Beyond the vibrant Costas, the interior of Spain offers a quieter pace of life. Andrew Forbes takes a scenic drive north of Madrid and discovers Abadía Retuerta, an ancient former abbey that has been reimagined as a magnificent wine estate with 5-star hotel, luxe spa, and Michelin star fine-dining.
The 2-hour drive from Madrid through the region of Castilla y Leon is a unique and authentic pleasure. Towns along the route such as Segovia are living history, truly evocative of the country’s rich heritage of kingdoms and castles. Before long we arrived in the beautiful and sophisticated regional capital of Valladolid, the nearest city to Abadía Retuerta. Valladolid is a city of elegant buildings, plazas and charming bars and restaurants – a pleasurable distraction before ending our journey in the tranquillity of the abbey’s rural setting.
An Epicurean Resort
It was later afternoon by the time we reached the 900-year-old medieval abbey, an impressive building, sheltered in a small valley edged with pine and oak woodlands. The ancient belfry, standing above the surrounding vineyards, is the first thing one sees. Atop the honey-coloured stone tower is a enormous storks nest, a sight that is iconic of the area.
Abadía Retuerta LeDomaine is both an acclaimed winery and upscale resort, set in unspoilt countryside on the banks of the River Duero. This region, recognised for its creative chefs, award-winning winemakers and enchanting historic towns, is worthy of the attention of any discerning traveller.
This extraordinary property has been painstakingly restored and transformed into a 30-room boutique spa hotel ‘LeDomaine’. In addition to the hotel’s fine-dining ‘Refectorio’, and on-trend ‘Vinoteca’ wine bar & restaurant, the abbey’s cloisters provide a beautifully setting for summer drinks and light meals. The walled gardens are enchanting, with fountains, rose arbours and pergolas. There is a secluded outdoor pool too – it all adds up to an impressive property!
The adjacent boutique winery, ‘Abadía Retuerta’, creates award-winning wines.
We were greeted by the Enrique Valero, CEO of Abadía Retuerta Winery and LeDomaine Hotel. He’s the perfect host; full of energy and warmth – and clearly passionate about the businesses of wine and hospitality.
(Enrique Valero, CEO of Abadía Retuerta Winery and LeDomaine Hotel)
Yet despite his commercial skills and responsibilities, he clearly focuses on the guests. He talks of the qualities of Abadía Retuerta – the three ‘patrimonios’ as he likes to call them: the surrounding natural environment, the historic abbey, and his team. Together these create unique ‘vivencias’ for guests, living, unforgettable experiences.
I was grateful to have been invited for this experiential travel escapade – and was looking forward to being immersed in the curated experiences created for gastronomes & oenophiles.
Like a complex wine, the finest experiential travel experiences are evolving and maturing.
High-end resorts are all refining their guests experiences. It’s a challenging part of modern hospitality. A beautiful room, and nice restaurant isn’t enough these days. Travellers seek authenticity, originality, and qualityin each experience. All elements of a luxurious and refined resort must work together harmoniously so each moment is enriching – and during my stay it was clear that the team at Abadía Retuerta understood this.
The resort has developed diverse experiences for guests including gastronomy, wellness and nature:
Michelin star Dining
The Refectorio is the stunning dining room of the abbey; with a 17th century frieze depicting the Last Supper on one of the walls. This space is now a modern-day temple to fine dining by Executive Chef Marc Segarra Sauné, who has achieved a Michelin star (and maintained it for 4 years).
Local seasonal food is celebrated – a menu that promises a wonderful gastronomic experience. From the moment we perused the hand-crafted menu (the paper was made with poppy seeds) and the first exquisite pre-starter (the wafers of flowers with olive oil were extraordinary) arrived, we knew that this was to be a special evening!
Dishes are innovative but not overly complicated – a real pleasure. Asparagus is a local delicacy and here the starter of frozen white asparagus with croutons, coffee butter and wild mushrooms from the pine forests was sensational. The dishes of crayfish; seabream; Angus rib and more were all perfectly paired with wines from the remarkable Abadía Retuerta cellar.
Service is equally well-balanced. The team are elegant in their designer suits yet convey a natural warmth and relaxed style, which really makes for a very enjoyable meal.
Contemporary Bistro Dining
The Vinoteca is a relaxed, yet elegant restaurant above the wine cellar. The design is a clever mix of contemporary details like the wall of wine bottles, together classic wooden furniture and Persian rugs on the floor.
I really liked the Spanish menu of local and regional recipes, tapas and small plates – simply dishes but beautifully presented. There were international influences too, like the tasty prawn crudités which was more like Korean Kimchi. The seabass ceviche was superb.
The quality is understandable, since each dish is coming from the same Michelin star kitchen as the a la carte menu offered in the Refectorio.
Wine is of course an element found throughout one’s stay at LeDomaine. The abbey’s crypt makes for an evocative venue for wine tasting, now a beautiful cellar where one can enjoy pre-dinner aperitifs.
Each epicurean guest experience underlines an ineluctable connection between the locality and its wine & food – an attachment to the land, and the community that makes for a rewarding stay. A great example of this was our lunch in a nearby hamlet.
‘Cordero lechal’ is a local delicacy. Its milk-fed lamb which is cooked on vine wood skewers (taken from the estate – called ‘sarmiento’) and prepared on a wood-burning grill. It’s a local dish that’s not to be missed.
For lunch concierge arranged for us to enjoy this local fare. An air-conditioned Mercedes whisked us thorough the country lanes to the ‘Tres Olmos (The Three Elms) bar restaurant. It was a simple yet delicious lunch, and with more local asparagus!
4×4 Vineyard Tours
We spent one morning with a private guide from the winery who through sharing information, stories and anecdotes brought to life the work of the bodega. In the Land Rover we explored a little of the 1,730-acre Abadía Retuerta estate, in the heart of Spain’s Duero wine region.
We drove through some of the 54 distinct terroirs. Tempranillo grapes account for 70% of production, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%, Syrah 10%, and the remaining 10% divided between Merlot and Petit Verdot, producing approximately 700,000 bottles are produced annually.
The tour of the vineyards ended with an ‘Aperitivo Campero’ (countryside aperitif) enjoyed in the shade of an ancient oak.
Then it’s onto the winery for a cellar tour; and of course, wine tastings of the luscious Abadía Retuerta award-winning wines.
Cycling & horse-riding
Great food, fine wine and being pampered in the spa seems just perfect for me. Yet if you are looking to get active then there are plenty of possibilities from horse riding, hiking, biking as well as more adventurous activities.
Towards the end of the day it was a treat to head out on the bikes to enjoy the nature and vineyards, working up an appetite for dinner.
Santuario Wellness & Spa
A recent addition to Abadía Retuerta is the Santuario spa. It’s such a great space – ingeniously created underground so as not to change the original architecture of the protected abbey. Yet the treatment rooms overlook internal courtyards with tranquillity pools, so the rooms are filled with natural light. There’s a pool and thermal circuit too.
Yet what’s really different is the ‘fusion wine’ oenotherapy spa concept. After I had a blind tasting of the estate’s wines, a ‘Spa Sommelier’ recommended an appropriate treatment for the me. An original idea to incorporate Abadia Retuerta’s wine into the spa treatments – and the massage was superb.
The 12th-century Abbey of Santa María de Retuerta naturally lends itself to creating a peaceful environment. Architect Marco Sera who handled the restoration and conversion has most certainly incorporated 21st century design – but in a subtle way. For example, the striking new wooden staircase that links the floors of the original abbey is both modern yet charmingly simple too. The glass corridor that links the abbey to the newly converted stable block and spa is an example of design that doesn’t dominate. Instead, it feels almost invisible, and allows guests to enjoy the gardens and the view of the bell tower.
The property’s aesthetic has a compelling simplicity, sympathetic to the historic monastery – yet warm with natural materials like wood, golden sandstone and luxurious fabrics.
Each space, old and new is punctuated with art – over 170 pieces from frescos, religious sculptures, 17th century tapestries, and paintings by old masters such as Canaletto. In the guest rooms are Joan Miró I Ferrà lithographs.
The guest rooms reflect this simplicity and tranquil ambience with an uncluttered aesthetic – muted natural colours, wooden furniture and floors, simply, luxe white linens and a touch of sensory luxury with the velvet sofa. It might have been nice to have just a pop of colour to lift the palette of neutral tones. But the result is most definitely calming. The look is understated yet of superb quality, from the comfort of the bed to the design of the lighting – and expect all the usual 5-star amenities.
I enjoyed the space – didn’t even want to leave for breakfast! Room service was great.
Our room was one of the 8 recently added to the property, within the converted stable block. Ground floor rooms have small terraces.
The rest of the rooms are in the original abbey building.
I particularly like it when a property uses local products as part of the welcome amenity. Of course, here at Abadía Retuerta one can expect a bottle of fine wine from the estate; but there was also some tasty local cheese and handmade crackers as the perfect accompaniment.
We were taken to our room by one of the hotel’s butlers – trained by the British Guild of Butlers. We were even offered a pre-programmed mobile phone so wherever we were on the estate we could speed dial the butlers!
Bath with a view
Such a joy to throw open the windows and enjoy this view from our bathroom!
The space was particularly thoughtfully designed and prepared. Double shower, separate W.C; fab amenities by Anne Semonin; and all the little details that make a bathroom top notch, like a beautiful selection of cotton towels, and even incense.
Abadía Retuerta is easier to reach than you might think. If you’re flying into Madrid or arriving on Spain’s AVE high-speed rail service, then LeDomaine will gladly arrange a transfer to the property. Once on the estate guests have access to a complimentary Mini Cabriolet which is great fun for taking for a spin through the countryside or into the nearby city of Valladolid.
From the moment we arrived and enjoyed a refreshing welcome artisan drink to the time of our departure when our cases were loaded in the car and we were offered water for the journey, we felt embraced by the resort!
Address: Sardón de Duero, Valladolid, Spain
Tel:+34 983 680 368