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Not Driving Over Lemons


We embarked on our expedition armed with a well-thumbed copy of Chris Stewart’s Driving over Lemons, his idyllic tale of life in the Alpujarras. Trawling the internet, I had found an estate agent’s advertisement for a rustic cortijo in the same region.

When we arrived at the bar in the village of Laroles, high in the Sierra Nevada, where we had arranged to meet the estate agent, a chill wind was gusting and it was beginning to snow. The better kind of realtor is notable for her enthusiasm and warm interest in her clients. This was not one of the better kind.


‘This is not a good day for house-hunting,’ she grizzled miserably. ‘Wouldn’t you like to come back again after the weather improves?’


‘Would we like to make another fourteen-thousand-mile round trip from the Far East? What do you think?'


We crammed into the agent’s tiny old Seat Ibiza and set off along the rough switchback track to the house we had come to see. The demisters and windscreen wipers were hardly coping with the driving snow. To our left there was a sheer sixty-foot drop to a raving river.

‘Hold tight, the next part’s a bit rough.’


The Seat fishtailed and shimmied for a moment as we hit the foot-deep mud, then the driver floored the accelerator, and we came out of the other side of the slalom with a plop like the cork from a bottle of chilled cava. The setting of the house, surrounded by chestnut trees, with the snow-clad sierra at its back and the thundering torrent at its feet, was spectacular, but clearly too remote for us.

A week later we found the finca we now call El Cortijo del Rector. The eighty olive and almond trees were wildly overgrown and the rambling old stone house sadly dilapidated. Half the roof consisted of rusting corrugated iron sheets and the rendering was falling away in chunks.


Corresponding by email with a local builder who turned out to be semi-efficient and not quite totally corrupt, we completed the earlier stages of restoration just on the solvent side of bankruptcy.

By the time we returned in June, three poky rooms had become one pleasant living area. The front door opened onto a sunny new patio, with a view down the valley through the olive groves to the distant blue mountains of the Torcal de Antequera.  Our pensions were still in the future, and for the next five years we only visited El Cortijo del Rector during vacations, but after eleven rootless years on four continents we had come home.


El Cortijo del Rector...a lantern in the snow

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