El Jardin del Califa | Vejer
It is a rare thing for me to miss an opportunity to visit the little town of Vejer de la Frontera whenever I’m in Andalucia. To visit this region of Spain is to reminisce the pages of Paulo Coelho’s fable, The Alchemist. I recall in the early chapters how Santiago the Shepard boy, looked out from the green pastures of Andalucia, over the Strait of Gibraltar towards Tangiers dreaming of adventure and finding his treasure in the distant Arabian lands. The Moorish Arabs occupied Southern Spain for almost 700 years, of course, and Vejer is one of many places in Andalucia where Arabian and Spanish cultures intertwine. I am forever an admirer of the Spanish climate and culture: leisurely warmth, laid-back, unhurried living and the Moorish love of symmetry and intricate design, and of cuisines prepared to bedazzle. This fusion of two worlds in this region is the reasons I never tire of coming here.
Perched high on a hilltop, Vejer is a quintessential Spanish town which looks like icing on a cupcake from below. It’s early spring, and the sun is already high, stark, and casts chiaroscuro light and deep shadows on the brilliantly whitewashed edificios. We venture up the steep, winding, narrow roads heading to our destination: El Jardin del Califa. Entering at street level the lobby is as whitewashed as its exterior. Following the stairway, however, you are lead down towards the intriguing cavernous depths of this 16th-century building, passing stone vaulted wine cellars leading to the dining areas.
The hotel and restaurants display Moorish and Spanish accents throughout; lanterns, rugs and tapestries add to the ambience. You’ll find an express restaurant at street level, a bar, restaurant and a teteria – tea shop – and, of course, the palm tree-filled-walled garden. As with the decor, the menu is an exquisite menage of Arabian and Southern Spanish dishes: Tagines (naturally), jewel-coloured couscous dishes, barbequed meats and fish and classic meze starters.
In the spirit of Moorish opulence, we dine on meze sharing platters, an exceptional beet salad with whipped feta, spiced roast lamb with grilled aubergine infused with almond crumb and rosewater, completing our meal with baklava and a classic Moroccan mint tea. The hotel terrace gives way to expansive vistas of the surrounding countryside and out to sea where the Mediterranean opens herself to the Atlantic. I image myself here at dusk, sipping a vino de narañja, soaking in history while watching the sun setting over this beautiful part of the world. How magical that would be.
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