An Inspector Calls: Only this time it’s Alex Polizzi, the HOTEL Inspector

Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi with Karen and Sarah outside Hotel La Casa

Hotel Inspector, Alex Polizzi, with Karen and Sarah outside Hotel La Casa in Torrox pueblo. Photo: Twofour/Channel 5

Following last night’s airing of the show as the finale of the current series, I can finally reveal a secret I’ve been bursting to tell you!   Alex Polizzi, also known as “The Hotel Inspector” came calling, east of Malaga and, as someone who knows the area well, I was offered an opportunity to work with her.

The Hotel Inspector is a UK documentary television series featuring hotelier and business-woman, Alex Polizzi, in her quest to turn flagging hotels into profitable ventures. The programme usually features some of Britain’s worst-run hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments, whose owners appear to have no idea how to run a hotel.

So why, you might ask, would the Hotel Inspector come calling in southern Spain?

The background to this particular episode evolves over several years and focuses on two British sisters who, from 2005 to 2008, transformed a dilapidated building in the charming town of Torrox in the foothills of the Sierra Almijara and Tejeda mountains, into a stylish 8-bedroomed boutique hotel.

On the face of it, whether you love mountains, beaches, the hustle and bustle of the big city or the peace and tranquility of a white-washed Andalucían town, this hotel has it all. With spectacular views of the mountains, proximity to blue-flag beaches, many interesting places to visit nearby, being only a 40 minute drive from Malaga’s vibrant city and airport and, to cap it all, the town of Torrox is officially recognised at having the best climate in Europe.

However, soon after the doors of La Casa hotel opened to guests in 2008, the global economic downturn took hold, resulting in a fall in tourism and leaving the sisters struggling financially. Despite working long hours, the situation has changed little in the intervening years, with occupancy rates still low.

The cast of characters in this particular three-act drama includes British-expat sisters, Sarah Melton and Karen Atkinson, (with a quiet, behind-the-scenes role played by Sarah’s husband, Neil); Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi; various international journalists and bloggers from such publications as Condé Nast and The Telegraph; Andalucía-based luxury travel writer, Andrew Forbes …. oh, and Yours Truly!

Alex, Sarah and travel writer Andrew Forbes on the terrace at La Casa Hotel

Alex, Sarah and travel writer Andrew Forbes on the terrace at La Casa Hotel

ACT ONE involved one of the sisters getting in touch with the show after seeing an advert in a local English language newspaper on the lookout for expat hoteliers. After being chosen to feature in the programme, the hotel was visited by Alex Polizzi together with a camera crew, to make her assessment of how to transform the hotel’s fortunes.

It soon became apparent that La Casa was not the usual type of establishment featured on The Hotel Inspector and, in this particular case, the problem appeared to be the marketing and branding of the hotel (and the local area), rather than its service and quality.

ACT TWO began towards the end of March 2015 and featured the return of Ms Polizzi and her camera crew, together with a string of travel writers, in an attempt to market the area to them.

At the same time, the hotel was being rebranded with the launch of a new website, logo and promotional literature, plus the main players were interviewed on local radio about La Casa featuring on the Hotel Inspector show.

ACT THREE saw the sisters leading the group of journalists around some of the delights of Torrox village, as well as giving a taste of what this ideal location has to offer today’s more discerning traveller.

Our tour began in the main square of the village before moving on to the local Nevaillo olive oil factory where we were given a demonstration of how the oil is produced and bottled.

Next, we were whisked back-in-time to the 17th century hamlet of El Acebuchal – known locally as The Lost Village where, after a brief look around, we headed to the local tavern where we were treated to a sumptuous tasting-menu featuring home-made bread, tropical salads, wild boar, venison and chicken. Antonio's tavern, El Acebuchal Our final stop of the day was a guided tour of the famous caves in Nerja, discovered by five boys in 1959 and which has now become one of the most visited attractions in Spain.

After a brief rest and just enough time for a shower, our evening continued back at La Casa hotel with a delicious A La Carte dinner. The menu was extensive with a choice to suit all tastes including antipasto, prawns pil-pil, pork with mushrooms, oven-baked cod and lamb shanks followed by such delights as “icky-sticky pudding” and platters of Spanish cheeses and hams.

Of course, every step of the way, we were filmed and interviewed about what we had seen and experienced. At first this proved rather daunting, but it was amazing how quickly you got used to having a fluffy sound microphone hovering over your head and/or having a camera crew nearby.

It was an absolute delight working with Alex Polizzi who is a lovely lady and comes across just as naturally as she does on TV.  She is outgoing, very friendly and willing to pose for endless photos or exchange a few words with people who recognised her from the show.

Gaudi room at Hotel La Casa

Gaudi room at Hotel La Casa

La Casa hotel features seven individually designed double/twin rooms (mine was named Gaudi, after the famous Spanish architect) and a spacious suite with a private terrace. The en-suite rooms are comfortable and spotlessly clean with A/C for cooling or warmth, whatever the season.

There is a beautiful sun terrace with amazing views of the mountains and valley, a bistro restaurant serving delicious food and, rave reviews from people who have stayed have earned this #1 rated hotel in Torrox a Travellers’ Award on TripAdvisor for the past four years.

Early morning view from La Casa

Early morning view of the mountains from La Casa’s terrace

From 5th June, the hotel’s restaurant (also used by many people not staying as guests) will be moving to a new venue in the main square of Torrox, so if you are in the village, I’d certainly recommend a visit.

Karen and Sarah are attentive hosts, and whilst I arrived as a guest we parted as friends – testimony of which is obvious by the many people who return to stay at La Casa hotel, year after year.

I’d like to take this opportunity to wish Karen, Sarah and Neil all the best with Hotel La Casa and their new venture – the restaurant which will open shortly in Torrox village.

La Casa hotel is situated at Calle Baja, Plazuela de Barajas 3, just off the main square of Torrox village, with free parking nearby.   Telephone: (0034) 95253 5471    Website: www.hotellacasatorrox.com 

Disclaimer: Whilst I stayed at the hotel as a guest of La Casa Hotel/Twofour Productions, I was not asked to write any reviews or recommendations in return. Any views expressed here are my own, and I am happy to do so because I enjoyed my stay and would genuinely recommend a visit to the hotel or restaurant.

Come and visit La Axarquía, east of Málaga – it’s the AUTHENTIC Spain you’ve been looking for!

WARNING: Malaga’s Atarazanas market will EXPLODE your sensory perception

 Fruit and veg in Atarazanas market, Malaga

I’m a HUGE fan of food markets.  They are something I seek out, wherever I am in the world – from Barcelona’s Boqueria and Melbourne’s Queen Victoria to local street-markets in Cambodia and Thailand, I’ve visited them all.  So, a trip around Malaga’s Mercado Central de Atarazanas is always a pleasure, every time I’m in Malaga city, as well as featuring high on the list of places to take visitors to.

The Moorish arched entrance blends seamlessly with 19th century industrial design and the huge, colourful stained-glass window, to create not only a beautiful back drop but also to tell the history of the origins of this bustling market-place.


Stained glass window of Atarazanas market, Malaga

Set near the heart of the city, Atarazanas has undergone many transformations since it was originally built in the 14th century as a shipyard, when the waves of the Mediterranean Sea lapped at its entrance.  Over the years, changes have seen the building used as a convent, military arsenal, hospital and medical school before finally being demolished in 1868 and re-built using the current iron structure, as the city food market, in 1879.  Further renovation took place from 2008 to 2010, when Málaga’s Atarazanas market was once again restored to its former glory.

Wild mushrooms for sale in Atarazanas market, Malaga

You might not expect to be given a warning when you visit a city food market, but as you walk through the main entrance, which is the only remaining marble archway of what was once a seven-arched shipyard, I can guarantee your senses will explode!

Taste, sight, smell, hearing and touch – the clean interior of Mercado Central de Atarazanas has it all, from pig’s ears to pink Himalayan salt!

The market is structured into three navesfish, meat and fruit and vegetables, and with more than 250 stalls there is surely something to tickle your tastebuds.

Fresh fish for sale in Atarazanas market

As you wander around, take in the dazzling displays of freshly-caught fish with their scarlet gills and scales glistening under the spotlights.   Marvel at the kaleidoscope of colours in the artistically displayed fresh fruit and vegetables that smell like they’ve been picked only that morning.  And savour the counters of aromatic cheeses, spices, bread, olives, dried fruits, nuts, sausages and hams, where the stall-holders are usually happy to let you taste before you buy.

Fresh seafood for sale in Atarazanas market

A cacophony of sound fills the market, as the competing stall-holders call out to prospective customers and in turn are interrogated by discerning shoppers, eager to discover where the produce is from and how it should be prepared.

I love to watch the locals, who are not only trying to buy the freshest seasonal produce but also socializing with their neighbours as they block the aisles with their roller-trollies, discussing the latest gossip.

Shopping is a much more personal experience in Atarazanas market and, with so many stalls to choose from, cheaper than most supermarkets, too.

Tapas of skewered tuna and prawns

If you have time and are ready for some lunch after feasting your senses on all the wonderful produce, then make your way to one of the tapas bars at either end of the market, El Yerno or Cafe-Bar Atarazanas – they are both equally good.  Stand near to the bar and you will soon be noticed by one of the staff who will make a space for you.  It’s standing room only and always crowded, but well worth it to taste the freshly-cooked, mouth-watering pinchos de gambas, atun o cerdo (skewered prawns, tuna or seasoned pork), boquerones al limón (deep-fried whitebait with lemon) or frito de verduras (tempura-battered vegetables), which you can wash down with a caña (small beer) or vino tinto (red wine).

Tapas of freshly cooked mushrooms

Whether you are a foodie visiting Málaga or a local living nearby,  you won’t want to miss a visit to this authentic food market.

Where is YOUR favourite food market?

 

Mercado Central de Atarazanas
Calle Atarazanas 10
Malaga

Open: Monday to Saturday, 8am – 2pm.

 

 

Summer Sunshine Salad

Sunshine salad

It’s that time of year when it’s often too hot to eat anything heavy, so this lovely salad not only looks good, but is quick to prepare and really tasty, too.

SUMMER SUNSHINE SALAD

As with most of my recipes,  feel free to use more of the ingredients that you like, and substitute the ones you don’t.

Put three eggs in their shells into a pan of water and bring to the boil.  Allow the eggs to boil for 5-6 minutes, then plunge the boiled eggs into cold water.  Once they are completely cool, remove them from their shells and cut into quarters.

Whilst the eggs are boiling, chop some carrot, red pepper, green pepper and red onion into small pieces.  Place all the ingredients into a dish and add salt and pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and lemon juice, to your taste.  Mix together.

I also added some freshly chopped coriander or cilantro (though you could just as easily use flat-leaf parsley if you prefer), a small jar of ready-prepared red kidney beans and a tin of  tuna.

All I had to do then was arrange my boiled eggs in a circle to complete my Summer Sunshine Salad.  :)

Serve with crusty bread and a glass of chilled, white wine.

What could be nicer on a hot summer’s day?

 

 

Salmon fillet with a zingy coconut and coriander crust and leeky mash

 

 

Salmon with a zingy coconut and coriander crust

Now that summer’s here, I’m always looking for fresh and inventive ways to tickle the old taste buds.  So, I came up with a delicious twist on a seasoned favourite.

I’ve noticed recently that in the cool-display near to the fresh fish counter at Spanish supermarket, Mercadona,  they now have what they call “Plancha de Salmon, sin espinas”  – larger pieces of salmon fillet (without bones), usually weighing around one kilo.  At €12.50 per kilo, it’s not only a saving of a few euros over the smaller pieces, but no fish bones to contend with either.  Result!

Salmon without bones, for sale in Mercadona

I cut the salmon into portions, sprinkled some lemon juice over them, and put them onto a plate in the microwave on a low setting for a few minutes, until they were well on the way to being ready.

In the meantime, after peeling some potatoes to make the mash, I put them on to boil and, in a separate pan, gently fried some leeks in butter – until they had just softened.

Home-grown red chilli peppers

For the zingy topping, I didn’t want to use breadcrumbs so I mixed together some grated coconut (coco rallado), finely chopped one of these lovely little chilli peppers I grew in the garden last summer (which has been in the freezer ever since), half a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard, a dessertspoon of mayonnaise, freshly-chopped coriander (cilantro) straight from the herb garden, a twist of black pepper and enough milk to ease the mixture so it was spreadable.

All I had to do then was carefully transfer the salmon fillets onto a baking tray, spread the zingy topping mixture over the salmon and pop them under a medium grill.

Adding the leeks to the mashed potato

Whilst keeping an eye on the salmon, I mashed the potatoes and added a little milk and butter then gently stirred in the softened leeks.

After three or four minutes, the crust on the salmon was just starting to brown nicely, so it was time to serve the leeky mash into bowls and drape the salmon artistically on top! 

Salmon fillet with a zingy coconut and coriander crust

This crust topping will work equally well on any white fish or chicken.

Why not give it a try? Let me know how you get on, won’t you?