Summary: Over the years, many articles have been written about us. Here you will find some of the more recent ones:
From The Gibraltar Magazine, September 2007, Author : Dave Wood. (Co-author of “In Search of Andalucia”)
Molino del Santo may be counted amongGibraltar’s best-kept secrets. An odd thing to say, perhaps, about a hotel high in the Andalucian mountains close to the village of Benaojan (ten minutes from Ronda), but since it first opened its doors to the public twenty years ago, it has become an undoubted magnet for Gibraltarians seeking an idyllic chill-out weekend (or longer), or just a perfect day out topped off with a superb lunch. But few visitors know the fascinating story of how a decaying old mill became one of the finest hotels in the hills.
It was built to process olive oil and flour, and its name is generally and understandably translated as “Mill of the Saint”, but this is misleading. There is no religious connotation. Santo just happened to be the name of the mill’s first owner, whose saintliness or otherwise is not a matter of record. Molino del Santo actually means no more than “Santo’s Mill”. Santo came, milled, and went on his way leaving little but his name to mark his passing, and by the 1940s the mill had outlived its purpose. Abandoned, it crumbled in silent neglect for at least two decades until, in 1970, it attracted the attention of Fred Felty, an exiled Texan lawyer working at the Rota American naval base. He bought it and made it his weekend home.
The eccentric Texan lived intermittently in his isolated mill until 1986, gradually filling it with all manner of, well, junk, that he picked up here and there for nothing and carried to the mill each weekend. In December of that year, feeling the weight of the years in his bones, he decided to sell up and spend whatever time remained to him in the land of his birth. He found some unlikely buyers: four English schoolteachers from Southampton who had decided that to continue teaching would ultimately lead at least one of them to murder or the madhouse, and that the only answer was to get out into the world and do something different with their lives. Two of them had recently spent a holiday in Greece and, attracted by its unspoilt beauty, suggested that the quartet pool resources and move there to open a small hotel. It was an attractive idea, but there was a problem. At that time foreigners could not operate businesses in Greece without a Greek partner. The only Greek that any of them knew was Prince Philip, and despite one of the four having achieved the Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award in 1974, it seemed unlikely that he would be interested. Greece was out.
But the idea had taken root and would not wither. One of the four, Pauline Elkin, had a degree in Spanish, Spain was about to join the European Union (still known then as the EEC), and an old Texan was pining for home. Destiny was calling.
When they bought the mill, its 80-year old owner took away two suitcases, and left behind fifteen years worth of accumulated bric-a-brac. It is an interesting literary concept: tell a man’s life by the rubbish he leaves behind him. But the new owners were there to run a hotel, not to write biographies. They worked ceaselessly through the winter to clean and refurbish the place, and to their immense credit they were able to open their doors for business in May 1987.
It was not easy. Dreams quickly gave way to the twin realities of lumbering Spanish bureaucracy and hard, relentless work. Molino del Santo was, at that time, virtually the only rural hotel in existence, and though it had only seven rooms, they were difficult and expensive to fill. By 1989, two of the original four had given up and gone home to England, leaving Pauline Elkin and partner, Andy Chapell, to forge on alone. During that year, three new rooms were added. A further two followed in 1992, and with a little EEC support a major expansion was undertaken in 1995. Pauline and Andy’s faith was finally paying off. Molino del Santo’s reputation as somewhere very special began to grow. The problem now was not filling the rooms they had, but providing more for those clamouring to get in. Even the expansion of 1995 had not been enough. Another two rooms were built in 1997, and three more in 2000. In 1997, too, a new swimming pool replaced the old. Pauline, especially, hated to see the old one go, but it was a sign of the times. The hotel was now a huge attraction for discerning visitors from Britain and elsewhere to whom Spain meant more than neon nightclubs, bars beaming down British football matches by satellite, and crowded beaches.
Not the least of its attractions was and remains its widely admired cuisine. The food is produced locally and the excellent kitchen staff is recruited from the village. Many people drive up regularly from Gibraltar and the coast merely for the pleasure of taking lunch under the willows by the stream.
Molino del Santo has changed considerably since the departure of Two-Case Tex. Its original seven rooms have grown to seventeen, a full size restaurant has been added, and its once tiny swimming pool, fed by the mountain stream, has doubled in size. In the early days, the pool was invigoratingly cold, even in the heat of summer. That ended when an American visitor – it had to be an American – complained, and solar panels were installed to remove the chill.
Yet all this has been done so discreetly that first time visitors would be hard pressed to decide which were the original rooms, and which the additions. During the building of the restaurant, part of the mill’s original foundations were uncovered, and left in situ. Inside the main building, the grinding wheel can still be seen. There are no TVs or radios in the rooms to shatter the idyllic peace (a point on which Andy and Pauline remain adamant), and at night the loudest sound to be heard under the crystal clear starlight is the timeless whisper of the mill stream.
But what really makes Molino del Santo a model for others is the way that Andy and Pauline have integrated so fully into the local community and economy. Their hotel could easily have become an island of outsiders – a tourist ghetto in, but not of the mountains. Instead both it and they have become as integral a part of Benaoján as the chorizo for which the village and its environs are famous. It is an example that others would do well to follow.
Behind the hotel, a track, until recently worn into the hillside only by the trudging of countless feet, but now concreted, leads upwards to Benaojan. The mountains beckon, where anyone so inclined may walk for hours in silent, but visually stunningly solitude.
There is a great deal of development going on around Molino del Santo these days, and much of it can be credited to the success of the mill over the past two decades. But somehow, through all of the changes, Andy and Pauline have stayed true to their original vision. Little wonder that those who find their way to its door, by accident or, more frequently by recommendation, tend to go back again. And again.
Molino del Santo can be contacted by telephone on 952 16 71 51, by fax on 952 16 73 27, or by email at email@example.com