Going back to nature, and living sustainably in a community of like-minded people by restoring one of Spain’s many abandoned villages is a compelling dream for many, and the eco-village of Lakabe in Navarre, northern Spain, shows that it can be done – with a lot of hard work – and no thanks to the Spanish planning system.
Over the years I have had quite a few requests from northern Europeans, usually people in their late 20s or early 30s, asking for advice on how to go about buying an abandoned village in Spain, with a view to restoring it into a eco-village, and living off the land in a community with like-minded people. It’s a dream that appeals to young adults turned off by consumerism and modern alienation from nature, looking to start a family in a healthy environment for kids, often people like designers and programmers, who can work from anywhere they can power a computer and get online, by satellite if necessary.
It’s an alluring dream that might look even more attractive in the light of the coronavirus damage to conventional Western lifestyles, and Spain has a lot going for it as a destination to build an eco-village community, or type of European Kibbutz.
- Spain is safe, democratic, and free (ranked the 9th freest country in the world by Freedom House in 2020).
- Excellent modern infrastructure like roads, airports, rail transport, and broadband.
- One of the best public healthcare systems in the world.
- A vast, dramatically beautiful interior that is suffering from depopulation, and needs to attract new people.
- Abundant sunshine.
- Thousands of abandoned villages in a state of ruin or semi-ruin, many of them dating back to medieval times.
I can see the attraction of a sustainable lifestyle close to nature with less consumerism, less stress, and more creativity and say in your own surroundings, and what you consume, but I also know it’s a lot of hard work to turn into reality, and means forgoing a lot of creature comforts.
But it can be done, as you can see from the living example of the Lakabe Ecoaldea (eco-village) in Navarre, in the foothills of the Pyrenees in northern Spain, which was an abandoned medieval village before it was restored to life. This video about Lakabe was made about nine years ago, but judging from the Lakabe website, the community is still going, and has become a successful destination for retreats and personal development courses. That said, I would be surprised if they had planning permission for much of what they have done.
Planning permission is often the biggest obstacle to restoring abandoned medieval villages in Spain
When I am asked for advice on buying abandoned villages in Spain with a view to restoration, the first thing I always say is “watch out for the town planners!” It can be difficult to get planning permission for even the most obviously beneficial and sustainable projects in the Spanish countryside, despite the fact that country-life is being drained away by depopulation. The Spanish planning system is a disaster that has helped destroy the coast with gruesome overdevelopment, and suffocate the interior with a bureaucracy that makes it risky and expensive to do anything interesting. For example, you won’t find much glamping in Spain because it’s so difficult to get the permission, even if it helps build sustainable tourism for the Spanish interior. Spain may have the better climate for it, but it’s much easier to get glamping permission in the UK.
Of course a sustainable lifestyle close to nature in Spain’s often-haunting countryside doesn’t have to be a community project. Just look at the rural sanctuary Chris and Annie Stewart have created at El Valero in the Alpujarras.
Thanks to Lenox at Business Over Tapas for bringing the Lakabe eco-village to my attention. Consider subscribing to his newsletter if you are interested in Spain.