There is a rare phenomenon in the golfing community known to amateurs and professionals alike as “millionaire’s golf”. It’s an occurrence during the course of a round where there’s nobody playing in front or behind you, leading to the impression that you have the place all to yourself – like you own the joint and you alone dictate who has the privilege of enjoying 18 holes on your property. For those who’ve encountered such happenstance, it’s a blissful experience that one tends to chase for the rest of their golfing life.

Standing on Finca Cortesin’s pristine driving range as the dawn breaks one fine summer’s morning, I feel this coveted sensation begin to manifest. Before me, the terrain tumbles downhill into a valley that houses the back nine of the golf course; to my right, the Alboran Sea stretches out into the distance decorated by a melange of colourful villas that sit on its shoreline; and out the corner of my eye, the grand white façade of Finca’s hacienda-style hotel stands sentry. With the dew sparkling in the glow of the low-lying sun, and only the bassy thrum of the greenskeeper’s mower and the occasional fizz of my golf ball climbing into the blue sky disrupting the quiet, I feel like a very rich man indeed.

But then again, this world-class hotel and golf course located in the gently rolling hills of Andalucia has a particular knack for treating its guests like they are the most important person in the room; for the extent of your stay at Finca Cortesin, it’s a feeling that never leaves you.

Opened to the public in March 2009, following the launch of the Cabell Robinson-designed golf course a couple of years prior, Finca Cortesin swiftly found itself in rarefied air as one of Spain’s best hotels. While the Costa del Sol is no stranger to five-star resorts, the €350m hotel development set in a picturesque 532-acre estate just a mile inland from the sea, elevates the luxury experience to ever-greater standards.

It’s reminiscent of the region’s most iconic buildings: luxury 1,000 years in the making

It begins with breakfast in the Jardin de Lutz restaurant; a wonderfully maximalist affair set out on the shady garden terrace. The menu reads like a traditional Mediterranean a la carte – Iberian ham, yoghurt, fruit salads, freshly squeezed juices, homemade still-warm pastries, local cheeses and cured meats – but there is in fact no selection to be made, everything arrives in one table-crowding stomach-bursting visit. It’s marvellous. You’ll then be asked for your selection of eggs, bacon, pancakes and whatever else you might desire from the kitchen itself, because this is a two-course affair. If ever there was a breakfast worth fasting for, it’s this one – and the team ensures that everyone leaves questioning the likelihood of making lunch.

Mercifully, the manicured grounds of the Finca Cortesin estate make for an excellent place to walk off your morning meal. English landscaper Gerald Huggan is an expert in subtropical plants and his verdant gardens bloom with a vibrant Andalusian colour palette of white, dusty pink and orange. Those looking for a little more strenuous exercise may wander to one of the three swimming pools, including a 25m indoor heated salt-water pool and a refreshingly brisk 50m Olympic pool where many guests congregate in the heat of the midday sun. There’s also the racket club for padel and tennis or the Arani Yoga and Meditation Centre. We’ll circle back to the golf course later.

Finca Cortesin features gardens designed by English landscaper Gerald Huggan
Finca Cortesin features gardens designed by English landscaper Gerald Huggan
The Spa at Finca Cortesin is a beautiful outside-inside space
Finca Cortesin features gardens and exterior spaces designed by English landscaper Gerald Huggan

Relaxation, in all of its many forms, is taken very seriously indeed at Finca Cortesin, and nowhere greater than the Thai-inspired spa. Stretching out across an impressive 2,200sq m, the space includes ten treatment rooms and one double suite, as well as thermal baths, a sauna, a Turkish bath, experience showers, and even a snow room – the latter of which needs to be seen to be believed. One minute you’re baking in the Spanish sunshine and the next you’re tucked in a frozen cave wondering why the heck you’re in your swimming trunks. Regardless, it’s a welcome shock to the system that soothes your sun-weary body. Just don’t stay too long.

The snow room isn’t the only transportive facet of Finca Cortesin. Meandering along the hallways of this carefully designed space is its own significant departure from the rabble of tourists just 20 minutes up the coast in Marbella. Centred around two airy plant-filled courtyards, the 67 exquisite suites feel like the sleeping quarters of a Moorish palace. The decorative tiles, tasteful furniture choices and beautiful ornate archways all warmly hint to Andalusia’s cultural heritage. It’s an elegant marvel more than a little reminiscent of the region’s most iconic buildings: the curves of the Alhambra palace and the beautiful landscape gardens of the Generalife, the summer palace of the Nasrid rulers; it’s luxury a thousand years in the making.

But Finca never feels like a movie set – this isn’t aesthetics at the expense of practicality – instead everything feels just-so. Some of Europe’s finest designers have laid their hands on this resort, from architects Roger Torras and Ignacio Sierra, to sisters Ana and Christina Calderón who are responsible for the understated bedrooms, and the revered interior designer Duarte Pinto Coelho who decorated the public areas with a host of personally sourced eye-catching antiques and period furniture that fill the space with history and purpose. There’s antique terracotta floors and wooden doors salvaged from ancient castles, hand-painted wall coverings and luxurious fabrics on the communal seating. Every corner is brimming with a sense of place – albeit leaving you feeling a smidge underdressed in a polo and shorts.

Finca Cortesin has graduated from hidden gem into a paragon of Spanish hospitality

My personal view is that four nights is the absolute minimum length of stay to immerse yourself in Finca Cortesin’s multifaceted brilliance: this is a place that commands you to shut off and unplug from your worldly worries and concern yourself with more trivial matters like, “What’s for dinner?” Funny you should ask.

There are three main restaurants on site, as well as a beautiful beach club a short shuttle-drive away, from which to choose from. The breakfast spot El Jardin de Lutz transforms into a pan-European fine-dining restaurant with a strong Spanish influence. Overseen by Chef Lutz Bösing, it delivers probably the most formal experience at Finca. The wine list is a particular highlight.

Elsewhere, REI offers the surprise of the trip in the form of an exceptional Japanese offering spanning nigiri sushi, tempura, and modern creations from the mind of Basque chef Luis Olarra. Finally, Don Giovanni offers a taste of Italy in a slightly more laidback setting. It’s a lively assortment of dining options that cater for pretty much any conceivable whim. There’s also more casual alternatives during the day at the clubhouse and pool bar.

The only constant is where you should finish the evening: The Blue Bar is the perfect spot for a nightcap and comes complete with live music to keep you entertained long into the warm night. It’s a classy end to proceedings.

In 15 years of operation, Finca Cortesin has graduated from not-so hidden gem into a paragon of Spanish hospitality, but its ascension to the top of Spain’s list of excellent hotels was complete when it played host to the Solheim Cup 2023, the women’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup. Finca Cortesin is no stranger to professional competition, having also hosted the Volvo Match Play in 2009, 2011, and 2012. However, this thrilling tussle between Team Europe and Team USA will no doubt have brought fresh eyes to the golfing merits of this impressive Cabell Robinson layout.

The interior design at Finca Cortesin takes inspiration from Andalusia's history
The interior design at Finca Cortesin takes inspiration from Andalusia's history

As the likes of Nelly Korda and Charley Hull found out in September 2023, Finca’s championship course offers a varied challenge as it traverses across two neighbouring valleys, up and down a changing series of elevations that test the wits of even the game’s finest competitors.

The teasing par-four 4th is an early round highlight and a window into the tactically astute game you’ll need to show to score well here. Measuring ​​280 yards and wrapping dangerously around a lake, the hole is reachable for longer hitters prepared to risk a watery grave, but the layup to the widest part of the fairway still demands a nervy approach when the pin is tucked close to the hazard.

Later on, the signature 13th lulls you into a false sense of security with an invitingly wide fairway, before asking you to execute a demanding iron shot over a smattering of old Acebuche trees (found on Finca’s logo) and an intimidating gully. It would be the most picturesque shot on the golf course were it not for the fabulously demanding 15th hole that follows soon after: the drive over a gaping ravine to the other side of the valley is the shot you’ll be locking away in your memory bank for years to come.

It would be remiss of me not to mention that in 2017 all 18 of Finca Cortesin’s green complexes were replaced with Ultra Dwarf Bermuda grass in an effort to further elevate the standard of play. Not all grass is created equal and this particular subspecies is renowned for remaining consistently fast and firm throughout the changing seasons and weather conditions. Having visited the course on a number of occasions since then, I’m confident in my view that the conditioning has only improved in the years since. On my most recent visit, the greens were as pure and slick as I had ever seen them – allowing the ball to take the devilish contours of the putting surface and ramping up the challenge even further.

As of right now, Finca Cortesin comes in at number six in Spain’s top 100 golf courses. My own personal ranking would have it closer to the top three. Maybe I’m a sucker for the view, but this pleasant trip through the Andalusian countryside is a fair and honest challenge; the kind that requires multiple visits to master.

But it’s not just the golf course where Finca is determined to keep moving forward. Its latest project is La Loma de Cortesin. For those looking for a more permanent stay at the resort, this new off-plan residential project sees the hotel’s architects Roger Torras and Ignacio Sierra create their very own Andalusian village, made up of picturesque farmhouses and stunning landscaped courtyards. Each impressive property boasts bountiful sea views, a private pool, and access to Le Loma Club – a 1,700sq m oasis that includes a spa, gym, pool and bar, as well as meeting rooms. Much like the rest of the resort, it’s a unique take on the more conventional developments in nearby Sotogrande and Marbella.

René Zimmer, managing director at Finca Cortesin Hotels & Resorts, recently revealed in an interview his dislike of the word ‘boutique’, a word many in the past (including myself) have used to describe the estate: “For me, a boutique hotel is a word that has been used too much. The same with ‘luxury.’ Everything today is luxury, and everything is boutique.” And he’s right. In a world where too regularly we commodify the luxurious experience, it’s reassuring to know there are venues like Finca Cortesin determined to redefine what it means.

From the immaculate championship golf course to the sumptuous interiors, the resort has left no stone unturned in its pursuit of excellence. On every front, it delivers definitively.

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