Thirty minutes from our Village, our friends used to live in a lovely village called Simat de la Valldigna. We would visit on a Sunday and go for lovely walks through the grounds. Heading from our village along the Borgias Route towards the coast, Simat de la Valldigna is situated in an extensive but beautiful valley that is part of the historical Borgias Route. The Borgias Route ranges from Gandia to Xativa to Valencia with other villages in-between. If you are a history buff, then this may be something you will enjoy, as it is full to the brim with ancient and archival buildings and artworks. This route would take you a couple of days to do and would be an opportunity to see part of this lovely countries different landscapes and bygone times.
The Borgias Family (if you never watched the TV Program years back) were a prominent family from Gandia. It was through an aggressive and resourceful campaign that all roads lead to Rome. It is here they produce two Popes, various politicians and other church leaders. The family were exceedingly contentious and feared during the time. Many stories of the Borgias associated with them are murder, blackmail and incest being top of the list.
The Monastery of Santa Maria de la Valldigna was built and was owned by the Cistercians Monks in 1297 and used until 1835, when the monastery lands after various civil wars with feuding fractions, had their lands confiscated. The confiscations of lands affected many orders throughout Spain, as there was a significant shift in the middle-class in endeavouring farmlands for their own personal enterprises. The building is a mix of gothic and baroque architecture.
The Cistercians or White Monks (named due to the coloured cowl they wore), owned the whole valley in which it was given to them by King James II of Aragon. For five hundred and thirty-eight years the Cistercians lived and died in until rioters plundered the Monastery of Santa Maria in 1835. Parts of the monastery were destroyed, while other items sold off or plundered. It stood abandoned for many years, purchased by a landowner until 1991. The Valencian Government then purchased and what land left with it and proceeded to restore it in an amendable way, but there are still on going works, as with any monument or building.
If you ever visit, it is free (yes FREE) to enter and, I will say, that you may have the place to yourself, as it is not a busy tourist trap. There are no cantina’s on the grounds for drinks, so it is advised to bring a bottle of water or drinks with you while exploring. Outside the doors, in the village of Simat there are a numerous amount of cafe/bars in close proximity if you need to get a cool drink or something to eat.
There are many great opportunities for those budding photographers around the grounds. Especially with the different architectures that have been layered on the Monastery over the years it was in service. It is also a favourite for wedding photos in the district. They also hold many concerts and theatre productions on the grounds as well which you can find here
In 2009, we purchased an apartment in a tiny village, forty minutes drive south of Valencia. It is in a working town as they grow as far as the eye can see oranges and other fruit and vegetables.
We chose Spain for the weather and the allurement of its history, plus being in Ireland with my hubby, I had this need in me to be in warmer weather. After looking at many different properties online, we chose a few to go look at and on our honeymoon, popped over from Belfast to Alicante and started our search.
We had made a list of what we wanted out of an area or village. We chose not to live in a place where there was an influx of English speaking tourists and X-pats. I could banter on more about this. However, I won’t, but this came into the top of the list of consideration when we were looking at properties around the country.
Process of buying
When you want to buy in another country, there are a few things to know when you do.
When you find the property that you wish to purchase, it is in your best interest to find out as much as possible with it. Like making sure there are no debts incurred with the property, like a mortgage and that it is not going to be incurred by you when purchasing. Find out if the land you are on is free from other names or businesses. Any planning permission associated with the property. When using Notaries (solicitors), make sure that they are reputable and been in business for some time.
You can fly over, find a place and do all the running around like a headless chook, trying to find people, do searches, and everything that goes with purchasing a residence. You may be a person who thrives doing this and get it done without hassle. But then there are those who find it a maze of complication and dread when they don’t know the laws of the land, area, the community you are purchasing in.
We chose the real estate we were purchasing from as our middleman, as they offered this service, all for a fee to help in the process.
We made appointments to see other properties first up with different agencies driving from Alicante up to Valencia. But it was the second one we saw that we saw the potential and the area we both liked. For a couple of days, we stayed in the area and drove around the to explored, talking to locals that could speak English, finding out the history, getting a feel for the place.
So I made an offer that was a bit cheeky because I knew the place was on the market for a long time. They accepted, and we were stoked. So we sign a semi-contract or contractoprivado de compravento, and had to put down about 10% deposit down.
I then had to show proof of where my money came from, so emailed my financial guy in Australia, who sent an official letter. We then had to set up, with the help of the Estate Agent, a bank account. I paid the deposit and had to apply for a Non-resident Número de identidad de extranjero or NIE. The NIE number is for legal or tax activity in Spain. This number will help you set up your electricity, telephone, wifi, anything you need to sign up for in the country. And you need it for everything. But note, the NIE number does not give you the right to work in Spain. You must go through the proper channels to do this.
I was taken to a Notary (Solicitor), and she read the contract in English, which by law must be done. Any foreign property buyer must have a translator there to explain the contract thoroughly, so there are no hidden agendas to the buyer. You can hire a translator to go over the contract with you, but we were lucky, as our Notary had lived in London for many years and explained the contract. She told about the property itself, the other owners involved in the building, the fees incurred for property tax transfer, her costs, and legal searches, deeds, and land registration involved.
When all queries were cleared up, the deal was signed, sealed and dated and then we had to wait for my NIE to come in, searches etc. This was all done in a week, which they kept us updated. We had another sit down with the Notary, in which she went over the details once again so that we were sure what we were buying. Then I had to pay the remanding amount owing and then six weeks later we had an apartment. The cost of the fee for the Agent was at that time, just over five hundred euros, which for me was excellent.
We have an Apartment!
Our village is over several hundred years old, and it is very slow-paced in its everyday living. It is forty minutes drive on fantastic roads to Valencia, thirty minutes to the beaches, ten minutes to the busy city of Xativa, which is full of history and has lovely places to eat. The previous owners were two sixty-year-olds; a one-in-the-grill cockney bus driver and a southern belle from Charlestown, USA. You have never seen such chalk and cheese in a couple but loved each other greatly. Eccentric, touch bossy, little rude towards people, and overbearing. But they could be so charming! We took them with a grain of salt except for the shifting out bit. It took them a week to get out of Dodge even after the six they had, not giving a hoot that we owned the place now. In the deal was that they left all the furniture and utensils. When our charming Southern Belle was showing me what she was leaving, I made a mental note; throw the lot out. It was worth nothing. So if you buy a home already furnished, make a note about what you want and tell them to get rid of the rest. We made the mistake of just taking it, which was more hassle to get rid of then it was worth. They even left us a porta-loo upstairs in the lockable shed, with gifts in it, which we paid two people €50 each to go and dump it in the bin. They were gagging all the way to the bins, and we were sure there was a mushroom cloud rising from the bin areas.
Finally, we owned the property, we were in, and it was exciting. A new adventure and we were biting at the bit to get stuck into it. However, I had my son with me who had to go home as he was going to live with his dad for his high school education. We left Spain in November of 2009 to return to Australia for Christmas.
We returned in March 2010 for the beginning of our Reno. When you renovate in Spain, each council have their own way of doing things. I thought since I owned the apartment, I could renovate, no worries. Silly little Rabbit!
My husband is a carpenter and so we went gun hoe into ripping walls down that did not need beams to hold the roof up etc. Since living across the road from the council, there was a message sent to us to stop work. We actually did not speak the language at the time and had to get one of the five English speaking people in the village to help us. The councilman, when he came in to see the work already done, said in his only English, “Oh My God!”
We had to apply for building permits to renovate and at the end of a long week of negotiations, plus having to get a builder in to say he was going to do the work, which the councilman knew he would not be. I paid two hundred and fifty euros, and away we went… again. I should have found out more about the regulations, but we just were so excited and got stuck in.
The walls came down easy enough as they were just thin brick. But it was getting rid of the debris, which became a problem. The town did not have waste disposal or dump. Only bins for regular home items, which brings me to the rules of the bins in town.
You may not walk through the streets to the bins with bags of rubbish during the day unless at siesta or at night in case it smells.
Bins are emptied every night at 1am and are placed strategically around the village. Our debris was in no way to go into those bins, so we loaded up lots of the plastic bins and put into our Vito van.
A Portuguese fella, nicknamed Porto, who was the town handyman or dogsbody for a lot of the Spanish farmers, was hired to do some work with us, with real pay. He would come for drives and take us to other villages to dump into their dump areas. It sometimes cost us a few coins, once a broom and when it was old furniture, it was snazzled up, and the door was open to our coming and going to one particular dump by a Romanian woman.
Our apartment had one bathroom, kitchen, lounge, dining and four bedrooms. We have made it into three bedrooms, with the fourth, being the smallest, becoming our tool room for the time being. We opened up the dining and lounge areas. We are the only apartment on the building with a ruined pub downstairs. We share the stairwell with the butcher next door, in which the stairs lead to another entrance to his apartment in the next building in which he kept stock and also drying his sausages. We have become great friends with him, and he has been a great backing in some issues with the construction, which I will write about later.
Take the Wool From Over Your Eyes!
We did meet an English fella in the next village who also was looking for work. I swear to god, I wished we never met the man, as he turned out a thief and con artist with a silk tongue. He would turn up when he pleased and charge me a full day with his hanger over. When I never paid him the total amount he would go to my hubby complaining. I’d put my foot down and say no way. Do the hours, and you get paid. In the end, he never came back and left the country.
Some tradespeople also do the “add on” because we were foreign, but our friend Porto would interject when around, and tell them it was not on and so the price went down to a reasonably acceptable price. It helps to have someone on your side when getting quotes, so to save you a lot of money and hassle. Plus, getting them to turn up on the day agreed upon. A big lesson to learn there. Also never pay before the job is done. Not that we got stung, but we heard some stories from Spanish people who had, and the people were still living in the village as bold as brass.
Working in the Heat!
The heat in Spain is similar to Australia, and most of the time it is a dry heat, but other times it can be humid. We had a couple of fans, but leaving the windows open and letting in the breeze was our saviour. Because we lived on a corner, the street to our left was a tunnel for the wind to come down. But some days that wind was as dry as a cracker and hot. So what we would do is work early mornings and late afternoons. We got into the habit of siesta, which is a godsend to me. The heat does drain you, and my husband is Irish, and I don’t think he had ever experienced weather like it until now, as he works in 40+ in construction. So hydration is most essential, plus maybe rethinking of working when it’s not summer! I think by prioritising your work in the heat, you achieve more. It’s also having the materials there for you to use.
At night we would go down to the bars and have a bite to eat if we chose to with a couple of drinks and home again. The World Cup was on when we were there in 2010, and we would book a table outside where the TV was put up for viewing and enjoy the night with other people, who were trying to learn their English and tell us places to go to for materials for the reno, which was a great help.
Our village did not have a Hardware store. So we went to a couple different little ones with tools and cleaning gear, and that helped. But hubby, listening to the Englishman when he was working for us, told us to get the gear in Valencia, forty minutes away at a place he used to do his renovations. But I found Leroy Merlin which is like Bunnings, but a little trendier I think. Their prices are a bit dear, but they had a good variety. Then I found Bricko-Mart which is like Bunnings as well, but cheaper again. They were down in Gandia, which was about thirty minutes away. For timber, that we could not get in the major stores because of low stock, we used a construction merchant in Gandia, but with a lot of things in Spain, places can be there for years on end and then go back and find their doors closed.
WIFI, Internet and Mobile Phones
We purchased a phone in Carrier Four and found that it chewed up quite quickly when texting or doing quick calls. Our village had not got to the stage of putting wifi into bars, and we had to travel to another town to another bar to do this. It was an Australian Bar that had been fitted out with Australian paraphernalia, and yet no one really knew a thing about the country. Had terrific air conditioning and cold icy beer. I tried to get the phone line on and the internet, but the X-Pats I was dealing with only supplied to the southern parts of Spain and not the Valencia Region, which they did good deals with at the time. So I scratched that off the list and bought a dongle. It worked and could top up any time which worked for us.
However, the last time we went back, I could not top-up, and the carrier said that even though I have NIE number, I had to go to the Ministry of Justice to get a particular card to allow me to use the internet because I was not a citizen. I was back at square one after all those years using pay as you go. If you have ever gone to government offices in Spain, they are so frustrating. Nothing is paid by EFTPOS, credit card in the buildings or online if you need to say, pay for a Police Check. It is going to bank, pay your €3,75 for the search, return back and show you deposited into the bank and then they will do something…in their own time. So be aware of their systems.
My Husband and I were treated to a small break in Toledo by our friends in our Village, who love travelling as much as we do. An online deal was found and it was just what the doctor ordered at the time and so worth it! Four days away and we all had to come back home to our village to have a rest after all the walking and eating we did!
From our village it takes about three and a half hours to get to Toledo with stopping along the way for a wonderful bocadillo (sandwich) of jamon (ham) and cheese (queso) with a nice cuppa coffee in a side cafe on the highway. The highways are wonderful to drive on thanks to the EU and easy to use to get to places, even if you can’t speak spanish.
Toledo is about 75km south of Madrid and it’s a natural fortification. It sits majestically on a large crop over-looking the Tagus, the longest river in Spain. The city is sacred, ancient, biblical in many ways, which you can see in many cities throughout Europe. It is hilly with cobbled paved streets, wonderful doorways to duck into when a vehicle passes by.
Classical architecture surrounds you that is simply stunning.
It is also home to the adopted son of Toledo, Domenikos Theotokopoulos…nicknamed “El Greco” (who was from Crete) who came to this exciting city after many years strung along in Italy to be considered for a commission by the church. The Spanish are very proud of his work and you can go to his museum in the jewish section of the city where his works are displayed, as well as other artist. Click here and try to not miss these sights:
The Romans had planted their roots here in Toledo as early as 59 BC – 17 AD and who quickly integrated into the area culturally and politically. Toledo was renown for Christianity, Jewish and Muslim all living side by side and trading side by side for hundreds of years until the beginning of the Reconquista (the reconquest of Christianity in Spain and sent the Moors out). It is also the home to The Spanish Inquisition that started in the late 1400’s (not the “other” Inquisitions, which there were a few in the 12th and 13th centuries). The city was a hub of political growth and uprising throughout history, even during the Spanish Civil War.
The city is teaming with every sort of hotel you can think of, but for us we stayed in a lovely hotel El Hostal Puerta Bisagra that had wonderful staff who could speak some English, which didn’t bother us if they never. But the young girl at reception wanted to use her English and we were happy to help. She gave us details to wonderful places to eat and to drink and every morning put on a great Spanish breakfast. Beds were a little hard but it is an attractive hotel, well set out, very clean and has a style that has a good balance of old and new. The price was pretty good averaging 52 euros a day for a couple. Even though we were near a major intersection and our room was near the front of the building, we were fine. No parking but best to drop your bags off as there was a back street to do this. Then we proceeded to park the car down near the river in a very large parking lot that was for free. Bonus!
And this brings me to Toledo itself. The city is very hilly, in fact extremely hilly, and you must have good walking shoes and must have a bottle of water with you always. Those who are not fit, take your time or public transport. If you are driving, be aware that the streets are only good for a horse and cart or tiny cars. In the photo below, the boys had to help this van driver reverse out of this tight squeeze he got himself into.
Toledo is renowned for its gastronomical delights! It is home to Marzipan (which I don’t like…bad experience as a child and then nightmares!), cheeses – flavoursome tasting semi-hard cheeses that are made from sheep, goats and cows milk. Tapas that just are filled with abundance of flavour (Carcamusas is a local tapas dish of slow cooked pork, peas, tomatoes and white wine that is just to die for).
##Remember, Spanish folks have siesta/lunch around 2pm till about 4/5/6pm every day but some bars stay open and serve food and others don’t. So if you find you are hungry and nothing is open, I suggest always have some snacks in your bag or hotel room. There are small grocery stores scattered around the place that are opened in the mornings you can purchase groceries. I like to buy a baguette and some Iberian ham, cheese, tomato and we make a sandwich (cause you always have a fruit knife on you in Spain). A couple of cold beers or a bottle of wine sitting in a park is pure bliss!
I must say we ate so well during our stay in Toledo. From eating at trendy gastronomic restaurants, tapas bars, to pubs that served authentic home cooked regional meals. We were rolling out of restaurants.
But thankfully, there are so many twisting and turning streets and hills (did I mention the hills?), it will help you burn off most of those meals. The hard part is booking your tables because it can be busy. We went to so a few and turned away due to a full house.
One of the most spectacular sites that we did visit when in Toledo, was the Cathedral! Words cannot describe this building and what lays inside…Spectacular…Magnificent? YES, YES! The gold is dripping from the ceilings, the walls, candelabras. The frescos on the ceilings are to be seen, as there is one scene where it looks like the angels and saints are looking down at you. And of course, there are plenty of bones in the place.
Please note, it is always busy, so if you wish to see it, get there early in the morning and take your time at what is before you! Tickets are sold across from the entrance of the Cathedral in a small shop that also hires the multi-linguistic earphone sets if you are wanting to walk around on your own and take it in. Toledo Cathedral is a must see when you visit!
The Toledo Cathedral Bell Tower, in which you can climb the mountainous stairs to the top for the view. When you finally get to the top you will be met by the largest bell in Spain…with the biggest crack in it!
Note### The walk up the stairs is pretty harsh. It is NOT for those with young children or for the elderly or anyone with any kind of medical problem.
Toledo is also known for its sword making and metal work. Renown through the world for 2000 years back to Hannibal who knew it’s worth it was second to none in its day. For more on Toledo steel click here.
Shop after shop have swords, suits of armour, masks of different generations and stories; Knights Templars, Gladiator, Arthur Pendragon, Sauron, Romans Centurions, the list goes on. The works are amazing.
There are heaps of walks throughout the city, touristy train rides (in which you need a kidney belt as you go over cobbled stoned streets), numerous museums and plenty of fantastic views. Oodles of trinket and leather shops with fantastic handbags (and I do mean beautiful handbags!), wallets and belts. There are great silversmiths making lovely jewellery and lots of swords and oddities throughout. The public transport seems to be on the go all the time, but as we never used it and walked everywhere, so I couldn’t say if good or bad.
Camino de Santiago
Toledo is also a starting point for those who wish to do the Camino de Santiago, The Walk of Saint James. It is a 622km walk from here to Santiago, in Northern Spain, so I think it would take around 2 to 3 weeks to walk this route. From where I took the photo is Castillio de San Servando Hostel. The castle itself is full of history, being a medieval castle and built as a monastery occupied first by monks, and later by the Knights Templar. If interested in the Camino, look at what routes can be walked and towns where you can stay on the webpage of the Compostela.
As always when in another country, watch out for the pickpockets and don’t be leaving your personals anywhere that is easy picking for thieves.
Toledo is a welcoming place and in all the back alley’s and streets you will find wonderful bars and restaurants that have some wonderful characters. Don’t get caught in the touristy traps around town that charge like a wounded bull, but take the bulls by the horn and explore. You will not be disappointed!