I think it started with a picture of a derelict farmhouse in Almeria. What was standing was standing in a landscape that seemed to be made up of bits of rock and dust that had fallen off it. It was remote, and came with what looked like a quarry dotted with prickly pears and views of cardboard-coloured dusty mountains. It was available for a very reasonable £22,000. I could imagine myself sitting on the shaded deck of the minimalist pod I’d have erected beside it, sketching eagles while visiting friends, keen to work with their hands, rebuilt the walls of the old place. Then we’d all drink wine and eat olives and splash about in the infinity pool. Except there wasn’t any water.
The property, one of hundreds in a similarly parlous state, wasn’t far to the east of the Tabernas Desert, Europe’s only semi-desert; a place that manages to be too hot (peaking on a regular basis just short of 50C) and too cold (substantially below freezing on winter nights) but still rather compelling. The landscape goes on and on, mesmerically repetitive, gouged by rivers that haven’t run for quite some time, and the only things moving on a still day are birds of prey, riding the thermals in a rich blue sky, and their shadows. It’s the kind of place you can imagine being staked out to music by Ennio Morricone. Sergio Leone must have thought so too; An American wild west outpost was created in Tabernas for A Fistful of Dollars, and the spaghetti western was born (although the ‘pork chop western’ would be more gastronomically correct). You can visit the Mini-Hollywood set. It’s been used a zillion times. Look out for it in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More, and The Magnificent Seven, as well as great shots of the surrounding desert in Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and most recently, the Ridley Scott epic, Exodus, slated for a December 2014 release (in which Christian Bale fresh from his success as a 70s sleazeball in American Hustle plays Moses). So, an interesting area but impractical for someone who likes a long shower.
Thanks to a chain of completely random events, I am starting my meandering quest for a somewheresville in not only the wettest part of Andalucia, but the most expensive inland area. Result. The Sierra de Grazalema, lies not far from Ronda, south of Seville in Andalucia’s southwest, the province of Cadiz. On the upside, it is a spectacularly beautiful area of lakes and mountains and white villages draped over the shoulders of a crag, the natives are friendly, the wine is good, and the walking and cycling (okay, the driving) a visual feast. I want to live here, of course I do. Who wouldn’t? From all that I have learned so far, however, this is one of the most difficult areas in which to find an affordable country house (for all sorts of reasons I’ll go on about at some length at some point). And given that it is also a National Park with strict rules regarding appropriate traditional Andalusian architecture, it is most definitely not the place to enquire about a suitable plot for a minimalist, modernist pod, even if I stress the fact it was always going to be white.