine, hearing stories about their life in Spain, the horses, and the type of things we could expect to see and do during our stay there. It was clear that they had made careful plans for our stay, and were keen to share them with us and adjust plans to suit us. Thatís something that makes staying at El Rancho so special, it feels totally bespoke and there is flexibility to ensure that you get everything you want out of your stay.
Having arrived in the middle of the night, we couldnít wait for the sun to rise to reveal our surroundings, and when it did we were blown away by the beauty of this place. El Rancho is a typical Spanish style property sitting among pretty olive groves at the foot of pine-clad mountains. The set-up, which includes a swimming pool, a guest apartment and studio, stables and several small olive groves, has been impressively restored by Jacque and Garrett and the result is stunning.
During both our visits to El Rancho the riding experience has been fantastic - a perfect combination of beautiful scenery, great horses and Jacque and Garretís relaxed approach to taking guests out riding. The horses are extremely well loved and a big part of the family, and quite rightly seem rather happy with their lot. Of the four, Havana is the only Spanish horse and is the stunning, spirited, strong-willed mare that you would expect. Orlanda is a gentle, dependable warmblood mare and my only criticism would be that she got more attention from my boyfriend during our visits than I did ≠ but heís been hooked on riding ever since so I am eternally thankful to her for looking after him so well! I was more surprised to find myself riding a beautiful ex-racing thoroughbred around the rugged Andalusian countryside. Glory was given a lucky chance by Jacque and Garrett when his racing days came to an end and has proved to be a real success story. Heís sweet-natured and genuine, has taken to the Andalucian terrain and the laid-back lifestyle at El Rancho like a duck to water, and I absolutely adored riding him. Finally, thereís golden boy Pablo, whoís a favourite with all the kids and is like an ageing movie star at El Rancho ≠ he gets more fanmail and thank-you messages in the guest book than anyone!
Both trips to El Rancho have produced some truly memorable riding experiences, whether itís winding through pine forests up the mountains, watching the sun go down over the town of Villanueva del Trabuco or pitching up at a local bar and giving the horses a break from the sun and ourselves a well-earned gin and tonic!
Equally memorable are the times spent relaxing back at El Rancho, where thereís plenty of kicking back and relaxing in the sun by the pool ≠ for the guests at least! Jacque and Garret are naturals at creating a laid-back, house party atmosphere while completely spoiling you at the same time. Jacque always made sure that we ate like kings, with fresh fish and meat cooked in front of us on the barbeque and plenty of homemade Spanish specialities to try. This is also a great central location for exploring everything else Andalusia has to offer ≠ thatís if you can tear yourself away from this setting!
El Rancho is a real favourite in my book and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone looking for an unforgettable riding holiday where the focus is firmly on relaxation, and taking the time to really get to know and enjoy the scenery, the horses and the company of great hosts. And if you go once, donít be surprised if you find yourself returning!