One of the selling points of the Costa del Azahar is that it is authentically Spanish. Indeed, one thing most British property buyers in Spain have in common is a stated desire to find the ‘real Spain’. The irony is that many then end up buying in the British ghettoes of the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca, surrounded by British expats, English supermarkets, and Robin Hood pubs, when they should have been looking for property for sale on the Costa del Azahar.
You are unlikely to find the ‘real Spain’ on an inspection trip, or package holiday, which might explain why so few Britons end up buying anywhere near the Spain of their dreams. But for a minority of buyers, the dream does become a reality. Some people stumble across it, others hear about it through friends, but if it’s real Spain you want, look no further than the Costa Azahar.
Sandwiched between Catalonia’s Costa Dorada to the north, and the city of Valencia to the south, the Costa Azahar – or Orange Blossom Coast – is Castellon’s coast. Taking its name from the fragrant flower of the orange trees that still cover much of the land near the sea, the Costa Azahar is popular with Spanish holiday makers from cities like Valencia, Madrid and Zaragoza. Locals from the city of Castellon de la Plana – the capital of the province – are also big buyers of weekend holiday homes on the coast.
The British, on the other hand, hardly feature on this coast. According to Spanish government statistics, there were just 1,000 British residents in Castellon province at the end of March 2007, compared with 32,000 in Malaga province (Costa del Sol) and 55,000 in Alicante province (Costa Blanca). Of all Spain’s Mediterranean provinces, Castellon has the smallest population of British residents and tourists.
“There are no British shops and bars here, like there are down on the Costa Blanca,” explains Ian King, 54, from Bedfordshire, who has lived on the Costa Azahar for 20 years with his wife Madeleine, 60. “People who come here want a Spanish environment, they try to learn the language, and don’t mind adapting to the Spanish way of life.”
The Kings own a 2-bed detached property on a small urbanisation with a communal pool just outside the seaside town of Alcossebre, 5 minutes walk from the beach. It cost them 51,000 pounds in 1987, and a similar property would now cost around 200,000 pounds.
“When we first arrived there were hardly any Brits in the area,” explains King. “Over time more have arrived, so now there are some British people to mix with if you want. There is a rambling club, theatre group, and a choir, but it’s all British culture on a small scale.”
The Costa Azahar might be the ‘real Spain’ but it won’t suit everyone. “If you want the highlife and nightlife then you might be disappointed,” says King. “On the other hand it’s great for relaxing, and enjoying the countryside and beaches. I always say to people you need hobbies, both indoor and outdoor, to get the most out of living here.”
King, who was a self-employed businessman in the UK before moving to Spain, admits that it took them a year or so to adapt to the Spanish way of life on the Costa Azahar. “It’s funny how learning to relax can be difficult. Now we love it here. We play a lot of golf at the Club de Campo del Mediterraneo, a lovely championship course with its own spa, tennis and paddle tennis courts. We’ve also become very lazy, and never miss a siesta.”
King estimates that there are a few hundred other British property owners in Alcossebre, which is enough to make it the centre of the British community on the Costa del Azahar.
With its lovely scenery, pleasant climate, delicious cuisine, sandy white beaches, and authentic Spanish charm, the Costa Azahar has everything that discerning British house hunters say they want. But it has never had an international airport, which might explain why so many British buyers have overlooked the Costa Azahar in the rush to follow the heard down south
This situation is expected to change when the Costa Azahar’s own international airport opens in the next couple of years at Vilanova d’Alcolea. The airport will make the Costa Azahar easier to reach, so the number of British tourists and homebuyers in the area is almost certain to rise. Which begs the question, will the ‘real Spain’ survive the increased numbers of visitors that it attracts, or will it become a victim of its own success?
Some local British residents are aware of the risks. “The new airport will open it up to a wider market, which is good news from an investment point of view, but I hope it doesn’t lose its Spanishness,” says one.
But local estate agent Lionel Westell is optimistic. “The masses will continue to buy further south, because that is where the property industry takes them. What will happen is the Costa Azahar will start to attract a greater number of discerning buyers who value the area for what it is, and don’t impose a little Britain.”
Whatever the future holds, for now the ‘real Spain’ is alive and well on the Costa Azahar, and coming soon to an airport near you. So if you want to buy property in a genuinely Spanish environment, then you would do well to look for property for sale on the Costa Azahar.