I got up very early this morning for no apparent reason and started looking through blogs on the subject of cave homes in Spain.
What a lot of rot some people write: We’ve been here for over 2 years now (part time) and so I thought I would create a short FAQ for those of you thinking of setting up shop here, not to put you off but to give you some real information:
Q: I’ve heard that cave homes maintain a constant 18 degrees all year around
A: Rubbish – and you see this repeated all over the place – it’s almost as farcical as some of the claims for Android tablets. The only way you’ll keep that temperature in a cave in Andalucía is if you keep heaters on all winter with the thermostat set to 18. It’s October here now and when I walked into the place last week the cave was around 12 degrees. We’ve decided not to come here between November and May because it’s FAR TOO COLD inside and out. Last Christmas even with a wood fire on all day we still ended up shivering. If you live here all the time and can afford to run a decent pellet heater or similar then you might just be fine – but constant temperature without assistance – erm, no.
Q: I’ve heard that Cave homes in Spain need little maintenance
A: Re-painting is one of the main hobbies for Brits over here and it’s not that unusual to hear of bits dropping off – like parts of ceilings. You just have to look at how many places sell “Pictura Plastica” and various other white paints, plasters and mortars to realise they must be going SOMEWHERE. Every winter, mainly due to really poor building practices and materials employed in some areas, the lovely white paint just drops off external walls and needs re-doing. Part of the problem is the way they construct a lot of the caves with external walls being made out of simple breezeblock, improperly prepared and with plaster or paint slapped straight on top. Take a real look at any quiet area in the hills in winter or early summer and you’ll see the kind of renovation that needs constant attention. Where we are outside of Galera, it seems to be commonplace to utilise a fairly useless substitute for sand when mixing up mortar and it has very little strength – with the result that the nicely rounded walls you see (breezeblock with a dollop of cement on the top) fall to bits as soon as the frost hits them in winter. We’ve found that the choice of materials is paramount to getting the place to look good and STAY that way… and in many cases you’ll end up doing your own renovations if you need the job doing properly. If renovation is not you thing, then you’re going to be needing a good relationship with your local builder/plasterer!
Q: Isn’t living in Spain cheap compared to the UK?
A: No, it’s not. It WAS, but fuel is now almost comparable in price to the UK (strangely, diesel is cheaper than petrol here so there’s a price advantage there), small shop pricing (at current pound-euro conversion) is expensive and electrical goods are often priced through the roof. You can buy lots of things cheaply at the Chinese stores but the level of quality generally starts at poor and goes downhill from there. On the other hand thanks to free tapas, a night out at the pub can be very reasonable indeed. The thing I miss the most here in Andalucía is B&Q. I’ve not found anywhere that holds a candle to it, the nearest being Brico-Depot in Granada and elsewhere – DIY stores in nearby Baza are so very expensive.
Q: Isn’t the weather great in Spain
A: Generally yes, it does depend where you go. For example right now in October, at the coast there are temperatures up to 23 degrees and it doesn’t get that much cooler at night – REALLY nice – but here in Andalucía we’re looking at 16-18c with early morning temperatures as low as 4-5 degrees. In the height of summer this year we’ve seen temperatures exceeding 40c in the afternoon – which is not much fun if you’re working but is bloody marvellous if you’re up to your neck in the local pool or one of the lakes.
Q: What about broadband?
A: All depends where you live. Spain has horrendously high costs of telecoms and are still very restrictive overall. For example you can get Skype-In numbers for many countries in Europe – but not Spain (still true in 2015). If you’re out in the sticks you have a choice of very expensive 3G dongle or in some cases Iberbanda Wireless. We use the latter – and it’s expensive – basic cost 40 Euros a month for less that 1mb/s – though it is that in both directions which can be handy for teleconferencing friends and family. It’s our experience that reliability varies unpredictably (2015 update: the broadband situation has changed, we use Habland and they are reasonably priced – but the broadband has a tendency to go off in storms).
Q: And car hire?
A: Beware, we just hired a car from the airport and they asked us to take their insurance (we have our own – and you need it as people here really don’t think anything about dents in cars as you’ll see looking around) – when we said no we have our own, they insisted on a 300 Euros returnable deposit – even though there was nothing on the website or the paperwork we had for the rental to indicate that this would be mandatory. In the summer a truck took away one of our mirrors – and back at the airport, because we’d not had the driver fill in one of the company’s unfeasibly large accident forms at the time, on the road, they simply didn’t CARE who’s fault it was. Always check EXTRAS and the fine print and when parking, retract your mirrors – never fit into a tight parking space unless you want side dents in the car when you come back.
Q: What about crime?
A: There’s a reason people have bars on everything. Be prepared – it’s a recession – but then that’s the same back in the UK. We initially took the approach that crime had to be low or non-existent out in the hills around Galera – that was before local yobs broke through the front door in our absence and stole our TV etc. Now we have a very pleasant steel gate which remains locked when we’re back in the UK – and inexpensive cameras we can monitor from anywhere. Local kids have been known to come out and cause damage to other properties. Don’t have false expectations and you won’t be disappointed – oh and out in the sticks – don’t even think of assuming there will be a police presence.
Q: Postal Services?
A: Well, we have a post box and post arrives – but it can apparently take weeks for post to get to and from the UK. Also if you’re not there all the time, the local post office will only hold onto parcels or letters for a short time – then you’ve had it. We’ve had 2 notices of deliveries and each time we’ve gone to the post office it’s been too late with no information as to where the delivery came from in the first place. Couriers are UTTERLY USELESS and will not want to deliver anywhere but the town centre. They need constant pressure to deliver and sadly many locals have given up trying.
Is there a happy side to all of this? Yes of course there is – the scenery here is wonderful, people are generally friendly and the weather is MUCH better than the UK. In my experience the Spanish are very friendly – the Brits tend to form into cliques little – but I guess that happens anywhere.