Wining, dining…and walking it off! Casa Carrascal, Parcent
When I knock on the door of Calle d’Alt in Parcent, on a baking August day, it opens to reveal the beaming smile of Sue Eaton, and the cool, rustically elegant interior of Casa Carrascal. Both the smile and the cool are more than welcome!
Sue shows me to my room, where the temptation is to flop onto the comfortable bed and enjoy the silence, but I bear up bravely and take a chilled glass of white wine, a superb Auro from local producer, Bodegas Parcent. (I find out later, when I talk to Sue’s husband, David, who’s in charge of the kitchens, that quite a few wines on their excellent list are from local produce, as is much of the fresh produce they use.)
I’ve been warned that August is not the time you choose to take a walking holiday in this area, and the day’s heat explains why, but David and Sue have valiantly agreed to take me on a few easy meanders in the mountains – although they can do some pretty strenuous slogs for fitter and more experienced people than me – as part of the programme they’ve put together for my week’s stay as Casa Carrascal.
Both Sue and David had been working in the upper echelons of business in the UK, but decided that the stress and lack of time together wasn’t worth their high income level. “We’ve always loved walking and had been toying with the idea of opening some sort of walking centre,” David says, “but it had to be something a bit different because there are lots of them in the area.” The family rambles took them through the small inland villages and one day they came across a beautiful house in the Jalon Valley, a twenty minute drive inland from the Costa Blanca. “We were very surprised how big some of these village houses are and became taken with the idea of opening one as part of our walking project.”
The house had been derelict for thirty years before being bought and restored by a local builder and, apart from some changes to meet regulations for a casa rural, was ready for use, but any walkers using the Casa Carrascal – or any one else, for that matter – wouldn’t be just tucking into homely, calorie-boosting grub, not if Sue had anything to do with it.
“We weren’t going for big groups who just needed feeding up. We wanted to offer a gourmet menu both for clients and those who wanted to visit the restaurant for a special evening out,” she says. The small restaurant has grown in both size and regard since Casa Carrascal opened in 2005.
The house may seem modest in size but it is grand in style, with the elegantly remodelled interior decked out with chunky rustic furnishings that perfectly complement the style of the 17th century townhouse. (When the couple had an ‘open house’ to celebrate their new venture almost all the village turned up, and it seems that at some time in its history most of the families had lived there.)
With the casa rural and restaurant keeping them very busy it would have been easy for David and Sue to abandon their walking ideas, but they didn’t, and took on two highly experienced British guides who have lived in the area for over twenty years. They also built up their programme so they can now offer a wide range of holidays that can be mixed and matched to suit each client’s specific wishes, and see this as an important part of their business strategy, supplying what the visitor wants and not trying to shoehorn anyone into what they provide.
Sue joins me on the terrace to go over the programme she and David have prepared for me. Apart from the mountains, I’ll be having a couple of trips to the coast and a day in Valencia, but, quite frankly, having seen the menu and experienced the cosy setting, I think there will be a fair amount of putting the feet up and dozing on the terrace! The serene ambience and gracious décor prompted one guest to propose to his lady a couple of weeks earlier. Thankfully she said yes.
One of the highlights of the programme is a Wine Tasting Evening, this one based on the wines of another local bodega, La Bodega del Garroferal in Murla, who’s wines are all named after musical terms, Overture, a rosado, Sonatina, white, and two reds, Minuet y Trio and Rhapsody. At other times I could have coincided with a cookery course or one of the other events they organise, but musical wine tasting hits the high note for me!
Once I know my week’s longed-for break is in good hands I finally have my stretch-out, before getting myself set up for my first meal in Carrascal’s restaurant, which has an envious reputation locally, well deserved, if the flavours live up to the wonderful descriptions I’ve read on the menu Sue left with me.
David changes his brilliantly creative menu weekly, far more often than many of the more well-known restaurants I’ve visited, and they could certainly pick up some tips from him. (I might do that cookery course one day, after all!) I’ve already decided that I’m going for the Flash Fried Chicken Livers Flambeéd in Brandy with a Peppercorn Cream, to begin, and Rondells of Monkfish Tails in a White Wine and Chive Nectar Scented with Pernod and Served with a Timbale of Wild Rice Mushroom and Onion Pilaff Sprinkled with Parmesan Cheese, for my main course – mouthful to say, and glorious mouthfuls to savour when they arrive. I’ve judiciously decided to leave choosing my desert until I see what space I have left!
The fixed-price changing menus each have fours choices of first, main and desert course, and include a half-bottle of wine per person, with a good choice of excellent wines at very reasonable price, and the must-try Dolc d’Art, the Gold Medal Winning Moscatel, also produced by Bodegas Parcent. David will happily prepare special dishes for vegetarians and anyone with special dietary requirements.
As I sit in a squashy sofa in the resident’s lounge, deeply relaxing over a post-prandial brandy, Sue tells me that I’ve picked a good time to come, because the following weekend the hotel and restaurant are being given over to the exclusive use of a family celebrating a fiftieth wedding anniversary. It’s becoming a popular way for Spanish residents to entertain family and friends for special occasions without having to put up with all the cooking and cleaning themselves, or groups who want to keep the restaurant free for their own private party. David and Sue are experts at providing a beautiful event for up to thirty people, and they will even go to the lengths of providing specially commissioned table decorations and themed music, as well as planning the menu itself.
As I ‘climb the wooden hills to Bedfordshire’, I reflect that perhaps August is too hot for walking after all, and perhaps I should up the amount of ‘feet up and doze’ element.
For further information visit www.casacarrascal.com.
Casa Carrascal is one of 80 small charming hotels in Small Hotels and Inns of Eastern Spain. Parcent form part of the excursion ‘Succulent Fruits and Prize Winning Wines’, taken from ‘Inland Trips from the Costa Blanca’.