It’s the bounteous “land of pomegranates.” Nestled amid golden beaches and the Sierra Nevadas, Andalusia spawned a kingdom known for its Moorish architecture and ceramics. There are still revered Golden Age vestiges of Sephardic culture here, and palatial, fairy tale pleasures await in Granada’s Alhambra. Shakespeare was so intrigued by the mix of distinct historical influences, amid a landscape of 9th Century fortresses and art works, he wistfully wrote “Every curious traveler keeps Granada in his heart…even without having visited.” Wanderlust has long stirred Christine Cunanan. The Tokyo-based founder/editor of Travelife Magazine, she knew all about Andalusia’s bewitching sun and charming hilltop villages. Once a traditional hacienda close to Grenada became available in 2020, she didn’t hesitate. Surrendering to her fantasies of owning a hotel, she used the Alhambra’s lavish gardens and ancient antiquities as a model, and styled a contemporary-cool, 8 guest suite enchantment.
Perched on a hilltop overlooking those Sierras, and grandly set among olive groves 35 minutes from Granada, La Esperanza Grenada is a seductive mix of Moorish influences, Spanish Mission–and Cunanan’s painstakingly efforts “to create one of the most famous destination hotels in Spain.” Attempting to reach these heights during the dark days of the Pandemic has demanded her working with talented artisans, constant worrying about future lockdowns, and a willingness to arrange memorable, off-site experiences (such as private Flamenco performances and Hamman water therapy sessions). Believing local culture “had to be honored,” even if it meant her traversing the region to find one “ancient” olive tree, she has that key intangible which propels creativity. Cunanan is a “dreamer.”
“Lockdowns, restrictions…nothing stopped this passion project once I saw this majestic estate, the flowering almond trees, the hilltop villages… I could pick almonds, smell lavender… I was convinced I could share these joys with guests.” Interrupting this paean to Andalusia’s varied charms, a troupe of flamenco musicians stroll past a tiled, star-shaped fountain in La Espernza’s central courtyard. Rehearsing for an upcoming wedding party on the 5-hectare property, they warmly greet Cunanan. Still learning Spanish, she nods to show her appreciation for their ruffled, gypsy-inspired garb. “I want everything totally authentic, a true hacienda experience,” she insists. “Those Islamic-influenced tiles (similar to the geometrically-patterned ones found in the Alhambra) were made by an artist from a family which has been making tiles for 500 years. When finishing his work, he said a prayer for La Esperanza…’One With God.’”
A meticulous reverence for detail is evident throughout the villa. To enliven an upstairs terrace, Cunanan commissioned a local artist to paint a few trompe-l’oeils. Instead of placing TVs in the suites, she’s embellished their already-expansive views by planting 200 avocado trees. Antique tables have been refurbished with precious stone inlays, and to further accent authenticity, breakfast features customary Andalusian specialties. The perfectionist, acknowledging La Esperanza is still evolving, Cunanan continues to search for local objets d’art that will complement the finca’s countryside appeal. Enjoying these jaunts to Grenada antique shops and to remote flea markets overflowing with arabesque delights, she chuckles, “I am a local legend. I am the only Asian in the Lecrin Valley.”
Striding past a a swimming pool with 180-degree views of the hillsides, she looks at the abundant rose bushes, lemon and orange trees, and exudes, “there is so much palatial exuberance here, I have so much respect for my gardeners…guests can pick lemons for their breakfast…I just love all the splashes of color.” After noting that La Esperanza boasts 45,000 square meters of gardens, she walks into the breakfast room, or the Grand Salon. This wooden-beamed, vaulted-ceiling space provides a feast of floral paintings, a Kilim rug, a 1905 Grand piano, and a resplendent table with inlaid lapis lazuli pieces. One painting, of a sultry Flamenco dancer in a 3-D enhanced, reddish-pink skirt, seemingly invites guests to sit, and to enjoy refreshments from the cozy bar.
“Designing this place was like entering a theatre, and staging a play,” says Cunanan, who was so busy in Japan preparing for the villa’s opening (this past June), she must still “test” a bed’s comfort in one of the suites. They too are inviting, offering antique rugs, chandeliered bathrooms, tiled doorways, and sweeping views of the Nevadas. Its perfection, coupled with an “infinite” jacuzzi, the availability of Spanish lessons and Flamenco instruction, has brought valuable recognition. La Esperanza was recently welcomed into the prestigious Preferred Hotels and Resorts chain. But is that honor enough for this ambitious world-beater, a woman who hopes to kindle thoughts about the Alhambra with her constellation of murals, geometrics, and opulent gardens? “I will sleep in that suite, try that bed,” Cunanan promises. “I want everyone who comes here to sleep well, to dream…to chase their dreams the way I have.”
By Edward Kiersh