Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Vejer - Annie's article for Living Spain

Annie’s buying a house in Spain’ muttered my mother to my father over marmalade and oatcakes one morning.’ What on earth would she want to do that for?’ he replied with his usual Scottish canniness.

Exactly 3 years on, it’s turned out to be the very best decision I’ve ever made.

In 2003, disillusioned re. entrusting my future to failing pension funds and aware I was sitting on a great deal of equity in my London house, I decided to head to The Costa de la Luz to find ‘my pension’ which could double up as a rental income property. My inspiration came from a January screening of Vacation, Vacation. The beautiful beaches, the guarantee of a cool breeze, original Spanish tapas bars and all within the Sherry region!!! I was off – a woman with a mission – 1 x beachfront apartment required!

Until this visit, I’d never ventured further west than Corte Ingles in Puerto Banus! I thought that Trafalgar was a square in London and that Cadiz was something to do with Christopher Columbus. I’d never heard of Vejer or even aware that the some of the most beautiful beaches in the world were within a 2 hour reach of London.

Very early on during my 5 day visit, I became aware that there was very little property available for sale. I feared I was going to leave empty handed and that it wasn’t to be. Then out of the blue, it was suggested I look at a townhouse in Vejer. It was 3 times more than my budget but no harm in looking.

It was love at first sight. Casa Alegre was in the final throes of restoration. An ancient Andalucian patio home with 5 small family units based around the courtyard providing communal cooking, bathroom and washing facilities. I had a premonition that something magical was about to unfold.

The courtyard had become a pool, and the units, 3 ensuite bedrooms, 2 sitting rooms, various hallways, dining room, kitchen, various patio and terrace areas and the crowning glory – an azotea (azotea’s only exist in Andalucia!) with spectacular views over the old town of Vejer, all the way over the Straits of Gibraltar to Morocco. The house filled me with ideas of a different life, of escapism, of relaxation and indulgence. That was it. That’s what I wanted to create.

This house would work well anywhere but the fact it’s in somewhere as bewitching and charming as Vejer was the icing on the cake. My charming neighbours, the fish and produce market, the family run tapas bars, the butcher’s shop with seats (you just can’t go there in a rush!), the wafting smells from Andalucian kitchens, the Moroccan inspired architecture, the gentle humour and kindness of everyone – you would have to travel far to find somewhere like Vejer. As one of my Jimmy Choo high heel tottering girlfriend’s remarked, finally accepting that sensible rubber soled shoes are required for Vejer ‘ If someone doesn’t like Vejer, they have a problem’.

Vejer has brought untold pleasure to my family, my friends and guests who have rented my house. Even my father rejoices in the fact his daughter has found somewhere for him to have a breakfast coffee and brandy in a different bar every day!

My tips and advice to anyone buying a property here would be (apart from a good lawyer of course)

1. When transferring money to a Spanish bank – check that you pay charges at source. Spanish banks levy hefty charges – I have learned this the hard way.

2. The escitura (title deed) is very important so don’t pass any money until you know the escitura exists. Given the various family units, Casa Alegre has 3 escituras, one of which didn’t come through until a year after I paid 80% and received the keys. I took a risk but my lawyer knew that the owners were in court proving ownership.

3. Check the level of your electricity supply. Some of these old houses aren’t geared up to hairdryers or dishwashers. Anything that ‘heats up’ requires more electricity.

4. Buy beds and white goods locally. The service will be fantastic.

5. Bring all bedding from UK. Spanish bedding is a minefield if you require goose down duvets, pillows and pure cotton bedding.

6. Another weird thing I’ve found difficult to find here is decent plastic glassware – a must if you have a pool or a breezy azotea.

7. It has taken years to finally build in traditional wardrobes etc. I have learned to become patient (that hasn’t been easy) as the manana principle truly exists. There are many fabulous local craftsmen

8. A simple rule when it comes to furnishing your home is to keep it Spanish with a splash of Moroccan. In many instances furniture from the UK just doesn’t look right and artwork/artefacts from other parts of the world looks out of place.

3 years later, I have, for the time being, left my life in London behind. Leaving Vejer after every trip became more and more difficult and it made no sense not to be here full time. I’m thriving living back in a village/town community after 20 years in London. I awake every morning to the most spectacular views from my bedroom. From my desk I over look the ancient church and town. I no longer wear a watch and relay on the hourly and half-hourly church bells (the stop at midnight until 8am!).

The simple pleasure of biting into a dewy new season’s freshly picked organic peach currently outweighs Risotto Nero at Le Caprice (you can get that here too – only it’s even better!). Being able to walk along the beach with glistening sand underfoot and the negative ions from he crashing waves leaves me wondering why it’s taken me so long to be here.

My business is in safe hands, my house is sold and I am enjoying a long awaited ‘Gap Year’. I plan to buy various other properties and recreate the comfort of Casa Alegre for the work weary in need of a recharge. This area is full of opportunities to do this. If you see something and it feels right – go for it! I promise you won’t regret it.

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