The Famous Five

Spain’s leading shoots

In the UK there are no end of shoots to choose from for UK, European and US guests. In Spain there are far fewer shoots and five shine above the others each for a specific reason and each complimenting and contrasting with the other. It is like a Cartel! The Javiers, Antonio, Jesus and Pachi are all friends, have known each other since their 20s and are even related! They do not collude however, each will willingly point out the weaknesses of the other but in a sympathetic manner. They all know their strengths and weaknesses intimately. I have got to know all of them over the years and they will no doubt give me their feedback on what I have to say!

When choosing a shoot in Spain there are several areas to consider. Price is certainly one of them but each shoot is priced the way it is for a reason and reasonably so. Height and number of birds including minimum bag is another one. This opens up the whole debate over whether one goes to Spain to mimic the high birds we have in the UK or to shoot the traditional way they do in Spain. Or, somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, we have the high-bird style of shooting, all good to extremely high birds. On the other, we have the Spanish style, a real mixed bag that can be adapted to taste but will not be able to compete for pure high birds. Some will argue why go to Spain when you can shoot equally high partridges in the borders or elsewhere in the UK?

Surely the reason to go to Spain is to experience something different, not just try to replicate what we like in the UK in Spain. Others will argue that the traditional birds are too easy but I have to counter that that is simply not the case and that type of shooting is extremely exciting in context. In the UK, the basis of our shooting is accuracy. In Spain, for the Spanish gun, it is a test of accuracy at speed – two very different things. Shooting traditional Spanish partridges as the Spanish do is challenging and exciting. On the other hand, there are few places anywhere where one can enjoy such high partridges. What to do – that is the conundrum!

The calibre of lodge is another consideration especially if non-shooters are joining the party. It is possible to stay in Madrid (or Sevilla) and have good, convenient shooting and be back in time for siesta and dinner. Non-shooters love such an option. A final consideration is the single gun option. The ability to book as a single gun and shoot a selected bag for yourself amongst a team of other single guns. This is growing in popularity because nobody has to pay for anyone else’s birds. Your neighbour can go crazy while you can enjoy your day in the knowledge that you are not paying for it!

So, in distance from Madrid order, meet the Famous Five of Spanish shoots.

La Flamenca

Whether it be the Villa Magna, the Westin Palace or the currently under refurbishment Ritz/Mandarin Oriental, the Heritage Hotel or any other of your choice, if travelling from the centre of Madrid, it is 45 mins max to La Flamenca in cars arranged by Javier. I know, I have done it multiple times. At the top of the hill you will be met by Javier and his team in the estate house where you will enjoy breakfast if you wish or just a coffee before heading out shooting.

Like any of these shoots, guns, cartridges, vehicles with drivers and of course loaders and secretarios are all included. Javier is a truly charming and relaxed host. The birds are more of the traditional Spanish style with some nice higher drives, the signature drive being a gorge drive called Speilman’s named after a regular UK guest. There are some great drives where the birds come at you like grouse and everything in between. Drinks are offered after every drive, taco (or elevenses) are held in some pretty spots around the finca. Occasionally you see municipal buildings in the distance but overwhelmingly you could be in deep Spanish countryside. The shooting terrain is distinctive, characterful and attractive.  Lunch is usually outside, back at the house. It almost goes without saying that the food is wonderful with special requests favourably received. Non-shooters can of course join the guns or stay in Madrid and shop or Frontiers can organise guides and special interest tours.

In summary La Flamenca suits those wishing to stay in town and enjoy the more traditional Spanish partridges. There is an option to stay locally but why do it? It is not for those seeking high birds or wanting a dedicated shooting lodge.

Drive time from Madrid: 45 mins
Hectares: 4200
Bedrooms: N/A
Minimum bag per day: 600
Landing strip: N/A

Ventosilla Palace

The clue is in the name! Ventosilla is a stunning building and the home of driven partridges in Spain. It is about 80 minutes from Madrid and 20 minutes from the old city of Toledo which is a must for non-shooters. Antonio, Carlos and Leandro are wonderful hosts.

I have never witnessed anything being too much trouble at Ventosilla. While some of the drives are comparable to La Flamenca, there are many more and most are a step up in bird height. Ventosilla’s strength is in its variety of birds from high to the traditional. The palace is an experience in itself with a magnificent collection of shooting cups won by Antonio’s grandfather for live, or boxed, pigeon shooting. He was clearly the champion of champions!

As with La Flamenca, everything is included as well as airport or hotel transfers. The top floor of the palace has been upgraded with four beautiful bedrooms, the rest of the palace is more traditional with its characterful creaky floors. If you are interested in the great shots that have gone before, Ventosilla is a wonderful place to be.

When it comes to food and taco in the field, Ventosilla excels. Every meal is a banquet and the spread at taco time wins the award. Everywhere else needs a table or two for taco, at Ventosilla three are required! The staff really know their work and I have witnessed them as enthusiastic and willing at the end of the season as the beginning.

In summary, Ventosilla suits those wanting a little piece of history, great shooting variety and a relaxed atmosphere with access to Toledo for non-shooters. It is also usually the best option for single guns. It is not for those seeking the very highest of birds or the most perfect, spanky, new shooting lodge.

Drive time from Madrid: 80 mins
Hectares: 4,900
Bedrooms: 17
Minimum bag: 600
Landing strip for jets: N

La Nava

When I first met Javier he spoke to me about attention to detail – he was not kidding. La Nava began back in 1992 with the first accommodation in a small house with bunk beds. That is no longer the case. The stunning, 17-bedroom, purpose-built lodge sits on a bluff overlooking many of the drives. It is a very beautiful, well-run shooting lodge with its own infinity pools with the same outlook.

Twenty years ago, Javier suggested a plan with some of the other local shoots to lay down a runway for private jets. They thought that was a good idea but when it came to the reality, support melted away but Javier continued with his plan and today the majority of his guests arrive at his airstrip just 20-minutes from the house. From the spa (all included) to the tiniest detail in the rooms, all the way through the house and the matching cars, La Nava exudes quality and detail like a top hotel.

The shooting has good variety with some very high drives down to more manageable ones. Assuming no rain, lunches are always enjoyed in the field with shade and is beautifully presented considering it is mobile. There are also WCs dotted in strategic places around the shoot fully appointed. Javier, and his assistant host Gonzalo, are again superb hosts. They are real believers in all-inclusive, an attitude appreciated by most.

In summary, La Nava is for those wanting the very best who are willing to pay for it and want to fly as close as possible to their shooting. Other than the spa and the beautiful lodge, because of its location, it may not be so appealing for non-shooting guests who want to get to know the history or culture of Spain or shop!

Drive time from Madrid: 2 hrs 20 mins
Hectares: 4,900
Bedrooms: 17
Minimum bag: 600
Landing strip for jets: Yes

La Cuesta

Formally known as Las Beatas, La Cuesta is not actually the same place but it is the same host, Jesus, and the same culture for shooting. The opportunity arose for Jesus to take on the La Cuesta ground, an upgrade on the Las Beatas ground, but it needed a house. The solution was to pre-sell birds to a lovely couple who, in turn, helped build the most stunning shooting lodge overlooking the La Cuesta ground. Barbara did all the interior design and what a job she did. The rooms are not all the same but they are all lovely, I would be happy in all of them and they probably win the prize for the best set of rooms amongst the Famous Five.

As of 2019, the lodge now also has an airstrip. The shooting has been refined to English and European taste and offers the highest of birds – consistently high – with minimal option for the more traditional Spanish presentation. Jesus is very focused on the shooting and though always about, he is intently involved with the manoeuvres of the drives and rarely stands about and chats.

As is the case with all the shoots, the food is of the highest order with options for lunch in the field and in a building in the centre of the shoot for a rainy day. Back at the lodge, the huge sitting, dining and bar areas are a good indicator of what is to come at the dinner table.

La Cuesta is for those that want the very highest birds all the time. They are lucky to get a very fine shooting lodge too. As at La Nava, non-shooters need to enjoy the shooting party and the lodge because there are not great options nearby.

Drive time from Madrid: up to 3 hours
Hectares: 17,000
Bedrooms: 17
Minimum bag: 600
Landing strip for jets: Yes

Los Melonares

Recently written up in Tatler magazine Los Melonares is between 45 minutes to one hour from Sevilla. It is a pretty unique set up with a stunning house featuring the first Weatherby Award collection of game won by a Spaniard, one of the reasons why Pachi Madariaga and her father (the winner of the award) were described as ‘shooting royalty’ by Tatler.

Most guests stay in the house but some understandably like to enjoy Sevilla. Pachi is an outstanding host, I have witnessed her looking after guests’ children, letting them sit on her lap driving her car between drives and running back and forth to the house answering every request and remaining up all night flamenco dancing with guests. Her energy knows no boundaries! She works alongside Geronimo, a very charming, calm influence on proceedings, who co-hosts with Pachi and together they make an excellent team. Los Melonares reminds me most of a UK shoot.

The landscape is greener, the bush thicker and the topography has more acute valleys than the shoots further north. The signature drive is El Muro or The Wall where guests have their backs to a deep valley and the birds are launched across with little time allowed for the guns to react. Taco and lunch are taken outside under canvas overlooking the house or some of the other stunning views.

Los Melonares is perfect for groups that want a great house party and some good shooting or want to enjoy Sevilla either before, during or after the shooting. It may not be for those wanting the most luxurious purpose-built shooting lodge or the very, very highest birds.

Drive time from Sevilla: Up to 60 mins
Hectares: 2000
Bedrooms: 12 + 5 in family house
Minimum bag: 500
Landing strip for jets: No

In summary, all these shoots operate to a very high standard. Nothing is too much trouble and these days their all-inclusive way of doing things really makes for a very easy trip from arrival to departure.

Might it become the Sensational Six?

Introducing Ventas Quemadas, Sevilla, operated by Antonio Cavero of Ventosilla located one hour out of Sevilla, between Cantillana and El Pedroso, just 45 minutes from the airport. Built in 1860 as a casino, the estate has been restored and now has nine luxury double suites with nine bathrooms. This is a stunning building and will be operated to the same standards as Ventosilla. The terrain has more abrupt hills making for good high birds. The shoot has operated privately for five years but will be available for next season.

Drive time from Sevilla: Up to 60 mins
Hectares: 4500
Bedrooms: 9
Minimum bag: 600
Landing strip for jets: No

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