Living in Spain and bringing up a Spanglish family during the current 'crisis' and trying various ways to make some 'dinero'. Enjoying life in the sun, crafting and blogging as much as possible.

3 May 2012

Telegraph Article - Wombs with a View

Andalucia's centuries-old rock shelters are now home to modern cave-dwellers, says Peter Upton

12:01AM BST 18 May 2002  (source)

Spain has some impressively grand houses testifying to its colourful history - from Moorish castles and the capital's Habsburg palaces to glorious haciendas and functional fincas.

But there is another type of property - a down-to-earth one, it must be said - that is far older than any of them, and with no less an impressive history.
These are the cave houses of northern Andalucia, the wild and passionate region that gave birth to flamenco. In the north-east of Granada, in the tiny town of Galera, the cave houses - casas-cueva - are still lived in by the tough, pragmatic people who farm the surrounding land, though over recent years many of them have been abandoned as the population has declined. Fifty years ago, there were more than 5,000 people living in Galera's cave dwellings, but now there are only a little over 1,000. It is the same here as in much of the rest of the world, big-city money and glitz lure the young away from the land.
However, Galera has come up with a plan to reverse the population decline, or at least to lessen its impact. For the past few years, refurbished cave houses have been successfully let out as tourist accommodation. Now, the town is going a giant step further. A whole "street" of abandoned cave houses has been taken over, and the properties refurbished and put up for sale to anyone willing to chance their arm at a troglodyte existence.
In an unusual commercial enterprise, the town's tourist authority, Turistas de Galera - yes, in Spain even a town as small as this has its own promotional staff - has gone into partnership with Golden Sands Project, a British estate agency based in Torrevieja, to sell these unique properties. In the first phase, 30 caves are being given the treatment, and six have already been sold. Agent Robin Oakley says: "Interest has been amazing. In addition to the ones sold, another two have been reserved. We are very pleased with the way it is developing."

Once, many thousands of years ago, the cave houses were simply holes excavated with animal bones and crude implements to provide shelter. In time, they became the principal housing in the area because they were cheap and easy to form - the rock is soft, but completely waterproof. Chimneys poke through the rock and, in winter, it is as if the hills and mountains are breathing fire and smoke.
What made the properties comfortable in the past, and attractive today, is their almost constant temperature. On the high plateau, nestled in the triangle formed by the Sierra del Segura in the west, the Sierra de Maria-Los Velez in the east, and southwards by the Sierra de Baza, the temperatures can be extreme. In winter, the thermometer can drop to minus 10 degrees, for the broad valley in which Galera is situated is 3,000 feet metres above sea level. In summer, however, temperatures can reach 40C. But in the cave houses, nature maintains a constant 18C, so that in winter they are pleasantly warm, and need only a log fire to make them cosy, and in the furnace heat of summer they offer instant relief.

The houses might originally have been made in prehistoric times, but there are few reminders of the past in the refurbished dwellings. In all other respects they are completely modern with electricity, water, full drainage, and each has a fireplace. What is delightful is the degree of artistry employed by the local craftsmen to make the exteriors and interiors attractive.

No two properties are the same, but whether they have one, two, three or four bedrooms, they each have a charm that takes the breath away. Kitchens are built into walls, bathrooms and baths made from rock and stone. There are no sharp angles. Everything is curved, rounded, and the bedrooms are almost womb-like.

Obviously, these properties will not be instantly appealing to the vast majority of people planning a new life or a holiday home in southern Spain. Miguel Rodriguez Gomez, who heads Galera's tourist office, and is the force behind the restoration of the cave houses, concedes: "It would take a person with special insight and awareness to come from another country and live here all year round - perhaps an artist or writer, a person who likes to be close to nature - but for someone who wants a different kind of holiday home, well, these houses and the surrounding country are certainly special."
The cave dwellings, which have full Spanish freehold deeds - escrituras - are priced at £28,800 for a one-bedroom house up to £58,300 for a four-bedroom, two-bathroom hill hideaway. And they come furnished: a cooker, fridge, lounge and bedroom furniture, including bed linen, are part of the package.

Apart from the magnificent scenery - golden eagles patrol over mountains where wild boar still roam - an incentive for a prospective purchaser is the opportunity to get some return on the investment through letting. It is not as high as a coastal rental would reward, but, based on a minimum letting period of 100 days a year, the return would be about 5 per cent on capital. All rentals are managed by the tourist authority.

Road communications in the area are excellent (Malaga and Alicante airports are both about two and a half hours' drive away), and, once away from the motorways, there is almost no traffic. In fact, a passing tractor normally constitutes the daily rush.

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