Treasure of the Sierra Nevada
Cheaper than the Alpine resorts and much more fun in summer, Spains ski spots are starting to attract British buyers, reports Helena Frith Powell of The Sunday Times
Think of property in Spain, and most people imagine a sun-soaked seaside villa with a glimmering blue pool.
But as the beachside builds up and cheap flights branch out from the Costa del Sol, British buyers are heading inland — and not just in search of sun.
Spain may not be as famous for its snow as France or Switzerland, but its skiing properties offers year-round use. Buy a place in Andalusia’s Sierra Nevada for skiing, and chances are you will use it in summer, too, as a mountain base a short drive from Granada and two hours from the coast.
There are drawbacks: in mid- January, when the Pyrenees were covered in the white stuff and there was a good covering in the Alps, the only snow in Sierra Nevada was being manufactured by machines. A ski resort without snow is a bit like a wedding without a bride — but on the other hand, it is the southernmost ski area in Europe, so you are almost guaranteed to go home with a suntan. You can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon, so it is ideal for beginners and children.
Sue Penfold, a PE teacher from Nottingham, grew up skiing here when her father bought a flat in the area and continues to head south. “It is Spain’s little secret,” she says. “The flights work well for a weekend break. I arrive at Malaga airport with my skis instead of my golf clubs, and people look at me as if I’m mad.”
For Brits, another piece of infrastructure is now in place. Ryanair has just started direct flights from Stansted to Granada. From freezing Essex to sunny Andalusia in less than two hours for about £50 return; it doesn’t take Mystic Meg to predict that it will help boost the already booming property market.
James Mckay is one Brit looking to make an investment by buying an apartment in either Sierra Nevada or Granada itself. At the age of 19, he has decided the south of Spain is the place to be. “I’m going to get a job, in a bar or perhaps working with a local estate agency,” he says. “It’s great here, bars on every corner, pretty girls, great food.” Mckay is learning Spanish and spends his weekends skiing. The kind of flat he is looking for, a one-bedroom with kitchen and sitting room, will cost him about £100,000 in the resort itself, according to Gary Elmer, a local agent who moved to Spain just over a year ago.
Much of Spain has an air of being half-built in a hurry and Sierra Nevada is no exception. The apartments are plentiful but lack charm, and there are buildings in all shapes and styles. “There are several builds in progress offering a choice of two or three bedrooms close to the piste for between £70,000 and £170,000,” says Elmer. They are concrete buildings and will probably be extremely comfortable (some advertise indoor swimming pools and spas), but will do nothing to increase the lure of the town. There is a row of chalets along one road in Sierra Nevada and one wonders why the town planners didn’t look at how well they worked before giving permission for the concrete jungle that has emerged.
But people will always flock to a ski resort, and especially one that offers so much sunshine. In addition, according to Rupert Windle from Property Net Spain, the rental potential went up hugely due to the new Ryanair flights: “There are a number of towns a short distance away from the ski resort and properties are still relatively cheap compared with the Spanish costa regions. Properties here are likely to become attractive as second homes with rental potential, because the new flights to Granada mean you can be skiing in the Sierra Nevada within an hour of landing.”
You shouldn’t limit your search to Sierra Nevada itself if you’re looking to buy. A cheaper and more attractive option would be to go to the bottom of the hill where you can find an apartment for less than £70,000. “People should think about villages down below the resort like Pinos Genil,” says Elmer. “You can get to the slopes in 20 minutes and you’re only five minutes from Granada. A three-bedroom town house in Pinos Genil between Granada and Sierra Nevada will only cost you around £100,000.” Pinos Genil is more charming than Sierra Nevada, with a feeling of old Spain about it, although this looks likely to change as more people cotton on to the fact that the slopes are only a short drive away.
Although lower in altitude, higher in social standing is Baqueira Beret in the northwest Catalan Pyrenees. This is where Spain’s royal family goes skiing, along with many other Spanish celebrities. It is generally perceived as the best resort in Spain in terms of the amount of runs and quality of skiing. And, of course, black runs are a little more enticing when you might fall over on top of a king.
Properties there are expensive though. The cost per square metre is the same as prime property in Barcelona at about £3,500 or more, despite its inaccessibility. It is a four-hour drive to Barcelona, Madrid or San Sebastian. At peak times you can find yourself in a mountain traffic jam seven miles long both ways. According to Mark Stucklin from Spanish Property Insight, prices in the resort are inflated. “But this is where Madrid’s pijos (posh set) come and everybody wants to be here. In addition, the skiing is very serious,” he says. One-bedroom apartments in the Baqueira resort start at about £95,000.
The ski resorts in the east of the Catalan Pyrenees have the advantage of being close to Barcelona and Gerona. Vallter 2000 is a small resort in the Ripolles, probably not a place to go for a week, but with enough skiing to keep most visitors happy for at least a weekend. However, buying property in the resort is not an option: part of its charm is that it has not been at all built up. You would have to go for a property down the mountain in Setcases, La Roca or Camprodon. Prices are not cheap, with one-bed apartments starting at £90,000, going up to £165,000 for three bedrooms. A four-bedroom house with garden will set you back about £290,000, according to Dani Rodriguez from local agency Finques Camprodon.
Another option if you’re seeking a skiing property in Spain is the Iberian mountain range that runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast, where you will find Javalambre and Valdelinares in Teruel. These resorts are one and a half hours away from Valencia airport. Costa del Azahar is less than two hours away by car and the region offers beautiful countryside.
Eric and Jan Wright, keen skiers and walkers, moved to the region seven years ago, buying an old flour mill three miles outside the village of Cabra de Mora. “We had lived on the coast for several years before we came here,” says Jan. “It just became too crowded. Luckily we’d had the foresight to buy this place eight years before we actually made the move.”
They paid £7,000 15 years ago for the old mill, which they have renovated and turned into a three-bedroom house. Jan doesn’t know what it would be worth now. “But if location counts for everything, it’s worth a bomb,” she says. “The mountains here are glorious. I got so fed up with cacti and dust on the coast. I missed cowslips. Also it is perfect for our business.” Eric and Jan run walking holidays. “A lot of the people who want to walk are retired. The terrain on the coast was just a bit too rugged for them.”
Properties are more expensive than when Eric and Jan bought but Teruel is still one of the cheapest regions in Spain. You can pick up small town and country properties that need substantial work from £14,000. For between £35,000 and £70,000 you will find a good choice of properties that need some work and anything above £70,000 should be completely habitable, according to Raquel Jarque from Mundo Rural Teruel. “There is lots of interest from Brits,” she says. “They are mainly looking for properties in small towns or the countryside.”
Although Spain is not the most obvious choice for a skiing property, it has a lot to offer, both in terms of locations and prices. And if you get bored of the slopes, many of the resorts are close to the sea so you can pack your bikini and your salopettes. Not bad for a winter holiday.
- Spanish Property Insight, 00 34 687 721 131, www.spanishpropertyinsight.com ; Mundo Rural Teruel, 00 34 978 608 878, www.mundoruralteruel.com; Property Net Spain, 00 34 958 760 366, www.property-net-spain.comWhat’s on the market
- A four-bedroom country house in Camprodon with open fireplaces, a cellar and guesthouse, plus an acre of land. It is £414,000 with Finques Camprodon, 00 34 972 740 157, www.finquescamprodon.com
- Twenty five-bedroom villas, 10 minutes from Granada and half an hour from the ski fields, are being sold off-plan for £235,000 with Granada Estates, 00 34 666 871 664, www.granadaestates.net
- A two-storey cortijo in Laroles, a 10-minute drive from the ski resort Puerto de la Ragua, needs complete renovation. It is £89,500 with Almeria Granada, 00 34 628 823 054, www.almeria-granada.com
- A two-bedroom cortijo, between the two ski resorts in Valor, Sierra Nevada, has a wood fireplace and a terrace. It is £86,500 with Almeria Granada, 00 34 628 823 054, www.almeria-granada.com
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019