Why I swapped London life for a tiny village in northern Spain

Marc Furnival is a British architect also registered in Spain, who now lives and works in Asturias, the mountainous and coastal region of northern Spain.

Why I swapped London life for a tiny village in northern Spain
Photo: Marc Furnival / Iberia North

After many years of visiting the area, in 2014 he sold his flat in London to live permanently in northern Spain in a house he had built in the mountains. 

He runs Iberia North, an international property agency and architecture practice.

My first trip outside the UK was to visit Spain in 1992 for the World Expo in Seville, as an impoverished architecture student. Being a first trip ‘abroad’ it all seemed very cultural and culinary, and I liked it.

After graduating during a previous recession in the early 1990s, I went to New York and lived for a couple of years there to pay for my post-graduate studies. Whilst there I met Olga, who is Spanish from La Rioja. She is now my wife.

Later travels took me to Shanghai for a year designing new cities, but the one that led to Asturias, albeit indirectly, was after spending almost a year in the southern cone of South America, including living in Sao Paulo briefly, but in particular the amazing national parks of central Chile.

Whilst taking a short re-grouping sabbatical with my wife’s family in Logroño, capital of La Rioja, by chance a friend who is a mountain guide was passing through on her way to Asturias, so on a spur of the moment decision we decided to go with her.

On seeing the mountains and lowland forest of Picos de Europa, they reminded us so much of the mountains of Chile we had so recently loved hiking through.

The Picos de Europa are so named, as historically they were the first thing you saw of Europe when returning by sailing ship from the Americas.

These mountains and Asturias are held dear to the Spanish as, although now very well connected by road and air, they seem so distant culturally from what Spain is more commonly known for. Also that Asturias, Patria Querida (Asturias, my beloved land) is a national drinking song for late night revellers.

Once installed in a small mountain village, after a hearty lunch, a hot summer's day took us to a shaded mountain walk along the River Casaño, and passing a village along the way we saw a derelict stone barn for sale.

The stone barn, in ruins.

Not having even been thinking about buying a property, we called the owners anyway. They wanted the exact amount of money we had left after returning from China and Australasia, so that was that. We headed back to La Rioja, packed up and went to London to raise the money to renovate the barn.

After eight great years in London, whilst working on neighbourhood regeneration, I was thinking increasingly more about the almost clichéd adage of the ‘work-life balance’, but wanting to explore what that actually might mean in terms of achieving a more integrated way of living.

Having just finished renovating the small mountain house, after many years of paperwork, and construction trials and tribulations, it felt like the right time to sell up in London and take the plunge full time to live there, which is in a village of only 20 or so inhabitants.

The final house, after renovation.

For more about his house, look at the website

The issue of engaging and integrating with the place in which you live, or even are just visiting, has always seemed important. Why travel if you don’t? For me, part of travelling has always been looking for a place that has inherent in its culture the things in life that you have come to enjoy.

Asturias has that. There are beautiful mountain ranges with mixed forest, mountain deer, wolves and even bears in some places. Asturias is full of places to discover.

Dramatic mountain ranges emerging from beautiful forests with stone shepherds’ cabins off the beaten track; a green, unspoilt coast with pretty fishing villages and crystal clear rivers running down to secluded beaches below clifftop walks with spectacular blowholes spraying up on wild, stormy days; and cultural, small cities with bustling historic streets and traditional farmers markets, and good restaurants, including eight Michelin stars, in restaurants dotted around, often in, mountain villages.

Of course, as anywhere, living in a more rural area has its pros and cons. But having lived in large cities for many years and now a more rural area, there is not such a distance between the urban and the rural as we might think. Perhaps not having all the cultural highlights that you might have in large cities is an issue, and to an extent its true. But do we need to have 200 theatres, as I had had in London?

You start to learn new skills. I can now build stone walls and am an official cheese taster for the local blue cheese, Cabrales. 

But, it's not all just rural, there are many art exhibitions, theatre, concerts and world cinema an hour away, which is the time I used to spend travelling across London to see a show or friends. But now I can see mountains from my window.

So after oscillating between cities and mountain villages, I am now settled in a market town, where I have based my property and architecture business, although I cover the wider area of North-West Spain. This takes me out and about a lot so I get to know the area quite well and meet a lot of different people.

READ: 10 point guide to buying property in Northern Spain

Iberia North is a bespoke property agency presenting interesting homes from across the region. Based in Asturias, we introduce local properties to an international market. We also work with estate agents in the area to find particular properties either directly or as a commission. Our involvement starts from the initial search through to purchase, then design and construction, when required. 

READ ALSO: Spanish property of the week: An entire village nestled in the Picos de Europa

For members


How to lodge a formal complaint in Spain: Hoja de reclamación

If you’ve experienced bad service in Spain that didn’t meet expectations or bought a product that didn’t do what it promised to, then you may want to fill out an official complaint form in a bid to get your money back. Here’s how to go about it.

How to lodge a formal complaint in Spain: Hoja de reclamación

At some point or another everyone has probably experienced poor service and demanded to be reimbursed, whether it was because a bus had a broken air-con in 40C heat and was two hours delayed or you bought a product from a store that broke a month later. 

The first step is obviously to try and contact the company and sort out the issue amicably, but if this method isn’t producing any fruitful results, you may want to fill out an hoja de reclamación. 

This essentially translates as a ‘claim sheet’ and is an official complaint form you can lodge against a company to try and get reimbursed for your purchase.

READ ALSO: What to be aware of before opening a shared bank account in Spain

According to the Organisation of Consumers and Users (OCU) there are three reasons that a complaint form of this kind can help. It can:

  • Let the Consumer Administration know about your case, so they can investigate it.
  • Try and get the company to reach an agreement with you.
  • Sanction the company if it has breached any of its obligations.

What are the advantages of filling out an official complaint form?

Sometimes, just the threat of filling out an official complaint form is enough for the company to give in or propose an acceptable agreement.

Companies obviously don’t want to have lots of negative reviews and have complaints filed against them, so by filling one out, you are actually helping them improve their customer service. 

If the company still won’t do anything after you’ve submitted the form and later you go to settle the matter in court, having filled out the form will be proof that you tried to find a solution first.

Can you use this type of form for all companies?

The OCU explains that there are companies in some sectors that you shouldn’t fill out an hoja de reclamación for in the first place. Instead, you must contact the customer service department of the company itself.

This is true for banks, insurance providers, investment companies, telecommunications services, transportation companies, airlines and energy companies.

“If they do not respond in a month or respond but do not provide a satisfactory solution, then you should go down the specific dispute route that their company proposes,” the OCU states.

How do I fill out this type of complaint form?

If you are dealing with a business or service provider that does not have a specific claim channel such as a bar, store, supermarket or hotel, you can ask directly for the claim form.

The form has three copies – one for you, another for the administration and another that you must deliver to the establishment itself. 

Make sure to make photocopies of any supporting documents that serve as evidence such as contracts, tickets, invoices, guarantees, advertisements or photos.

Once completed, you must give your forms and evidence to the Municipal Consumer Information Office (OMIC) or by mail or by electronic means to the General Directorate of Consumption of your region.

Each region will have its own forms you need to complete. If you don’t ask for them from the business itself, you can find them online. The one for Catalonia can be found here, for Valencia here, for Andalusia here, and for Madrid here. For other regions, you can simply type into an internet search engine: hojas de reclamaciones + your region.

Once completed, your case will be studied and you may be presented with a resolution. If it is not successful but the administration finds that the company has breached any consumer regulations, it will open a case starting a disciplinary procedure that usually ends in a fine.

Remember that, it is not guaranteed that you will get compensation, even if the company ends up being fined.