Dec 152011
 

In amongst all the doom and gloom concerning the economic situation and the housing and property market in particular in Spain, there are still instances of things turning out happily for all concerned.

Back in the summer, we were pleased to have Carmel and her family stay with us whilst they were on a house-hunting expedition here. They had done plenty of research in their quest to find a bargain property on the Costa Blanca, and had narrowed their search to one property that they felt really met their requirements. It might seem strange to come half-way round the world (they spend most of their time in Malaysia) on a property hunt here in Spain and then only look at one house, but they felt that this was the one – and so it has proved to be!

Not for them the standard type of “villa with a pool” that is so often the target of the foreign property purchaser in Spain – they were looking for something different. There are plenty of homes of the more conventional type on the market – and they have seen lots of them in Malaysia too, of course – but they already had their eye on a large townhouse that simply had character oozing out of every nook and cranny. Located in an inland village, they had found a house that was actually originally two houses that had been put together many years ago, and in fact dated back several hundred years. Beautifully restored and updated, it was now the house that they were looking for! With a tranquil courtyard which is the location for a stunning pool and relaxation area, the house has a bathroom for every bedroom, lots of reception areas and a well fitted, modern kitchen.

Property at great prices abounds at the moment in Spain, and the Costa Blanca is no exception, but Carmel was particularly taken with the extra qualities that this house possessed. Peace and calm are somehow built in to the brickwork here, and it is rare to find a house of this age and type in such a good condition and state of general repair. Bargain properties often end up not being such a bargain once all the updating and renovations have been carried out by the purchaser, but here was a house that had already been refurbished and then lovingly maintained by the previous owner.

It was therefore a very happy Carmel who arrived at our door last weekend, all ready to secure the purchase of her new home. All the details had been sorted out by her Spanish lawyer in advance, so when Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, it was a good omen that all would go smoothly with the paperwork, and that no complications would unexpectedly arise. And so it was – in no time at all Carmel and her eldest son, who was accompanying her on the trip, were in a position to take up residence in the beautiful village home that has become their tranquil haven. A greater contrast to their life in bustling Malaysia would be hard to imagine, but when we visited them there this week it definitely looked like a story with a happy ending.

The family is now looking forward to a happy, family Christmas together in their new home in the sun, which they will be using for an ever larger part of the year. They will still be splitting their time between Spain and Malaysia due to work considerations, but – having seen how happy and settled they already look – there seems little doubt that those members of the family who are in a position to do so, will spend as much time as possible in their new Spanish home. After so much time moving around the world, they are all looking forward to the peace and stability that a small Spanish village has to offer. We look forward to seeing them many more times in their new home, and of course it is always good to see former guests become neighbours and friends.

Dec 132011
 

The property market in Spain may have suffered a spectacular decline in the recent past, and it is true that this plays an enormous part in the present woes of the Spanish economy. However, a housing market which is suffering from an excess of supply over demand can only mean good news for any buyers who happen to come along. We were pleased to welcome a couple from Belgium recently who were on a serious house-hunting expedition, had done their homework thoroughly before leaving home and who arrived at our door with a full diary of appointments with local estate agents.

They were looking for a property that would be large enough to accommodate their visiting children and grandchildren, which had a swimming pool and fairly large gardens (so that there was always something to do!), was within about half an hour from the beach, but yet would be easy to leave unoccupied for the times when they would be back in their own home in Belgium This was to be a property for holidays and winter time – some of their time would still be spent in Belgium, as this was not a full move, but rather an additional home for them to use.

They soon found out that they were in a very enviable position indeed! They saw round a large number of houses and quickly realised that they were a rare and much sought-after commodity – serious prospective purchasers with no house to sell in their home country first! The estate agents let them know that most of the houses they were viewing would also be open to negotiation, so a buyer with ready cash and no reason to delay could always put in an offer and hope for the best! This area of Spain was the place that they decided would suit them best because, apart from the stunning scenery and all the amenities close at hand, it was within reasonable driving distance of France and Belgium, as they were anticipating that many visits would be made by car. Much further south and an extra overnight stop would be required, and further north – where they had already investigated – was not so much to their taste.

They had originally booked in with us for two nights, but when they realised that there were so many properties that might suit them here, and that the area really did live up to their expectations, they decided to stay for five nights and see as much as they could. In the end, they found many houses that met their basic requirements and represented good value for money. Spain certainly has a large number of bargain homes on offer at the moment, as they found out! By the end of their trip, they had narrowed the list down to two houses, and it was a question of deciding between them. They both loved both houses, but unfortunately, one preferred one property, and the other preferred the other! However, what they did agree on was that this was a strong position to be in, as they could now go home and think carefully about the choices from all angles before making a decision. Whatever house they chose would be one that they both liked and the decision could now be made based on logic and what would suit their visiting families best – one of the major reasons for them making the purchase in the first place, after all.

It was a pleasure to have them stay with us, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company and hearing about their daily house viewing activities. As their visit proved, there are certainly bargain properties in Spain at the moment with a great choice of homes at prices that have not been this low for many years. For all the problems besetting Europe generally at the present time, Spain is still a great place to consider for either a permanent move, or a second home. Wonderful weather, great food, a cost of living that is significantly lower than most countries in northern Europe and easy accessibility by road and air all combine to ensure that Spain retains her place at the top of the list for many overseas house-hunters.

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Nov 212011
 

Books4spain

Spain is not just about sun, sea and sangria, it’s about the Moors, the Reconquest, El Cid, Hernan Cortes, the Conquistadors, the Golden Age, Don Quijote, the Camino de Santiago, Flamenco, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, paella, seafood, the Alhambra, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Velazquez, Goya, Murillo, Andres Segovia, Joaquin Rodrigo, Carmen, Napoleon, Wellington, the Spanish Armada, Catalyuna (Catalonia), Andalucia, or Andalusia if you prefer, Rafael Nadal, Fernan Adria – the list goes on and on.

Books4Spain has been established by Rod Younger, an Anglo-Spaniard and author, to help you discover Spain and its rich history and culture through books, as well as to provide you access to useful, relevant and interesting information about living, travelling or holidaying in Spain.

Our intention is to try and re-create the experience, attractions and benefits of a traditional bricks & mortar independent bookshop but with the added convenience afforded by the Internet and technology to offer better choice, an easier way to discover books about Spain, great customer service and, ultimately, to enable our clients to learn more about Spain, its culture and history.

We have a small but growing network of reviewers who are either experts in a particular field, e.g. Therese Wassily Saba for flamenco and classical guitar (www.myflamencodiary.com), or who are book lovers and lovers of Spain and who write the Books4Spain Reviews for specific books.

Customer service is a priority for us and we aim to respond within 24 hours to any emails and to try and resolve any questions or queries as quickly as possible. We are human and we are new so the site is constantly being improved and our book selection increased.

We welcome any feedback or suggestions you may have with regard to the site and our book selection – we are always looking to add quality books about Spain to the site so please do email us your suggestions/recommendations to suggestions@books4spain.com and we will use our best efforts to source the relevant book(s).

Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell, Laurie Lee, Gerald Brenan, George Borrow, Richard Ford and Washington Irving have long been fascinated by this amazing country and we hope that Books4Spain enables you to discover, and share in, their experiences and those of many others.

We look forward to being of service to you.

Nov 172011
 

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Ubuntu Review

Nov 072011
 

Last Wednesday we were pleased to welcome some unexpected guests – again from Canada – who were touring around Spain with a possible long-term view to settling here. They called on us to see if they could stay here as they wanted to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation as opposed to conventional hotels wherever possible. They had in mind also that the bed and breakfast industry might suit them if they were to settle here, and were eager to hear our experiences.

Brian and Lonnie come from Alberta and were travelling around Spain in the opposite direction from our last Canadian guests – they had started in Seville and were ultimately destined for Barcelona – whereas Neil and Debra had started in Barcelona and were heading south and round to Portugal. Both couples wanted to stay away from big cities for most of their time in Spain, and therefore felt that bed and breakfast accommodation would suit them better, as well as allowing them to get a better feel for what everyday life is like for people living here already.

Brian and Lonnie spent three nights with us and during the day would explore the area and seek out towns, villages and even some properties that they had already seen on various websites. Their plan is one that is very much for the future, however, so this trip was purely exploratory to see which areas of the country might suit them when the time comes to think about making the big move.

They were very impressed with the La Safor region, however, and had already determined that it is a very healthy as well as a very pleasant part of the country in which to live due to the microclimate to be found here. They took trips up into the mountains to check out some of the smaller villages there, as well as spending time one day in Xátiva – a town that appealed to them very much. Being near the coast is not of great importance to them, so the inland area around Xátiva was of considerable interest, as well as being a potential base for a bed and breakfast business in the future. Further down the coast they discovered Oliva and its Friday market and from there they fell a little bit in love with the beautiful village of Forna that lies inland through the orange groves behind Oliva.

After each day’s exploring they would return to us and take advantage of our evening meal service and tell us of their discoveries and impressions that day. It certainly seemed that our part of the Costa Blanca was going to be fairly far up their list of possible locations to consider in the future, as they preferred an area which was not too over-populated with non-Spanish residents and was a little different from the mainstream tourist destinations.

However, after a three night stay with us they felt that they had acquainted themselves with the area sufficiently and it was time to move on. They had managed to reserve accommodation in another bed and breakfast establishment to the north of Valencia where they planned to spend a couple of nights before heading up to their final destination of Barcelona where they were to catch their flight back to Canada.

Hopefully we will see them back with us in the future when they feel the time is right to look at a move to Spain and they will consider our area as a place to start their search in earnest.

Oct 242011
 

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Many people are seeking alternatives to the seaside resort holiday that is centred around lots of sunshine and doing as little as possible except maybe reading a book on the beach or around a swimming pool.  Pleasant as that prospect may be, spending two weeks with nothing else on the agenda can become a little monotonous.  More and more holidaymakers are looking to combine some of the lazy sunshine holiday concept with a certain amount of activity, and it is here that the area around Gandía and the whole area along the Costa Blanca can really come into its own. 

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The beautiful mountain scenery that lies almost immediately behind the coastal resorts along the Costa Blanca provide for a whole host of activities that are only now being fully recognised by local towns and businesses as equally valid and attractive reasons to come to this part of Spain.  An obvious recreation in the La Safor mountains near Gandía is that of hiking and walking, and there is a wide choice of routes that have been mapped out for the enthusiast, ranging from easy, gentle walks to more strenuous hikes and climbs.  Local authorities have started producing maps showing the recommended routes to follow, and these are also signposted along the way to make things even easier and more “user friendly” and less daunting for the first-time hill walker.  There is also a hiking information centre in the hills behind Gandía where many of the local routes are centred upon, set in an area designated of special interest and natural beauty.  As an extra point of interest, some of the routes also make use of disused railway lines in the area and the hiker will find themselves taking unspoilt and scenic routes between towns and villages, often even walking through former railway tunnels along the way. 

If walking and hiking does not appeal, an alternative is cycling and mountain biking.  This is a recreation that is hugely popular amongst local people, and it is not hard to see why.  Bikes can be hired locally, either as an independent daily or weekly rental, or in the company of a guide who can take the enthusiast along routes in the hills and mountains if a road trip is not what you have in mind.  Stunning mountain views are the reward for a steep climb through many of the villages and towns in the area, and then of course there is always the extra reward of the exhilarating downhill trip at the other side!  It is very easy to combine a route that takes in a mountain section, followed by a return along the coast and maybe a swim in the sea all in the same trip – the best of everything! 

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Nature lovers can also indulge themselves along the Costa Blanca by visiting the areas frequented by the many species of birds in the area – both local and (depending on the time of year) migratory.  There is a large designated nature reserve of wetlands to the south of Valencia City that will be of particular interest to the bird watcher, and this is home to a great number of species as well as a stopping point for birds that are passing through on their seasonal migrations.  In addition to this specific area, the entire stretch of coast provides excellent opportunities for spotting a wide range of birds, including many birds of prey in the mountains.  Guided bird watching tours can be arranged by local experts who can take the visitor to the best starting-off points, depending on the particular types of bird that are of particular interest.  This can in fact be an excellent way of combining the different activities that the area lends itself to so well – walking through beautiful scenery whilst at the same time spotting varieties of birds and wildlife the visitor is unlikely to encounter at home. 

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And all this, of course, is available along the Costa Blanca in a climate so very much milder and warmer than what the visitor would probably be used to at home.  Indeed, the long mild season that this part of Spain generally experiences makes it perfectly possible – and maybe even preferable – to take a break at a time when the mainstream holiday crowds have either not yet arrived or already returned home.  The visitor can then benefit from lower airfares (rather than having to pay the premium normally levied during school holidays), cheaper accommodation costs, and of course a less crowded environment than during the traditional peak season.  

Alternatively, if some members of a group want the more traditional high-season holiday activities of sun and sea, this can be combined with the interests of the walker and nature lover all in the same trip.  The Costa Blanca and the La Safor region in particular really does have a lot more to offer than first meets the eye.

Oct 122011
 

We were pleased to welcome Neil and Debs to Villa Florencia at the end of last week, with the added dimension that they are from Canada, taking five weeks to tour through Spain and Portugal, and doing the whole thing by public transport – mainly bus. We collected them from Gandía bus station and brought them to our home, and the emphasis of their trip was to stay away from large cities and towns, and to spend time walking and hiking in the hills and mountains that this country has to offer away from the better known tourist destinations.

Their aim was to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation along the way, planning their route a week or so in advance and staying at each place for three or four nights at a time, which would give them the opportunity to get a feel for each area and explore the natural environment. They are keen outdoor explorers and walkers in Canada, but were taking a six month sabbatical from work to enjoy life without pressure for a change and had decided to take advantage of some European late summer sunshine, as the weather in Canada is beginning to cool considerably by this time of year. They had flown in to Barcelona and spent a few days in Tarragona to recover from the inevitable jet lag, and then made their way down to Gandía in order to explore the La Safor mountains and the wonderful scenery of the northern Costa Blanca.

They stayed with us for four nights, and each day they would explore the surrounding mountains and valleys, either on foot direct from the house or we would give them a lift to a start point. They took a packed lunch with them each day, and made the best possible use of the marked out hiking and walking routes around the mountain of Mondúber. They visited the Parpalló-Borrell natural park area and information centre there to get guidance and ideas, and were impressed that Gandía was now trying to publicise the beauty of the surrounding area to the foreign traveller. Sometimes they would do a round route and return to the house, or sometimes they would contact us from a pre-arranged point and we would then collect them and drive them home. They loved the fact that they could hike in such beautiful surroundings and in superb weather, and that they could do so without having to hire a car to drive a considerable distance before setting off on their day’s walk.

At some point during the afternoon they would return to us and spend the last hour or so of sunshine in the garden, taking advantage of the warmth that they would miss so much upon their return to Canada. Each evening they dined with us, and found the whole concept of being able to have a holiday such as this based around Villa Florencia most appealing, without having to venture into larger centres and towns other that to travel on to their next port of call. And all too soon it was indeed time to leave – even though they had extended their visit to us by one night – so after consulting bus timetables they left heading in the direction of Alicante and their next rural accommodation that they had already reserved. It had been a very great pleasure to have Neil and Debs stay with us, and gratifying to find that they could spend time in the immediate surroundings of our home pursuing their outdoor walking and hiking pastimes and that they felt it compared with the fantastic scenery and surroundings of their home country.

Oct 062011
 

05_square_close_to_castle_at_guagalest-costa-benidorm

Autumn and Winter Sunshine The weather is most definitely beginning to cool down in northern Europe now generally, but this year has seen a wonderful, long summer in Spain, and particularly along the Costa Blanca. September and October have so far been unusually warm and settled, and this weather seems here to stay for a while yet.

What better time can there possibly be to leave the grey and cold of impending winter behind and head to the Costa Blanca for what must surely be a bargain break in the sun? Hotels and self-catering accommodation throughout the region are offering great deals on holiday rates, and of course air fares are generally much lower now that the school term has resumed. All in all, a great opportunity for those who can take a holiday at this time of year – all the facilities are here and waiting for the autumn traveller – but with none of the crowds, lower prices and fabulous weather too!

The Costa Blanca has some of the best beaches in Spain – and indeed in the whole of the Mediterranean – but travellers are sometimes deterred from visiting by reports of crowded resorts and rowdy holidaymakers. These resorts and beaches are now at their best and can be enjoyed in relative peace and quiet, giving visitors the impression of what they must have been like in years gone by.

The Costa Blanca has so much more to offer than just holiday resorts and stunning beaches, however, and visitors are often impressed – and surprised – by what they find if they venture away from the better known destinations. Stunning mountain scenery and fascinating castles and attractions are to be found for those that venture slightly inland, with towns such as Xátiva and Guadalest being amongst the most well-known fortifications. Inland lakes and reservoirs are also amongst the surprises that await the intrepid traveller, with a huge choice of scenic drives to choose from.

If driving is not such a preferred option, the Costa Blanca also offers a huge opportunity for the walker and hiker. Designated routes are marked out and signposted in many parts of the region, as well as an indication of estimated journey times and distance. These are to be found not only in the hills and mountains of the Costa Blanca, but interestingly some of these routes encompass old railway tracks and tunnels, which gives an unusual dimension to a walking route and takes the visitor through parts of the region that would otherwise be completely forgotten by now.

If a city break is higher up the list of priorities than a beach or a scenic break, then of course Valencia City has so much to offer the visitor – and the scorching heat of summer has abated, so exploring the city is so much more pleasant in the more gentle warmth of Autumn. Public transport to the city is reliable and inexpensive, so if you are staying in one of the holiday areas along the coast (either north or south), a quick train ride will take you straight to the centre. Valencia has an historic part that is compact and easy to get around on foot and the usual tourist bus can be used to get a quick handle on which sights should be seen in greater detail. There are two routes to ride around, and passengers can hop on and off at any of the stops, and switch between routes at points where they intersect. In stark contrast to the historic centre is the stunning architecture of the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias) – a complex that includes (amongst other facilities) a science museum, the largest aquarium in Europe and an Imax cinema, as well as being a visual delight in its own right. As well as all this, the recently refurbished beach and port areas that include the part of the city featured in the European Grand Prix route are also a recent addition to the “must see” list for the city visitor.

So – now would seem to be the perfect time to visit this beautiful region of Spain. The Costa Blanca and the Comunidad Valenciana have something for everyone, and with accommodation prices offering particularly good value at the moment, airfares past their summer peak pricing structures and a settled outlook of warm and sunny weather, what better time could there be to leave the grey of the north behind and get a last dose of sunshine and warmth, with a Costa Blanca Sunshine Holiday?

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Sep 272011
 

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Last week we were pleased to welcome a couple from Edinburgh who had booked to stay with us for a week of late summer sunshine. Brian and Ruth are keen hill walkers and hikers, and wanted to spend some time in nice weather preparing themselves for a walking challenge that awaited them after their return to Scotland.

During conversation, it emerged that both Brian and Ruth are doctors back home in Scotland and were both feeling the need for some well earned rest and relaxation – as well as pleasant walking in the sunshine.

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This part of the Costa Blanca has some magnificent walks, and it is fast becoming a recognised destination for hikers and hill walkers as well as more serious climbers. Routes are for the most part well signposted and marked out, and lead participants through beautiful scenery and tranquil surroundings. Estimated times are displayed as well as the level of difficulty involved, so there is something suitable for everyone in the area around here.

Brian and Ruth were to be staying with us for six nights, so they had time to combine plenty of walking and exploring with some relaxation in and around the pool, as well as one day’s sightseeing in Valencia City. Typically, they would take advantage of the designated walking routes in the mornings, often have lunch in a restaurant at the end of the walk (maybe sampling the local specialities of paella and fideua), and then later in the day return to Villa Florencia for some afternoon sunshine.

The weather on the Costa Blanca has been especially good this year and remained so for the duration of their stay, without the sometimes erratic changes that can take place in September. Days have been pleasantly warm and even night time temperatures have been staying much milder than usual.

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Their excursion to Valencia was planned for the Sunday of their stay, as they wanted to get a feel for the place, without necessarily visiting every tourist sight in the guidebook! They went up by train and walked around the historic area, and were able to do so without the crowds of people that might have been around on a weekday. A trip on the tourist bus completed their visit and gave them a good impression of what a lovely city Valencia is.

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Brian and Ruth were delighted that their time with us was a perfect opportunity to get a late summer sunshine break and prepare themselves for the chill that would probably await them on their return to Scotland. They were more than pleased with the variety of walking routes to be found near our guest house, and feel that they would like to come back in the future to do more of the same.

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It was an absolute pleasure to have them visit us, and we would certainly hope to see them with us again in the not too distant future.

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