Edinburgh mum survives breakup and pandemic to build incredible hotel in Spain
A lot of people dream of owning their own successful business abroad while enjoying the sun and bringing their children up bilingual.
But few make that dream a reality.
However, hard working and loving Nicky Scott, 41, who grew up in Corstorphine and attended Craigmount High School, is one of those hard working few.
As a mother of two children, Isla, eight, and four-year-old Arran, Nicky has worked for around eleven years to get her business - a boutique hotel called Cuatre Finques in Xaló, Alicante - to an amazing position, overcoming a split with her children’s father and the Covid-19 pandemic in the process.
On starting off and creating her own business, she said: “I used to work in the Edinburgh Capital Hotel from around the age of 16 but that was completely coincidental and to be honest as a teen I was mostly hungover from the night out before.
“My friends used to think that I was a total home bird and wouldn't do anything interesting as everyone wanted to travel but I didn't care that much.
“But then I went to Reading University to study meteorology. It was the only place in the UK at the time and was actually really difficult. Out of the 40 that started the course only 12 of us graduated.
“After Uni, I worked in an accountancy firm but I soon realised that is was definitely not what I wanted to do.
“So I moved over to the MET Office who had a small office at Saughton House and I worked there for 13 years.
“Whilst I was enjoying my career as a meteorologist I took a real interest in property and design.
“I bought my first flat at the age of 20 on Belgrave Terrace - a £52,000 flat. I sold it two years later for double the price and then moved onto a property on Corstorpine High Street and sold that before doing another in Manse Road and then another in Cammo.
“I got into it through my parents being property developers and the last house we sold was for just over half a million. Which was amazing considering I’d started on £52,000.
“Doing this made me realise that what I loved doing was design. My love for design was similar to my love for meteorology. It makes people happy and I guess looking back, hospitality is similar.
“I didn’t know what route I was going down but I was just trying to build up capital.”
But then Nicky was caught off guard by the most common surprise in life - falling in love.
She fell for a Spanish man and decided to move to Spain in 2011 to a small town called Xaló.
The reason for this location is that her parents had a house there where Nicky would spend time with her friends in the 1990’s. Later they would buy a plot of land in the same location.
Everything was such a lovely story and was great Nicky says…”until it wasn’t.”
Nicky continued: “We got together in 2011 and very quickly after moving to Spain I realised I wanted to start a boutique hotel.
“I found a plot of land and put an offer in, I then put in for planning permission which was quite a quick turnaround.
“The house was two buildings joined together - one would be our house and the other would be a guesthouse that would be seasonal so that we could have the perfect balance with having an off-season.
“Then I got pregnant and had a little girl, Isla. We began building in February 2013 and Isla was born in July but I continued to help building with my partner whilst pregnant.
“The build took just over a year. Although I must admit I was completely naive, as I thought I could strap a baby to me and carry on but Isla had other plans, nonetheless we soldiered on.
“It was a huge help that my partner’s family at the time were builders.
“We opened on May 1 2014 when Isla was just nine months old.
“At that time we had six bedrooms and no staff, doing everything ourselves.
“I’d say we spent that year chasing our tail but it got busier and busier, I could not believe how many people wanted to stay, for a while I worried if we could cope.”
In 2015, during Cuatre Finques first full season, the business was at around 65 per cent occupancy.
A good system was in place that brought success but Nicky admits it was tough.
She had a tough time with her relationship and grew apart from her partner and knew in her heart that it would not work in the long run as a couple.
Then came 2016 with a 77 per cent occupancy, which was excellent.
But then, just before she split with her now ex-partner, she fell pregnant again with son Arran.
Arran came in 2018 when the business was at 85 per cent occupancy but that did not stop Nicky from being the hostess with the mostess.
She said: “I missed one day of work with Arran. He was born a few minutes before midnight.
“We had a yoga retreat staying and I served the dinner before managing to get to the hospital twenty minutes before he was born.
“It is mad to think I was serving with contractions and managed to get back to work the following night.
“The staff were amazing but were so scared, telling me to ‘go to the hospital now’ but I was just like let's get the job done first.”
Nicky separated with the children's father around this time and began to look to separate her home and work life by leaving the adjacent home and renting nearby.
She decided to delegate more tasks and hired five beauticians, two yoga instructors, three gardener and a pool worker to add to the team.
They also expanded the venue to seven bedrooms during the 2018 season.
On paper she said it seemed great but having recently separated, and with all her family in another country, she began to worry that she may not be able to juggle everything.
At the beginning of 2019 however she hired Maria and Carmen, a local Spanish couple that worked as babysitters but whom her children adored.
She said: “I would have given it all up but thank god I didn’t.
“I found amazing babysitters that supported us as a family and who the kids just fell in love with. Maria and Carmen are an absolute godsend.
“They were my angels as I didn’t have any guilt as a mother leaving the children as the kids loved them.
“The business was back on track but there were lots of things I had no idea about that my partner was doing - like technical problems like boilers, solar power and it was a big learning curve to manage by myself and run the business side.
“To have no one and have to control everything by myself was a big shock.
“By 2019 I thought I had it all worked out and that everything would be ok but then Covid came in 2020. We were due to open on March 18 2020 and had all the beds made and food in the fridge but Spain went into a tough lockdown on March 15.
“This was a challenging time as some people were so mean when they were trying to get refunds but all we could offer was to rearrange as we had no money.
“A lot of cruel words were said but there were also some fantastic people who were so loving and caring - they understood how difficult it was for small businesses.
“In Spain there was not a lot of support and we got like €2,000 which is nothing really to a business like ours.
“We reopened in July 2020 and were saved by the fact that a lot of native people didn't want to leave Spain.
“We acquired a lot of new Spanish clients and that has helped us ever since.
“We filled our capacity in August that year and to be honest it is the only reason we survived as when September came along all foreign travel stopped, with Covid coming back with a vengeance in October.”
The business did not get back up in running until July 2021 and Nicky says that the negativity around travel in the UK press did not help matters as a lot of people continued to be skittish about travelling.
It was around this time however that they linked up with English company - Cycle Retreats - who have since booked out Cuatre Finques in the September and October months after losing their previous hotel during Covid.
The business as a result appeared on “A New Life In the Sun” through Cycle Retreats.
Despite the Covid issues, the business emerged from the woods, over winter they added a further two rooms bringing their total to nine.
Nicky is not sure if the business will ever get back to 2017-2019 levels but accepts that it may just take time and a bit of patience.
She says what makes her business so unique is that she has spent years finding out what it is that gives a hotel “that special feeling.”
She said: “I’m not a hotelier through training, I just became one.
“When I was doing property development, I was travelling a lot with the MET, it was a real passion of mine.
“I would stay in tiny basic home stays and huts to the biggest poshest super boutiques.
“Throughout my stays I tried to figure out what made a place feel special. Sometimes the big posh hotels didn’t have that spark but the smaller huts did.
“Thinking about that allowed me to discover what it is to create warmth within a professional and discreet setting.
“So I knew what ambience I wanted to inspire with my own business.
“We are very personal and friendly and although I’m still running the show, I have a great team who know what service is about and to always be on it.
“We can be discreet, friendly and professional all at the same time. It is so special because it is personal. Our guests go home with that warm feeling.
“People come here not just to have a holiday but to enjoy an experience. To eat Spanish food in the countryside.
“It is hard to find small family businesses that are run as professional spaces with staff that really care. I think that is what makes us unique.”
A stay at Cuatre Finques can vary depending on the time of season but roughly guests can look to spend around €200 a night - which includes breakfast.
Families rooms are also available for an additional €40-€200 - with the family suite of two interconnecting rooms and a toy room being a best seller.
The most expensive rooms often “sell first.”
Nicky said it was important for her to include children in the business plan regardless of how controversial the decision may be as she loves the energy they create.
She continued: “Guests can enjoy breakfast in our garden under olive or palm trees and listen to the birds singing along with other guests. Or they can get more exclusivity elsewhere on the property.
“We have private dinners at night in the garden with twinkling lights but we also host communal evenings with complimentary wines that encourage guests to get to know each other whilst getting a bit merry.
“We grow a lot of our own food here which is locally sourced from our organic kitchen garden.
“Costa Blanca doesn't have the same profile as say Ibiza or Mallorca but prices are half and you get a great experience.
“We are in a lovely position in Spain, surrounded by beautiful coastal towns and the beach is just 20/30 mins away.
“We sit in the country amongst the orange and olive trees as well as the almond groves. Our customers can experience the best of both worlds.”
On her advice for anyone wishing to follow in her footsteps, she added: “It is fabulous to bring up kids here and it is such a lovely business to have.
“My advice is do it, as you only live once. So many people live their lives not doing things and you should just try to live your dreams even if they don’t work out.
“The community and climate is great here. My kids speak three languages fluently and have a Scottish accent when speaking English and a local accent when speaking Spanish.
“It is such a rich experience and such a great thing to add to your life.
“Who knows if I’ll be in Spain all my life but I will never regret what we did and I'm so proud we did not throw it in.
“With the kids almost five and nine and the business eight years old, and surviving through covid, it feels like I’ve won the big battle.
“It is easy to say god it's hard and don't do it but I’d say the opposite.”
Cuatre Finques would also like to offer a free massage and bottle of wine to readers that book a stay for seven nights or more by the end of May 2022.