Granada! Without hesitation!
Our recent visit to the province of Granada has moved me deeply - as much for the lovely, happy, funny people we met there as the stunning and spectacular surroundings.
Why did we go to Granada..? I need to recap to see if there is any logic at all left in my life!
- Began planning for a move to Spain in March of this year
- Cesar visited Galicia, Asturias and Leon to check out locations and potential properties
- Almost moved immediately to a village in Leon called La Urz
- Having upped sticks in August with the intention of settling in Leon, northern Spain, we deposited all our belongings in a large barn belonging to FR's parents - so that we could get at them relatively easily once we had found our new home.
- We went to stay at FR's parent's house in Valladolid, some 120kms further south - somewhere to stay free of charge; place to plan from; a known environment for the children.
(so far so good)
- Looked around Leon for suitable properties and found we were not overly impressed at what was available, the prices being asked and the access to schools for the children
- Moved east to Las Montanas Palentinas - specifically Aguilar de Campoo - which I fell in love with and where Mateo would go to school in a beautiful romanic building that used to be a monastery.
- Spent many days and weekends back and forth in glorious sunshine, checking out properties with Andres and Ramon, our two friendly estate agents in the area.
- Saw every house available that we could afford to think about.
- Put in a bid on a house there that was nearly what we wanted and that we visited twice and really liked..but.. offer rejected and we were secretly relieved.
(Bear with me, this is quite cathartic)
- Reach mid-September and suddenly the temperature drops - frisson runs down my spine and it's of displeasure and is rather unexpected - I thought I liked the idea of hot summers and cold winters, what with chocolate and knitting being my hobbies. Hmmm.
- FR immediately suggests we move to Alicante.
- The idea leaves me with more frissons, together with shudders of aversion - the snob in me rising to the surface - Alicante is full of expat Brits and I did not want to go there.
- Managed to discover that the schools there teach in Valencian - which is a dialect of Spanish and not Spanish like what it should be spoke. (Castillian). So there I had my excuse for not going to Alicante, plus the weather there is TOO good - like living in soup. No, I would not go to Alicante.
- Had to identify another, more southerly option.
- Malaga was out - we'd lived there 15 years ago and loved it but it's too hot in summer and too coastal and just too expensive.
- And then I remembered Granada!
- Swim in the morning and ski in the afternoon - the province of Granada stretches from the sea to the Sierra. We had visited the Alhambra twice when we lived in Malaga and been totally blown away by it and the drive through the Andalucian countryside on the way.
- So I started looking around Granada and liked what I saw.
But it wasn't just how fantastic the countryside was to look at, where every turn was even more breathtaking than the last...
But the sheer joy and fun that seemed to radiate from the people who live there was highly contagious. We had limped down the motorway with a ridiculous problem with the car - the radiator cap had developed a fault and about one third of the way down, when we stopped, water started bubbling out of the radiator. Refusing to be daunted on a Sunday before a bank holiday, we waited for the engine to cool and plodded on. However, FR stopped to check things after about half an hour and as he pulled the bonnet release, nothing happened and - despite huge efforts on all our parts - absolutely refused to open again. The cable had come off but at the bonnet catch end, not at the end in the car, so getting to it was impossible. (I'll get to my point soon). With another 400kms to go, but 250kms behind us, we decided to 'keep on swimming, just keep swimming' - which is my Doryesque response to all technical problems! And FR agreed. And we got there and had no more problems.
Monday was a 'bank holiday' in Spain - or a fiesta - and so everything was closed and we could do nothing about the car other than hope it would be OK. We had arranged to see a few houses with an English agent and we had to flag him to stop at one point as the fuel gauge suddenly started to go down in front of our eyes and we were sure that petrol must be pouring out along the road behind us. But it wasn't - it's the car, poor thing, that is going through a crisis as ...it has been written off by my insurance company and it's going to be taken from us. So we reassured it and told it how wonderful it had been and all was well for the rest of the day.
We didn't find a house we wanted but we met a wonderful baker who would have been our neighbour at one of the properties. He was 87 and called Marcelino - like the boy in the film 'Pan y Vino' - and positively twinkled. I couldn't understand a word he said to start with but when I told him this, he immediately dropped his Andalucian accent and spoke a lovely Spanish to me, saying he used to live in Vitoria in the north. We bought bread, madelenas and a wonderful apple tart from his daughter. who was now doing the baking and we inspected their wonderful, wood-burning bread oven and he told us we could come and bake things there .... FR thought of his beloved pizzas and for a moment, it was very tempting!
On Tuesday, we spent the morning with another estate agent, this time Irish, who most kindly took us to his own home to show what is possible to make out of a cave. I thought it was lovely as it was but he has plans to create an Irish bar in his lounge and has dug the space to put in a Roman bath in one of the cave rooms, along with a cinema area...a gregarious man, he was!
In the evening, we decided we had to do something to sort the car out, so went into Baza, which is a town of medium size near where we were staying. Enquiring after a mechanic, we were directed to a small workshop, where a blond Spanish mechanic gamely bashed, poked, fiddled and pulled at the bonnet to no avail. So he told us to try the Citroen garage at the top of the hill. But all the time he was working, he was laughing and joking with FR and thoroughly enjoying the challenge. And when we got to the Citroen garage, we had three chaps of varying ages - at least, one looked very young and one looked very old - again, poking, pulling, inserting metal instruments and scratching their heads but without result. Then one started to jack the car up on one side and crawled underneath with a long hook thing... and with a pwang! the bonnet released!! Hurray! He then checked the radiator cap, showed us the fault, brought us another one, fitted it ... all with a constant laughing and chatting and funny comments. We'd been there for almost half an hour and we were only asked to pay the 6 euros for the radiator cap! We left feeling we'd had a really good night out with friends!
And all the neighbours around the cave house have stopped to chat and tell us how they love the village and the caves and the food and each other... and look, a man with his donkeys!
And although they were not local, I can't not mention the lovely family (whose house we really, really wanted to buy but for a few reasons that I won't go into but that were deeply felt enough for us to decide against buying) - Gayil, Alan and Jamie - who were from Scotland! And living so happily with their donkeys and ponys in the middle of the Sierra de Baza and who weren't leaving the area but needed to live closer to amenities in the town because of their health.. gosh, they were very special people and I wish them all the very best. I hope they find buyers soon and I hope they won't mind me posting a very beautiful picture I took of their house looking at it's very best..
And Nick the 'unestatey' estate agent from the unlikely state of Idaho and on whom many of my hopes are now pinned and who is currently charged with finding us a rental place because we have to go back and we have to do it as soon as we can.. and I think he's found us somewhere but I'll tell you more when I am sure. Ah yes; Nick was lovely too and quietly so smug that he lived in this gorgeous corner of the world and so much more enthusiastic about the people than the properties, which was such a nice change from the other agents, who were only really trying to sell us a view or a pool or a sunny patio.
And on the Sunday, we decided to look at Guadix - the other main town in the area - and it was yet another breath-taking sight (though we didn't meet any people there as we were on a drive-through visit on our way home). And all thoughts of ever living anywhere else just slipped from my mind.
Red sandstone buildings, with a backdrop of snowy mountains.
Arabic castle remains and a huge network of cave houses - over 10,000 people live in the caves around Guadix.
Narrow cobbled streets and wide, fountained plazas.Guadix is a stunning place and the sun shone on us all the time of our stay.
So that's how I changed from looking in northern to southern Spain in just three short months - sorry to anyone who was hoping to explore the area and stay with us to do it!!