IN MADRID – Once Britons went in search of dream villas on the Spanish Costas but now they are hunting for entire abandoned villages which are being sold for the same price.
Hamlets, whose inhabitants have all died out or moved away, have become the new must-have properties despite being in previously unfashionable areas.
A steady exodus from rural areas by younger people in search of jobs and better opportunities in cities in Spain or abroad, has left a vacuum in many countryside areas known as La España Vaciada – the emptied Spain.
At least 3,000 villages, which were once thriving communities, are now ghost towns, according to Spain’s National Statistics Institute.
Mark Adkinson, 70, a British estate agent who runs Galician Country Homes with his wife in northwestern Spain, said Britons bought deserted villages in search of freedom.
“They want to live their own lives. They want to be self-sufficient. You can do that to some extent with your own house but more so with your own village,” he told i. “Some want to do home schooling with their children and go back to nature.”
He added: “Some want to escape the heat on the Mediterranean coast. They thought they wanted year-round sun but now they realise that it is too hot and they are stuck indoors all day and can only come out at night to get drunk. At least here (in Galicia) it is cooler at night.”
Mr Adkinson, who has lived in Spain for 50 years, said he had sold at least five abandoned villages to British buyers.
Other abandoned villages sold to Brits were Xerdiz and O Penso, both in Galicia. O Penso, which was deserted for 10 years, was sold for €200,000 after attracting interest from China, Japan as well as Britain. Set in 100 acres (43.6m sq ft) of lush rural land, it contains four properties and two cattle barns.
When he was recovering from health problems, Mr Adkinson used Google Maps to find 1,500 abandoned villages in Galicia alone.
The latest poster boy for this property boom is Salto de Castro, in north-western Spain.
With an asking price of €260,000 (£227,000), the entire village is going for less than the cost of a flat in London or a house in other parts of Britain.
Located in Zamora, which is famous for having one of the highest wolf populations in Europe, the village is a three-hour drive from Madrid. It has 44 homes, a hotel, a church, a school, a swimming pool and even a barracks building which used to be used by the civil guard.
Originally built for the workers at a nearby reservoir in the 50s, it fell into disuse after the workers left in the late 80s.
It was bought at the start of the noughties and the plan was to turn it into a tourist attraction. A deep economic crisis across Europe, however, put paid to these plans.
Since it went on the market last week, it has attracted 50,000 views on the idealista.es website.
“I have had interest in Salto de Castro from at least 10 British people. They were interested as a pure investment, as a tourist resort and for a place to relax in,” Ronnie Rodriguez, of Royal Invest Madrid, the company, which is representing the owner, told i.
“This part of Spain in Castilla y León is very popular with British people who like to buy abandoned villages or old estates. It is cooler (than the Mediterranean) but not as cold as Britain. This region is popular for horse-riding, mushroom collecting, wolf spotting and walking.”
He said there had been interest in the deserted hamlet from 300 people from as far afield as the UK, Russia, France and Belgium.
Neil Christie and his wife Rosa, from Carlisle, bought the abandoned village of Arrunada in northwest Spain for €45,000 (£39,500) in 2015, which is worth €54,000 (£47,300) at today’s rate.
They moved from Britain to repair the four buildings which comprise the village and planned on spending £140,000 to refurbish the place – far less than the price of a villa on the Costas.
Some local authorities have tried to entice young families back to families to dying villages by creating schemes like sponsoring olive trees or offering cash incentives.
Rural depopulation has become a major political issue in Spain and the government last year invested €10.5bn (9.1bn) to try to redress this demographic time bomb.
A political party called Teruel Existe, named after the region in southeastern Spain which has a large number of deserted villages, won a seat in parliament and helped the present minority government win power in 2019.
With a general election next year, the party could exercise more power in Spain’s polarised political system.