“Oh, this year I’m off to sunny Spain; y viva Espana!”  I sang gaily as I threw shorts, sandals and strappy tops into my suitcase.

Who knew? In February, it’s cold in the mountains of Andalucia.

I bought a fleece jogging suit, and changed only my underwear in seven days.


ON the day that Helena, the real estate agent, took us to look at properties for sale in Montejaque, she introduced us to Cristobal Calle Jimenez, manager of La Posada and of Casas de Montejaque. Cristobal knew all of the houses that were available in our price range … and, best of all, he had his own team of craftsmen (builders, plumbers, electricians) who would be able to ‘re-form’ our chosen property.

We looked at five houses, narrowed it down to three, then did the ‘Goldilocks test’: too big, too small, and just right.

Our future home was within our 100,000€ budget: 80,000€ for the house, plus Cristobal’s estimate of 20,000€ for the renovations we thought we wanted … but we were in no hurry. We decided we would spend our 2004 summer holiday in the house, just as it was, to discover what we really did need to change/add.

Cristobal suggested a name for the house – ‘Casa Alta’, or ‘high house’, as it was nearly at the top of the village, in the oldest part of Montejaque, with stunning views over the Serrania.

In February of 2004, my father and my son joined me on a one-week trip to Spain to buy the ‘necessities’ for Casa Alta. Although we had bought it fully furnished (most of it not to my ‘French Country Provincial’ style, unfortunately), we needed bedding, dishes, glasses, kitchen and cleaning supplies … etc.

Dad, son Matthew and I arrived at Malaga airport early on the Saturday morning. The rental car I’d requested was not available, so we were given some sort of multi-passenger van instead. I was horrified at the thought of wending this monster through the streets of Montejaque. But – as we later found out – we were grateful for its carrying capacity.

En route to the village, we decided to have lunch at Escuderos in Ronda – where Kevin and I had celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary the year before. I then suggested we go off to Hipersol to ‘buy a few things’ for the house. (Turned out this was a good idea, because I didn’t realise the shops aren’t open on a Sunday).

Three shopping-carts-full later, we were on our way to Montejaque. (Thank goodness for the van, because I don’t know how we would have fitted everything – including an ironing board – into a car). We stayed the first night at La Posada in a lovely 3-bedroomed, self-contained cottage. There was a fire burning in the living room, all was warm and cosy, and life was good. We had a bread-and-cheese-and-wine dinner (five courses at Escuderos was enough for the day), and settled in for the night.

The next morning, we awoke to a grey, drizzly sky. “Let’s just take a few lightweight things up to the house and check it out,” I said. So, armed with duvets, pillows and a box of six wineglasses, we plodded off … upwards.

“Where the heck is the house?” I said, 20 minutes later (by which time our hair was plastered to our heads and the duvets were getting wet). We asked a lady dressed in black, who was cleaning the street outside her house with a bottle of bleach: “Casa Alta? Calle Tavizna?”


So we plodded on. Matthew (who had been there only once) eventually recognised the back of the house. We fell through the front door, exhausted and relieved.

Oh, and it was not pretty inside. It had not been lived in since the previous October, and the winter rains had caused all sorts of damp problems up the walls. We made the beds, put the wineglasses in the kitchen cupboard, and repaired down the hill for a hot drink. Several trips later  (the closest we could get the mini-van was 300 metres from the house), we’d moved everything into Casa Alta, and were thinking about staying there for the night.

“Perhaps not,” I said. “Let’s go back to La Posada, and look at all of this in the fresh light of dawn.”

We then discovered that, if Spain ‘siestas’ during weekday afternoons, it positively shuts down on a Sunday. No welcoming, crackling fire in the grate, no food in the fridge, no-one around to ask where to go, what to do. After five attempts to light the fire (not a boy scout among us), we retired for the night, somewhat downhearted.

Back to Casa Alta on the Monday morning, determined to get everything sorted so we could spend the rest of our week there. First trip: to an electrical shop in Ronda, to buy four electric heaters – one for each bedroom, and one for the dining room (which – typically Spanish, as we later found out – you stepped into as soon as you came through the front door).

We plugged in all the heaters, turned them onto ‘high’ and BOOM, the breaker blew. OK, we turned on only one bar for each heater … so far, so good. We plugged in the kettle for a much-needed cuppa. BOOM. We asked Cristobal for help; he sent up his electrician, Theo.

“Roto,” said Theo, looking into our electrical box.

“Wonder what that means?” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Dad, “but I don’t like the sound of it.”

We also asked Theo to look at our gas-bottle-fired water heater. No matter how long we ran the tap, we couldn’t get hot water.

“Roto,” said Theo.

On the Tuesday, Matthew and I went into Ronda to buy a gas-fired heater, and stopped at the local petrol station to buy another gas bottle (we had only two: one for the stove and one for the water heater). I carried the heater up the hill, and Matthew man-handled the bottle. Dad was impressed.

We had that gas heater running ‘full-bore’ the whole time we were there. We had one bar each on the electric heaters in our respective bedrooms. We boiled water on the gas stove-top … both to make cups of tea (forget plugging in the new electric kettle) and to fill up the bidet in the bathroom. This is what we bathed in for five days. I bought fleece jogging suits (well, maybe they were pyjamas?) and we LIVED in them, day and night.

Hmmm. Had we bought a dream home or a nightmare?

The (renovated) house is available to rent for holidays; check out the following websites:



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