Our Guide to Santillán

A Classic Andalucían wedding venue evolves with an elegant yoga twist




Carlo Marchini, whose father was an Italian émigré, spent the post-Franco eighties working in Madrid. A workaholic who rarely stopped, he had little time for his wife and growing family.

Then he had the car accident that would change his life forever.

Emerging from hospital after months of painful rehab he knew he wanted a different way of life – to live in peace, in nature. In 1989 he became the proud owner of a fifty-hectare parcel of uninhabited land at the top of an Andalucían valley, with sea views. The family thought he was crazy.

He had the last laugh.

The formal gardens at Santillán

A year later the first eight bedrooms were complete and the typically Andalucían, white painted, terracotta tiled, cortijo opened for business. With its courtyards, fountains and terraces, jacarandas, palms and pines, it quickly became a thriving wedding venue.

By 2002 it had grown to twenty bedrooms and in 2004, his daughter Tana told me, the hotel played host to no lesser guest than the Dalai Lama, who stayed on his way to and from the Buddhist monastery in Granada. Carlo’s second brush with death, hepatitis as a result of an infected blood transfusion, was averted when Bernie, the Swiss lama traveling with the Dalai Lama, foretold that it was not his time to die and duly brought back a woman who was prepared to donate part of her liver. Cue the first live donor transplant in Spain, and another eight years for the intrepid Señor Marchini.

Santillán entrance

In 2011 Tana moved back home to help nurse her father through cancer. When he died, she felt the same call to change her life – to make a permanent move from Madrid, to live in nature, and in peace. Inspired by Conversations with God, given to her by the Dalai Lama himself, she decided to evolve the hotel into a year round retreat for yoga, meditation and wellness.

Tana enjoying a break from the sun

When one of her friends returned from a yoga holiday raving about her teacher, one Simon Low, Tana was delighted to discover he lived on the other side of the valley. He came over, she explained what she wanted to do and a partnership was born.

The front entrance to the studio

Tana employed renowned architect Fernando Visedo Manzanares to create Simon’s vision – a world-class, supremely elegant, yoga studio.

Framed by expansive views of the valley and beyond, the Mediterranean sea, the interior space stretches to two hundred square metres – enough floor space for forty students.

Views from inside the studio & studio layout

A sprung floor, a state of the art Great Yoga Wall – 24 rope stations designed to improve alignment, shelf upon shelf of brand new blankets, bolsters, blocks and bricks, two glass singing bowls, and a dancing Tara, goddess of universal compassion, complete the picture.

Six hours of yoga a day gave us ample opportunity to enjoy the studio, the floor to ceiling views of the Mediterranean, and the swooping swallowtails dive-bombing the valley.

We began at eight am with chanting – which would often draw Tana’s rescued puppy to the door. Still fearful, thanks to an abusive previous owner, I like to think that she found peace in our repetition of the Sanskrit blessing – ‘Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu’.

Three hours of Yang style yoga, using spiralling movements designed to move blocked energy and ease troubled joints, followed the chanting, and we returned to the studio at five thirty for another three hour class – a fusion of yin and restorative yoga, involving a mountain of those blankets, bolsters and bricks.

Simon teaching

I had been worried about my ability to stay in the room that long, but Simon’s legendary powers of description kept me there. Who else would liken the desired circumference of a neck roll to an imaginary hat? We rolled a marble on a Fez, then on a Trilby, then on the rim of a cowboy hat, graduating to a sombrero for the final curtain.

Simon’s teaching has evolved over the years, and these days he wants to give us the tools to extend our practice beyond the mat. His classes are based around the power of somatic enquiry – creating harmonious threads between body, breath and mind which enhance our awareness of what it is to be ourselves – in every sense of the word.

When we needed a little extra help, the lovely Eija Tervonen, his second in command, would swoop down, as graceful as one of those swallowtails, giving each of us a mini master class in postural integrity.

Both Simon’s and Eija’s talk of the ‘medial’ and ‘distal’ body, ‘pronation’ and ‘dorsiflexion’, gave classes a distinct teacher-training flavour. In fact over a third of my fellow retreaters were teachers. Many of them kept notebooks at the top of their mats – writing down sequences and pearls of wisdom to be shared with their students back home. There was plenty to occupy us off our mats. Our first destination after morning yoga was a leisurely brunch, held in the old refectory beneath a traditional beamed roof.

Tana’s mother, Marta, heads the kitchen. She created her Andalucía meets Parma recipes to please Señor Marchini, and is lovingly evolving her traditional cooking to meet the needs of modern day yoga students – yogurt, muesli, fruit, croissants, cheese, eggs, bacon, bread and cake for brunch, white fish with clams, tomatoes with mozzarella, almond cake and cheesecake for dinner.

Post brunch we would slowly drift away to the hotel’s many secluded chill out spots. Some to the salt water pool (big enough to do proper lengths), some to the salon to lounge in an old armchair, others to chat on the terrace or to find the shade of an ancient pine, the truly blessed to a four-handed massage, the unlucky ones to the place we nicknamed ‘the office’ – the tables next to the dining room where the Wi-Fi signal was strongest.

A few headed back to their room for a siesta, or perhaps to review their notes. All twenty bedrooms are large, ensuite and furnished in the traditional Spanish style; dark walnut floors, wrought iron bedheads, traditional rugs and armchairs, and either a terrace (garden view rooms) or a balcony (sea view).

Some of the slightly more expensive sea view rooms have four poster beds, but sharing is no hardship with plenty of bedroom space and twin basins in the charming old school bathrooms. There’s also air con, a fridge and a TV – though you’d have to be fluent in Spanish to watch it.

Our afternoon off presented so many options it took two days of planning, and teaching assistant Ruby’s infamous notebook, for each of us to work out what to do.

The beach is fifteen minutes drive away, the white washed villages of Andalucía are half an hour – don’t miss Frigiliana with its fifty shades of blue, and a chocolate shop.

Sardines grilled right on the neighbouring beach, just fifteen minutes from Santillán.

There’s a golf course within a mile, and stables offering horse riding for beginners and plenty of trails for the more experienced. For a taste of modern Spanish life head down to the newly revamped Malaga, just half an hour away, where the Picasso gallery, the newly opened Pompidou, and a spot of shopping await.

It was fun going out, exploring with new friends, but I know I wasn’t the only one happy to return to the scent of jasmine, and a place that already felt like home. Gathered on the terrace for a prawn and chicken paella on our last night, a glass of wine aligned with my newly discovered gravitational plumb line, I gave thanks to Señor Marchini for this peaceful place, and found myself wondering how many more lives Santillán will change.

Do I recommend Santillán? ‘I do.’

From £875, sharing.


Teachers interested in booking Molino de Santillan for a retreat, or for teacher training should email eija@molinodesantillan.es