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El Molino del Santo, Benaoján: Escape to this Hideaway Near Ronda

Author & Photos: Chris Gomez

El Molino del Santo, Benaoján: Escape to this Hideaway Near Ronda

Although 4.8 times the size of Gibraltar, Benaoján only has a population of 1,683. This number is even lower if you’re planning to stay over at its sub-district ‘Estación de Benaoján-Montejaque’, an ideal location for anyone looking to get away from it all – without long travel time or expensive plane tickets.

Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

I first came across the name in my family tree. My great, great grandmother, Ana Amaya had come from there aged 17 and married my great, great grandfather Rafael Gomez. 145 years after Ana had arrived in Gibraltar, I took the train from San Roque to Benaoján and found a veritable oasis in the mountain ranges of Ronda.

Taking the train is the best option from Gibraltar or the Campo de Gibraltar, an unmissable journey that lasts an hour from San Roque station, cutting through beautiful mountainscapes to Estación de Benaoján-Montejaque.

Estación de Benaoján-Montejaque

This tiny village is surrounded by the rugged mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, with streams that feed into the Guadiaro River – it’s a hiker’s paradise.

A short walk uphill from the station within this quaint valley is the Molino del Santo Hotel; a 2-star, family owned hotel established in 1987. But don’t let the stars fool you, the Molino del Santo has been the winner of “Most Romantic Hotel in Spain” and “Best Countryside Hotel in Spain” as well as the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence Award for the past 5 years – and it’s not hard to see why.

Hotel Molino del Santo Benaojan

Rustic yet modern balcony rooms with breath-taking mountain views overlooking the pool, a reading room complete with a fireplace and a romantic terrace restaurant where you can enjoy a candlelit dinner overlooking a stream as the sun sets behind the hills.

El Molino del Santo serve delicious seasonal dishes using incredibly fresh, locally sourced produce from the mountains. As an example of just how fresh the ingredients were, we sat beneath a network of green beans – which so happened to have been one of their specials during our stay -, prepared by a highly skilled team of 8, and great wines, 70% of which are from Andalucía. Dinner comes with a medium-high price tag and is well worth it.

If the purpose of your trip is for a digital detox, then this is the perfect place – there are no TVs in sight at the hotel, and Andy Chapell, the co-founder and owner of this perfect hideaway, says that’s the whole point.

Interestingly, Andy told Reach that he had not envisaged reaching the prestigious reputation that the hotel enjoys today:

“It was meant to be a tiny operation that needed no staff – we’d do nearly all of the work ourselves … We didn’t even call it a hotel in the early days – it was more of a centre for exploring inland Spain – we never envisaged catering for non-residents for example – nowadays that is over 25% of our turnover”.

Up to 50% off at El Molino del Santo During August

Rooms from €69.50 (breakfast included) when you reference Reach Alcance in your booking! Simply copy & paste the code below when booking on www.molinodelsanto.com

Long walks in the fresh mountain air, surrounded by the sounds of nature (take insect repellent), with plenty to explore, the area really is a hiker’s paradise.

Getting to the Natural Park

Benaojan Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park

Cross the Estación de Benaoján-Montejaque train tracks, make sure that the barrier is up, and follow the path ahead.

You will see a sign pointing to the Natural Park and the Cueva del Gato – great! However, the stone bridge that once connected to the park was washed away in 2018 by extreme rainfall, causing the river to overflow and rush through the village, taking the bridge with it.

The good news is that you’ll just need to follow a narrow pathway through what looks like a resident-only area (it’s not) and follow the stream until you come across a beautiful steppingstone pathway across the water that leads directly into the park.

Trekking to Cueva del Gato:

Cueva del Gato Benaojan

A 30-minute trek from Hotel Molino del Santo will lead you to a hidden paradise; the Cueva del Gato, with a crystal-clear natural pool fed by a waterfall from the cave itself, which looks like a cat’s face. The water itself is freezing cold and not for the faint hearted, but incredibly refreshing after a long hike.

The cave complex itself, above the natural pool, is extremely dangerous because it is prone to flash-flooding in addition to the water being ice cold. A number of people have entered and never been seen or heard of again, so if you do want to explore it, make sure you use a professional tour company.

Note: The Cueva del Gato can get crowded in the summer months, particularly on weekends, so try to plan for a weekday.

El Molino del Santo, Benaoján: Escape to this Hideaway Near Ronda

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