An article about Gaucin property for The Sunday Times, 6 August 2006
There’s only one quaint village to live in if you’re an artist or aesthete. Mark Stucklin visits Gaucin, near the Costa del Sol
If the fleshpots of Marbella and Puerto Banus have started to attract philistines, then where in Spain do aesthetes and bohemians buy? The answer is Gaucin, one of Andalusia’s classic hilltop pueblos blancos (white villages), surrounded by the beautiful wilderness of the Alcornocales natural park, just under 20 miles inland from Estepona on the Costa del Sol and one hour’s drive from both Marbella and Gibraltar.
“Gaucin first attracted the attention of British buyers in the late 1980s, when a construction boom on the coast drove disaffected expats inland,” says Barbara Wood of The Property Finders, a buying agent with decades of experience in the area. “Right from the start it attracted creative, arty types who went there to drop out and to find the real Spain.”
Diana Paget, 64, from Kent, was part of the first wave, moving there with her mother in 1985 from San Pedro, near Marbella. Paget owns La Almuna, an attractive farmhouse just outside Gaucin, which she runs as a guesthouse along eccentric, informal, country house party lines.
“When we first got here it was just a poor, rural village in beautiful surroundings,” says Paget. “But it also had a reputation for smugglers and they say Carmen was born here, so in a way it was already associated with unconventional lifestyles. The American sculptor Bayard Osborn was living here, and several other sculptors and artists soon followed.”
It is easy to see why Gaucin has continued to attract a boho, artistic crowd. The countryside and views are spectacular, and the village has charm without the gimcrack tourism that has stained other villages, such as nearby Ronda. About 20 artists live in Gaucin, almost certainly the highest number in any rural Spanish village, and they are loosely associated in a club called Art Gaucin (www.artgaucin.com).
Painter Paddy Robinson fell in love with Gaucin on her first visit. “The surroundings here are very inspiring,” she says. “I can’t bear those grey, overcast British skies. Light is important to what I do, and the intensity of light here is incredible.”
Robinson, 61, from London, had never lived outside Britain but decided it was time for an adventure when her marriage broke up. “I’d been living in the Welsh borders, near Presteigne, and needed a complete change of scene. I wanted to live in a Mediterranean climate and also to reduce my cost of living.”
Staying with Paget at La Almuna while househunting in 2003, Robinson soon found that property in Gaucin was anything but cheap. “Diana did warn me that I would struggle with my budget but, as luck would have it, I heard about a townhouse on the market just within my budget. I went to see it and bought it on the spot. It had space for a studio and was right in the village, which was what I was looking for.”
She paid about £70,000 for the property, which has one bedroom, one bathroom, a large open-plan kitchen and living room and a large studio and southwest-facing terrace on the top floor. “I couldn’t afford anything like this in Britain,” she says. “I’d have had to make do with something poky in Wigan.”
In her haste to buy, however, Robinson did not check the building’s structure. Soon after completing, she was forced to replace the roof. “The old beams were rotten and many of the tiles were broken. The only option was to replace it completely. As it meant large-scale work, I also put in a new kitchen and bathroom, which I had to finance with a €60,000 (£41,000) mortgage. I think the property is now worth about €200,000 (£137,000), so it hasn’t been a bad investment.”
Just across the road from Robinson, with views across the village and rolling countryside, Stephen Windsor-Clive, 50, a mosaicist from Somerset, and his wife, Emma, 46, from London, have turned an old builder’s yard and carob seed warehouse into a Moroccan-style riad with five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a beautiful inner courtyard and a guest tower, which they rent out.
When Windsor-Clive first arrived in the area in 1996, he lived out of the back of a Land Rover in a local cork forest before buying in Gaucin in 2000.
“I had several reasons for choosing Gaucin, including easy access to my workshop in Morocco,” he says. “My work is heavily influenced by the sacred geometry of Islamic art, and the skills you find in Morocco are crucial for producing the handmade Roman-technique mosaics that I design.”
The Windsor-Clives — who met in Sotogrande, a golf and polo development near Gibraltar, and were married in 2002 — have transformed their home into a stunning showcase for his work.
“The property cost about £110,000 to buy and we spent £260,000 or so on refurbishments,” he says. “It took four years. During that time, I’ve been my own best client. I’ve decorated the property with about £250,000 worth of my own mosaics.”
Windsor-Clive is not surprised that Gaucin attracts so many artists and bohemian types. “There is something rather magical about it, almost as if there are ley lines here that attract a certain type of person.” The spectacular views also add to Gaucin’s appeal — on a clear day, the Sierra Bermeja mountains, the Costa del Sol, Gibraltar and the Rif mountains of Morocco are all visible.
But Windsor-Clive points out some more prosaic reasons for choosing Gaucin. “Having a friendly private bank manager just down the road in Gibraltar is useful, and for artists it also helps to be near affluent enclaves like Sotogrande and Marbella, where potential clients live.” He knows what he’s talking about: his mosaics cost about £500 per square metre and are mostly sold to British buyers who have homes to decorate in Spain.
Not an artist herself, but certainly a patron of the arts, Lady (Liz) Ashcombe is another of Gaucin’s unusual characters. The mistress of Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, she also has a home here, called Finca Avedin. “There is this amazing, clear energy about the place that makes one feel so well,” she says. “I fell in love with it straight away.”
Ashcombe bought an 11-acre former pig farm in a valley on the village’s southeast side in 1997, and has converted it into a beautiful country house with eight en-suite bedrooms. Ashcombe promotes Finca Avedin as a venue for holistic health retreats, and it’s easy to see why celebrities such as Liz Hurley, who is a close friend of Ashcombe’s son, Henry Dent-Brocklehurst, love coming to stay. Ashcombe says that an “incredible community of alternative health practitioners” has become established around Gaucin over the years.
Gaucin might be special, but it is not cheap. “I find the prices jaw-dropping compared with similar villages in Andalusia,” says Wood. “You pay a premium of something like 30%-40% for Gaucin. It’s the most expensive village in rural Andalusia.”
Even so, Robin Poole, 49, a local developer originally from Jersey, who has been in Gaucin for 23 years, can’t see prices going anywhere but up. “It is well connected, very picturesque and it appeals to aesthetically sensitive buyers. The expansion plans for the municipality will not increase the size of the village, so the supply of town properties here will remain tight.”
Town properties with good features start at about £170,000, though it is possible to find small townhouses in habitable condition for less. Poole says detached houses with a pool and parking space cost £340,000-£410,000. A newly built flat with parking and use of a communal pool, such as those at the Cortijo del Convento project that Poole is working on, will cost £205,000-£240,000.
Outside the village, country properties with good views start at £340,000, according to Paget’s brother, Berkley, who has spent 12 years in the area. “Most decent-sized country properties, with some land, good views and close to Gaucin, cost €1m (about £680,000) or more, though prices can be three times that,” he says.
He points out that prices are high because demand outstrips supply, and that plans for a new road that could cut the journey time from the coastal motorway to Gaucin by 20 minutes is likely to boost demand even further. But if prices continue to rise, soon the only buyers able to afford Gaucin will be the very philistines whom the artists and bohemians first went to such lengths to escape.
© Mark Stucklin (Spanish Property Insight)