Ã¢â‚¬Å“Good Morning Sir.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ah, it’s my butler. He’s waiting to accompany me through the abbey cloisters to breakfast in the refectory. The monks may be long gone but the refectory is where eating continues to this day and oh.. what eating it is.
I’m staying at the 12th century AbadÃƒÂa Retuerta, nestled confidently in its 700 hectare estate in the Duero valley of central Spain. Vines, along with beautifully shaped pine trees, dominate the landscape right up to the entrance.
Today the entire Abbey is a 5* hotel known as Le Domaine where the luxury, rather than being opulent, is characterised by restraint; even austerity.
It’s a pleasing austerity though. Restored and enhanced by Italian architect Marco Serra with impeccable taste, it allows the gracious spirituality accumulated over hundreds of years to communicate with us today. The effect is calming and life-affirming.
I’m here ostensibly to taste the new prestige wines made on the estate but from the first moment of arrival, it’s clear that there is going to be a great deal more to the experience.
Wishing to immerse myself immediately, I hop on a mountain bike and pedal excitedly through the vineyards. The evening is calm and soft shadows fall over the escarpment of the Castilian plateau. The estate workers load the last few baskets of grapes onto their tractors to complete this year’s harvest.
On my return to the Abbey, I find that my butler has arranged for me to be treated to a long therapeutic massage from the in-house professional. I’m going to have to revisit the word’luxury’ in a dictionary. Can this day possibly get any better?
Well, to paraphrase Mr Obama’yes it can’, because in the Refectorio for dinner, ‘Chef de Service’ ÃƒÂlvaro RibÃƒÂ³n is preparing to present me with the estate’s flagship red wine. The Ã¢â‚¬Å“SelecciÃƒÂ³n EspecialÃ¢â‚¬Â.
ÃƒÂlvaro ceremoniously pours; I look up at the high, vaulted gothic ceiling. Christ looks down from the 17th century fresco of The Last Supper and I now have to revisit the word’Heaven’ in the dictionary.
The Wine, The Food
AbadÃƒÂa Retuerta SelecciÃƒÂ³n Especial 2009 is a blend of three red grape varieties. The quintessentially Spanish Tempranillo is bright and lively, singing its song of ripe red berries. Cabernet Sauvignon provides a more masculine ground of wet leaves, herbs and earth and a small amount of Syrah is added, bringing fragrant touches of violets and spice.
In the modern style, the blend is gracefully aged in French oak barrels to give a balanced and harmonious structure with fine medium tannins. Like everything else at AbadÃƒÂa Retuerta, the wine is elegant, discreet and intensely enjoyable.
The Menu too is concise and sublime. Rabbit risotto with tender cuttlefish and basil followed by Iberian’Presa’, the leanest cut of shoulder pork cooked very rare, very red. For dessert, a fragrant and light fried brioche soaked in egg and milk with vanilla ice cream. The food is characterized by the highest quality of each ingredient, mostly sourced from the Abbey’s own estate, and the very great attention to detail of its preparation.
Out and About
If there is anything that your heart requires in the way of visits or activities, your butler will be keen to make arrangements. A flight in a helicopter? A horse to ride? Hot air ballooning perhaps? The bespoke nature of the service is central to the’Le Domaine’ ethos.
My own passion is for art and history, both of which the region of Castilla y LeÃƒÂ³n has in abundance. Needless to say now but my butler is there in a jiffy, opening the passenger door of his ultra-cool Mercedes space wagon to whisk me off to the sights.
The city of Valladolid today feels a little behind the times but it was once briefly the capital of Spain. It is jam packed full of churches with varied and sometimes incredible architecture charting centuries of stylistic change. The sculpture museum houses the 17th century life-size figure groups that are carried in processions through the city during the August holy week.
I visit the village of PeÃƒÂ±afiel and call in for lunch at the famous ‘Restaurante Molino de Palacios‘ housed in a 16th century watermill where the very timbers and stones seem imbued with garlic and woodsmoke and wine.
Here the Castilian cuisine is at its most rustic and I’m hungry for the dish so beloved of the locals; suckling lamb roasted in a wood fired oven. The platefuls of delicious meat with irresistible crackling are large and it’s difficult not to over-indulge.
A recuperative walk is necessary, high up to the medieval castle where the museum of winemaking is housed. Towering above the village, the huge limestone edifice presides like a ship over the vast landscape. The many steps to the top of the tower reward me with an unmissable view.
It’s time for me to return to the Abbey for a tour of the estate and a view on winemaking in the 21st century.
The Vineyard Tour
ÃƒÂlvaro PÃƒÂ©rez Navazo, director of communications, is at the wheel and he’s talking to me with focussed determination about the excellence sought by the winemakers here. Every nuance of terrain, every nuance of climate is analysed to ensure that the grapes are able to express perfection in the finished wines.
At the state of the art winery, I’m treated to the fruits of these labours. Single varietals of astonishing purity. Noble Tempranillo, sublime Syrah, aristocratic Cabernet Sauvignon and a stunning new white blend, simply called ‘AbadÃƒÂa Retuerta Blanco’ which has to be tasted to be believed.
Time to Go
The cool Mercedes is once again waiting for me at the Abbey entrance.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœGoodbye Sir, I hope to see you again’
Yes, it’s my butler.
I’m not sure that I have stayed at an establishment where I have so much liked the staff before. Here, their attention is discreet, yet a genuine love of place radiates through their smiles.
I have some bottles of wine in my suitcase but..Oh dear, do I really have to leave?
Rooms at AbadÃƒÂa Retuerta Le Domaine start at 290 euros per night. Foodepedia flew British AirwaysHeathrow to Madrid. Return transfers to Madrid 150 euros. Four course dinner at AbadÃƒÂa Retuerta Le Domaine excluding wine 55 euros per person. Wine tours 30 euros per person. For further information on wines visit www.abadia-retuerta.com