An oil portrait of Manolete flanked by two old lamps hangs on the rough and chipped wall of the Pedraza (Segovia) tavern. “I bought it in an antique shop in Sanlúcar de Barrameda and it has been the only aesthetic disagreement that I have had with my sister Mafalda in the entire process of rehabilitation and start-up of Tavern House”. Samantha Vallejo-Nágera, one of the most mediatic chefs in Spain, queen of the catering and jury in MasterChef, overflows with enthusiasm as you tour this old 17th century mansion that for 200 years housed a modest Castilian canteen and that now, after a year and a half of dizzying renovation, also offers a table, tablecloth and rest in six austere luxurious rooms.
The innkeeper feels the same illusion as when she first arrived with her mother, the French decorator Sabine Déroulède, when she was only five years old, to this walled town with a Cervantine air, emblazoned houses and dazzling beauty. “It is the most important project of my life,” she says, sitting next to her little sister, the interior designer Mafalda Muñoz – “responsible for everything you see here” – under a sepia photo of the former owner, Don Mariano. It shows the innkeeper posing behind the iconic black wooden bar with studs that has forged the character of this Castilian bar until, in 2015, it closed. Three years later, during a walk through the arcades of the Plaza Mayor in Pedraza, the central part of which occupies the flawless façade of this noble building, Samantha’s husband, the oenologist Pedro Aznar, seduced her into embarking on their first joint project. “Are you crazy?” Was his first reaction. “At the beginning it made me a ball and now it is what amuses me the most.”
The change of chip, as she says, occurred when the confinement occurred, “which caught 24 people, among brothers and nephews, in my mother’s house in Pedraza.” In that atmosphere of cozy domestic disorder, which lasted a couple of months, she had time to settle her ideas while she was forced to put her successful business on hiatus. catering in Madrid. “The pandemic did not change the project, but it did change my personal relationship with Casa Taberna.” A link that takes her back to childhood. tavern keeper. ”As a teenager, he took his first bottles in a bar from the early twentieth century that“ unfortunately we have not been able to save. ”Mafalda relied on the good work of the carpenters of La Navarra, in Madrid, to faithfully reproduce it by aging the wood based on hammer blows and chain blows. “We have listened to the building,” intervenes the decorator, “to preserve its essence and Castilian sobriety.” Thus, the clay tiles in the tavern are the original ones, as are the wooden beams that go through the ceiling or the stomachs as a result of the dampness that deforms the walls, where even the original nails remain.
That same obsession with “keeping intact what reminds us of how things were done before” continues in the six splendid bedrooms on the upper floor – between 200 and 400 euros a night – where the layers of lime and mortar have been cleaned to leave the discovered the characteristic adobe of a village house. A spartan package for “a stay of great luxury”, in the words of Vallejo-Nágera, which translates into linen sheets and towels from the prestigious Catalan firm Bassols, Versailles bathrooms with products from Hermés, aristocratic fireplaces in each room, antique pieces and samsung televisions that look like paintings, technology that does not clash with the atmosphere vintage of the set. “This is a house, not a hotel, and we want guests to feel as if they were spending the weekend at a friend’s house,” explains Mafalda.
This country refinement is reflected in the restaurant’s menu, headed by the young Valencian chef Sergio Mariscal, an outstanding student of the Basque Culinary Center, like the other three people who make up the kitchen. Of course, under the supervision of Vallejo-Nágera, who developed for four months, together with Mariscal, a gastronomic offer that renounces haute cuisine to flirt with the traditional recipe book but with a sophisticated and modern touch. Besides of menú Samantha (70 euros), “which is what I would take if I came here to eat”, dishes such as cheek cannelloni, grilled leeks, grilled beef chop or beans with lobster and cod tripe come from their stoves. The wines are owned by her husband, commercial director at the Marqués de Riscal winery, with a wide selection of French champagnes and the most reputable Spanish designations of origin. All served at the table by waiters in uniform Uniqlo in tableware of The Cartuja of Seville and under the dim light of the candles that highlights the ocher of the peeling walls. Vallejo-Nágera, in this also, has wanted to flee from the predictable: “Almost everyone goes to Pedraza for the lamb, but on the second day they come here for lunch or dinner; I do not feel identified with the dish and I do not want to compete to the townspeople. “
Since in 2011 he was in charge of By Natura Weddings, taking the witness of the late Paco Muñoz, second husband of his mother and founder of the famous decoration studio Home & Garden, Vallejo-Nágera has become Pedraza’s best ambassador. And the neighbors thank you every day; like Evarista, a wiry old woman who looks out to greet from the carriage door. “Evarista, I’ll bring you a little gift home later. What do you prefer, sweet or salty? ”.
Pastor for a day and olfactory workshops
In the distance, the Segovian town takes on the profile of a Tuscan town, with its castle and churches floating in a sea of junipers and holm oaks. “But this is Castilla,” recalls the television chef. And geography forges character: sober, stoic, but also noble. Vallejo-Nágera has wanted to serve that particular way of being in the world to outline experiences – from 80 euros per person – that round off a weekend of bucolic rest in the foothills of the Sierra de Guadarrama: shepherding a flock of sheep, participate in olfactory workshops with oils extracted from flowers, basketry courses, initiation to the garden or horseback riding through Navafría and Segovia.
Jose Luis, “a vocational shepherd with 600 sheep”, will be in charge of instructing city people in country affairs. When shepherding the herd, they will find, as she did before with surprise, that “swallows always accompany the sheep to eat the insects that jump from the grass when the cattle graze; or that there are two lambs a year, in March and in October”. Extract the essential oils from the flowers that are then used to make the fragrances of My wife’s soaps, in the neighboring municipality of Santiuste de Pedraza, is one of the proposals it offers to its customers. In this case, “you have to take the car and move”, something that he recommends to anyone who comes to the Community of Villa y Tierra de Pedraza. “Driving on these roads already seems like a great plan; when I approach Cantalejo for fruit and the sunflowers are in bloom, I cry with emotion,” he confesses. In another of the workshops, an initiation to the Segovian garden is offered, for which it has the collaboration of “a girl who has a tiny garden and who does a very simple course so that the children who live in the city really know where she comes from. a lettuce”. And in Caballar, a town in the area, an artisan and basketry teacher teaches how to make chairs and wicker baskets, among other crafts. “The other day I went with him to the field to look for wicker, which I did not know is born from the willows,” the innkeeper is amazed.
But Casa Taberna is, above all, the project come true of a family that seeks to root itself in a territory emotionally. While Vallejo-Nágera’s two young children, Roscón and Diego, hover around their mother, in the distance you can see the silhouette of Sabine Déroulède, the founder of the clan, who arrives loaded with magnolia leaves from her garden. He does it daily, to decorate the entrance and rooms of the hotel. It is the family custom.
The first person to put this mountain town on the map was Paco Muñoz (1925-2009), second husband of Samantha Vallejo-Nágera’s mother, with whom she had an only daughter, Mafalda Muñoz. “Paco arrived in Pedraza 60 years ago and created two companies that catapulted the town: Tin of Pedraza Y Nature“explains Vallejo-Nágera, who considers the Cantabrian interior designer” a true father. “He was the one who introduced tin crafts to Pedraza, creating a school-workshop in which he employed 15 young people from the town. cooperative and with three of those boys – who are not so much anymore – still at the helm, continues to make delicate metal pieces inspired by Muñoz’s original designs. Vallejo-Nágera, who considers herself indebted to all that artistic legacy, pampers her creations exhibiting them at Casa Taberna. And long before Ikea and Zara Home arrived, explains the chef, De Natura was “a pioneering decoration store, run by my mother until, in 2011, it closed to become De Natura Weddings “, which organizes massive events (until the arrival of the pandemic) and has been the first stone of the hospitality emporium in Pedraza.
The imprint of Paco Muñoz can also be seen in many of the renovations of houses and palaces that he himself promoted in this town. For all this, he was declared an adoptive son in 1995. The Cantabrian master of design also had friendship with painters of the time, such as Eduardo Chillida. And together with his partner in Casa & Jardín, Fernando Alonso, he created the furniture firm Darro. His is the iconic Riaza chair, one of whose copies his daughter, Mafalda Muñoz, has rescued for Casa Taberna. Family inheritance at the service of art.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.