Non domo dominus,
sed domino domus honestanda est.
“It is not in our line, but in our actions
where we shall look for the prestige of our surname”
– Marco Tulio Cicerón –
Located in the historic heart of the town of Tazacorte, on the island of San Miguel de La Palma – the most important agricultural area of the Canary Islands – the Hotel Hacienda de Abajo is the result of a careful and loving rehabilitation of an old sugar plantation’s estate of the 17th century. Hacienda de Abajo is the first hotel built in the town, and its singularity has been recognized officially through their classification as the first “Emblematic hotel” in the Canary Islands – a category that only exists in the islands marking the finest historic buildings.
Set between lush and rich vegetation, on top of a wild coast overlooking an ocean of pure and intensely blue waters and a warm and sunny climate with lavishly starry nights, arises a set of buildings that were the center of rich trade with Flanders, Andalusia and the West Indies, and that today, with its valuable collections of artistic and splendid garden of botanical rarities, offers an enthusiastic welcome to the traveller.
The “Casa Principal de Tazacorte” – main building of the Hotel Hacienda de Abajo – has been since its construction in the 17th century property of the House of Sotomayor Topete, a noble family that arrives to the Canary Islands in the first years of the 17th century, owners of the medieval manors of Lilloot, Berendrecht and Zuitland in the States of Flanders, that were ruled from La Palma until the end of the 18th century, being just another expression of the multiculturalism in a dynamic and educated society.
The descendants of the first owners of the estate, doña María del Carmen del Castillo-Olivares y Sotomayor with his nephews don Luis Ignacio López de Ayala y Aznar, XI Marqués de Villafuerte and III count of Peromoro, and don Javier López de Ayala y Aznar, and his son don Enrique Luis Larroque Castillo-Olivares, undertake a project for the recovery of this historical heritage which, furthermore, constitutes the largest contribution of artistic heritage to La Palma since the 18th century.
It is, in short, the effort of a family to preserve and share a refined lifestyle where hospitality is today, as always has been and always will be, an essential element, and the traveller a most welcome guest.
It was Tazacorte in 1492 the land where the Castilian conquerors established their first settlements in the Aridane Valley, since there were the most fertile lands – the river of Tazacorte and La Caldera, only course of water of the island – and a coast that allowed easy communication with the rest of the world. Soon, the sugar cane became the main crop of the Hacienda de Abajo, located in Tazacorte, which constitutes the first, oldest, richest and most productive sugar plantation on La Palma – as it is revealed by the studies of Professor Jesús Pérez Morera. With a major sugar refinery built in the late 15th century or early 16th century by Mr. Juan Fernández de Lugo – nephew of the precocious conquistador Mr. Alonso Fernández de Lugo – such plantation was purchased in 1509 by the Welser company – German bankers of the Emperor Carlos V – who, in 1513, sold it to its german partners Mr. Jácome Monteverde and his uncle, don Johann Biess for 8.000 florins of gold. Once the sole owner of this property – including all its lands and waters from the sea to La Caldera de Taburiente, farm that also was their property – Mr. Jácome de Monteverde was the main owner of La Palma, due to the sale of the coveted sugar in Antwerp, international centre of trade. Thanks to this frenetic commercial activity, La Palma receives a set of sculptures and Flemish paintings that, still today, is the most important of the Canary Islands pertaining to the 16th century.
The hacienda built by Mr. Jácome de Monteverde (the last single-owner of Hacienda de Abajo) and expanded by his heirs was an urban residential and industrial complex with a central area where we could find the houses of the Lords, which had their main entrance towards the rising sun, and featured a great balcony lookout in their back façades to the West with astounding views to the sea, the reedbeds and the sugar factory. Inside these houses, and devised mainly for their embellishment, was a collection of magnificent opulency and utility objects imported from Flanders and Andalusia by virtue of the trade relations that were symbolized by the old mill, dismantled in 1840. Other buildings, where members of prominent families who had become part of the small group of owners of the Hacienda de Abajo by matrimonial alliance or sale lived, were added over the course of the years. Between these families the House of Sotomayor Topete, Lords of Lilloot, Berendrecht and Zuitland in the States of Flanders, stand out the most. Their members, due to their outstanding qualities, the nobility of their origin, their important matrimonial alliances and the opulence of the entailed estates which they held, played an outstanding role in the life of La Palma for centuries. This family’s origin in this island dates back to the marriage of Lady Ana de Monteverde, granddaughter of Lord Jácome de Monteverde, to Lord Juan de Sotomayor Topete, a noble knight from Cáceres, whose only son, Lord Pedro de Sotomayor Topete and Monteverde (1595-1655), married to Lady Werthen in Brabant, was “Governor of Arms” of La Palma and one of two of the island’s richest men. Lord Pedro José de Sotomayor Topete Massieu Vandale (1689-1750) built the Main House of Tazacorte during his marriage to Lady Catalina Cecilia de Sotomayor Topete y Alzola. This building was added to the number of properties that Lady Catalina founds for her second son Lord Nicolás José de Sotomayor Topete Massieu Vandale (1737-1814) and that is, still today, property of his descendants.
Hotel Hacienda de Abajo raises inside a walled enclosure of four buildings distributed around an interior garden, where formerly the orchard of the estate was located.
The old “Casa Principal de Tazacorte” was subjected to an attentive restoration from 2010 to 2012 by the architect Mrs. María del Carmen Alemañ García, who, after the excision of unfortunate architectural additions, has allowed it to regain its original appearance. This two-floors rectangular house, includes two roofs of arabic tile and an exceptional stove for drying cochineal, and, as well as the other stately homes of the old hacienda, presents a balcony-corridor open to the West, while from the opposite façade the garden of the farm could be contemplated. A body of two floors with balconies and two towers were added to it, which – with magnificent view of the sea and crops. We can highlight the estately and almost militar character of these ancient residences, where, as the traditional canarian architecture goes, new needs are satisfied by adding to the primitive construction, usually arranged in linear, successive bodies making such edifications L or U-shaped.
At the same time, the buildings of new construction surrounding the House respected the original layout of the sugar estate and the building typology in the area, where domestic architecture is harmoniously integrated in a landscape where the dominance of the sugar cane had been replaced with the banana since the end of the 19th century. One of them is a two-floored housing covered of arabic tiles and open balconies, while the other two are one floor buildings, also with covers of arabic tiles. One of them hosts a small chapel that recreates the chapels in the old estates and the other, a luxurious bath house.
Doors, windows and other architectural elements used in the façades and interiors of these buildings are, to a great extent, copies from the 17th to the 19th century saved from destruction, and they represent the best collection formed in the Canary Islands in recent years. This reflects a very common practice in the Canary Islands architecture, as it was the reuse of woods, stones and ashlars of demolished buildings to use in new constructions. This is just another proof of sustainable architecture that knows the value of scarce – and therefore valuable – natural resources.
In fact, having the best collection of tapestries of the Canary Islands, French and Flemish pieces from the 16th to the 18th centuries; a valuable picture gallery with works from the 15th to the 20th centuries; sculptures, furniture and Chinese porcelain from the Tang to the Qing dynasty; European furniture from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries; delicate religious carvings from the 16th to the 19th centuries and all sorts of other sumptuary items make this hotel a reference in the artistic panorama of the islands, where every corner becomes a gratifying surprise for any lover of art and evokes a bygone era in which the inhabitants of this estate were surrounded of the most exquisite art objects, thanks to the trade, from Europe, America and, coming through the Philipines, Asia.
The old garden of the property, surrounded by a wall, stretched from behind the “Casa Principal de Tazacorte” until the current Casa Massieu and in it, in addition to vegetables, planted trees (fig trees, orange trees, lemon trees, quince, mulberries, etc.) and banana plantations, whose existence in this estate consists, and also for the first time in La Palma, in the “Partición Grande” or Vandale of 1613.
The garden of the hotel, located in the former orchard of the hacienda, exhibits exotic plants and botanical rarities as well as Canarian endemic species, distributed in two areas of irregular flowerbeds, pergolas, fountains, ponds and banks, as well as a swimming pool in the likeness of old ponds which, apart from being used for irrigation, had a clear ornamental function. In the style of the ruins that used to adorn the European gardens, we have placed what seems to be an old sugar mill, as Juan Manuel de Silva painted it in the 18th century, however, inside we find the mechanical room of the hotel.
In one of the best climates of the earth, trees, shrubs, flowers and plants of all climates are mixed to form one of those ancient gardens of acclimatization which contributed to the spread of rare plant species from America and Africa during the 18th and 19th centuries and that today makes the delight of visitors who enjoy the warmth of an exceptional climate in a unique environment.
Water of extraordinary quality, from the springs and the galleries of the Caldera de Taburiente National Park, reaches our garden through a modern network of irrigation using ditches and ancient aqueducts in another sign of the daring idiosyncrasy of an island in which man lives in perfect harmony with a highly productive nature.