Transcending the Ordinary

In the rolling hills north of Madrid, Peter and I found heaven, a destination so splendid, an experience so sublime, it almost defies description. Our four-day stay last May at Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine was absolute perfection from beginning to end. It was the epitome of all the traveling we’ve ever done. I doubt we’ll ever find a place to match it.

Historic ambiance? You can’t do much better than a 12th-century monastery that’s been painstakingly restored and is now a five-star luxury hotel. Stunning landscape? Picture rows of grapevines, a twisting river, and tall graceful pine trees. The superlatives continue: award-winning wines, Michelin-starred restaurant, elegant spa, charming staff, spirited horseback riding, authentic cooking classes, adventurous trails, and heavenly local cuisine—think milk-fed lamb and The. Best. Asparagus. Ever.

When Peter and I turned our rental car into the driveway toward the monumental abbey, we knew LeDomaine would be an exceptional discovery. It was so much more. Embedded in the ancient stone building is a sense of deep spirituality, abiding devotion, and commitment to perfection that stems from its earlier iteration as a place where monks lived and prayed. At LeDomaine you can still feel that calm sense of purpose along with an almost magical sense of serenity. It’s like you enter a different world.

During our stay we would become enamored of this idyllic place, where fairy tales come true. Even today, I can still smell the pine trees, hear the joyful birdsong, taste the full-bodied wines, and recall the sense of awe and wonder that I never expected to find.

LeDomaine—the place and the people—will always be in our hearts.

INSPIRING SPA
I had a job to do at LeDomaine. I was invited to write about their new spa, the first ever to offer a wine-inspired spa sommelier experience. Any sentence that includes the words wine and spa gets my attention, so I was thrilled to receive this assignment from SpaFinder.

Santuario Spa and Wellness Center opened last year to rave reviews—no wonder. The decor mirrors the architecture of the abbey—solid stone walls and minimalist decor—yet the 10,000-square foot spa maintains a warm, welcoming vibe. After being greeted by the smiling staff, Peter and I changed into our fluffy robes and joined Sonal Uberoi, spa sommelier, to experience La Sélection du Sommelier, the much-anticipated massage-wine experience.

“Would you like a taste of wine?” asked Sonal as she poured a splash of LeDomaine White, a refreshing blend of mostly Sauvignon Blanc with citrus and oak notes. Selección Especial, an award-winning blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah was next. Then we sampled Pago Valdebellón, a deep-red Cab created from grapes grown near a pine forest.

I liked them all, but choosing a favorite is the whole point since each wine is paired with a customized oil blend applied during the massage. I finally chose Selección Especial and loved the corresponding cedar oil blend, known for its grounding, anti-stress benefits. Peter selected LeDomaine White, and his oil blend—featuring Yuzu, an exotic fruit from Tibet—promises balance and well being.

Sonal, who spearheaded the spa project and designed the spa sommelier experience, explained that each massage is personalized to match the chosen oil and the wellness needs of the client. “We combine techniques from all over the world to make these massages unique, different, and effective,” she said. The treatments also include special touches—like Tibetan singing bowls and chakra healing crystals. After my massage ended, I felt grounded and completely stress-free.

And that was only the beginning. Throughout my stay I was spoiled by multiple spa treatments: the Advanced Age-Defying Facial, Cryo Jetlag Reviver, Life Infusion Ritual, Anti-Fatigue Back Remedy, and Le Grand Cru, a 120-minute “ultimate oenotherapy experience” which began with a foot ritual, then a revitalizing exfoliation and wrap, and finally a heavenly massage. In fact, each of the treatments was heavenly, inspired no doubt by the spiritual surroundings. I felt like I was reborn.

SWISS PERFECTION
The managing director, Andres Araya, gave Peter and me a tour of the property one morning. It turns out LeDomaine is owned by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, which explains why everything runs as smoothly as a Swiss watch.

The restoration took eight years, Andres told us. The monastery was in “deplorable condition” and required extensive architectural work. No expense was spared, and today LeDomaine is a showcase of luxury—priceless artwork, Italian wood floors, Persian carpets, unique pieces by Japanese furniture maker Nakashima—every aspect of the décor, balanced and discreet, not showy or pretentious. The architects ensured that the building’s integrity remained intact, and its spaces reflect the soaring ceilings and gracious interiors you would expect in such an historic icon. LeDomaine is all about “understated elegance,” Andres explained, noting that the property was named Spain’s #1 hotel this year.

He took us behind the scenes to show us the spa’s state-of-the-art water filtration system, which produces the “best quality water in the world,” he said with pride. To demonstrate, he drank a cup of water from the swimming pool, turned to me, and said, smiling, “It’s like bathing in Evian bottled water.” 

Back in the monastery Andres showed us meeting facilities, including a simple chapel space where weddings are held. I can’t imagine a lovelier place to be married. Downstairs in the wine cellar, surrounded by a thousand or more bottles of Abadia Retuerta vintages, a romantic dinner for two can be arranged.

LeDomaine has 30 rooms and 100 employees—that’s a 1-3 ratio. It explains why a staff member would appear like magic whenever Peter and I strolled around the property. Guests also receive a mobile phone to call for butler service, an amenity included with every room. You can ask to have a fragrant bath drawn or perhaps a helicopter tour of the estate. It’s all part of LeDomaine’s impeccable service.

Peter and I stayed in a spacious suite overlooking the vineyards. Every morning we would admire the views as we drank coffee, pretending to be lord and lady of our own castle. Our suite was over the top: marble bathrooms (yes, there were two), handcrafted furniture, authentic Old-World art pieces—and every evening when we retired to our suite, a bottle of beautiful Abadia Retuerta wine was waiting for us.

BEAUTIFUL WINES
Let’s talk about the wine. When a Dutch friend of ours who lives in Barcelona heard we would visit this wine estate, he told us the Selección Especial was one of his favorite wines. It soon became one of ours. One afternoon we took a winery tour with Nacho, a biologist who works with the winemakers to help create the award-winning wines. Their white blend has been ranked #1 in Spain, Nacho said.

The estate doesn’t use fertilizers or pesticides, he continued, opting to control weeds and pests with eco-friendly solutions. Throughout the 54 plots of grapes, state-of-the-art climate stations are strategically placed to detect even the slightest temperature change in the air and soil. These vines are cared for like crown jewels! The winery also uses a unique gravity system to press the grapes and move the wine. Standing on the edge of one of the plots, Nacho said, “I think we will have really good grapes this year.” I could see the excitement in his eyes.

Then he showed us the tanks and barrels, where the wine ferments and ages. Next we enjoyed a tasting. Besides my favorite—the Selección Especial, I was also becoming quite fond of the estate’s Pago Negralada made with 100 percent tempranillo grown near a stand of black pines. Nacho described it as “bright, high in tannins, but beautiful berry flavors.” We swirled and sipped and chatted, enjoying the moment and these sublime wines.

That evening more wine was in store during an elegant tasting dinner at LeDomaine’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Refectorio. Chef Marc Segarra, who’s known for his creative contemporary cuisine, prepared gorgeous small plates, each a feast for the senses. Our courses were paired with Abadia Retuerta’s winemaker vintages—exclusive small-batch wines that harmonized perfectly. Refreshing appetizers included a chicken-skin cracker with potato purée and a Belgian endive leaf with pumpkin seed purée.

Among the parade of outstanding dishes, my favorites included thin slices of house-made foie gras with pickled radish; lamb sweetbreads with black truffle; and cod cheek with Iberico-inspired sauce. A cheese course—featuring Spanish cheeses, of course—was next, followed by sinfully good desserts: a tiny sandwich made with apple ice cream, thin sheets of honey, and pine nuts; and an amazing chocolate confection with raisins, cream, and chicory.

Splendid service and the careful timing of the courses ensured nothing was rushed, leaving Peter and me ample time to relish the food, the wine, and the setting. Refectorio is a beautiful restaurant with soaring ceilings, arched windows, and a huge 17th-century fresco of the Last Supper at one end. Talk about atmosphere. Every morning Peter and I also enjoyed delicious breakfasts in this beautiful space as romantic Spanish guitar music played in the background. A sense of history imbues every meal in Refectorio because in fact the monks themselves used to dine in this same lofty space.

Another venue for dining at LeDomaine is Vinoteca, open for lunch and dinner. Peter and I quickly discovered favorites during our stay, including a tuna belly salad with sweet cherry tomatoes, baby romaine lettuce, and a bright dressing. Spain has amazing tuna fish! Our visit coincided with asparagus season, and Peter and I couldn’t get enough. The thick white asparagus grows in the nearby town of Tudela and has been declared the best in the world by Ferrán Adriá, Spain’s legendary chef, and we could see why. Rich, flavorful, decadent, earthy, and slightly sweet, it was served with a mimosa sauce (mayo and grated egg), but was also perfect with a touch of olive oil and lemon.       LeDomaine arranged for us to enjoy two off-site meals featuring local specialties. The first was dinner at a Castilian restaurant called El Figón de Recoletos in Valladolid. We arrived hungry and wet after a rainy tour of the city with Mara, a local resident, who told us all about Valladolid’s kings, bishops, cathedrals, and universities. It’s a nice-sized city of 400,000 with winding streets, plenty of shops, and a cozy main square, “the center of activity,” according to Mara.

Only 30 years old, El Figón felt like a walk back in time: beautiful carved furniture, leaded stained glass windows, and elegant linens from Barcelona. But it’s the food that entices people to El Figón, specifically the milk-fed lamb, which was succulent and tender and a real treat for a lamb-lover like me. Everything was delicious, including the appetizers, especially the savory jamón carved from the bone right in front of us. The dessert—a kind of French toast with honey and pine nuts—is also a local specialty. Our wine? Abadia Retuerta Selección Especial, of course!

One day we lunched at another local restaurant, Entre Brasas y Sarmiento, where the owner wowed us with course after course: asparagus spears wrapped in ham; roasted octopus served on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes bathed in olive oil and dusted in paprika; and the main course, a kabob of beautiful lamb chunks roasted over a fire of dried grapevines. We couldn’t resist dessert, caramelized custard, followed by a small glass of herbal liqueur—just we needed to digest our feast.

PICTURESQUE VINEYARDS
Luckily, LeDomaine offers numerous opportunities for exercising, including a state-of-the-art exercise room. You can even arrange a consultation and workout with Paco, a personal trainer. Paco also leads guided bicycle tours along a riverside trail, and Peter and I joined him one morning under gray cloudy skies. A few challenging hills got our hearts pumping, but it was mostly easy riding through lush green forests beside picturesque vineyards.

One afternoon we mounted beautiful Spanish steeds for a horseback ride along the Duero River. The energetic horses pranced and snorted, and when our guide asked if we wanted to canter, my Palomino eased into a smooth lope. I was in heaven.

As I look back on those four days last May, the incredible experience at LeDomaine feels like a fairy tale, a dream I floated through, like a cloud. The luxurious getaway lifted Peter and me out of our regular lives and, for a few incredible days, made us feel like royalty. 

Now that I think about it, we all deserve to be treated this way at some point in our lives: to become the center of the universe for a few days. I can’t imagine a finer place than a former monastery to enjoy such a heavenly experience. If you go, you’ll know. LeDomaine transcends the ordinary.

Visit www.ledomaine.es/en/ for additional information. You can buy Abadia Retuerta wines at www.wine.com.

For more of Peggy’s travel adventures, visit www.tidewaterwomen.com/travel

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Peggy Sijswerda

Tidewater Women Magazine, Editor & Co-Publisher.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com
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