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Holidays in Spain: following in the footsteps of Michelle Obama in Andalusia

Juliet the hawk was staring hungrily at a fluffy white bichon frize, while her handler, Jorge, nervously watched the bird on his arm.

“We bring in a hawk every morning to discourage birds from competing with guests for their breakfast,” he explains.

It is a beautiful setting. Elegant diners sit on a stone terrace under a leafy canopy, surrounded by cypress trees and open ocean views over a well-kept golf course.

Dramatic: The Andalusian city of Ronda, which Teresa Levonian Cole finds 'offers wild nature and traditional culture'

Dramatic: The Andalusian city of Ronda, which Teresa Levonian Cole finds ‘offers wild nature and traditional culture’

Teresa reveals that the Palace of Villa Padierna (pictured) 'was built in 2003 in the style of an Italian-style villa'

Teresa reveals that the Palace of Villa Padierna (pictured) 'was built in 2003 in the style of an Italian-style villa'

Teresa reveals that the Palace of Villa Padierna (pictured) ‘was built in 2003 in the style of an Italian-style villa’

This area, near Marbella, has been a magnet for the jet set since the 1950s, when legend has it that Prince Alfonso von Hohenlohe’s car broke down near a sleepy fishing village.

He fell in love with the place, bought a traditional finca and transformed it into the legendary Marbella Club.

The Palace of Villa Padierna, where I was staying, and Michelle Obama before me, was built in 2003 in the style of an Italian-style villa, with classical statues on every corner. It became the property of Anantara last year.

Away from the overdeveloped coast, Andalusia offers wild nature and traditional culture.

“In the golden triangle formed by Marbella, Ronda and Sotogrande there are centuries-old vineyards, bakers, honey producers, ranches and olive growers,” says Esteban Ferron, who directs the hotel’s experiences program.

The pool of the Villa Padierna Palace.  According to Teresa, the complex has a 'classic statuary on every corner'

The pool of the Villa Padierna Palace.  According to Teresa, the complex has a 'classic statuary on every corner'

The pool of the Villa Padierna Palace. According to Teresa, the complex has a ‘classic statuary on every corner’

Michelle Obama once stayed at the Villa Padierna Palace (pictured), reveals Teresa

Michelle Obama once stayed at the Villa Padierna Palace (pictured), reveals Teresa

Michelle Obama once stayed at the Villa Padierna Palace (pictured), reveals Teresa

Villa Padierna Palace became the property of Anantara last year.  Double B&B from £ 247

Villa Padierna Palace became the property of Anantara last year.  Double B&B from £ 247

Villa Padierna Palace became the property of Anantara last year. Double B&B from £ 247

You can also go horseback riding through the remote and beautiful Genal Valley. But it was not about the horses that he wanted to know as much as about the goats.

So early one morning I sat down to a worker’s meal of pork skin and lard – pork and fat slathered on garlic-soaked toast – in a cafe, while waiting for the local goatherd to arrive.

Juan, known for his cheeses, is the fourth generation of his family to care for the herd. Soon the tinkling of the bells announced that he and his rare payoya goats were coming down the mountain for the morning milking.

“In the 1930s, my ancestors traded cheese for other products,” Juan tells me. ‘I had to sell land in the valley and most of our 1,500 herd due to Covid. But I sold the goats to a friend and I still use their milk for our cheeses.

Tourists can go horseback riding through the 'remote and beautiful Genal Valley', pictured above

Tourists can go horseback riding through the 'remote and beautiful Genal Valley', pictured above

Tourists can go horseback riding through the ‘remote and beautiful Genal Valley’, pictured above

Teresa knows the 'golden triangle' formed by Marbella, Ronda and Sotogrande (in the photo) from the hand of Esteban Ferron, who directs the experience program at the Villa Padierna Palace.

Teresa knows the 'golden triangle' formed by Marbella, Ronda and Sotogrande (in the photo) from the hand of Esteban Ferron, who directs the experience program at the Villa Padierna Palace.

Teresa knows the ‘golden triangle’ formed by Marbella, Ronda and Sotogrande (in the photo) from the hand of Esteban Ferron, who directs the experience program at the Villa Padierna Palace.

The photo shows the picturesque port of Estepona, which Teresa visits to take a flamenco dance class.

The photo shows the picturesque port of Estepona, which Teresa visits to take a flamenco dance class.

The photo shows the picturesque port of Estepona, which Teresa visits to take a flamenco dance class.

TRAVEL FACTS

Double B&B at Anantara Villa Padierna Palace Resort from £ 247 (anantara.com).

Andalucia Guru experiences start from £ 160 pp.

In the colder months, Juan accompanies guests to the mountains to experience milking and cheese making. But I was content to buy the delicious, creamy finished product at Juan’s little shop.

Next, I had a date in nearby Estepona with a handsome stranger …

My heart was set on learning to dance flamenco, and the hotel sent me to the Taller del Arte and Professor José Franco (who has performed at Sadler’s Wells in London) to learn the Bulería, a particularly fast version of the dance.

Thanks in large part to José’s patience and humor, I discovered a latent talent for his steps.

My farewell lunch in Anantara, when the time came, was a splendid feast of overflowing seafood dishes and exquisite turbot, accompanied by excellent local wines.

It was really a wrench to leave.

Where else can you be a goatherd by day and an aspiring flamenco dancer by night, with the certainty that, in Anantara, luxury awaits you?

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