Aqua et Oleum Review: Historic Boutique Hotel in the Spanish Countryside

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The exterior of the main building of the Aqua et Oleum boutique hotel in Extremadura, Spain. The renovated building used to be an olive mill.
The boutique hotel Aqua et Oleum occupies the renovated ruins of an old olive mill in the Extremadura region of Spain. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

The writer was hosted.

The Extremadura region of Spain produces the best quality olive oil in the world. So what better place to stay here than a four-star boutique hotel cleverly housed in an old olive mill? That unique atmosphere certainly makes Aqua et Oleum (Latin for “water and oil”) a great choice for foodies. But it’s equally ideal for anyone interested in an upscale getaway in a relatively untouristed region of Spain. Extremadura is indeed unspoiled, despite being well known for its olives, its ham, and hundreds of ruined castles sprinkled about the countryside.

The hotel’s property includes gardens, a small fire pit, olive groves, a vineyard, and an outdoor pool with a view of the ruins of 15th-century Trevejo Castle. The hotel’s cozy rooftop deck is perfect for stargazing. If you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll see a shooting star!

The interior of the main building at Aqua et Oleum displays equipment used when the structure was an olive mill.
The interior of the main building at Aqua et Oleum shows off the mill’s original olive processing equipment. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

What Makes Aqua et Oleum Special

  • Historic ambiance featuring the mill’s original olive processing equipment
  • Artwork and sculptures throughout the main building
  • Helpful and friendly staff who speak English
  • Inviting outdoor pool with a splendid view
  • Excellent chef who prepares gourmet dishes with local ingredients
  • Comfortable guestrooms tastefully decorated
  • Free wifi
  • Opportunities for stunning star gazing
  • Hiking available in the surrounding countryside as well as in the region’s picturesque Sierra de Gata mountain range
The grounds at the Aqua et Oleum hotel incorporate equipment from the old olive mill in the landscaping.
Equipment from the old olive mill adds charm to the hotel’s landscaping. These conical stone pieces were part of the olive press. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

Why You Might Not Want to Stay Here

  • If you want to be within walking distance of shops and restaurants, since the closest town is two miles away
  • If anyone in your party uses a wheelchair, since the stone walkways are slightly uneven and so not the best for wheelchairs
  • If you’re looking for a hotel that offers spa services
The bathroom in the San Martin Suite of the Aqua et Oleum boutique hotel features a large boulder.
The bathroom in the San Martin Suite features a large boulder left in place when the owner renovated the property. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

Guest Rooms at Aqua et Oleum

Each of the hotel’s eight guest room types is slightly different. My room (the San Martin Suite) had plenty of space with a king bed on the main floor plus a loft with a sofa bed. The bed was quite comfortable with good quality linens. I also appreciated the reading lights.

My private bathroom featured an atrium ceiling with a skylight. A large natural boulder filled one corner opposite the shower. I loved the rainfall showerhead, and the water temperature and pressure were excellent, especially for a rural hotel.

I soon discovered the sliding glass doors on the loft level opened onto a small balcony that overlooked a stream running behind the property. (This stream, named Arroyo de los Lagares, used to power the waterwheel when the property was an olive mill.)

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you want a bathtub, ask for the Villamiel suite. It’s the only guestroom with a tub.

Guestroom amenities

All rooms at Aqua et Oleum feature a safe for valuables, a coffee maker with coffee pods, an electric tea kettle with tea bags, a small fridge with a minibar, and a flat-screen TV. Guests can also adjust the heat and air conditioning, and some rooms also have ceiling fans. Families are welcome at the hotel, and cribs and additional beds for kids are available on request.

The bathroom’s amenities included luxury shampoo, conditioner, and body wash in refillable pump dispensers in the shower and a charming olive-shaped soap by the sink. Each bathroom also has a hairdryer.

Mediterranean salad with local cheese and olives and regional olive oil by Chef Ruben served at the Aqua et Oleum hotel
Mediterranean salad with local cheese and olives and regional olive oil, prepared by the talented Chef Ruben. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

Aqua et Oleum Dining

Three meals a day are available in the main building (or with room service), including a buffet breakfast with cooked-to-order eggs. In good weather, terrace seating is an option.

Chef Ruben uses locally sourced products in his gourmet Spanish and Mediterranean creations. Some produce comes from a vegetable garden out front. My favorite first course was paper-thin slices of Extremadura’s prized jamón, served with cheese, olive oil, and bread. Entrees are varied (including a delectable special Iberian cut), with vegetarian options and standard kid-friendly fare like spaghetti, chicken nuggets, and chicken breast. The bar serves all types of alcohol, and you can also order bottled water, soft drinks, coffee, tea, and espresso drinks.

Our desserts included apple cobbler with cinnamon cream served in a cold glass jar, as well as cheesecake with fruit. On select dates, including our stargazing night, the chef fixes mugs of rich hot chocolate to take outside.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The hotel sells bottles of its own brand of olive oil, made with Extremadura’s prized Cacereña Manzanilla olives. It’s a great way to bring home one of the most distinctive flavors of your trip.

The swimming pool at Aqua et Oleum has a view of orchards, vineyards, and a 15th-century castle.
Aqua et Oleum’s inviting swimming pool has a lovely view of olive orchards, vineyards, and the 15th-century Trevejo Castle. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

Aqua et Oleum’s Pool

Aqua et Oleum has a lovely outdoor pool. The pool deck offers umbrellas as well as comfortable lounge chairs. On one end of the pool area is an old stone wall with a long, narrow window showing off views of the hotel’s olive groves and vineyard. You can also see the crumbling Trevejo Castle in the distance.  

The waterwheel on the outside of the main building at Aqua et Oleum originally powered the olive mill.--
The waterwheel on the side of the hotel’s main building originally powered the olive mill. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

From Olive Mill Ruins to a Boutique Hotel

Owner Joseph Shortell is an entrepreneur and furniture designer living in Dallas, Texas. He found the property in 2016 while looking for a vacation home in the region. He’d loved Extremadura since the 1980s, when he worked for a fruit farm here one summer so he could learn Spanish.

On his 2016 trip, Shortell came across an abandoned olive mill with two-foot-thick stone walls. The roof had caved in, and the waterwheel was intact but overgrown with vegetation. Instantly smitten, he decided to buy the property and turn it into a boutique hotel.

The olive mill had been in service from about 1920 until 1990, but evidence shows the structure may have been a watchtower or even a church several centuries ago. Shortell hired local craftsmen to do the renovations, respecting sustainability and preserving as much historical character as possible. Aqua et Oleum welcomed its first guests in 2022.

Trevejo Castle, a 15th-century castle located near the Aqua et Oleum hotel
The 15th-century Trevejo Castle, located about a mile from the hotel. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

What to See and Do in the Surrounding Area

The Trevejo Castle is only about a mile from the hotel. It’s adjacent to the tiny (and quite charming) 12th-century village of Trevejo. The castle was built in the 15th century, although much of it was blown up by Napoleon’s army in the 18th century. The uphill path to the castle is not that long, but it’s rocky and uneven, so watch your step. The view of the surrounding countryside from the top is well worth the effort and is particularly romantic at sunset.

The town of Villamiel is two miles away. Visit the one-room wine cellar of the Hacienda Nava del Ray winery in the town center. The same family has run it for centuries.

In Robledillo de Gata, a 40-minute drive, there’s a quaint olive oil processing museum housed in an olive mill that dates from medieval times. The curator offers olive oil tastings.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you don’t have a rental car, the hotel can arrange tours and excursions with private guides. 

The gardens at the Aqua et Oleum hotel display artifacts from the property’s original olive mill.
The gardens of Aqua et Oleum include artifacts from the property’s original olive mill. Photo credit: Katy Koontz

Aqua et Oleum Details

Aqua et Oleum’s address is Lugar Molino de Juan de Sande S/N, Villamiel, Spain. The hotel is located just outside the village of Villamiel in Spain’s Extremadura region. It’s an hour and a half drive from Cáceres, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it’s a three-hour drive from Madrid. (There is no train service.)

The hotel offers free parking in a small unpaved parking area in front of the resort’s stone entrance gate.

Check-in is after 1 pm. Check-out time is noon.

SheBuysTravel Tip: The Portuguese border is only 13 miles away, and the hotel is a three-hour drive from Lisbon. This makes adding a visit to Portugal very convenient.

The remains of 15th-century Trevejo Castle, framed by olive branches in the olive tree groves of Aqua et Oleum.
The 15th-century remains of Trevejo Castle, framed by olive branches from the hotel’s olive tree groves. Photo credit: Katy Koontz
Award-winning travel writer Katy Koontz has written travel books, travel articles, and a travel app. She’s written extensively about the Great Smoky Mountains (near her home in Knoxville, Tennessee), among other destinations both domestic and foreign. Her articles include family travel, adventure travel, spiritual travel, travel health, and consumer-related travel topics. She’s written about driving cantankerous rental cars in Portugal, sleeping in castles in Germany, braving the baths at Esalen in Big Sur, scuba diving in Australia, taking waltzing lessons in Vienna, chasing a dream up a mountain in Jordan, marrying in Greece, and fending off a curious tapir in the Amazon jungle. She has stood atop the carvings on Mount Rushmore, skied in New Zealand, narrowly escaped a mugging in Tanzania, crawled through lava tubes in Iceland, biked the perimeter of Bora Bora, meditated at Machu Picchu, tossed throws from a Krewe of Boo float in New Orleans, and joined in kava ceremonies in Fiji.
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