Friday, 31 May 2002
Managed to send yesterday’s late bulletin by going to the Golf Club this morning and conning the bar tender into letting me hook up my lap top to the pay phone. Unfortunately, before I could reply to all the emails I received overnight, the battery went flat so I am now typing a quick resume of my day before going back and conning him again into letting me use his phone.
Drove 150 kms across the most amazing mountains and limestone gorges to meet up with Elisabeth, the mad Estate Agent.
We had agreed to meet at 3pm outside the house she had told me about. Her map and description were vague to the point of hopeless but I found a small, ramshackle Alpine style chalet on the side of a mountain within about 5 miles of where Elisabeth had said so assumed this was it.
She arrived with the keys spot on schedule to show me round and unpadlocked the gate.
The orchards on either side of the path leading up to the house are seriously overgrown with waist high grass but the trees had been properly pruned during the winter.
The garage on the ground floor ran the full length and width of the house and was previously the stock barn for the animals in winter. It was a jumbled heap of timber, motorbike parts, agricultural tools, cat food and cement bags when we went inside.
Up the outside steps to the first floor and the front door opened into a hall with a big kitchen to the left and a bathroom and two good-sized bedrooms to the right. The kitchen has a wood burning oven and stove and another stove run on bottle gas, a fridge, sink and a TV. At the other end of the room in the corner is a large open fireplace.
The bathroom is modern and tiled with bath, shower bidet and loo. The shower taps are broken. The bedrooms, one front and one rear had beds but the owners have agreed to remove and stow them in the garage. There are electric heaters fitted in several rooms. The floors are tiled with fairly bland, unthreatening tiles.
The upper floor is an absolute mess with two tiny attic bedrooms neither of which has windows and a small covered balcony with the most stunning views across the valley. Problem is the birds nesting there have covered everything in bird shit. Suppose that’s why they call it a crows nest. The house had not been used for some considerable time, probably not since the previous November.
Outside there is a small pool that is empty and needs repainting before filling. An attempt has been made to cultivate a small kitchen garden and there is a rudimentary greenhouse made from polythene sheeting. At the back is a full width patio with a BBQ and a wire trellis to support the grape vine to provide shade in mid summer.
It faces south on the slope of a steep hill with meadows stretching up behind. In front are more hills and the road is about 50 feet from the front door. The whole area is a National Park and is heavily wooded with a wide variety of trees.
It is about 30 miles south from San Sebastian, the same to the north of Pamplona and only 40 miles west of Biarritz. From Bilbao airport it is about an hour and a half at a gentle pace.
No phone, but electricity, access and water and I can have it for as long as I want.
Elisabeth agreed to contact the owners who are coming down over the weekend to sort out their stuff and generally clean everything up.
I will go back to her office on Monday to sign a contract and collect the keys. Have to pay three month’s rent up front, one for the agent’s commission, one as a refundable deposit and the third for June.
The nearest village is 4 kms away but the town nearby is called Leiza (in Spanish) or Leitza, 3000 inhabitants, 1000 feet above sea level and full of Basque militants. I’ll need to learn a few words in Basque to show willing.
Everywhere you look has signs saying ‘Private Hunting’ which I took with a pinch of salt on the basis the Spanish would have killed off everything by now.
However, on my way back into Leitza I stopped off at a hotel mentioned in my Michelin guide about 5 kms from the house. The pretty young girl laying up the huge dining room apologised and said they were closed, she was preparing for a wedding this weekend. They would open in July and remain open until December.
“That’s a peculiar period to remain open,” I said, “why so late?”
“To accommodate all the hunters who invade the region during the season,” she replied.
The hotel has been here for many years, handed down from father to son. The old man has just retired and left it to his sons. These two young brothers, who are both chefs, have recently been awarded Spain’s most prestigious prize for their innovative style with game!
Died and gone to heaven!
Meanwhile I am now arranging for my stuff to be shipped from Sheppey to Spain.