Turtle Bunbury

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Cider with Rosie - A Villa in Sotogrande, Spain

Photographs by James Fennell.

The 4000-acre upmarket golfing resort of Sotogrande lies midway between Gibraltar and Marbella on the south coast of Spain. Since its establishment by American millionaire Colonel Joe McMicking forty years ago, Sotogrande has evolved into arguably the most desirable estate on the Iberian Peninsula. Sailors know it for its magnificent marina, the first port of call for ships entering the Mediterranean. The polo-playing community have been galloping across the grounds of the Santa Maria Polo Club since 1965. Golfers have likewise been trading secrets and handicaps since the establishment of "Old Sotogrande" Golf Course in 1964; there are now five golf courses on the estate including the world renowned Valderrama, host to the 2003 Volvo Masters.

One of the early visitors to Sotogrande was Rosanna Bulmer of the famous Herefordshire cider house. Her parents, friends of McMicking, built a house here in 1968 when the infant resort was still a landscape primarily given to empty roads, gnarled cork trees and mountain sheep. Twelve years later, Rosanna and her husband David purchased two plots of land adjacent to "Old Sotogrande" from the wealthy Zobel family. Working with legendary Seville architectural duo Jaime Parlade and Eduardo Dorissa, she soon got to work on designing a new house where she and her small family could kick-back in the sun.

The result was a spectacular success, making for one of the most stunning villas in Sotogrande. The essential beauty of the Bulmer's villa lies in its respect for nature; the shifting winds, the blue sea, the sacrosanct cork trees. When the Bulmers are in residence, the whole house seems to open up. Wooden walls vanish, shuttered windows evaporate and the leafy green garden erupts in frothy celebration. The villa becomes an extension of the garden, an open-air pavilion with thick-carpeted staircases, terracotta tiled corridors, creamy white drapes, antique furniture, enormous white-walled rooms and state-of-the art kitchen equipment.

The interior is flavoured with careful and imaginative regard to the villa's coastal setting. An Indonesian influence succeeds in creating a sub-tropical ambience - cane sofas, bamboo chairs, batik prints, Java mats, even the picture frames are made of rattan. These simple, natural materials are offset by white walls, cream cotton drapes and, unusually, white rejas at the windows. The colour accents from the accessories are almost entirely composed of shades of blue, perhaps the most ideal colour for a holiday home by the sea. Cushions - giant, appliquéd, square and buxom - invite repose. China, tiles, throws, tapestries, wooden ducks, painted wall panels and water-filled pots add to the marine ambience. And then there are the seashells that appear silent and remarkably unobtrusive at every turn - as wall lamps and sculptures, on fireguards and dining tables, as motifs on bathtubs, coffee mugs and cushion covers.

Perhaps the most important thing Rosanna learnt from her childhood visits to Sotogrande was a respect for the Andaluz wind. "It's very important to understand la vente; if you're not careful you can be buffeted from two prevailing sides. Instead of looking at it as a hindrance, we sought to control the wind, to tame it so we would always have shelter". As such, there are numerous alternatives for eating and sitting; summer living rooms and open terraces shaded by pergolas of vine, begonia and wisteria. The wind also enables the family to stay cool in the summer without air-conditioning.

The piece de resistance of the Bulmer's villa may well be the magnificent bale patok, overlooking the swimming pool, separated from the main house by a croquet lawn. Purpose-built in Indonesia and shipped in pieces to Gibraltar, this open-air teakwood folly provides the ideal breezy shelter for those seeking to recline by the jacaranda scented pool. Traditionally a bale patok roof is covered in elephant hair but, Spain not being famous for elephants, the Bulmers opted instead for Spanish brezo (or heather). This particular bale patok proved such an eye-catcher that it started a trend and similar structures have since been dispatched from Indonesia all over the world.

The Bulmer's have created a villa that stands as an excellent example of how one can merge influences from around the world without ruining the essence of a specific location. In terms of Sotogrande, the house has served as the divine inspiration for many of the latter day villas erected around the resort. For anyone seeking a quiet, top quality getaway amid the sun-drenched, coastal mayhem of Southern Spain, Sotogrande speaks volumes. And it might just be possible that the Bulmer's villa - or one of its architectural offspring - is available to rent.