TOMA & COE wouldn´t exist without being able to share stories of the rich history of the destinations we visit, but last week we had the unique privilege of being able to bring some of that history back to life, when we played host to a very special family reunion here in Andalucia.
It began with a rather surprising response to an email we sent over a year ago;
“Dear TOMA & COE, Your very kind email has sparked something of a family interest and after a family meeting, we have decided to take you up on your offer; all of us, the whole tribe.”
The “whole tribe”, as it turned out, were 24 family members of Lord Faringdon III, great grandson of the first Baron Faringdon.
And their connection to Andalucia? Well, the first Baron Faringdon was otherwise known as Mr Alexander Henderson, who today lends his name to the railway line from the Port of Algeciras in Cadiz, to Bobadilla in the province of Granada.
At the end of 1800´s this Englishman was commissioned to establish a new Railway link between Algeciras and Bobadilla, uniting Gibraltar with the rest of Spain. His “Algeciras Gibraltar Railway Company”, heavily encouraged by British interest, and support from the rather then isolated town of Ronda, began the engineering work in 1887 and the maiden voyage took place on Monday 7th September 1891 to much jubilation locally and abroad.
The railway line from Algeciras to Ronda passes through some of the most beautiful natural landscapes of Andalusia. That same route remains of a historical and cultural interest today.
Ronda greeted the first train and its passengers with festivities throughout the town, they decorated their balconies, arranged concerts, lighting displays, and a civil procession. The railway brought prosperity to Ronda and many towns along the route through the Guadiaro Valley.
The railway gave officers and civil workers based in Gibraltar the opportunity of travel, but unable to continue the line all the way to Gibraltar (due to Spanish opposition), Mr Henderson provided a link via sea with two boats named after his daughter and niece, Margarita and Aline.
One hotel emerged, and then another. Not just any old hotels either. Henderson´s “Iberia and Mediterranean Hotels Company” awarded the projects to Colcutt and Hamp, based at 36 Bloomsbury Square, London. Colcutt was famed for his “thoroughly English rendering of the Renaissance”.
Toma Tours came across the first of these hotels several years ago, The Reina Cristina, hidden away by the port in Algeciras. We were surprised by its appeal, so we investigated and its history came to life. Distinguished visitors from all over the world have graced its hallways, among them Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt.
We travelled the railway and discovered the sister hotel Reina Victoria in Ronda, now modernised into a boutique Spa retreat. Along the line, we started jumping off the train to explore the stations and little villages and were delighted by the gastronomic treats offered at many of the restaurants.
So, having fallen truly in love with the appeal of the area and story behind the railway, we contacted Lord Faringdon III, great grandson of Alexander Henderson to tell him of our plans to revive the original railway experience. His response set in motion the planning of a very special family reunion in Andalucia
Over a year later, we greeted Lord Faringdon and 24 members of his family at Gibraltar airport and took them on an incredible journey through their family´s past heritage.
They were surprised by the delightful scenery, and the vitality of the modernised train route today. Among the group were also Viscount Davidson – who has links with the Henderson family in Scotland and Argentina, Quentin Agnew Larios – whose family mansion house in Los Barrios was also built by Colcutt and Hamp, and the lovely Maria Parkes – daughter of the celebrated Director of Reina Cristina Hotel, Mr Lee. Maria brought with her some highly amusing and informative photos and articles, and told us that the hotel had originally had 200 Staff members! Now they run it with 32, Imagine!
TOMA & COE will continue working to keep the railway alive long after the family of Mr Henderson have returned home, and this letter sums up nicely why we do what we do:
Thank you so much for organising a wonderful trip for all of us last week. Everything ran extremely smoothly and was well balanced. I was amazed by the railway line and had not realised what stunning countryside we would be passing through. Ronda was a jewel and I would love to go back there to watch a bull fight. It was a brilliant day and very interesting to visit the farm. The hotels were such a contrast to each other and it is hard to imagine how the Reina Cristina will survive going forward. It has a fascinating history and would have been special to see in its heyday. The changes to the landscape that have taken place are cruel but life moves on.
The very best of luck with your next challenge and thank you many times over for being a sympathetic and thoroughly informative guide.
We would be pleased and honoured to help you create your own journey to learn more about this fascinating piece Anglo-Spanish heritage, so get in contact with us here to see how we can help.
You might also like to see details of our day trip on Mr Henderson´s Railway, or our Gourmet Walking Holiday along the railway, where you can really experience the gastronomy and nature that the region offers.
The tour, like much of the work we do at Toma, was a collaboration of so many professionals and was a huge success, so we would like to give special thanks to the following friends and colleagues of Toma:
At the Hotel Reina Victoria, thanks to Director Javier, Almudena in reservas and Raul in Reception, and at the Hotel Reina Cristina, Directora, Beatriz, and in reception, Paco and Julie.
We enjoyed fabulous food from La Estacion Restaurant, San Pablo de Buceite, and Almocobar in Ronda.
Our visit went smoothly thanks to the service we had from RENFE, Ruben from Viajes Foster, our guide in Ronda, Jesus Naranjo, and Rafael, Nuria and Elena at the ReservaTauro. Thanks also to Ignacio and Rafael at Autocares Aguilera in Malaga, and of course our driver Juan Mata
And finally, thanks to our colleague Belinda Beckett who wrote her own amusing account of the trip and our photographer friend Robin also came onboard for the ride. Read his charming account of the trip on his own blog