A kilometer above sea level, Cortijada Los Gázquez lies in a valley of almond and pine high in the mountains of Andalucia, an out-of-the-way destination for creatively minded travelers. In the heart of the Parque Natural Sierra Maria-Los Velez, this eco-chic guesthouse and 50-acre farm is situated in a place of extreme natural beauty, profound peace, and tranquility, and an awe-inspiring wilderness, in one of Spain’s most dramatic alpine deserts.
Five old farm houses, a cortijada, have been converted into a single beautiful space. On the one hand, it respects the simple vernacular architecture; on the other hand, a crisp eye for detail makes the place seem stunningly modern.
Back to the Land and More
One of Cortijada Los Gázquez’s biggest aims is to bring local people back to their communities, back to the land, and back from the cities. Without a population, mountain villages like those of Andalucia are doomed.
The nearby village – a pueblo blanco – has a population of 2,000, almost all of whom are over the age of 75. Their children left long time ago to find work in the cities. With a dwindling populace there is less money to preserve the local history and culture, such as the village’s fantastic Renaissance castle, built as an extension to the original Moorish one. Even the food culture could be lost, along with a knowledge of the land and how to farm it. By simply being here, and drawing tourists, Cortijada Los Gázquez has started to help turn the tide.
Cortijada Los Gázquez’s insistence on buying only locally produced food has already encouraged local suppliers to stock more of their own products. The property is carbon-neutral, using a combination of solar panels, wind mills, and fires to cook and create energy. Rain water is harvested from the roof, waste water is managed and used through a system of reed beds, and a gray-water recovery system is used to irrigate the dry land.
Art, Photography, Cooking
These initiatives, coupled with those of others, are part of a loose scheme that is gaining momentum to draw cultural and sustainable tourism back to the area. The derelict Franciscan monastery is being converted into a cultural center which, among other things, will house a music department from the University of Almería. On the nearby alto plano the local government is installing wind turbines. New skills are being taught, such as very good quality organic wine production.
Cortijada Los Gázquez also believes that artists and their creative practice can give voice to the multiple issues surrounding the issues of global warming and human ecology. That is why it also serves as an artist’s retreat, and Joya is a residency for artists who work in transition culture. They are invited from around the world to come here to continue their creative practice and contribute to the debate surrounding the environment. Artists have sole use of a studio and 20 hectares of land for up to two weeks. In return they have to open their studio to Cortijada Los Gázquez’s ‘creative guests’ and talk with them about the issues that concern their work and their experiences as professional artists.
In an upcoming residency, Joya: Espacio, Cortijada Los Gázquez will let its land be used to create a space for the expression of landscape and environmental art. The art in itself must be transient and environmental. The aim is for the space to become a showcase for the expression of a creative concept to the issues surrounding the environmental debate and for the artists who apply and take up a residency here.
Over the years, this studio has morphed into something much bigger, as Los Gázquez now hosts regular cooking weeks, paint safaris and photography courses.