La Donaira, an Eco-Luxury retreat with post-Romantic hues



The skin shudders with the first rays of sunshine. The birds, anonymous, throw their song to the wind. The texture of the natural stone is anchored, soft and fresh, by our footsteps. An eco-conscious feeling takes over us. The Eco-Luxury retreat La Donaira, near Ronda, Spain welcomes us.


Located between the provinces of Cádiz and Málaga, Finca La Donaira has set itself the goal of becoming one of the most purist sustainable luxury retreats in Europe. Conceptually, La Donaira doesn’t only work on tourism, it presents a holistic concept that combines agriculture, education, equestrianism and wellness philosophy under the same sky. There, where tourists don’t often get, an avant-garde agriculture based on permaculture is experienced. Biodynamic agriculture -taken care of in detail through an itinerant calendar that allows sheep, goats, chickens and horses to enjoy and fertilize the entire area-, dominates the wine and olive oil fields. Near the farm, the medicinal herb garden contains more than 150 different species. The desire to have a lifestyle that focuses on sustainability grows by seconds.

But what role does our visit play? That’s probably La Donaira’s real secret. The farm not only offers the passive experience of relaxation. It’s an object and subject at the same time. Relaxation is exposed to multiple stimuli. Luxury isn’t understood in a one-dimensional way. It’s contemporary luxury, the new intelligent luxury. Our understanding of the abstract industrial world is shaken by memories from our origins: the self-understanding of nature as part of our habitat. Yesterday is today. Values and relationships are forgotten as the environment and nature meet again.

"Deep down, we still feel the desire to reconnect with the nature that shaped our imagination, our language, our song and our dance, our sense of the divine"._ Janine M.Benyus

In the middle of La Donaira is the Andalusian designed country house. In it, the kitchen, the rooms and the lobby coexist in harmony. The interior conserves its original structure, with touches of sandstone and clay, merging with wood, reeds and iron. The walls are partially covered with a white structure that projects an organic personality which does not leave us impassive. The furniture is beautifully integrated into the interior design through a serene and varied look. Daylight floods every room. The lobby is the centre for all events, the melting pot for good literature, vinyl and visually flirting with the house’s garden. From it, the desire to discover biodiversity is infinite boosted.

Next to the lobby, the kitchen is the meeting place. All of the houseguests meet there for dinner. Conversation flows. The cuisine is almost exclusively vegetarian. The food is self-produced or from local farmers. The self-produced ones are the result of the natural management of pure products (honey, wine, olive oil...) that don’t require certification. The flavour is accentuated with Vin Naturel. The wines come from their own biodynamic wine culture. Great names are also served, such as Tschida Illmitz, Terroir al Límit Priorat, Bodega Maria & Sepp Muster or Söllner's Eden.

Far away from the culinary delights, higher up on the hill, the rock pool sparkles. Outdoors, it boasts its natural water. Nearby, the spa area intimidates us. It has a sauna, an indoor heated pool, a Turkish bath and a Russian sauna. As the afternoon passes, the sun breaks spectacularly against the water, stimulating our retina. The rocky mountain, in the distance, is reflected magically on the water surface. The superficial rhythm of the water, in harmony with the warm light, liberates us. Nature surrounds us. We close our eyes. Everything seems easy. This is a great moment.

"Finding enough universal elements, feeling the stimulus of the air and water, cooling off with a morning or sunset walk... getting excited by the stars at night, feeling the euphoria when finding a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring, these are some of the rewards of simple life. "_ John Burroughs

Sustainability wouldn’t be possible without a transfer of knowledge and the initiation of projects that emphasize the formation and implementation of teachings. In addition to workshops such as Soil Academy, a must for activists and interested parties, a particular project puts theory into practice. Volunteers from different countries work together towards a dream: creating an orchard based on the principles of permaculture. Thanks to several online platforms such as Wwoof, World Packers, Work Away or Help, organic agriculture fans have arrived at La Donaira to find a temporary home where they can experience their yearning for nature.

In this project’s case in particular, the objective is to live exclusively from the food that grows in the garden. Permaculture is a system of agricultural, social, political and economic principles, that bases itself on the patterns and characteristics of the natural ecosystem. It’s about respecting plants and animals in all their functions instead of treating nature as monoproductive systems. That is the action’s maxim. Basically, the idea of not invading the plants’ habitat prevails – for example, by plowing the soil – to instead respect their natural form of development.

Another new project, in this case social, is the store. Guests can enjoy all of La Donaira’s products during their stay and purchase them at the recently opened store in La Posada, down in the town of El Gastor. There we can find ponchos and wool blankets that we were able to try in our rooms. These products are made by local artisans with organic materials from the region.

"Insisting on the rights of humanity and nature to coexist in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable way"._ William McDonough

So, what is La Donaira? An ode to post-romanticism with sustainable luxury hues? For the owner, Manfred Bodner, who comes from the private sector, it’s an answer to the search for the infinite maximization of profits. Collectivity, non-conformity, knowledge transfer and a vision oriented towards future merge to create a refuge for a committed public, where efficiency is defined differently and is replaced by an ecological balance. Many of us need to reactivate or recapture this value system. Aren’t learning and discovery the true luxuries of our being?

Words & photos: Jens Wittwer
+ info: La Donaira