A Home Hand-Made. Finca El Tossal, Bolulla
As you make you way to the Finca El Tossal along the rickety road from Bolulla, twenty minutes from the beach at Benidorm (but light years away in ambience), with your suspension jumping and jolting, you can be forgiven for thinking that this is one of life’s rocky roads that you could well do without travelling. But believe me, when you finally get there, it really is worth the journey.
The house looks as if it’s been there since Noah signed on as cabin boy on the Ark, but every stone, every beam, and every floor slab was laid by the hands of Thorsten Herrmann with the occasional help of a couple of friends for the bits that were either too big or too heavy to man-handle himself. But the ‘self-build’ went even beyond the mere structural; the window frames, doors and most of the furniture are also the product of the labour of love that Finca El Tossal clearly is for Thorsten and his wife, Sonia.
As I drop my bags and bundles of equipment, Thorsten takes pity on me and before beginning the guided tour of their home he sits me down with a beer on the shaded terrace, with its views way down to the Med. It’s the feeling you get here – there’s no need to rush; the swimming pool isn’t going anywhere, the lovely raised deck for lounging on will be there for plenty of time to come, and it’s a bit too early for a siesta on one of the splendid four-poster beds that he built by hand.
The couple’s first attempt at doing a major restoration was in Italy, but after two years of pettifogging shenanigans by the local authorities, builders and anyone interested in lifting a bundle of cash off them, they upped-sticks and made for Spain. “We knew what we wanted for the house,” says Thorsten, “but the Italians are almost impossible to work with, and we knew that it would be a fight to get even the simplest thing done. When we came here in 2000, Spain was much less regulated, which meant we could design and build the house the way we wanted it, not some bureaucrat.”
Like most people setting up a business, Thorsten and Sonia had to create an income as quickly as possible, but building a house is no small job, unless you have enough money to throw bundles of it at the project and employ builders by the gang-load – which they didn’t.
“I made a place for us to live in while the work was going on,” them being Thorsten, Sonia and their two children, Aolani and Melvin, “and then built the house that the guests stay in. When we got the main structure up we finished one bedroom completely so that we could rent it out. No-one who stayed there at the time ever realised that it was the only room in the whole building that was finished, because we made it look as if everything was done, including the first stages of the garden, and that they were just fortunate enough to be the only people staying here at the time.”
The glorious mix of sumptuous fabrics, elegantly rustic furnishings and warm decoration makes it obvious that Thorsten and Sonia have that elusive ‘taste’ that carries a well-designed home beyond the normal, to somewhere you would love to call your own – but he admits that he gets some of his inspiration from elsewhere.
“I’m not really the sort of person who can think up beautiful interior design, but I know when things go together and when they don’t, and I’m a very good copier. By that I don’t mean that I copy a room layout detail-by-detail, but if I see a piece of furniture I like, I can reproduce it in the size I need it, and make my own slight design changes as I go along.” It’s in this way that all the rooms seem to have a feeling of balance, because almost every piece has been hand-built by Thorsten to fit exactly his ideas and the dimensions for each separate space.
When I finally get to my room – more a small suite than simply a bedroom, it’s almost as if it has been especially designed for me, to suit my own taste. Moorish arches, walls ragged in rich shades of purple and yellow ochre, brass Moroccan lamps, a double bed with a bed-head made from antique barley-sugar twist pillars (and a mattress I’m tempted to drag back home!), and a high-wide-and-handsome wardrobe where my few puny clothes look lost.
Each of the rooms are different, but each are equally lovely, and the lower rooms lead directly onto the carefully trimmed lawn, where you can take your evening aperitivo in peace, with the same long, long views I had when I had my beer earlier.
The original intention was that the couple would do bed and breakfast, with perhaps a packed lunch if clients wanted to take something with them to see them through the day, but there were too many visitors who couldn’t be tempted to spend the day at the beach or in the mountains, so eventually they decided to offer a dinner menu.
“It seems silly to say we couldn’t get rid of people,” laughs Sonia, “but a lot of visitors like to spend the day lounging around the pool or stretching out in the shade of the raised sleeping platform, and we thought it was a bit unfair to force them to drive off to find somewhere for dinner. It was never intended to have a restaurant, but we now offer guests a small menu, mainly based on local foods, but with different touches.”
Unfortunately, an appointment meant that I couldn’t try the evening menu, but if the delicious breakfast (where Thorsten had set a rose, elegantly carved from cheese), is anything to judge by, it’s yet another reason why simply flopping out and indulging seems a pretty good alternative to driving the meandering mountain roads.
So the next time you’re driving along a bumpy, back-jerking old track that seems to lead to nowhere, don’t moan about it, because it might just be leading you to somewhere that extra bit special.
For further information: www.fincaeltossal.com Tel . 965 972 183, 686 584 890