Sumptuous holiday homes: part three - Fain Viejo

Hacienda mansion Andalucia

Fain Viejo is situated in the beautiful village of Arcos de la Frontera, in the province of Cadiz. A traditional hacienda-style property of great architectural and historic importance, whose origins date back to the Moorish occupation in the twelfth century.  

Originally the building was constructed as an Arab fortress, built to protect the surrounding Guadalete Valley. Its name derives from ‘Ain’, an ancient Arabic word, meaning ‘the Spring’, as in the source of water. Fain Viejo has experienced many changes over the centuries: over 500 years ago the old fortress was reformed as a Jesuit monastery and residence; it then became a jail during the Napoleonic invasion and finally, in the 19th century, it was taken over by the Zalba family, when it became an olive tree estate.  

In recent years, lawyer Ana Zalba, has completed a major restoration on the property, turning a historic, but rather dilapidated hacienda into the refined country house that stands today. Much of her inspiration comes from her mother, who is the owner of Asiana, an oriental antique shop in Madrid, which coexists with the restaurants Asiana and Next Door, both managed by Ana’s brother, Jaime Renedo. 

Hispano-Arabic art and architecture

Fain Viejo is a magnificent standing example of Andalucian history. The interior is furnished with antiques and fine artwork and the five acres of garden and orchard are abundant with olive, orange, lemon, fig, pomegranate and palm trees, preserving the true flavours of its Hispano-Arabic heritage. 

Legends of trees and treasure

Rustic column and bougainvilleaWhen we asked Ana Zalba to give us a brief history of Fain Viejo she started by telling us of the legends that surround the property. It’s said that over 500 years ago, when it was a religious monasterial residence, a foreign monk came to visit. Having travelled far from overseas, he arrived sick and tired and fell dead at the gates, where he was buried. In his pocket he carried the seed of the Ombú, a tree native to South America. Now the magnificent tree frames the entrance to Fain Viejo, reminding its guests of its centuries old history.

The history chronicles of Arcos de la Frontera also speak of a hidden treasure, located amongst the grounds of Fain Viejo. Golden bars are said to be buried in a secret underground room, complete with golden columns, located under the courtyard. Others believe the treasure was buried under the cross, next to the Ombú tree. The treasure has never been found. 


In what style is the property designed?
The design is of ancient Arabic architecture 

What was your philosophy in the renovation and redesign of the interior of the property?Renovation of hacienda andalucia
To maintain the original features and style, whilst adapting the accommodation to bring it up to 21st century standards. 

Were there any major challenges during the renovation?
To respect the limitations set by the government for the renovation of historic buildings.  

Were there any specific techniques or materials used for the renovation of the exterior facade?
We restored the roof with wooden beams and baked clay roof tiles.  

Who or what was your inspiration?
My family and the elegant simplicity of both my mother and grandmother. 

What’s your favourite corner of the home?
The property is full of childhood memories. There are  numerous nooks and crannies to hide away in, too many to give mention to them all. The extensive lemon patio is gorgeous during the morning hours and there is a part of the garden, perfectly shaded by orange trees, where my grandmother used to sit in the evenings. The old Ombu tree, with its cavernous hole in the trunk where I used to hide as a child and the twisted fig tree path that leads to the pool, where I used to sit reading during my teenage years. Then there is the aviary, I could go on… ! 

Fain Viejo swimming pool

Is there a strong connection between the design of the property and its natural surroundings?
Completely. The original Arab fortress protected the Guadalete valley and was therefore built in harmony with the landscape. During the last couple of centuries Fain Viejo has become one of the most important olive estates in the region. The building itself feels like it is part of the landscape.  

What was the inspiration in the design of the garden?
So much of it already existed, then little-by-little over the years, I have amplified and organised its structure. Creating new paths and caring and restoring the older species of trees and plants. I wanted to create a garden without losing its wild orchard and country influence. I filled it with birds and ponds.  

Natural garden design Cadiz province

Do you grow any special plants, vegetables or fruits?
Lemon trees, olives, oranges, figs, grenadines, walnuts, almonds, plums, bougainvillea, agapanthus,  jasmine, geranium, roses, vines and we have an orchard full of seasonal, organic vegetables.  

Tell us about the local region, what can guests expect to find in Arcos de la Frontera?
Arcos is one of the most charming white villages in Andalucia. The region offers horse riding, bodega visits, golf, beaches, artisan and craft ware; the town of Ubrique is well known for its leather factories. And of course the region is famous for its gastronomy and flamenco.  

What is the richest cultural element about the region?
Art, architecture and nature combined. 

Cookery course michelin star chef

Does Fain Viejo play host to activities aside from holiday rentals?
We always rent the whole property, never single rooms, so we tend to receive large family and friend group bookings and celebratory events, such as weddings, parties and professional functions. We also organise in-house activities, such as cooking events hosted by our Michelin-star chef, which are hugely popular.  

Can you tell us if anyone famous has stayed in Fain Viejo?
We have welcomed various politicians, film, tv and theatre stars. Fain Viejo also plays host to annual literary and theatre rendezvous. 

Fain Viejo is a traditional hacienda-style mansion, situated in Arcos de la Frontera, Cadiz. It comprises 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms and sleeps up to 21 guests.

More articles in this series:

Part One - Almiral de la Font in Sitges

Part Two - La Casa de la Princesa in Genova, Mallorca