Galicia: The land of the thousand rivers

Galicia has all the authenticity that the Costa del Sol lacks - as well as low prices
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The Independent Online

Galicia occupies a particularly beautiful area of north-western Spain known as "the land of the thousand rivers"; this is thanks to the grid of waterways that flow down from its inland mountain ranges to its golden sandy beaches stretching all around the Bay of Biscay and along the Atlantic coastline. It is an extremely lush and varied stretch of country that is rich in history and Gaelic culture, as well as gastronomically renowned for its delicious seafood.

"More and more British people are buying property in Galicia," says Keith Churchman, a co-director with Pontedeume Properties International - an estate agency based in the region which specialises in the selling of properties to English speakers.

Galicia divides into four provinces - Coruña, Orense, Lugo and Pontevedra. Architectural highlights include Santiago de Compostela - the region's capital, a centre for Catholic pilgrims and one of the most beautiful cities in Spain - as well as the western coastal harbour of Coruña with its atmospheric old town and vibrant nightlife.

Galician property prices are significantly lower than in the rest of Spain and compare particularly favourably with those found in the Balearic Islands and the Costa del Sol, in Andalusia - destinations traditionally favoured by British investors but where prices have shot up dramatically in recent years.

As a result, quite a few expats are now relocating to the region. "We are getting a lot of British buyers moving here from the south and the Balearics," says Churchman. "They are attracted by Galicia's temperate climate, great food and house prices that are typically 25 per cent lower than in the Costa del Sol. It's also a lot less developed here, more traditional and more authentically Spanish."

It is not just expats already resident in Spain who are moving to the region. There are also an increasing number of British holidaymakers looking for second homes there. Such properties offer good rental potential, as the Spanish themselves traditionally like to holiday in Galicia to escape the scorching summer heat found throughout the rest of the country.

Although travelling overland to Galicia from Britain is still quite an ordeal - a 24-hour ferry crossing from Portsmouth or Plymouth followed by a full day's drive - there are now at least plenty of cheap two-hour flights to Santiago from London's Heathrow and Stansted airports as well as regular internal ones to Madrid.

Most of the British buyers who Churchman deals with tend to be looking either for holiday apartments in the principal towns and coastal resorts or for rural period properties in need of renovation.

However, finding the right place and clinching a deal is not always an easy matter. "Estate agency is really in its infancy here," says Churchland. "There is no uniform approach to pricing and vendors often do their own valuations - which means that asking prices can be totally unrealistic." The legal bureaucracy can also be time-consuming. "You really need patience to deal with it all," says Churchman.

"The people here are conservative and go about things very differently than they do in the Costa del Sol which is nowadays very anglicised and where you can sometimes forget that you're not in the UK at all. Different rules apply here and you have to comply."

However, if you do approach the business with caution and buy through a reputable agent, your patience is likely to pay off, as property prices in Galicia are still extremely competitive.

A three-bedroom apartment in Pontedeume - which is a picturesque fishing village just to the north of Coruña, towards Ferrol and a 45-minute drive from Santiago - can be picked up for as little as €108,000 (£72,976), while properties in Coruña itself will cost only roughly 10 per cent more than that.

Galicia's many picturesque spa towns - notably Mondariz Balneario, in the southern province of Pontevedra, near the coastal town of Vigo - are also attracting investors.

However, it is inland and away from the coast that the prices begin to tumble and the real bargains are to be found. Churchman says he recently sold a three-storey, four-bedroom converted barn in need of major renovation for just €30,000. He's got another similar property currently on his books near the small town of A Capela, to the north-east of Ferrol in the Coruña province for €72,000 (£48,542).

There are plenty of such semi-derelict rural properties on the market because Galicians typically prefer to buy newbuild houses that require less maintenance. "The Galicians don't understand the attraction of restoring ancient rural properties," says Churchman. "They want to buy low-maintenance modern housing and to spend the money they save on enjoying themselves."

Galicia undoubtedly has a lot to offer British investors looking to relocate or to buy holiday homes. "It's a beautiful region with stunning countryside and fantastic beaches," says Churchman. "It's got a great health service and a very good network of local schools. The people are friendly, it's unspoilt, under-developed, house prices are ridiculously low and you can still eat out very well for under £10 a head. What more could you ask for?"

Pontedeume Properties International is an English-speaking estate agency, 00 34 981 38 2340 or

Golden rules

* Check that the details on your property tally with records held by the local property registry.

* Make a pre-agreement contract with the vendor that will involve placing a deposit, returnable with 100 per cent interest if the vendor pulls out.

* Ensure that completion is witnessed and certified by a registered notary.

* File possession with the property registry office.