buying ‚ farmhouses
My Spanish farmhouse comes with a farm With plots of 10,000m or more, buying a Spanish finca can means lots of hard work. Christopher Nye visits a number of Brits, including ex-rock star Chris Stewart, to see how they have made use of their land. 2
andrewgould at flickr.com, CC-BY-SA
Living Spain SUMMER 2012
Chris Stewart makes a living writing books about his life and land.
o have this much land in the UK we’d need to win the lottery,” says Carmen Santaeulalia from South Wales, who owns a house on 10,000m2 of the Turia Valley in northern Spain. Carmen hasn’t the time to do much with the land at present, but likes to know it’s there for the future. Andrew Baxter from Southampton only wanted a farmhouse but the land came attached: 17,000m2 of it. He’s farming it, but in a very relaxed way. Clive and Maki Ridout have a relatively modest 6,000m2, but run a successful B&B from their patch, offering cookery courses using their own crops. Chris Stewart, founder and original drummer of rock band Genesis, was self-sufficient on his farm in the Alpujarras, but found that writing bestselling books about his experiences makes for a far more comfortable lifestyle. It seems that plenty of us are willing to swap British suburbia for the good life in rural Spain, and prices are reasonable – Andrew Baxter’s landed ruin cost €70,000 (plus another €160,000 to do it up), and just €150,000 will get you a choice of ready-to-live-in houses on 10,000m2-plus plots. To get an idea of sizes, 10,000m2 is one hectare, equivalent to 2.5 acres or about one and a half professional football pitches. Some buyers don’t really want that much land, but since planning law requires a plot of 10,000m2 per new country house, often the choice comes down to living on an urbanisation or on a sizeable chunk of land. So what can you do with it all? Your options include: ignoring it, farming it yourself, getting a local farmer to look after it, starting a business, or selling it. Peter Dovaston of Fincas4Sale (www.fincas4sale. com) says that many of his clients end up with land they didn’t plan for, “but this isn’t necessarily a problem. They can just mark out a garden and leave the rest to its own devices or for walking the dog in.” Maki Ridout points out, “It is important to maintain the land, especially in Andalucía where we have 220 million oily olive trees around us which
Chris’s sheep eat the undergrowth, saving many hours’ strimming.
‘Goats are nice, but one goat will do the damage of a hundred sheep’ are a fire hazard if the land is not cleared properly.” Andrew Baxter decided to use his land. “I found a perfect, ruined farmhouse to renovate at Adzeneta in Valencia, but the land hadn’t been worked for eight years and the almond trees were overgrown. So for a few seasons I just drove my little tractor up and down the narrow terraces ploughing them occasionally,
Andrew Baxter’s farmhouse came with 17,000m2.
getting the ground right. This year I’m expecting a proper crop, though I won’t make much money from almonds.” He points out that although living alone on his farm, “It’s a very friendly environment here, especially for the British. You’ll find a ready-made community.” After publication of his trilogy of books about El Valero, his farm in the Alpujarras, Chris Stewart is able to enjoy the luxury of farming “for fun”, and working on his blog, www.drivingoverlemons.co.uk. He has some good advice when it comes to crops. “It has to be oranges and olives. Oranges are the most beautiful trees, for their blossom, their fruit and their wonderful scent. Olives are fabulous too, and also give you oil, firewood and fodder for livestock. Hemp has a great future for fibre, oils, medical, forage... and you can smoke it. I also like tobacco; it’s a beautiful crop, looks like enormous cos lettuces and the flowers are sweet
The Valencian countryside, from Andrew Baxter’s land.
SUMMER 2012 Living Spain
buying ‚ farmhouses Clive and Maki run cookery courses using their own produce.
OWN YOUR OWN PIECE OF SPAIN… 1
and electricity supplies available close by. Two outbuildings are included within the sale. Price e39,000. Available from Spanish Country Cottages: 01873 890928, www.spanishcountrycottages.com
3 Atzeneta, Castellón
The whole family pitches in – Clive and Maki’s son befriends a chicken.
scented. Then of course you can cure it and smoke it.” Chris’s love/hate relationship with sheep comes across in the books, but he adds, “A farm is not a farm without some livestock, but I wouldn’t recommend sheep to your average non-shepherd. They always eat what you don’t want them to eat and don’t eat what you do want them to eat. Then again, people who don’t have sheep on their land are out there morning, noon and night with the strimmer. Goats are nice, but one goat will do the damage of a hundred sheep.” As for dairy cattle... “Up at five for the morning milking seven days a week... no thanks.” He points out that having any livestock can be a bureaucratic headache (should you choose to tell anyone), but he wouldn’t be without his river. “A river’s about the nicest thing you can have, with all its trials and tribulations. A river is water, beauty, fish and maybe boating. Who could ask for anything more?” Maki and Clive Ridout created a Welsh/Japanese/ Spanish garden from their land. “We planted fruit trees and grafted some almond trees with other fruit trees. We grow tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, courgettes, cucumbers, chillies, herbs, green beans, lettuces, melon, corns, potatoes, spring onions and some Japanese green vegetables and beans. In winter, we grow broad beans, garlic and sometimes peas but we give the land some rest, too.” When it came to olives, Maki enlisted some help. “We made a deal with our neighbour/friend that he would cultivate them. He looks after a part of the land and earns the income from selling our olives, and we get a proportion of olive oil. We both benefit from this agreement and our olive trees have improved dramatically. We still help him harvest but let him do all the technical side – feeding and pruning.” Peter Dovaston of Fincas4Sale offers a word of warning though. “Renting your land to a local farmer for money can offer a nice income, but could have legal consequences. For example, if you later sell up, you may have to offer the land to the farmer first. The more ad hoc approach, for example swapping grazing for meat, might be better.” For most owners in the countryside, having a parcel of land is the route to a new and rewarding
Living Spain SUMMER 2012
lifestyle. As Chris Stewart says of farming, “The important thing is not having to make a living out of it.” But while farming may offer little financial gain for all the hard work, rural tourism might make the country life pay. Maki Ridout says, “We didn’t plan to have much land as we knew that it would be hard work just to maintain it. We just wanted enough to grow our vegetables. But when we saw the house, we knew that it would be beneficial for our business, so we were thrilled to imagine what we could do with it.” What they did, was create Finca las Encinas (www.finca-las-encinas.com), a rural retreat offering fine dining and cookery courses. Carmen Santaeulalia, who sells properties in northern Spain through www.spanishcountrycottages.com, is also considering business options. “We plan to have chickens, llamas and donkeys (maybe even a donkey sanctuary one day which has always been a bit of a dream for me). I’m into yoga and meditation so creating a dream retreat with views and space has always been a pull, so it was important to have a property with lots of outbuildings for renovation to provide potential accommodation.” If none of that appeals, selling the land is another option, as Peter Dovaston explains. “You have a good chance of selling plots over 10,000m2 because you can – subject to planning approval – build on parcels of land over that size. With smaller plots, you could still sell them for perhaps €20,00040,000. But get a good, independent solicitor who knows about agricultural property, not one from the coastal resorts who may not have a clue.” Whatever you do with your land, it can be a great way to make friends in the local community. “Our plum tree is admired by the old men in the village and over the years we have given a lot of cuttings for them to graft,” says Maki Ridout, and Chris Stewart agrees. “If you live in the country you’ll be surrounded by farming folk, and they like something they can relate to and understand. It helped us a lot.” To stay on good terms with those neighbours, Peter Esders of solicitors Chebsey & Co (www. chebsey.com), says, “It’s vital to be sure about any rights of way or other rights that there may be on
the property. Do the neighbours have any rights, for example, to collect wood or water? Often with rural properties it is difficult to know exactly where the boundaries are, so establish these before you buy.” What land can give you is the opportunity to plan and dream. Carmen Santaeulalia may live in the Brecon Beacons, but her head is already in Spain. “We love the idea of being a little self-sufficient and going back to nature. We don’t aspire to be totally self-sufficient, but having the satisfaction of growing some veggies, collecting fresh eggs in the morning, having all the fruit we want, maybe even try our hand with bees... who knows?!” And for Maki and Clive, “We love being under the huge oak tree at the top of our land. We have a swing and hammock hanging on it and a tree-house next to it. It is so cool and relaxing to be there in the summer. You can observe the birds, insects, snakes, scorpions and lizards and we have a lot of wild gladioli, miniature hyacinth and daffodils. We go asparagus hunting on our land before our neighbours pinch it all!”
1 Villalonga, Costa del Azahar
Nestled amongst the orange groves near Villalonga on the Costa del Azahar, this fourbedroom villa has 6,000m2 of land, and views of the Safor mountains. The wellmaintained country property has accommodation on one storey, comprising four bedrooms, lounge/diner, kitchen/diner, a large covered terrace and sun terraces enjoying stunning views across the valley. This villa, 15 minutes from the busy town of Gandia, is priced at e135,000. Available from Oranges and Lemons: (0034) 962 853 112, www.orangesandlemons.com
2 Vegadeo, Asturias Located close to the city of Gijon, a cottage in 5,000m2
This finca has a large house for restoration, which would restore into a very nice twobedroom, two-bathroom villa with separate lounge, kitchen and dining room. The electricity could be solar-powered and the water is from a very large cisterna. There is an additional building which could also be restored to provide one or two apartments if needed. It has 13,990m2 of land where almonds, pomegranates and grapes are grown. It is just off a tarmac road. Price e70,000. Available from Fincas4Sale: (0034) 964 412 262, www.fincas4sale.com
4 Vega De Pas, Cantabria
This quiet and natural site in a stunning landscape in northern Spain comprises two cottages set in an estate of more than 12,000m2. The first has an area of 70m2, and the second is 40m2. Spring water is available on site. Price e60,000. Available from Cantabria Rustica, 0034 942 882 595, www.cantabriarustica.com.
of land is for sale. Orientated south-east in a small, quiet village, accommodation lies across three storeys, in land which contains rolling hills and forest, and has views of more forests and valleys, with water
The breakfast table at Finca las Encincas.
SUMMER 2012 Living Spain