It was the kind of morning you wanted to paint. The endless blue sky poured through the window, framed by a blushing oak tree and lit by the pale winter sun. Below, a few white-gloved figures pottered on the golf course, which ambled to the ghostly sea.
And because this story begins in Anantara Villa Padierna Palace, there was even a paint palette on the table stacked with colours to match the landscape. Except these weren’t paints. They were tiny macarons, finessed by the hotel’s in-house pastry whizz as part of its new Picasso experience.
Lording it over Costa del Sol, about 10 minutes from Marbella, Anantara Palace is mostly known for being one of the world’s leading golf hotels (and for having a particularly lovely spa). Even in late November, it’s full of golfers who – when they’re not on one of the three 18-hole courses – can be found lounging on the sun-kissed terrace with a glass of wine and some croquetas.
However, it also has an artistic side. Its owner, who built the villa as a gift for his wife 20 years ago, has filled its chiselled halls with paintings, statues, and sculptures from his personal collection. So, it’s fitting that, to mark 50 years since Picasso’s death, the hotel is hosting a new package that celebrates the life and influence of one of the world’s greatest painters.
Make no mistake: this is no artist’s retreat where you sit, paintbrush in hand, and study Picasso’s works. This is an exploration of the painter’s beginnings, where you’ll retrace his steps through the cobbled streets of Málaga and get to know his culinary palette via special dining experiences.
So, it feels appropriate to begin where it all began: in the sugar-smelling streets of Málaga, where Pablo Picasso was born in 1881. The hotel has arranged for us to be whizzed the 30-or-so minutes along the coast to Málaga town, where we’re met by Maria, a blonde-haired Picasso expert who is going to walk us through some of the artist’s and the city’s most significant sites – starting with Museo Picasso Málaga, which Maria tells us is one of the world’s most important Picasso museums.
‘Picasso is not art for your eyes,’ says Maria, pointing to Jacqueline Seated (1954), an image of a woman sitting on a beach that’s all triangles and bright stripes. ‘You must look for ideas, not representation.’
Picasso is perhaps best known as the father of Cubism, an abstract art form that depicts its subjects from multiple perspectives simultaneously. His works are colourful and bold, managing to capture the emotions of the artist and the broader zeitgeist, all within a few geometric shapes. His departure from realistic representation was – and still is – a radical approach, challenging established artistic conventions and paving the way for subsequent avant-garde movements.
‘Picasso opened a window, and many other artists passed through,’ says Maria, before leading us through, not a window, but a seemingly secret door into the church where Picasso was baptised.
Walking around Picasso’s birthplace, you really do get an impression of just how many rulebooks he ripped up. Maria shows us his parents’ house, now a museum, which is filled with classical artworks produced by his father, also a painter, and his associates. A tour of Málaga cathedral – Venetian in style and nicknamed ‘the one-armed lady’ as its second tower was never finished – reveals more of the same academic artwork that surrounded Picasso as a child.
‘Picasso had formal art training as desired by his father,’ says Maraia, as we look at one of the paintings in the cathedral, which was painted by another of Picasso’s father’s friends and depicts the martyrdom of St Paul. ‘But he took a distance from academic art and became more abstract and removed the details.’
Another common motif in Picasso’s work is food, which is next on our agenda. Despite being a global phenomenon, Picasso ate simply throughout his life: fresh fish, lots of fruits and vegetables, a little wine, a few sweets here and there. The food that crops up in his still-life paintings is similarly simple – a few clams and a fruit bowl, or a lemon next to a jug.
Our dinner that evening – a ‘dining by design immersive Picasso experience,’ designed and hosted by Anantara Palace – is a voyage through Picasso’s Andalusia, with dishes that are both inspired by the artist’s favourite recipes and showcasing the land he is from.
It’s also an incredibly special experience. We’re whisked to the hotel’s private dining room, Salon de Venus, where a candlelit table for two has been set up next to a crackling log fire. A huge painting of Venus hangs over us and – this being Picasso-inspired – the menu is on an easel and the bread is on a painter’s palette.
It’s a cliché to say the meal was a work of art, but indulge me. We’re walked through each course by our private waiter, José, who explains the provenance of each ingredient – from the olives grown on the hotel grounds to a peachy white wine made just up the road in Cordoba. We eat clams smothered in garlicky tomato sauce, a chilled almond soup interspersed with pieces of apple, blushing hunks of tuna piled with padrón peppers, and an intensely sugary almond tart that Picasso – known for his sweet tooth – was said to favour.
Everything is simple but delicious, and I find myself wondering if, like Picasso’s artworks, that’s because all the abstractions have been removed and we are experiencing each ingredient in its truest nature… And then I realise that I’m reading way too much into it and should just focus on enjoying the experience.
Still, you’ve reached pretty lofty standings if people travel to your hometown to follow in your footsteps and eat as you ate. But that’s exactly what Picasso has achieved: he opened a window, and thanks to his enduring legacy, we’re still all following through.
The palatial stay inspired by Picasso package is available at Anantara Villa Padierna Palace and includes a two-night stay, Picasso amenities, daily breakfast, a massage and spa access for two, a Picasso dining by design experience for two, and a Picasso-themed Málaga experience for two. To find out more or book, contact our dedicated specialists at Quintessentially Travel.