‘We have empty white sand beaches in August’

Magical scenery, great seafood and a buzzing cultural life. Welcome to the Galicia of tourism entrepreneur and home renovator extraordinaire Rupert Wakefield.

'We have empty white sand beaches in August'
Rupert Wakefield with his daugher Luna: Rupert thinks family life in Spain is fantastic.

How did you end up in Spain?

I first came here because of my wife María. I used to run a small advertising agency in London and María originally came and did work experience with us.

Then, after two or three years, the agency folded, and I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do, or where.

So I came out to Galicia to visit María and discovered that the coastline here is truly stunning.

I’d already been around the world but the beaches here in Galicia were amazing. I’m a nature lover and for me this factor was really important.

I love how green it is here. There aren’t many tourists in this part of Spain either, and even in August you can find a white sandy beach with no other people on it.

Galicia is also great because I’m still close to friends and family in England.

And how did you end up renting out holiday homes?

I’ve always been fascinated by renovation, but it’s just too expensive in London.

Here, it all started María and I bought a house in a small village called Roo de Abaixo (about 35 minutes from Santiago). We just knocked on a door of a place we liked the look of. We got the place for a decent price and took six months out to renovate the property.

We then decided to rent that place out with an eye on persuading the people who came to stay to actually buy the place. In the end, though, we found we were full all summer, every summer and we decided to keep renting the place out.

Then we brought a second place, and did the same thing.

Then the crisis hit, and we found that getting credit from the bank became much harder.

Casa de Piloto is one of two properties Rupert Wakefield has restored in the Galician village of Roo de Abaixo.

So what came next?

Well we decided to put together a guide for Santiago and the region, so we spent a year travelling up and down the coast and trying out restaurants. It could be worse!

Has the area changed in the time you’ve been there?

I think the region is changing. Lots of European money has been pumped in: for example, the drive from Santiago to the coast at Finisterre has gone from 75 minutes to 35 minutes.

As a result, I think the coastline is going to change, but they’ve been very good at protecting the shoreline, with no construction being allowed within 500 metres from the beach.

There are no tower blocks here.

At the same time, there are more cheap flights arriving in Santiago and La Coruña, so we are getting more visitors.

Have you found it easy doing business in Spain?

The business of buying houses and renovating them was straightforward. Our purchase meant there was outside money coming in, and the town hall was very supportive.

Getting government support for the guide, though, that was very difficult. There is a lot of bureaucracy here in Galicia and the tourism authorities found it hard to deal with the idea that we were going out on our own and doing a guide of the area which could help them.

There is a lot of money here, but the authorities decided to build the €400 million City of Culture which has turned out to be a real white elephant.

And how do you find life in Spain?

For  a Londoner, it’s interesting. Where I come from, if you have an idea, you just do it. But here, things can be little slower.

This is a very top-heavy nation with a lot of bureaucracy, and it could all certainly be a little more efficient.

But I don’t want to sound too negative. From a family perspective — I have two kids — life in Spain is fantastic. I love the fact that I can go out in Santiago (de Compostela)  in the evening and the streets and squares are full of children and parents and grandparents. It’s a very safe country.

What should people do in Galicia?

You have to spend a night or two in Santiago, and preferably on the weekend if you can. It’s a student city with a really great vibe. There are a lot of spontaneous musical jams and there’s plenty of theatre and dance. The town hall also puts on plenty of free concerts, which is brilliant.

Where are the best beaches?

There are so many! The area of Ría de Muros y Noia alone has about 70 beaches.

But you really should go to Monte Louro, which is mountain and peninsula near Santiago where dolphins come and play in the evening. Then there’s Carnota which has one of the most impressive beaches I’ve ever seen.

Do you have a favourite restaurant?

The seafood is incredible in Galicia, and many people say it’s the best in Europe, which is hard to disagree with. The wines are fantastic too. And there’s also a new cuisine developing in Santiago which mixes the old and the new.

One place doing this that I would definitely recommend is La Tafona. The people are lovely. They’re ambitious and they are doing a great job at providing a very decent and different menu every day. It’s all very nicely presented too.

To find out more about Rupert Wakefield's holiday villas click here.

The beach of Carnota is about an hour's drive from Santiago.

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‘I don’t know why I didn’t brake’: Train crash driver

The driver of a Spanish train that derailed killing 79 people told a judge he "didn't understand" how he failed to brake in time to stop the crash, a recording of his court hearing revealed on Wednesday.

'I don't know why I didn't brake': Train crash driver
A truck transports a carriage from the scene of the deadly train crash in Angrois, near Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

"I can't explain. I still don't understand," the driver Francisco Jose Garzon Amo told the judge when asked why he hadn't slowed down in time to take a sharp bend near the northwestern city of Santiago de Compostela.

Asked again about what caused him to crash, he added: "I tell you sincerely that I don't know. Otherwise I would not have been so crazy as not to brake" earlier.

His testimony made during a closed-door hearing on Sunday was recorded and an extract posted online by leading newspaper El Pais.

Judge Luis Alaez released Garzon on bail charged with 79 counts of reckless homicide after the initial hearing, while the court investigates.

Railway officials say the track where the train crashed was not equipped with automatic braking systems in place on some high-speed lines and that it was therefore left up to the driver to brake.

The driver told the judge he had braked, but by the time he did so the crash was "inevitable".

"Before the train turned over, I had activated everything but I saw that no, no, it wasn't working."

The black box data recorders revealed the train was going at 192 kilometres (119 miles) per hour before braking shortly before the bend. It was travelling
at 153 kph — about twice the 80 kph speed limit on that part of the rail —  when it derailed.

The court said the data recorders revealed that when the train crashed Garzon was on the phone to the state rail company Renfe which was giving him instructions for later on in the route.

With 79 people killed and 178 injured, it was Spain's worst rail disaster since 1944.