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AQUA ET OLEUM, Rural Hotel in Extremadura

Press 26 August, 2022 2 Comments


August 2, 2022 | Sonia Vinhas

Joseph Shortell, an American living in Texas, decided to restore an old mill in the middle of nowhere, in an area of Extremadura, to turn it into an impressive rural tourist complex, where all kinds of art also converge, thus helping not only to raise the status of the surrounding villages but also to give visibility to the forgotten history of the surrounding areas.

Let’s learn a little more about Joseph and this incredible project.

1- What is your hometown, and when did you first come to Spain?

I was born in South Africa, but I am American. I first came to Spain when I was ten years old, to Malaga. Although I consider that when I really got to know Spain was in 1980, working on a farm in Badajoz through a contact of my father who already had business in Spain at that time.

2- Why did you decide to visit Extremadura?

After I came back from my trip to Badajoz, there was something that made me curious. Something in Spain appealed to me. I was studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, and I moved to Salamanca for a semester because it was famous for having the best Castilian; then, I met a woman from Seville and went back and forth to see her. That’s when I got to know the land of Extremadura.

It is a little-known place, but very interesting, with a lot of history. Extremadura has had a lot of influence in other countries, and this history fascinated me. It was like finding a jewel; there are not many places in the world where you can go to a castle, for example, and be drinking wine alone, watching the sunset. It’s priceless

3- How did you come up with the idea for this project?

It was an accident. After 1985, my life changed, and I did not return to Spain, but I had a friend to whom I promised to return. In 2014, I made a trip passing through Trujillo, and anecdotally there, we were stopped by th

Joseph Shortell found a farm with an old oil mill in the Sierra de Gata, Villamiel, turning it into a hotel museum. On its walls, you can see numerous works of art by famous painters and sculptors, in addition to the one representing the old mill restored almost entirely.

e police because it had rained. Suddenly a rainbow emerged surrounding the castle, I do not know what happened, but something caught my attention in this land from that moment. Years later, I returned. It was like returning to a land that had called me since then.

4- What did your family tell you when you told them about the idea of opening a business thousands of kilometers away from your home?

My mother gave me the best push by saying, “That’s something your father would have liked to do.” My father was an entrepreneur, and his presence has been here from the beginning. The name “Aqua et Oleum” is a tribute to him. He came here several times and didn’t speak Spanish, but he had an excellent knowledge of Latin, so the name Aqua et Oleum is a nod to the language he used. To find something like this in an abandoned place and do this is something my father truly would have loved.

5- I imagine that you encountered many difficulties during its construction.

I could write a book about the difficulties. Above all, I have encountered many obstacles in terms of permits. I think that in this type of project, the bureaucracy should flow more efficiently because this makes potential investors who would like to do the same as me run away when they find out that they have to wait at least three years to start the work.

6- How did you find this demolished mill because it was not in an accessible area?

I was in contact with a company called “Bienes y Ra├şces” that had many properties in Extremadura. But I wanted something old, overlooking a castle and close to a village, and I found several places, but in the end, the deal could not be done.

In September 2016, the owner of the rural house “El Cabezo,” which is in Valverde del Fresno, the last day I was here, asked me why I was sad, and I explained that the reason was that I had not found what I was looking for. Then he told me that the next day he would take me to see what I wanted, and so it was. I swear that I had seen this in a dream. The property was precisely what I was looking for, and the most curious thing was that there were initials that matched mine on the doors. That’s when I realized that my dream had come true.

Possibly the President of the Junta de Extremadura will come for the inauguration because I don’t want it to be just a hotel, but a place where culture also converges. That’s why we have works of art by many artists hanging on the walls, we have recently had a book presentation with a writer, and we will also have an auction so that our guests can find culture as well as peace and quiet.

7- What kind of tourism is Aqua et Oleum focused on?

Both regional and international tourism. The objective is that whoever comes can get to know the area, so there are rooms designed for locals and tourists.

8- Among all the countries you have visited, why choose Spain for this type of business?

I have indeed traveled to many countries, but there comes a time when you think about what you are looking for, I thought about it, and the best thing is that I found it.

9- Are you happy with the result?

I am delighted. My wish is that Spaniards become aware of the town’s treasures. Many have nearly perished, and it is a shame.

This business is going to produce jobs in the area, and many people are going to spend money and invest, and this will be very good for this area, in addition to getting to know its culture, which is immense.

10- Is there any other project you would like to develop in this area?

Maybe (he laughs). My artist neighbor in Dallas bought another mill north of mine, but she is getting desperate because of the problem with permits.

If the paperwork and all it entails were easier, we could find investors for other projects, but there are many obstacles. It is challenging, and this makes interested people back out. It’s a shame.

11- How can we contact Aqua et Oleum to spend some unforgettable days?

There is a lot of information on our website: aquaetoleum.com


2 responses to “AQUA ET OLEUM, Rural Hotel in Extremadura”

  1. Jennifer Macaluso says:

    Wow Joseph the old mill looks absolutely fabulous!! Congratulations on a job well done!! ­čśś­čśś

  2. James Nelson says:

    Very proud of you!
    James Nelson

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What our guests
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A big favorite!

We discovered an authentic wonder in Sierra de Gata, a small corner of paradise all about its heritage and the environment. We felt a genuine soul based on serenity, the taste of creation, and the care given to the welcome. Joseph has a presence that honors you with his humanity. Chef Ruben has the alchemy that transforms the products grown on the site into delicacies, with a smile that makes you feel like you are part of his family. A big favorite!

Lucas I.

We will definitely be back!

A small boutique hotel that has just opened in the Sierra de Gata area. The place is perfect to spend a few days of absolute relaxation in the middle of nature... decorated with exquisite taste (large, comfortable, beautiful rooms with all the facilities) and luxury attention from all the staff. We will be back!

Maria S

Simply spectacular.

Aqua et Oleum is a magical place. A hotel built with great care and attention to detail. In the middle of nature, next to a stream, under the gaze of a castle, is this ideal place to rest, disconnect and recharge your energy. We spent some incredible days there. Simply spectacular. Thank you for everything.



The hackneyed phrase "we want you to feel at home" was made true.


Highly recommend!

A charming place, surrounded by pure nature and very friendly staff. Highly recommend!

Carmen S.

We will be back!

Aqua et Oleum is a unique place to disconnect, a location of incomparable beauty. Unbeatable guest treatment, along with exquisite surroundings made with passion. Continue with the dedication and love that you put in. We had a wonderful weekend and will be back for sure. Hugs!


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