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American luxury for the Sierra de Gata

Joseph Shortell, a la entrada de su parcela.

A Texas businessman temporarily in the region in the 1980s will open a hotel museum in Villamiel.

In the photo below, an aerial shot taken with a drone shows a white figure. It is pristine to the left, standing out in the ochre landscape surrounding it. It is a lion. Of marble. It weighs a ton and a half. Before arriving there, in Villamiel (462 neighbors), it was in Ho Chi Min City (10.4 million inhabitants, the most populous city in Vietnam, formerly Saigon). It was bought there last December by Joseph Shortell, an American businessman dedicated to selling works of art and, if everything goes as he wants, owner of the ‘Aqua et Oleum,’ the luxury hotel that will open next summer in the city’s heart. Sierra de Gata.

Aerial View of Aqua et Oleum Mill Property

Joseph could have chosen anywhere in the world. The France in which he spent a good part of his childhood. Greece, where her parents had a vacation home. He resided in Mexico for a time and continues to do business. Or maybe a piece of land in Dallas (Texas), where he was born and still lives. But he chose Spain, Extremadura, Cáceres, Sierra de Gata, Villamiel. There, he found a farm with an old oil mill. When he saw it, something stirred in his head. “It was as if time had stopped. It is the place that appeared in my dreams, “he summarizes by phone from his native country, in good Spanish.

He sweetens the language with a Mexican twist to explain that in the eighties, he lived for a few months in Extremadura, “working on the La Encomienda farm (in Las Vegas Altas del Guadiana), picking pears and apples,” he details. This is the beginning of the story that clarifies why a businessman from the southern United States ends up building a hotel in northern Extremadura.

That Extremaduran summer

At La Encomienda, I got fed up with carrying boxes of fruit. I went mainly to learn Spanish, and I spent one of the best summers of my life there, I will never forget it », recalls the businessman, who after that adventure in Badajoz went to Paris. To the University of La Sorbonne, where he was trained in foreign languages ​​and applied to Economics and Law. From there, he went to Salamanca to continue studying. He also got a girlfriend from Seville, whom he visited frequently. “It was on those trips across the Ruta de la Plata that I got to know the Extremaduran landscape,” says Shortell, who at that time was short of money, as befits the usual university student. He was going from Salamanca to Seville “hitchhiking, by bus or on trains that were very slow,” he says, perhaps without knowing that even today, he could make a rail journey similar to those of three decades ago.

Once the Salamanca stage was finished, he returned to Texas. To work and cultivate his interest in the history of Latin America and Spain. Until “four or five years ago,” he traveled to Spain with some friends. «I drove (drove) from Madrid to Lisbon, and when I got to Trujillo, I remembered perfectly that I had already been there. And it seemed to me that many things had hardly changed. I loved. I thought about looking for a property to buy in Spain.

The Mill
Molino de aceite, que se respetará. :: / HOY

Shortly after, Shortell contacted an Extremaduran friend on Facebook from her years at the La Encomienda farm. And he asked him to show him the region. That journey left him feeling he was returning to a land “that had modernized its roads but had managed to conserve its landscape and heritage very well.” On the last day of the trip, he stopped at a place he did not know: the Sierra de Gata. And everything he found there enchanted him. Later, he met Francisco Martín, the General Director of Tourism. They met in New York, where the representative of the Board had attended on the occasion of one of the promotional actions that his department was organizing abroad to spread the Extremadura brand.

Shortell says the talk he had with Martín further boosted his idea. He took two years to find the perfect place, the one he was looking for. In this endeavor, Miguel, owner of the Finca el Cabezo rural house in Villamiel, helped him and the person who took him to the farm where he had already begun to build his luxury hotel. Of course, anyone will be well-received, but to begin with, the accommodation is designed with your fellow Americans in mind.

“It will have eight large suite-style rooms, and if all goes well, next to the hotel we will build a rural house” ~ Joseph Shortell | Art Entrepreneur and Promoter for the Aqua et Oleum Hotel

“I would call it a museum boutique hotel,” suggests the promoter. “It will have eight suite-type rooms, large, and also a restaurant and a bar,” he advances. The accommodation will occupy the main room of a plot “between four and five hectares, and if the hotel goes well, we will surely build a rural house in another mill next door,” says the businessman, who is “very excited about the project and convinced that Extremadura still has great possibilities to explore as a tourist destination.» “We are thinking of Spanish and European travelers, of course, but mainly in the United States market, where there are varied interest groups: lovers of gastronomy, those of bird watching, or those who prefer hiking in the mountains,” raises. “The idea is to receive groups of between 15 and 20 people from North America, who will spend a week touring Extremadura and will have our hotel as their main base,” proposes Shortell, who last March accompanied a group of Americans on their visit to the region. “They were delighted,” he assures.

The Aqua et Oleum space will also be a space to exhibit art. “We will keep everything; we will not throw anything away,” guarantees the Dallas businessman, who is confident that he can start the work in a few days and open next summer. “We have already done all the administrative procedures. We are waiting for them to grant us some permits, but we have already cleaned the mill and made the main access,” he details. «The mill, the waterwheel, the river, the castle of Trevejo in the background … You can do beautiful things here. It is a magical place, a jewel,”

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