Spanish Property

Spanish Property

I notice I have written an article about Las Hurdes without telling you where it is, which is a bit silly; so, here is an addition to last week’s blog.

Las Hurdes is a mountainous region to the south-west of Salamanca. I did get a map image from Google, but obviously forgot to insert it in the last post. Sorry about that.

Okay, back to today’s post.

With all the dreadful news around, is Spain really a disaster zone, or not?

I have always maintained that the disaster in the Spanish property market is largely confined to the tourist spots, where there has been a massive overbuild, and they have quite simply run out of buyers. On the other hand, the spill-over has left many normally sellable Spanish properties in a state of limbo. What to do?

A telling indicator is a graph showing online searches for Spanish properties for sale. It’s been going down for the past five years, and looks to be going lower.

These things happen, and there is nothing we can do about it. The fact is, Spanish builders went mad, building far too many properties, and it is going to take a long time to sell them all.

Then of course there is all the nonsense with the banks, and the politicising of the euro. The EU banking system has to re-schedule €8 trillion worth of debt over the next fifteen months. That is not feasible. The system is broke. The only way that level of debt can be dealt with is by default, or by printing money to cover the hole. Default will lead to a massive loss of money. The debt will be written off. That funding will be sucked out of the system. Such a result would be deflationary, and will make borrowing money even more difficult.

Money printing will eventually lead to inflation, higher interest rates, and the erosion of wealth generally, including house values. This will effect the whole of the euro-zone.

In neither scenario is holding real estate the best investment policy. By all means hold onto your Spanish property if you have low or no debt levels. If the Spanish house is your home, then I guess you have not much alternative but to sit tight. Things will get better, however, it may take some time. If you can, hold on. Prices can go lower, but probably not much lower. They will eventually recover.

The only good thing about any of this is that most of you who’ve been regularly reading these bulletins have already bought in the right places. A lot of you have bought in one of my favourite spots in Spain, down in the far south in the province of Cadiz. I think most of you will escape the worst of this downturn, and anyone thinking of buying in this area may well be surprised at what can be found. It’s also a good lifestyle down here, and there is a lot going for it. Meanwhile avoid the tourist zones of the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca. The overbuild there is so vast it will take a decade at least to clear. To those who are still thinking of buying, look inland at the towns where real people live and work, and leave the holiday black spots well alone.

John

Hurdes

Las Hurdes

Las Hurdes is a strange region of Spain. Historically it has been one of those places where the maps read “here be dragons and strange beasts”. The area was locked in grinding poverty, and the buildings were shabby and stinking. The people were riddled with disease and all the mental problems that develop from inbreeding.

There was one priest in the 1930s who tried to bring fresh blood into his village, but no-one would follow him to the region. Las Hurdes had such a bad reputation no-one wanted to venture there, so in order to try and bring fresh blood into the stock he ended up seducing most of his female flock and ending up fathering about 100 children.

The area is mountainous, and heavily wooded in parts, and travel was difficult before modern roads were pushed through, and indeed, up until the mid seventies the place was virtually unknown. I travelled all over Spain in the sixties, and even I completely missed the whole region. At the time I got as far as Trujillo and was so depressed I refused to go any further. So the whole of the region beyond the old silver road was unknown territory.

From about 1975 onwards Las Hurdes has gradually been improved. The towns are now much the same as any in Spain. The countryside, though wild and rugged, is filled with goats, and a certain amount of prosperity. Goats and bees are the mainstay in the economy.

I could see no vestiges of the disease, hereditary idiocies, filth and squalor that was formerly the case. If the region is still poor, it is only relatively so. The small towns (really overgrown villages) are, generally speaking, about 25 kilometres apart, and in between there are few or no villages, just alquerias, or hamlets. No wonder there was so much inbreeding.

On the other hand, the smaller places are currently getting smaller as there is a steady move to the larger towns. Casares de las Hurdes is experiencing a continuing fall in numbers, down to less than 500 at the last count. It is still difficult to get around. I got lost and lost again. The roads are marked on the maps, but they dont seem to be marked on the ground. I’m sure half of them dont actually exist, unless they are overgrown dirty tracks.

There is some tourism, and the rivers have been dammed in the south to produce a sizeable reservoir. I think it’s worth going back there, but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s very much a zone for those who are happy to get lost among lonely mountains and woodlands.

john

Salamanca

Salamanca

Leaving the Landes area of France we pressed on to Spain, stopping briefly for breakfast at the border where I bought an odd shaped baguette, which I’m told is traditional in these parts.

Basque Bread

I shan’t be doing this journey across Spain in the hot weather again. I suppose it is my own fault. I didn’t realise that for the AC unit in the car to work I have to top it up with something, so we roasted and sweated across Spain, arriving seriously dehydrated at Salamanca.

Salamanca is always worth a stop. It has a very old cultural history, one of the world’s oldest and most respected universities, and that amazing square right in the middle of the old town, once described by someone as Europe’s greatest drawing room. It is completely enclosed by these buildings.

Salamanca central square

We swooped round Salamanca on the autovia, and turned onto the A66, the Autovia Ruta de la Plata. It’s named after the old Silver road. Silver looted from the Americas was brought back to Seville, or preferably unloaded in Sanlucar because you could trust a man from Sanlucar, but of course you couldn’t trust those crooks up in Seville. Then the loot was carried north up through the old towns of Estremadura. This was the land of the conquistadores.

Estremadura was the poorest part of medieval Spain, and it is no surprise that men from this region went to find a better future across the Atlantic. The palaces of the conquistadores can still be seen around the square of the old town of Trujillo. And of course Pizarro is on his horse.

Trujillo Square and Pizarro

Hmmm….. I ought to erase all that. I have just found out that what I have been told over the years by Spaniards isn’t true at all. According to the all-knowing Wikipedia, confound it, the name is a corruption of the Arabic word balata, which means paved. Mind you, I dont believe a word of it. All Roman roads would have been paved, not just one going through Salamanca. I’m sticking to my story. Anyway, the road passes close to the ancient mines now known as the Rio Tinto Mines, to the north west of Seville. These mines were full of copper and silver, and date back to Phoenicean times, 2000 years BC.

When I first visited the old town of Trujillo back in the sixties it was a ruin. Goats lived in the palaces, and most of the old houses had no doors, and half the walls were down. The road was potholed, and almost impassable, and there were miles and miles of deserted land in all directions. Life here was grim.

This time I wanted to explore the more western corners of the region. There is a region known as Las Hurdes, and I wanted to look around. But first we needed to recover. We stopped just outside the small town of Mozarbez, which is about eight miles south of Salamanca. There is a rather nice hotel just off the A66. I collapsed into the swimming pool, and Julie lay in a cool bath.

I can recommend the hotel. It’s clean, cheap, pleasant, and the food is okay. And it is very convenient for Salamanca as it is just a quiet short ride back into town, with great views over the city as you drive in.

john

Landes

The Landes

We drove south from La Vienne, down the A10 to Bordeaux, and then onto the old N10 where it cuts a swathe through the pines in the Landes.

This is an unusual area, with very few towns, and villages hidden in among the trees. There is a long coastline of dunes stretching from Arcachon right down to the Spanish border. Mostly these dunes are deserted, except for a couple of months in high summer when they are deluged with bodies soaking up the sun.

Holiday beach in the Landes

Inland are the pines interspersed with hardwood forest and a few fields. The main industry in the Landes is logging and the production of charcoal. The villages sleep their way through the year to burst into activity during August, when you can hardly move along the roads for walkers, cyclists, and a line of cars making for the nearest campsite and beach.

Chalet in the Landes

We stayed in the charming little village of Mazos. There is a late medieval church built to withstand a siege, with a charming wooden spiral staircase up to the belfry. There is the only shop for miles, and a huddle of houses. Opposite the church is a restaurant where you can collapse under spreading trees to savour a rather nice cuisine as the evening gradually gets cooler.

Chalet in the Landes

Living in the Landes presents you with a different way of life. You are secluded, you are almost cut off from the rest of the bustling world. It’s a major operation to get into the nearest town. You can walk, dream, commune with nature, and maybe make a few euros every summer by renting out the spare room to a deluge of tourists.