Travel: Spain Without the Pain!Posted on: 21 December 2010 by Rhian Mainwaring
A world away from the recession-blighted Costas, savvy second homers are sitting pretty in northern Spain. Laura Henderson reports.
Forty years after the first kiss-me-quick charter hit the baking tarmac and many UK second homers in Spain are feeling less than chipper about the bounties of sun, sea and sangria, with a growing casualty rate of investors stuck between an exchange rate rock and a falling values hard place.
In the northern provinces however, it’s an altogether more upbeat picture – Asturias and Galicia in particular, are still attracting buyers, with their quintessentially Spanish brand of peace and quiet. “Head north and you hit upon undiluted Spain,” explains Miriam Malga of Asturian Property, “with its scenic mountains and unspoilt beaches.”
While average house prices in the beleaguered southerly regions continue to fall from their pre-recessionary zenith, the northern provinces have seen less of a fallout in 2010. Galicia, to the northwest, is holding its own with a steady 1.4 per cent rise, with neighbouring Asturias up by 2 per cent.
“Quality - not quantity has been the mainstay of the market here,” explains property consultant Jeremy Sinclair. “The area is a ‘known quantity’ with holidaymakers from Madrid, so it’s geared up for second-homers, without being overly reliant on inward investment. Both areas have their share of sought-after estates and country mansions, with renovation projects an increasingly popular investment choice. New build alternatives are in the mix too, but nothing like the volumes in the saturated Costas, which has also helped to sustain values.”
Occupying Spain’s scenic northwest corner, Galicia serves up a certain Cornish style ruggedness, with its mesh of waterways flowing from the province’s inland mountain ranges to the quaint fishing villages and golden sandy beaches around the Bay of Biscay. “There are no mega tourist attractions here,” says Sieni Volkers of agents Galicia Vista, “just plenty of outdoor and cultural pursuits. 80 per cent of our clients are British, but the area has an established second-home community of madrilenos who come here to escape the scorching city heat.”
A celebrated place of pilgrimage as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site, most first-time visitors head straight for the buzzing provincial capital of Santiago de Campostela. “Direct flights from Heathrow and Stansted to both the capital and La Coruna have really opened up this area,” adds Churchman, “with a new stretch of motorway from Asturias drawing investors to the northwest coastal delights around Pontedeume.”
Those exploring the region, will find a north-south divide in terms of pricing structure; values considerably higher in the south-westerly Rias Bajas province of Pontevedra. Brimming with well-heeled coastal towns such as Sanxenxo, Cangas and Baiona, the province’s ‘economic powerhouse’ Vigo, has struck a chord with UK buyers, the city’s heritage-beachfront-marina mix appealing to a broad cross-section of investors. “Vigo enjoys a unique micro-climate,” explains Churchman, “with very warm summers and mild winters; average annual temperatures as much as 5 degrees higher than in places like Lugo and La Coruna. The surrounding area is also great for traditional property, a budget of £80,000-120,000 securing you a small semi-renovated stone-built home.”
Close by and linked to the mainland by a bridge, the island retreat of Isla de la Toja is the most exclusive place on the Galician coast, with a high private security presence-luxury three-bedroom apartments selling for upwards of £200,000. “Well-to-do Spanish families have been taking the mineral waters here for years,” adds Churchman, “with a good many of the island’s homes owned by wealthy madrilenos. It’s like stepping back in time to a more genteel era.”
Shoehorned between Galicia to the east and Cantabria to the west, Asturias offers its own custom blend of spectacular scenery and wholesome tradition. Perched on the northern edge of the Iberian Peninsula, the province’s craggy mountainous backbone drops to a 200-mile stretch of Atlantic coast dotted with quaint fishing villages; a throwback to the region’s humble maritime beginnings.
Attracting its share of international buyers, not to mention a little home grown glamour thanks to Crown Prince Felipe’s house hunting exploits around the coastal hot spot Ribadesella; low-cost flights into Oviedo/Aviles, Santander and Bilbao and a faster road link from Bilbao to Santander, (destination of ferry services from Plymouth), have all hastened the pace of change.
“It’s a steady market here,” confirms Ann Hansen of Costa Verde Properties, “not least because it offers better entry values compared to tourist-centric southern Spain. Stone-built renovated homes in popular spots like Villaviciosa and Pelonia for example, represent fantastic value at £110,000 and you can still pick up restoration projects for well below £70,000.”
Miriam Malga who set up Asturian Property to meet UK buyer demand, is equally upbeat about the market: “Property choice is wide-ranging, from lock-up-and-leave boltholes in coastal resorts such as Cabrales and Llanes, to mountain chalets in secluded rural surrounds. Upscale developments along the coastal stretch near Lastres and inland around the market town of Canga de Onis are also worth investigating, as are traditional stone-built houses in Moorish towns like Infiesto and Arriondas. Spanish holidaymakers have a soft spot for this area, so healthy rental returns are achievable.”
Laura Henderson is a UK-based property journalist and author specialising in UK and overseas markets. A regular contributor to the Financial Times and Sunday Express and the author of several on-line investor guides, she also edits a monthly property column for The Scotsman newspaper. Her latest property title Tricks and Mortar: The Little Book of Property Wisdom will be out Feb 2011.
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