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Moving to Spain: Seven hill towns near the Costa del Sol

Just a stone's throw from the busy resorts of the Costa del Sol and a short drive into the hills and you can find authentic white-washed towns and villages that are perfect for those looking for a quiet life.

Moving to Spain: Seven hill towns near the Costa del Sol
The pueblo blanco of Casares. Photo: Peter Walkley on Unsplash

Lockdown taught us to appreciate peace and quiet and left many of us hankering after an outdoor space to call our own.

But tranquillity isn’t always easy to find on the overbuilt Malaga coastline, and unless you have stacks of money and can afford an isolated villa, a private garden is an almost an unheard-of luxury.

But look beyond the coast and a short distance inland, however, and you can find sleepy white-washed hilltiop villages known as “pueblos blancos” where you can find affordable homes with as much peace and quiet as you need, plus the great outdoors on your doorstep. 

In this article, Celeste Alonso, manager of The Property Agent and an expert on real estate on the Costa del Sol, shares her favourite seven towns just a stone’s throw from the coast for those looking to start a new life away from the crowds.

Casares


Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash

One of the most spectacular white villages in Malaga, Casares is perched on top of a rocky outcrop and cascades down a hillside. A 12th-century Moorish castle sits at the top presiding over pristine streets lined with white cubic houses and quaint squares.

Fabulous views come as standard – from the Mediterranean in the south with Morocco on the horizon, to the north with views of the Sierra Crestalina mountains. This village has a good choice of traditional bars and restaurants plus a few little shops. Life moves in the slow lane (especially as you walk uphill) but Estepona is just 20 minutes away if you want a bit of action.

Population: 6,515

Foreign population: 2,018

Distance from Malaga Airport: 96km

Gaucin


Photo: Bagolina/Flickr

Further north and even higher than Casares is Gaucín, another stunning vision in white perched astride a rocky ridge. Commanding vistas are also a given – down the River Genal valley to the Mediterranean, across the cork oak forests to the Sierra de Grazalema and through the almond and olive groves.

A Moorish castle crowns the hilltop here too over a labyrinth of pretty streets and sparkling-white façades. There’s a sizeable artist community who open their studios every year for the Art Gaucín festival. The food is good and on the menu is traditional fare as well as more gourmet offerings. And for home cooking, the local shops sell excellent produce – the Payoyo goat’s cheese is incredibly tasty.

Population: 1,576

Foreign population: 301

Distance from Malaga Airport: 120km

Ronda


Photo by Nomadic Julien on Unsplash

As one of Andalusia’s signature white towns, Ronda needs no introduction. The Old Town clinging to the rocks over the vertiginous Tajo gorge is one of the most famous views in Spain. Down below, the vast river plain with cornfields and vineyards backed by endless lofty peaks stretches long into the distance.

In the town itself, feast your eyes too on fine mansions and ancient chapels as well as one of Spain’s oldest bullrings. Excellent local fare makes for some of the finest dining on the Costa del Sol accompanied by Ronda wine in a surprising variety. The town ranks as one of the most visited spots in Andalusia so you won’t be alone. But come nightfall after the daytrippers leave , the town returns to the domain of its inhabitants and life ambles quietly along again.

Population: 33,877

Foreign population: 1,990

Distance from Malaga Airport: 101km

Benahavis


Photo: Lourdes M. Montañez /Flickr

The glitz and glamour of Puerto Banús might be just a short drive away, but in Benahavís you could be in another world. Life almost stands still in this immaculate white village, famed as the Costa del Sol’s capital of gastronomy.

As well as fine food, the village offers snapshots of typical Andalusian architecture and some fantastic mountain and river walks. Canyoning down the waters adds some spice to daily life while more sedate leisure options are on your doorstep at some of the Costa del Sol’s most prestigious golf courses.

Matching the splendour of the natural surroundings are luxury developments with some of the most expensive property on the Costa del Sol. Benahavís is one of the wealthiest municipalities in Spain and the quiet life here comes pretty but not cheap.

Population: 8,085

Foreign population: 5,173

Distance from Malaga Airport: 71km

Monda 


Photo: yoyopopo/Flickr

To the north of Marbella (a 20-minute drive away), Monda sits at the gateway to the Sierra de las Nieves Natural Park (soon to be Spain’s 16th national park). The sleepy town itself includes an imposing castle, tidy squares, a working olive oil mill and row upon row of white houses boasting wrought-iron grilles and vibrant geraniums and bougainvillaeas.

A smattering of bars and restaurants add to the traditional feel to Monda while the Marbella Design Academy, celebrating its silver anniversary in 2020, brings a touch of creative, cosmopolitan flare. On the doorstep, Sierra de las Nieves, a natural treasure trove and home to some of the best walking and mountain biking routes on the Costa del Sol.

Population: 2,594

Foreign population: 574

Distance from Malaga Airport: 47km

Mijas Pueblo 


Photo: Marbella Escapes/Flickr

Mijas officially divides into three: Mijas Costa, Las Lagunas and Mijas Pueblo, but it’s this last one you should look at for peace and quiet on the Costa del Sol. Perched midway up the high Sierra de Mijas, the small town has stunning views over the Costa del Sol coastline. Famous for its donkey taxis (now animal-friendly), cobbled white streets, Picasso ceramics at the CAC Mijas art museum and warm welcome, Mijas draws tourists in droves.

But stray slightly off the beaten trail, and life slows right down. And most streets and alleyways look the same as they ever did. Dine on tapas with the locals at tiny bars or join the (slight) bustle at the local restaurants. And then be sure to take part in the year-round calendar of festivals, traditional and modern, but all celebrating the Andalusian joie de vivre.

Population: 55,304 (Mijas village 5,528)

Foreign population: 31,646

Distance from Malaga Airport: 28km

Frigiliana 


Photo: Jake Johnson/Flickr

Part of the Axarquía region in the mountains to the east of Malaga city, Frigiliana ranks among the most beautiful of all Andalusian white towns. Just a short drive from the popular resort of Nerja, Frigiliana has commanding views of the Mediterranean and imposing mountains. This is the land of muscatel grapes for raisins and dessert wine and sugar cane for molasses.

But as well as sweet, Frigiliana is also beautiful. Pristine street after pristine street wind their way up the mountainside dotted with tiny alleyways, ancient fountains and imposing arches. White dominates of course punctuated by a riot of flowers and Moorish mosaics while the scent of jasmine lingers in the air. You won’t be alone in the visual feast – Frigiliana attracts plenty of tourists – but choose the spot for your home well, and it’ll be just you, the views and tranquillity. Who’d have said this is the Co del Sol?

Population: 3,009

Foreign population: 938

Distance from Malaga Airport: 71km

This article has been written by Celeste Alonso, who runs The Property Agent specializing in real estate on the Costa del Sol. If you are looking for property on the Costa del Sol contact her for HERE. 

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PROPERTY

How to turn a bar, office or shop into a residential property in Spain

Commercial properties in Spain can be a lot cheaper than residential ones, but it’s not as straightforward as buying a former restaurant, office or shop and moving in. Here are the steps to follow and what you need to be aware of.

How to turn a bar, office or shop into a residential property in Spain

One of the tricks budget property hunters in Spain have been using in recent years is buying a local (commercial property), oficina (office) or nave (industrial unit) and transforming it into a vivienda (residential property) to live in or let out. 

It’s a trend that’s roughly doubled in big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona in the last five years. 

Buying a commercial property can work out to be 50 percent cheaper than a flat or house in Spain and there can be other advantages such as it being more open plan than Spain’s typical corridor-themed apartments as well having more money to invest in the renovation. 

Is it possible to turn a commercial property into a residential property in Spain?

Yes, in theory it is, but it’s not always possible. The rules relating to a change of property’s usage from commercial to residential or vice versa are determined by each municipality in Spain, so before you rush to buy un local, you have to do your homework first and be aware of some of the most common pitfalls.

It could be that the limit of residential properties per hectare has been surpassed already, or that without some major changes the property doesn’t meet the standards of size, rooms, space, height, layout, ventilation, air extraction or light of the town or city hall. 

It isn’t the most straightforward process and depending on the property and the individual municipal rules in place, it might just not be possible to live in the property or rent it out to others.

Living in a commercial property is illegal and may cause you problems such as not being able to activate water and electricity or register your padrón at the town hall.

Despite all the paperwork needed, flipping a bar or office and turning it into a home usually works out cheaper than buying a residential property in Spain. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA / AFP)

Don’t be discouraged however, as in many cases it is possible to change the use of a property from commercial to residential and in regions such as Galicia authorities are currently facilitating the process to address the matter of empty abandoned stores and the lack of well-priced accommodation for young homeowners.

What are the steps to follow in Spain to change a property from commercial to residential?

Check the statutes of the community of owners: In order to make any changes within the community of neighbours, permission must be requested in advance. Beforehand, you can ask the comunidad president for a copy of the community statutes to see if the change of use from commercial to residential is mentioned.

READ ALSO: ‘La comunidad’ -What property owners in Spain need to know about homeowners’ associations

Request permission from the town hall: After getting the green light from la comunidad, you have to go to the ayuntamiento (town hall) of the town where the property is to find out if it’s possible to add another residential property to the finca (building). 

Even if this is confirmed, it doesn’t certify that the change of usage from commercial to residential is allowed, for which the town hall will ask you to provide an architect’s proyecto técnico or feasibility report based on municipal urban laws. You will only be allowed to swap from commercial to residential if the project meets the safety and habitability requirements of the Technical Building Code (Código Técnico de la Edificación).

Get the Building Licence: Known as licencia urbanística or permiso de construcción in Spanish, this is an official document required by the town hall for you to carry out a construction or renovation project. In other words, you’ll need this municipal authorisation to begin work on your future residential property, whether it’s major work or minor . 

Get the Certificate of Habitability: Once the renovation work is complete, you’ll need the cédula de habitabilidad to be able to move in or let the property out . The conditions for this are regulated by each regional government and again it’s an architect who must prepare a technical report in order for a town council technician to issue the certificate of habitability.

The certificate we need for the change of use is that of primera ocupación (first residential occupation), which has to include the usable surface area of ​​the home, rooms, address, location, maximum inhabitants etc.

How much does it cost to transform a commercial property into a residential one in Spain?

If for example it’s a 80m2 property with two rooms, the total would be about €50,000, according to property websites Idealista and Habitissimo, with the bulk covering renovation costs (€500/m2= €40,000) and the rest going to cover permits, architecture costs and taxes.

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