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Development of Las Parras -The Quantum Leap : January 2004 to May 2005

We left Spain to live and work in England in August 2003 and by early 2004 we received indication that our tenants who were staying in our family home in Holland were planning to move out.  We took the decision to sell this property to release the equity and  complete the works we had planned in the house prior to leaving Spain – namely to complete the first phase of our building plans.

This work was completed in April of 2004. Jonathon our youngest son celebrated his 14th birthday in the same month. The house now looked truly refurbished and for the first time since putting in the swimming pool two years earlier, the full benefit of these developments could now be seen. The pool deck was now fully tiled and equipped with elegant but bold balustrade, the garage had been nicely rendered, a new driveway had been built, the main outside stairway from the ground floor to the upper levels had all been tiled and smart large wooden gates marked the entrance to the property together with a dry stone wall that now ran along the south facing boundary of the house. The villa looked fabulous. I returned to Spain and in a week painted the new rendering work. In celebration we formally named the villa : Las Parras

In June of 2004, we finally sold our house in Holland. This helped us to finalise our commitments for competing the first phase of construction works and cover most of the finance needed for the second phase – the new extension!

I asked Abilio of Abilio Costa to complete the Architect’s plans for Las Parras. This work planned to increase the floor area of the house from 180m2 to 340m2 and thereby create 2 new large living areas, a further bathroom, 2 bedrooms and 2 covered Nayas with balustraded balconies. A further benefit was the fact that for the first time the two levels of the house would be accessible from within the house via a stairway. As the bulk of the money was now available, I elected to get underway with the works in early 2005, although we agreed to progress in manageable steps as I had not yet secured all the finance needed to fully complete the work.

January 2005 was particularly cold in the Costa Blanca region with snow falling for the first time in goodness knows how long and although the foundations for the new construction had been excavated out of the bedrock, the concrete could not be laid owing to the relatively deep frost that prevailed. Building work therefore started in mid February 2005. At this stage I was travelling fairly regularly to Spain from England to oversee works and each time I visited, I could see tremendous progress being made.

One visit in April 2005 was with my daughter Fiona and her 2 month old son Harry. Sadly it was Harry’s only visit as he passed away on 13th May 2005 suddenly and without warning.  This was a defining moment for our family and although we inevitably carried on, we were all understandably profoundly affected by Harry’s loss. Looking back it caused me to lose momentum although I had not relaised by how much at the time.  I had hitherto been fortunate to have sailed through my life without any real setbacks but my energy and enthusiasm for the Las Parras project suffered in the aftermath of losing Harry.   Commitment to the ongoing development of the villa had already been made however and we continued with this work until it was finalised.

I asked Abilio to complete some additional garden landscaping work including some paths and the planting of a beautiful established ancient Olive tree. The olive tree was to be a living memorial for our first grandson Harry David Evans: 9 February to 13 May 2005.

By the end of May 2005, Las Parras was fully complete as a villa structure and now comprised a 5 bedroom, three bathroom villa with a swimming pool and terracing overlooking the Mediterranean sea in Moraira. In the summer of 2005, all of the family spent an extended vacation in our newly refurbished villa and we have great memories of that holiday. It marked a turning point in our lives as we had decided to exit our pub restaurant business. At this stage we did not have permanent work in the UK but we were as ever hopeful of better things to come.

 

Development of Las Parras: June 2002 to August 2003

During the summer of 2001 we bought a house in La Sabatera, Moraira.    The views were amazing and still are, but as with many properties that were available at this time, the house needed extensive remodelling having been constructed probably some time in the ’70s.

The process of buying a house as with any big purchase was nerve-wracking, not least because most of the information being passed to you is not in your first language.  We stuck with it however and in the end, with the help of our local Lawyer Juan Poch, we became the proud owners of an established four bedroomed detached villa with fabulous panoramic sea views towards Moraira and moved in July 2001. I celebrated my 42nd birthday about a week afterwards.

Significantly, in the October of 2001 I negotiated a voluntary redundancy package from my work that would help us to begin to pay for the very necessary remodelling plans for the villa. By early 2002, I was able to spend more time in Spain working from home for alternate weeks.   In late June of 2002 we celebrated our twin daughter’s 15th birthdays and I started a year’s gardening leave as part of the redundancy package.   Things were looking up and I could see our plan coming together.

Almost as soon as we purchased the house, we engaged the services of a local architect:  David Weston to help us with the design and supervision of the construction work and the obtaining of the necessary building licenses and planning permission.  It was David’s son Neil who worked through most of the planning details with Cathy.  The eventual plans and all associated fees seemed a lot at the time but looking back, it was money very well spent as it helped us to plan the works and keep a firm grip of what we were working towards and most importantly helped us to design how the space in the house would work.

The construction work was planned in two phases. The first phase was to construct a pool and a double garage where the existing front garden of the house was situated. The first phase therefore focussed primarily on outside works. The second phase was to build an extension which would effectively double the existing internal floor area of the house and integrate the upper and lower floors by means of an internal staircase.  In addition to this there was a pressing need to redevelop the kitchen of the house. This work did not require planning permission and would be competed largely by myself.

When I permanently returned home to Spain in 2002 it was early July. In a week’s time I would celebrate my 43rd birthday and the work to build the swimming pool had already commenced and would include construction of the swimming pool and coronation, the pool pumphouse and a covered terrace adjacent to the pool for the pool pump and filter. The works did not include the tiling and finishing of the terrace.   At the end of this part of the project we would nominally have a swimming pool but it was hardly the finished article. Whilst the swimming pool itself was beautiful it was surrounded by a mixture of gravelled dirt and a concrete area along one side bordered by a wall constructed of scaffold planks.

This makeshift wall of scaffold planks lashed to steel uprights although unsightly was essential to reduce the risk of us falling from a height of three metres on to the exposed bedrock below!  A swimming pool in most projects immediately enhances the outside of the house but we still had a long way to go before we could be proud of our pool area.

The excavation of the entire front garden down to the lowest level of the house took around two weeks to complete and involved the relocation of three date palms. The smallest of which was transferred by the swimming pool and the two larger palms were relocated to the front gate entrance of the villa. I don’t know how many truck loads of spoil were taken from the plot but it was a lot at least 250m3 of bedrock and top soil. The upshot of all this heavy excavation work was that by end July 2003 one could swim in our pool.

Once the pool had been completed, I asked the builders to construct a party wall with the neighbours at no 31, an inbuilt BBQ and wall separating the front of the house from the rear to create a courtyard feel to the proposed outside eating area along with some modifications to the structure of the kitchen. The kitchen work included knocking through into an upstairs adjoining bedroom to double the kitchen floor space and to brick up the existing single kitchen door and install new double doors onto what would be our outside eating area.

At the end of this work although we lost a bedroom in extending the kitchen space we still had a four bedroomed house as we converted an upstairs living room which was offset from the main lounge into a bedroom for our youngest son Jonathon. This newly formed bedroom benefitted from the best views in the house with unbroken views over the Mediterranean.

Once this work had been completed I immediately started work on making the outside terrace both safer and a place where we would look forward to spending time. I chose to do this work myself because I was confident I could make a mark on the house and begin the transformation we were looking for. Working with James our 16 year old son and a couple of his school friends, we planned to concrete the area outside the kitchen up to the pool area. The work involved laying around 40m2 of concrete in preparation for a tiled terrace.

I bought a concrete mixer for the job to lighten the work load and it took a hard and long day’s work to lay all of the concrete. The work was made doubly hard, as the concrete all had to be wheelbarrowed up to the upper level of the house involving a walk for each barrow of 50m with some stretches on scaffold planks. Even by the completion of this work, although you could see the shape of things to come, still nothing looked finished and we had to content ourselves with the fact that we were gradually making positive changes.

At this stage, our kitchen still comprised a couple of stand-alone cupboards, an old sink and table top oven and hob and our swimming pool although an encouraging deep blue was still set in a sea of concrete. What we needed now was something that marked real progress and helped us to enjoy our plans for an outside courtyard eating area. What we needed was tiled terraces and a working kitchen.

I had planned to build a large pergola over our outside courtyard area and having observed a collection of builders at work over the previous few weeks and months I chose to build both the block piers that were to support our pergola and to build an outside kitchen work top area to enhance our inbuilt BBQ area. I also chose to try my hand at rendering the blockwork I had put in place

Inspired by my new found rendering skills I also chose to tackle laying the floor screed on the terrace. This work looks fairly simple but is a real skill and needed some modifications to get right as it is important that this is laid so that rainwater flows freely from the area and does not form in puddles.    Our outside eating area was beginning to take shape and after the area had been fully painted, I think all of us wanted to spend more time in this space. By around October 2002 we were ready to tile the kitchen terrace area.

I had always enjoyed laying tiles whether it be on the wall or on the floor as you can really see a result and this project was no exception. A much more ambitious project compared with anything else I had attempted to date, together with Cathy’s help we tiled an area of terracing of around 40m2. For the first time since our remodelling work had begun, we finally had a tiled terraced area to enhance one of the areas around the swimming pool.

The next step was to construct a pergola in order to provide shade to our courtyard eating area. I went to an architectural recovery yard to find some old timber and upon delivery to the house, James and I managed to lift a huge 7m long cedar beam onto the supporting piers. We then placed 7 timber cross beams.  All of this timber had been recovered and recycled from former fincas from the surrounding area.

Once the pergola was in place, I covered it with bamboo matting and we had a shaded outside eating area,  Somewhere where the family could enjoy meals together.  The summer sun was behind us now and swimming was a cold experience. It was early November 2002 but we chose to eat outside to make the most of this new and welcome feature. Mediterranean living was beginning to come together.  At the end of this work, I felt we could all really begin to enjoy our villa in the winter sun.

Early December and just before Xmas 2002, we celebrated James’ 18th birthday (our eldest son) and work on refitting the kitchen, another large project was well underway. The upstairs kitchen was unusable during the early part of the refurbishment but fortunately we were helped in the fact that the house had the benefit of a kitchen on the lower floor. This second kitchen, if truth be told, had been better equipped than the one upstairs. The only problem with it was that there was no dining room nearby. So having spent several months completing our beautiful new courtyard terrace in the upper level of the house, because it was such a schlep to bring all the prepared food from the lower level kitchen upstairs to the courtyard, we chose to eat downstairs in the lower garden. So here we were again back to no decent dining space and on top of this we were eating outside in December which is not for the faint-hearted.

In time for Xmas 2002, the fitting of the main upstairs kitchen had been completed to an extent that it could be used permanently. There were still many finishing touches needed but our kitchen had a working sink, an oven, a tiled floor, a hob and a working fridge. What seemed to take an age was all the small details including cupboard lights, some plaster work along with finding someone who could make a nice job of joining of all of the worktops.

So for Xmas 2002 more or less 6 months after we had commenced the first phase of our villa renovation project, we now had a nearly, complete kitchen which lead onto our terraced outside eating area. Needless to say although we had grilled steaks for Xmas dinner (Roast Turkey was very hard to find in Spain) we ate them inside; outside it was simply too cold. I remember well my sons and I had a Xmas day swim whether we liked it or not for the sheer novelty of being able to do so and I can still remember what it was like to swim in water with a temperature of 8C. We also spent some time on the beach and even in December at the height of the day it still could touch 20C in the winter sun.

In early February 2003, we celebrated Cathy’s 40th birthday with a surprise party for friends in the villa – it was brilliant and a fantastic memory. At a similar time my attention in terms of building projects turned to the refitting of our upstairs bathroom. The house was fitted with two bathrooms when we bought it. The upstairs bathroom had a shower, toilet and hand basin and a sliding door for access to save space. The downstairs bathroom was in truth a much better bathroom with a bath/shower, toilet and basin but as four of us were living upstairs, it was the upstairs bathroom that needed attention.

The refitting of this bathroom was completed by early March 2003. It comprised a new shower cubicle, hand basin and toilet were fitted along with a double glazed window. The walls and floors were all retiled. In retrospect it served its purpose but it was never a great job in the way that the kitchen or the covered terrace was. In truth I was reaching the limit of my enthusiasm for building, having done nothing else now for more than 8 months pretty much 24/7.

An additional factor weighing on my mind was that the time I was spending on building our home was conflicting with my need to develop a sustainable income stream in Spain. The latter however was proving very challenging.

The next project I undertook would lead to the completion of the first phase of the original architect’s plans. This involved building a double garage to the existing pool terrace and redesigning the front stairs of the house. I considered getting professional builders in for this work but the demand for builders at this point in time had raised building costs through the roof and I decided to undertake all of the structural block work myself. I engaged an excavator to prepare the foundations as the ground was bedrock and also to take away the old stairway that connected the upper and lower levels at the front of the house and reconsruct new stairs.

The excavation work took a week to complete in early April 2003. Later that month we celebrated Jonathon’s 13th birthday. I had the concrete for the foundations poured by a concrete company which saved a lot of energy and ensured compliance with the architect’s specifications for foundation concrete. This work was supervised by the architect and required inspection by the local town hall planning dept.   Once the foundations were laid I set about laying the blockwork in early May 2003. Even allowing for my lack of experience in bricklaying, progress was very encouraging and by the end of June 2003 we had completed the structural work on both the garage and the stairs.

By early July 2003, we had accepted an offer of work in the UK which started in August.  regrettably and in spite of all reasonable efforts, we could not envisage how we were going to continue to work in Spain and earn sufficient money to keep all of our interests afloat.

The last piece of building work I attempted before returning to work in the UK was to tile the terrace on the roof of the garage. I started to look at the job of laying the floor screed so that it was self draining and suitable for laying tiles but as in some of the earlier terrace work I had done the laying of the floor screed on an area of around 50m2 proved beyond my capabilities.   Prior to leaving for the UK I obtained a quote from Abilio Costa, a local builder who I knew, to complete the pool deck and terrace and stairways, render the garage, build a driveway and secure the front entrance of the house. As I did not have all of the money for the work, I would need to return to the UK to establish our income stream before this work could commence.

Our Journey in Spain

 

Buying a home in another country and trying to establish a new life for your family in that country is a bit of a dream for many people. We have been fortunate to have lived that dream several times in both South Africa and then Holland before finally deciding to settle in the warmth of Spain.

We bought our Spanish Villa in July 2001, having moved our family to the Alicante Province on Spain’s Costa Blanca during the latter part of August 2000. We chose to rent first before we bought, primarily to make sure we were choosing to live in the right area. We rented a villa in Benissa Costa for round 8 months before finally choosing to buy a  home in La Sabatera, Moraira from a Belgian gentleman whose wife had sadly died and who was now no longer able to visit his villa in the sun.

We chose Moraira because it was a beautiful town with a community feel and very European.  Somewhere our then teenage children could be safe when they were out at night, and not too big so that you cannot be recognised in your neighbourhood.  Moraira was also quite near the children’s schools in Lliber and Javea so they could either get to school by bus or Mum’s taxi whichever worked best.   La Sabatera was an established area in Moraira with many lovely homes and fantastic views over the Mediterranean Sea.

It had always been our intention to fully integrate our family into Spain and for that reason it was important that our children were schooled locally. The children received their formal education in English according to a UK school curriculum but additionally they had plenty of opportunity to learn and speak Spanish. They are now grown up now and in some cases have children of their own however they can still speak and understand Spanish a lot better than they give themselves credit for.

Whilst we had fully intended to settle in Spain permanently, in reality there was a lack of work opportunities for both myself and the children.  This caused us to rethink these plans and we reluctantly decided to move back to the UK in August 2003.

Trying to find a way to make a living in Spain so that we could stay indefinitely proved difficult. Although I was willing to explore setting up a small business, I was not sufficiently prepared for establishing a profitable business in such a relatively short time frame which could support what were expensive family outgoings at the time.

Furthermore Moraira’s job market was mainly centred around construction and hospitality and my willingness to try new things was no substitute for real experience in what were relatively unknown areas of work.  Work for me locally in an employed capacity, offered very few opportunities with my background in management of food and drink manufacturing and only a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish.

From the moment we moved back to England and ever since, we  planned to move back to Spain to live permanently. Because of this, we chose not to end our Spanish dream and in contrast to our stays in other countries we looked to continue our plans, keep our beautiful home and continue to develop it with a view to returning back to live whenever the opportunity presented itself, ideally before Cathy and I planned to retire in 2025

Over the years the likelihood of this return materialising for us as a family with children has become less as our children developed their own lives in UK. Cathy’s and my careers developed as well so that until such time as we no longer need to work, it still remains impractical for us to return to live permanently in Spain.

The financial crisis of 2008 and more recently Brexit have also proved very significant factors on our plans and finally in 2018, we took a decision to look at deriving some letting income from the house. One of the reasons we have chosen to write this blog is to increase the awareness surrounding the villa and use the opportunity to show people through both words and photos what a wonderful place Moraira is for a holiday in Spain.

Choosing to make our home available as a holiday let required us to obtain a Licensia Turistica from the regional government of Valencia and after a long haul, we were delighted to receive notification that the license had been granted in August 2019.

The blog pages that follow record the historic and ongoing developments of the villa as our home and as a family summer holiday venue and to let our guests know about the surrounding area and the many things that can be enjoyed here.

David and Cathy Evans