The quiet village life behind the Costa del Sol

Monday, January 13, 2014

The quiet village life behind the Costa del Sol

Brits who buy holiday homes in Spain broadly divide themselves into two camps. There are those who love the sun, sea, sand and all that Spain has to offer - in spite of the Spanishness of it all.

And there are those who have a genuine love of all things Spanish - the sort who shudder at the sight of mention of all-day fry-ups and scuttle instead to inland white villages where life is simple, celebratory and hasn't changed since about 1950.

The choices are limitless for that first camp, in pocket around the Mediterranean coast from Tossa to Torremolinos.

Property in these coastal hotspots is also the cheapest it's been in a decade, with prices having fallen by 50% or more.

For the Spanish lovers, it's equally easy to find what real Spain is all about, often just a few miles inland. Here are five towns that offer a true taste of Spain within easy reach of the Costa del Sol.

Sea views: Ojen


Just 10 minutes drive from Marbella, into hills where you can stand at the peak and see hundreds of miles from Morocco to the snowy Sierra Nevada, sits Ojen, a picture postcard white Moorish town that hardly anyone knows about.

Actually, its charms have struck a few famous names - the Beckhams and Julio Iglesias own estates in the Ojen hills, and Melanie Griffith chills out at the new Shanti Som spa retreat behind the village.

But there are octogenarians in Ojen who have never been near the miles of sandy beaches they can see from their homes.

Ojen offers the best of both worlds: traditional Spanish village life that revolves around the town square with its church, tapas bars where a beer still costs a Euro and weekly market - and cosmopolitan Marbella on the doorstep.

Who'll like it? Those who speak a bit of the language, want to soak up Spanish village life and nature - then nip down the road to see sunset from their favourite beach bar.

There's no shortage of property for sale, much of it greatly discounted.

Modern sea-view two-bed flats or old townhouses cost from around £150,000.

One stylishly renovated two-bedroom, four-storey house with sea views in the car-free historic core is on sale for £199,995 (www.sugarcubehouse.com) or there's a three-bedroom finca with a pool for £245,000 (www.vivaestates.com).

The local estate agent is the English-speaking Ojen Property.

Culture: Granada


Chris Stewart did for Granada's Alpujarras mountains what Peter Mayle did for Provence. His evocation of the authentic Andalucian idyll sent the sun-deprived scurrying to buy rural wrecks and discover the simple, good life.

Pauline Grande Lopez found her inspiration elsewhere - watching A Place in the Sun on TV in 2003.

Pauline, 66, from Harrow, and her Spanish husband Bernardo, 68, pitched up at an estate agent's office in Granada, saw a few properties in nearby Monachil and bought a large five-bedroom house in the small town of Cullar Vega for £410,000.

The beauty of Cullar Vega, says Pauline, is the scenery, the local bars, free Spanish classes for foreigners, and the art classes.

The nearest coast is 40 minutes away, in Salobreña. "Then Granada, with its marvellous culture and sightseeing, including the Alhambra palace, is just 10 minutes drive away. We go into the city every week for lunch and shopping," says Pauline.

While the Lecrin Valley, half an hour south of Cullar Vega, has sizeable expat communities, Pauline's town remains very Spanish.

"But my English friends all love it when they come to stay - the countryside, Granada, the Sierra Nevada, plus golf and horse-riding nearby," she says.

There are still knockdown prices to attract buyers, from as little as £25,000 for a tiny two-bedroom townhouse in the Alpujarran village of Castaras (www.granada4sale.com, direct through owners) or two-bedroom farmhouses in Lanjarron from £100,000.

In Granada city, a three-bed house needing renovation in Albacin costs £140,000.

gaucin village in rural SpainArty: Gaucin

When the coast's high rises started to spring up in the late 1970s, the growing international artistic community sprung up the hill to Gaucin instead.

"It felt more daring than being on the coast and the scenery is staggeringly good," says Barbara Wood from The Property Finders Andalucia (www.thepropertyfinders.com).

Gaucin was also a nightmare to get to back then, before the faster road, built in the 80s, brought it to within half an hour's drive of the coast at Manilva.

Today, Gaucin still has a cachet above all other Moorish white hill towns, with its trendy small galleries, poems on the walls and popular restaurants run. There are some incredible rural estates in the surrounding hills, costing millions, "but you can buy a four-bedroom country house with about eight acres from £625,000," says James Stewart, Head of Savills' Sotogrande office (www.savills.co.uk/abroad).

"A small two-bedroom houses in the town which doesn't need lots of work but won't have the best views can cost from £125,000 and a pretty two-bedroom cottage with a pool for £400,000," Stewart adds.

Gaucin Properties (www.gaucinproperties.com) have one-bedroom village house from as little as £60,000.

Gaucin has a strong sense of community, with everyone coming together to celebrate fiestas, carnivals and religious events.

Easy for expats: Alhaurin

Half an hour inland from Marbella, in the warm, citrus-strewn Guadalhorce valley, the friendly, lively whitewashed town of Alhaurin El Grande (not to be confused with Alhaurin de la Torre, near Malaga) is a popular spot for Brits relocating to the Costa del Sol.

It's a town with a traditional Spanish feel in its attractive streets and shady squares.

But it also offers just what foreign visitors want, 30 minutes from Malaga airport, 20 minutes by a new fast road to Fuengirola's beaches, and several golf course within 20 minutes drive.

There's a chippie, a British supermarket and all sorts of expat groups if you want them, but it's also a town where you can feel full immersed in the Andalucian lifestyle if you prefer.

Four-bedroom townhouses in the centre of Alhaurin cost from £100,000 (www.simplyandalucia.com), and two-bed apartments on Alhaurin Golf cost from £110,000.

But many holiday home buyers prefer detached villas within a short drive of the town, with beautiful countryside views, exotic fruit trees in their garden and a pool (and good rental potential). A four-bedroom country house near the town costs around £250,000.

Foodie haven: Benahavis


Just 7km inland from the coastal town of San Pedro - which is about to be transformed when its long overdue tunnel opens in June, diverting traffic from the town centre - Benahavis is a secluded little town known as Spain's dining room (it's also said to be one of the wealthiest and prettiest villages in Spain).

Its backstreets come alive on Sunday lunchtimes, when the Spanish like to lunch at length, and in summer when its restaurants are packed out by people who travel for miles.

Founded by the Arabs, Benahavis has a beautiful setting, surrounded by the parkland on the edge of the Serrania de Ronda mountains, 15 minutes from Marbella, and with nine (soon to be 15) golf courses nearby.

Two-bedroom townhouses cost from £200,000 and two-bedroom apartments from £115,000, direct through owners (www.benahavis.net).

During the boom, Benahavis was popular with British, Irish and Scandinavian buyers, many of whom veered towards the new offerings around golf courses, such as La Alqueria, where a 170m2, three-bedroom penthouse costs £580,000 (www.dmproperties.com).

Now there are lots of discounts, including a three-bed townhouse on Monte Mayor golf course for half price, now £370,000 through Your Viva (www.vivaestates.com).


Get help buying a property in Spain

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With more exhibitors selling property in Spain than any other country, A Place in the Sun Live is a great place to start your journey to owning a home in Spain. Taking place at Olympia London on 28th-30th March, A Place in the Sun Live features two sessions per day on the A Place in the Sun Hub where A Place in the Sun magazine editor Liz Rowlinson is joined on stage by a panel of Spanish property experts to discuss issues surrounding buying a property in Spain and answering your individual questions.

Tickets to A Place in the Sun Live are on sale now at two for £15. Click here to book.

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