Spain's Inland Villages - Ten Prettiest Towns in Spain

Some towns are frequently listed under a heading such as this, while others rarely feature. Sunshine and beaches are not always the big draw in Spain and there are plenty of other destinations and reasons to travel in the country. If you decide to move to Spain or spend more than just a summer holiday on one of the Costas, history will draw you to these picturesque towns and villages and once you start you will be seeking out other fascinating corners of the country. 

It is true to say that ranking villages and towns in order of "the prettiest" is somewhat pretentious and suggests that other places in Spain are not worthy of inclusion in such a category but there are many that should be. 

We all have our list of favourite towns and villages in Spain so, merely as a guide to where to start to make up your own mind, the list below is just a suggestion of some of the ones you might visit, which you had not heard of before. 

  • Santillana del Mar (Cantabria)
  • Castrillo de los Polvazares (León)
  • La Alberca (Salamanca)
  • Albarracín (Teruel)
  • Morella (Castellón)
  • Guadalupe (Cáceres)
  • Aínsa (Huesca)
  • Frías (Burgos)
  • Pedraza de la Sierra (Segovia)
  • Urueña (Valladolid)

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An evening at the Races - Horseracing on the Beach at Sanlúcar

Sanlúcar de Barrameda sits on the mouth of the Guadalquivir river and first became famous for being the gateway to the Americas, when Christopher Columbus set sail from here on his third voyage and Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastian Elcano each set sail from here to circumnavigate the world.

There are wonderful monuments and palaces in the town, also known for its distilleries of manzanilla - which one is well advised not to compare with Sherry - wonderful fish and seafood restaurants on the Bajo de Guía and visits to the world renown Doñana Park. Sanlúcar is also noted for its unique horse races which take place every year in August on a 1,800m stretch of beach.

Twice in August, when there is a good low evening tide and the heat of the day is passing, the band of wet sand is wide enough for the races to take place. This year they will take place between the 12th and 14th and again between the 26th and 28th. Hotels and restaurantes get very booked up with many visitors hoping so secure their accommodation well before the summer, so if you are planning to stay overnight, you are advised to book well in advance.

The meeting is a thrilling spectacle where racehorses thunder along the sandy water's edge watched from behind a temporary fence by enthusiastic spectators who, like many of the horses and jockeys, have travelled from far and wide. Between races, adults and children alike cross the beach to collect clams from the shallow water before being ushered back behind the fence in readiness for the next race.

Each year spectator stands are set up and little home-made bookmaker stalls pop up on the sand, where children offer odds of 3 to 1. There are paddocks, a winners enclosure, hospitality tents and much more and after the last round of races on the final day of the season, a closing party is held, which is a very jolly affair and open to all.

The origin of these races in unclear. Some say that fish buyers would ride on their horses down to the beach and have races while they waited for the day's catch to be brought ashore. Others say that people used to race donkeys along the sand for fun and with time the event graduated from  its humble beginnings to being a major horse racing event.

The Sanlúcar horse race society was established in 1845 and in spite of almost disappearing in the 1980s, when there seemed to be little interest, enthusiasm for the event has been rekindled under new management, turning it into a tradition which is now very much a part of the city's cultural fabric and the high point of the summer season in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

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Borrowers are Being Lured by Competitive Interest Rates - 

One can feel a real sense of recovery in Spain and, while banks are offering increasingly competitive mortgage facilities, the recession has left deep scars and the mistakes and unsustainable lending of the boom years are not to be forgotten.

Gone are the new build marketing tools offering guaranteed rental returns and threatening imminent price rises if you don't "buy today". At the time, new build sales accounted for approximately 40% of property sales, whereas so far this year, sales in this sector of the market are down to just 14% of total property sales and many of these new builds have been sitting empty for several years.

Spanish mortgage providers are becoming more aggressive as the property market begins to strengthen again. So far this year, there has been a 20% increase in the number of mortgages issued compared to the whole of 2014. Borrowers are being lured with competitive both fixed and flexible rate mortgages. 

Deposits of between 20% and 40% are being required by lenders but rates offered can be as low as 2% on a ten year fixed rate mortgage and 2.75% for a 20 year term. 

Valuations are a prerequisite to obtaining a mortgage and the association of Spanish valuers, of which leading companies such as TINSA are members, has reported an increase in the number of property valuations carried out this year to the tune of approximately 18.5%

Spain remains one of the most attrative destinations with tourism continuing to reach new highs and there is renewed interest from those who are looking to move or retire to a home with a Mediterranean lifestyle. 

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According to the OECD Spanish Reform efforts are showing Positive Results - Spain's Economy is Improving

In recent years thousands of Young Spaniards have been moving to other EU countries in search of work, however last year Spain managed to create half a million Jobs in spite of achieving a level of growth below the threshold previously deemed necessary to reduce unemploymen and which the Organisation for Economic Cooperaqtion and Development (OECD) attributes to the implementation of stringent reforms.

With growth this year forecast to reach almost 3%, the expectation is that between 600,000 and 700,000 new Jobs will be created, underlining the critical importance of such reforms, which in 2015 and 2016 are expected to créate a better business environment in Spain and an improvement in the labour market situation.

The OECD has raised its forecast for growth in the country's GDP in 2015 from 1.7% as forecast last November to 2.9%, while for 2016 it has increased its forecast from 1.9% to 2.8%. This brings the OECD forecasts in line with those of the Spanish government and the European Commission.

This gradual improvement in the economy is forecast to further reduce the number of jobless in the coming year which, although higher than the figure estimated by the government, is down compared to previous OECD forecasts.

All the signs are that the Spanish economy is becoming stronger making this a good time for those thinking of moving to Spain or buying property, be it for holiday or investment purposes.

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Increased Investment in Spain's Commercial Premises

Between January and March of this year, 2,463 million euros were invested in property in Spain. According to leading Madrid based property consultants, this figure is three times the amount for the same period last year and is equivalent to 35% of investment in property registered in the whole of 2014, pointing out that these figures confirm what was seen as a fledgling tendency towards growth in the Spanish property market towards the end of 2014.

It is believed that if these levels of interest among leading international investors can be maintained, Spain could reach record levels of investment during 2015, over and above the máximum levels recorded in 2007, when sales in excess of 12 billion euros were completed.

The structure of this growth is also being maintained, as almost half of the 2,463 million euros invested comes from abroad, with some 1,500 million being concentrated in just 36 comercial property (offices, retail and industrial premises) sales.

Retail premises have been the subject of greatest interest to investors, totaling some 900 million euros in eleven sales.  Sales of office premises accounted for some 450 million euros, while industrial premises accounted for sales to the value of some 15 million euros.

The cities of Madrid and Barcelona continue to attract the most interest from foreign investors, accounting for appoximately 70% of the total invested. In Madrid sales have been completed to the value of 1,400 million euros while sales in Barcelona reached some 300 million euros.

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A Promising Outlook For The Spanish Property Market

The Spanish property market grew by 10% in January this year, according to monthly data produced by the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (INE). This is the first time the market has grown since the recession began, without artificial stimulation by the government such as temporarily keeping property transfer tax down. 

Spanish house prices rose on a quarterly basis at the end of last year, according to data from the Housing Department, for the first time since the first quarter of 2008. BBVA, Spain's second largest bank, has published a new report with upbeat projections for the Spanish housing market in 2015.

According to the INE, the number of new mortgages signed increased by 1.6% in 2014 compared to 2013; the first increase after falling over seven consecutive years, which could mean that mortgage lending may finally have bottomed out. The number of mortgages signed in December last year was up 28.9% compared to the same month in 2013. This is the first time in five years that both the number and value of new residential mortgages has increased in December. Interest rates are also coming down, with a rate for residential mortgaes of 3.5% compared to 4.21% a year earlier. 

Added to this, a new law has been introduced in Spain, which offers residency permits to non-EU nationals in return for an investment of not less than €500,000 in Spanish property, the objective being to attract entreprenerus and stimulate foreign investment. 

Everything points to resale properties being the leaders in sales during 2015. This means the gap between sales of new build and re-sale properties will continue to increase. The main reason for this is price, with re-sales being cheaper by anything between 5 and 15%. According to the valuation company Tinsa, this equates to a difference of some €400 per square meter on average. 

During the first half of 2014, large funds lead the race by foreign investors into Spain however, the second half of the year saw a rise in activity by private investors and Real Estate Investment Trusts - known in Spain as SOCIMIs. The preference also changed from investment in shopping centres and property platforms, to property-backed debt, which until recently was unthinkable, and even residential development land. 

Spain has become a solid property investment destination, largely dominated by investment giants such as Blackstone, Goldman Sachs, Lone Star among others. In all, sales to both resident and non-resident foreign buyers in the last quarter of 2014 were up by 13.4% on the previous year and the current strength of the British Pound against the Euro, coupled with very attractive property prices will, in all likelihood, serve to boost sales to British buyers even further. 

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Spanish Tourism Is On the Up -  

Spanish tourism figures are expected to show that in 2014 there were some three million tourists more than in 2013, bringing the number of foreign visitors to Spain to over six million.

Spanish tourists, who account for 50% of tourism in the country, have also been contributing to the recovery of the industry over the past twelve months, which will be further consolidated according to figures emerging from this summer season.

The government forecasts a growth in national tourism to the tune of 15% over this summer compared to last year, which suggests renewed confidence for the Spanish consumer. 

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The Spanish Property Market is Stirring

For a good six months to a year now, estate agents all around Spain have been telling us how busy they are? But are they just busy showing properties to the curious, or are they experiencing a rise in sales?

The general feeling nationwide is that the Spanish property market is very close to touching bottom in some places and is actually on the increase in other parts of the country.

The two main property portals agree however that there could still be a further slight correction in prices, with an overall upward turn only coming about when there is an increase in the number of mortgages granted and the national market picks up.

The greatest drop in prices since 2007 has been seen in Castilla La Mancha and in Catalunya with a fall in the region of 50% since 2007.  If the current upward trend continues however, leading property valuers Tinsa expect the housing surplus to be taken up by the second half of 2017. In the Balearics and the Canary islands as well as in major cities, much of the surplus has been taken up and while on the mainland, in Mediterranean coastal areas there is still a way to go, prices are already showing an upward trend in some key areas.

Although repossessions continue, the number of sales being completed by banks is continuing at a pace and while there are still some great bargains to be found, the time for waiting for something which in Spain would be referred to as “Bueno, Bonito y Barato” (Good, Attractive and Cheap) is running out.

This is not a time for sitting on ones hands, if you are looking to snap up a bank repossession but be prepared to spend some extra capital on reconditioning or even refurbishing, as often the cash-strapped outgoing owner will have stripped the property of every last fitting and bulb holder. Once you have done it however, you should see a healthy rise in the value of your investment.

Example of a bank repossession: Northern Costa Blanca; 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom detached house on a development with supermarket, restaurants, shops, club house and minutes from the town of Moraira. Built area of 162.20 m2, panoramic views, terraces and own pool. Suggested price €228,000 – offers invited.

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