Chi-chi on the Costas

It is still possible to buy stylish properties along the Spanish coastlines - but they certainly come with hefty price tags. According to the experts, if it's chic you're after, you may do better to start looking inland. Ginetta Vedrickas reports

Parts of Spain may be suffering from the high-rise hell of over-development, but it is still possible to find homes of distinction, even on the heavily populated Costas. Mark Harvey who heads Hamptons International's Marbella office, says that buying a home in Spain doesn't have to mean settling for the mundane: "It is possible to find stylish and well designed property out there but at a price. At Hamptons we try to be selective and only take on properties which we feel will be desirable to the buying public, but stylish homes always sell and people are happy to pay a premium."

Parts of Spain may be suffering from the high-rise hell of over-development, but it is still possible to find homes of distinction, even on the heavily populated Costas. Mark Harvey who heads Hamptons International's Marbella office, says that buying a home in Spain doesn't have to mean settling for the mundane: "It is possible to find stylish and well designed property out there but at a price. At Hamptons we try to be selective and only take on properties which we feel will be desirable to the buying public, but stylish homes always sell and people are happy to pay a premium."

Hamptons is marketing several homes which have benefited from the attentions of architects and interior designers including a striking contemporary villa in Sierra Blanca. The house has four bedroom suites, kitchen, dining room, reception, TV room, terraces, a seven-car garage, cinema and games room, infinity pool and underfloor heating, and a €2.95m price-tag.

A "picture-perfect country house" near the glitz of Marbella but tucked discreetly beneath none other than the Onassis estate has been a labour of love for its owners who have, according to Harvey, "exceptional taste". The estate contains 100- year-old oak trees, giving the home a traditional rural setting, but internally the seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom house is full of clean lines, modern conveniences and is on offer for a hefty €5.8 million.

These homes may be super stylish but Harvey believes that there is no such thing as the perfect property, whatever your price bracket. "It is difficult to find something that meets every one of your criteria; there is nearly always a downside such as a building site next door or uncertainty over the future of the plot in front of your property." This is often a particular concern when buying on the Costa del Sol, but it is still possible to find properties where the view is uninterrupted, as in the three-bedroom apartment with New York-style interior that is for sale at €375,0000. "It has intoxicating views and beautiful terraces to enjoy them from," says Harvey, who finds that properties with a rural setting but with a high specification interior is something that increasingly tops buyers' wish lists.

Ocean Estates is marketing some intriguing properties as their "platinum collection", designed to showcase the best properties on their books, including a prize-winning villa in one of Marbella's most exclusive neighbourhoods Los Picos de Sierra Blanca. The house overlooks the golden mile, which stretches from Marbella city borders to Puerto Banus port, and last year it won Best Spanish Property at the Bentley International Awards 2003.

The five-bedroom, nine-bathroom house, for sale at €7.5m, has an eclectic feel as it has been built using traditional techniques. Its buildings and grounds incorporate artefacts rescued from derelict mansions in Europe and North Africa. Externally, the gardens are built in Granada's Alhambra style; internally, there is a vaulted dome with antique ceramic tiles and a vast, hand-carved African teak door. "It certainly is unusual," says Ocean's Paul Blagden.

But not all desirable properties are near the coast ; often more unusual properties can be found inland. "The coast from Portugal all the way through Spain and right up to France is nothing more than concrete high rises," says Country Estate's Jonathan Pickles, who is based in Murcia.

Country Estate deals solely in "one-offs" rather than developments, and one home the company is marketing is certainly that. A "cave house" set within a hillside needs renovation but could become a fabulous home for a buyer prepared to do the work; it's for sale at €66,000 and comes with stable outbuildings as well as a garage that could be converted into extra living accommodation.

In Castril, north of Granada, Country Estate is selling a property that has a fantastic location overlooking a river "and mini Grand Canyon". The house is for sale at €78,000 and could be transformed into whatever a buyer desires. "The most unusual properties I've sold are usually little more than piles of stones," Pickles says. "Some people have the most amazing imaginations."

It may take imagination to transform ruins into modern stylish homes, but luck will have to play a part too. Even inland, decrepit homes are becoming increasingly hard to source, according to Country Estate director Steve Roche: "Developers are turning their attentions inland. Anyone thinking about selling up in the UK and buying a dream home in Spain should do it now. Next year it may be too late."

Hamptons International: 020-7589 8844; www.hamptons-int.com Country Estate: 00 34 968 662755; www.countryestatemurcia.com

Ocean Estates: 0800 298 7850; www.oceanestates.com

Viva Espana!, the Spanish property show, is at the NEC Birmingham from 7-9 May, 10am-6pm. Adults £8. Call 0870 120 0332 for a 50 per cent discount; www.vivaespana2004.com

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