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Aqua et Oleum, Rural Hotel in Extremadura


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 and turn it into an impressive rural tourist complex. All kinds of art converge here, 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 Malaga, Spain, when I was ten. However, I consider that when I really got to know Spain in 1980, working on a farm in Badajoz through contact with my father, who already had business in Spain at that time.

2- Why did you decide to visit Extremadura?

After I returned from my trip to Badajoz, something made me curious. Something about 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 drink wine alone and watch 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 through Trujillo, and anecdotally, we were stopped by the 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.

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, and the one representing the old mill is almost entirely restored.

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. 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 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 Raíces that had many properties in Extremadura. But I wanted something old, overlooking a castle and close to a village, and I found several places. 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 he would take me to see what I wanted the next day, 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 converges. That’s why we have works of art by many artists hanging on the walls, we 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 rooms are designed for locals and tourists.

8- Why choose Spain for this type of business among all the countries you have visited?

I have 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, which will be very good for this area. In addition, people will get to know its immense culture.

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 permit problem.

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 unforgettable days?

There is a lot of information on our website:


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