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LUXURY RESORTS: Hotel Almenara, Sotogrande,  spain 

Style:  Mediterranean chic

Scene:  Green scenery meets the blue sea.

Seen in the lobby:  Europeans escaping winter blues for a sporting retreat.

This was almost the Luxury Resorts report that never was. Due to the worst snow that the UK has seen in decades the idea of escaping for a weekend of spa treatments and golf, at times, seemed like a flight of fancy. However a brief break in the bad conditions meant we managed to reach the airport and take off.  At lunch just a few hours later the early morning journey and snow in London were a very distance memory as I sipped champagne in the warm Spanish sun.

nh almenara
nh almenara
elysium
lunch at veintee ocho
outside pool
teeing off
gaia restaurant

 
The NH Almenara Golf Hotel and Spa on the coast of southern Spain overlooks views of the golf courses, gardens and the Mediterranean Sea. The hotel and suites reflect the beautiful surrounding nature and has been designed with the use of natural materials such as stone and marble,  creating a cool, relaxed feel throughout. The big selling point of my suite was the view. My little patio at the back of my suite was a lovely sunny spot to sit and read or relax which stunning views over the valley. The Decor was standard 'holiday hotel'. However, to get the full Almenara experience guests are probably going to be spending very little time in their room.

If you are looking for boutique designer luxury this isn't it but the layout of the resort means that none of the accommodation is more than a short walk to the central location of the restaurants, bar, pro-shop, reception and first tee. So where to first?  The golf course or the spa?

This area of Spain is justly famous for its golf courses so it is no surprise that the resort's golf 27-hole golf course in an excellent, mint-green condition and was designed by world-renowned golf course architect Dave Thomas. It soon became clear that I wasn't going to see much of the rest of my group. the attraction of the course was high on my golf-playing companions' list of priorities.   I didn't take it personally, especially when I noticed at breakfast each morning that the pattern was repeated at other tables. Those wearing the golf gear quickly hurried off leaving those in the clothing more suitable to the spa, gym or other activities to enjoy a more leisurely breakfast. I was assured that the courses are a joy to play.

Should you wish to improve your handicap or take up golf for the first time the golf academy team are on hand to help with technique, equipment and fitness. Personal trainers at the gym can also offer golf related fitness advice as well.  

Thankfully the golf players become a lot more sociable at night (although if the resort invest in some flood lights for the course, who knows?).

As for me I headed for the tranquil Elysium spa, which  offers a wide ranging spa menu with both beauty and holistic treatments. I picked the (possibly) scary sounding Spa Peeling Massage. For nearly an hour Trini with the magic-touch hands did a full body exfoliation which doubled up as a relaxing massage. Then a mud pack was smothered onto my back and as I lay there it began to bubble - a little worrying at first but surprisingly, if somewhat bizarrely, relaxing. At the end of the treatment I emerged from my treatment room cocoon with new silky smooth skin. Three days later and my skin was still noticeable soft.
A mud pack was smothered onto my back and as I lay there it began to bubble - a little  worrying at first but surprisingly, if somewhat bizarrely, relaxing.
 

After the treatment I was led to the indoor pool area and handed a recommended routine to follow in order to get the maximum benefits of the water. The Spa includes a Jacuzzi, Sauna and indoor pool with water jets and water powered massage.

In a bid to improve circulation I followed the routine, attempted the very cold plunge pool (and then thought better of it). TLTB was very impressed with those brave souls plunging into ice water but no one will judge should you take up position in the Jacuzzi for a chat as my group did. The water jets in the pool are powerful to say the least but offered a wonderful massage, building on the work Trini had already done on my muscles.  For summer days there is also an outdoor swimming pool.

After a few circuits of the routine and a long test of the Jacuzzi I lay down on one of the loungers' circling the pool to read my book. That massage must have been a good one as before I knew any different it was over an hour later and I had fallen asleep under a starry night -literally, as the pool area has a beautiful star-design tiled roof.    

I heading to the spa the next morning after breakfast (do we see a pattern here?) and was encouraged by the staff to try my first  Pilates class. At the start of the exercise class, realizing that I was unsure of procedure, the other attendees (all of whom were Spanish) helped me getting the needed equipment and explaining what would happen in the class. The instructor, Isabel was more than supportive - explaining to her regular class in Spanish, then repeating for me in English.

 After Pilates I headed to the indoor pool area for an aquarobics class. Once again the instructor, Jenny and the other members of the class were friendly and encouraging. Instructions were repeated to me in English and visual instructions were used to help me along. The class was interesting and attendees are able to go at their own pace, according to their level of ability.

The morning of exercise left me feeling energised and very healthy. Staff speak English so the language barrier is no excuse for skipping gym class even if you are on holiday.
Horse riding is also available at the resort's Equestrian centre. A rather good looking ex-polo player named Ferdie took us out for a late afternoon hack. Sitting upon my horse while the sky turned from orange to red to purple over the hills and emerald green golf courses added to the already picturesque ride. While I was r iding in Spain, I saw the British's Rock of Gilbratar on the horizon and the mountains of Morocco in the distance. Getting three countries in one is a unique, worthwhile highlight. The stables at the Equestrian centre keep many horses and polo ponies and  is worth a wander around to view the beautiful animals in very well kept stables. Lessons and hacks are available for beginners to those wanting to improve their skills.
After a day full of activity you can leave any diet-guilt behind. Gaia restaurant  serves creative modern dishes with locally sourced ingredients. Sherry is the drink to be seen with in this region and while in Sotogrande TLTB took part in a Sherry tasting of Drake and Friends Sherry from the nearby Jerez region.  The restaurant has views over Sotogrande and the buffet breakfasts served at Gaia will please every palate - from pastries to continental to a full cooked breakfast.
The overall gold star must go to the white chocolate soup - a firm TLTB favourite. Head Chef Christian Baldowski shared the recipe with me but something tells me I may not have the Almenara magic touch.  

For less formal dining throughout the day or a celebratory drink after a game head to Veintee Ocho - the 28th hole.  

For those who want a break from the golf or the spa (our party's twin obsessions) there is plenty of other thing to do. Head to the Equestrian centre for lessons and hacks, or the racquet centre for coaching and the Cucurucho Beach club. There are also a number of tourist attractions nearby including Gilbraltar, Marbella, Tarifa and even a trip to the souks of Tangier, North Africa .

How to get there:
Monarch airline flies to Gibraltar from London Luton, and Manchester airports. The Luxury Travel Bible was impressed with Monarch's friendly, efficient service and the extra-legroom seats (which offer up to six inches of extra space).  For more information or to book flights, www.monarch.co.uk

Transfer from Gibraltar airport to NH Hotel Almenara is 15 minutes by car.

Airport transfers are available on request and the hotel offers a car rental service. 
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Check in:  Avenida Almenara, s/n. 11310 Sotogrande. Sotogrande/Cadiz, Spain
Ultimate Luxury:  Forgetting the diet and indulging in the food - you can always work it off on the course.
Most Indulgent Moment: Spending a day in the spa, falling asleep under the stars.
Insider Secrets:  The area often welcomes young European royalty to attend the polo - of course, accustomed locals barely batter an eyelid.
The Little Things:  Friendly staff who are more than happy to help (even in a foreign language in an exercise class).
Junior Luxies: Absolutely! Classes are available to turn them into the next Rafa Nadal or Lee Westwood.
Dress code: Ping and Pringle for daytime, smart/casual for a well deserved dinner and drinks after active day.
Dent in the platinum:
Sarah Bryans 20/1/11
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