If you have property on Mallorca with outdoor space – a large expanse of (largely unusable) land like ours, a regular garden, or just a balcony or terrace – you’re going to need a means of seeking shelter from the sun. We love the sunshine, but it’s too darned hot (and risky) to sit in its glare for long.
Our rural finca has only one small covered terrace, in front of the annexe bedroom known as Ray’s Room (my Uncle Ray is one of the few people who stays in it, as it has only one single bed). This terrace is deliciously cool on summer afternoons as it’s swept by gentle breezes that come through the valley from the north. It’s the location of my trust hammock …
Parasols – para sol
Initially we used this small covered terrace as an al fresco dining area, but we had several other terraces at our disposal and relocated our dining area to a larger space. Fortunately the previous owners of our finca – who have become very dear friends and own an apartment in Palma – had left us a few old parasols to provide shade in these open areas.
Hombre, have we had some fun with these things. An early incident involved a rat that had climbed up to shelter inside a closed parasol (which we’d foolishly left outside for some time without a cover on it). Unsuspecting, The Boss opened said parasol, only for the rat to jump out, using his shoulder as a stepping stone to freedom. I still shudder thinking about it. Is it any wonder that The Boss warmly welcomed the various cats that have made our finca their home? Lots of cats = no rats.
Gone with the wind
We subsequently bought new parasols of what we believed were a better quality. They were certainly heavier to manoeuvre when we wanted to move them to maintain shade as the sun made its way across the sky; not too heavy to cope with a very strong wind though. On one occasion, an open parasol at the front of the house suddenly took off (à la Mary Poppins but without the attached saccharine-sweet woman), hit the roof as it blew right over our single-storey property, and landed in a crumpled heap behind the house. Another time, we came home from an outing with friends to find that a mini-tornado had cut a swathe through our property, uprooting furniture and, you guessed it, destroying another parasol.
“Have you ever thought about running a little B&B?” It’s a question we’ve been asked several times since we moved to rural Mallorca. Our small finca really isn’t large enough for such an enterprise and, in any event, we have neither the inclination nor the energy to do so. So the answer is always an emphatic “no”.
That’s not to say we don’t have people staying with us for their holidays. These occasions are the closest we’ll ever get to running a bed and breakfast establishment, although our guests are always known to us – friends or family members – and we enjoy them being with us.
Having visitors to stay is a popular summer topic of conversation among expats and I’ve heard some horror stories. One friend told me just last week that she would now accommodate only those to whom she’d given birth; one can only wonder what experience led to that decision …
We’re now in our 13th summer here – every one of which has been peppered with guest stays. I pass on the following tips in the hope they’ll be useful if you too open your home-in-the-sun to house guests:
Allow at least a week between one lot of visitors leaving and more arriving. You’ll need to shoehorn any neglected activities – work, domestic duties, social life, exercise etc – into the gap between visits and these things will always take longer than expected.
If budget permits, using a local laundry service for bedding and towels will save time and effort (summers are too hot for ironing board marathons).
Visitors from cooler and wetter climes are often so thrilled to see that big yellow thing in the sky that caution is cast to the breeze and they end up with a dose of sunburn. Make sure they keep the sunscreen topped up and wear a hat. And nag a bit, if necessary.
If your visitors are flying with cabin bags only, they will probably appreciate your offer to buy locally any toiletries they may need during their stay. This saves them luggage space and the effort of finding airline-size-compliant potions and lotions.
To save any tug-of-war-over-the-bill moments when eating or drinking out with friends, consider having a kitty to which all parties contribute equally at the start of the stay, and top up as necessary. It’s fairer, helps with budgeting, and does avoid those awkward whose-turn-is-it? moments when the bill arrives.
And here’s a kitty of another variety. Pip loves having people come to stay … more fuss for her!
If you have any tips relating to having house guests, please feel free to share: it’s only another three weeks before we’ll be back in hosting mode …
In a word, slowly. Living, as we do, a couple of kilometres down a country lane from a main(ish) road, we have become accustomed to the potential hazards of driving in rural Mallorca. It must be said – with the greatest of respect to Mallorcan drivers – that anticipation of the possible dangers that lurk, for users of country lanes, is sometimes lacking.
Road surfaces on Mallorca are generally very good. It was something we – and our visitors from England – often commented on in our early days of living on the island; even though our lane, at the time, was just a string of potholes linked together with bits of ancient asphalt. But even with a good road surface, driving in the country can present some challenges – particularly in lanes that are too narrow for cars to pass each other easily when travelling in opposite directions. Once, a neighbour’s son (a budding Fernando Alonso) missed our car by just a few centimetres because he’d been driving too fast from the opposite direction.
Here are some other things to watch out for on Mallorca’s roads:
Cyclists love Mallorca’s rural lanes.
Mallorca is a magnet for keen cyclists and, during these cooler months of the year, many professional and amateur club cycling teams come here to take advantage of some excellent cycling conditions. If you’re driving, there’s every chance that you’ll find yourself crawling behind a Lycra-clad peloton. Or facing an oncoming one in a narrow country lane. Given the speed these bikes can travel, it doesn’t pay to be driving too fast.
The Rabbit and the Tortoise
Our valley was full of rabbits when we first moved here and, what with the potholes and Bugs Bunny’s numerous friends, driving down our lane (particularly after dark) sometimes called for lightning reactions. The buck-toothed population has diminished in recent years (myxomatosis contributed to this), but rabbits do still suddenly shoot out onto the tarmac from the verges. As do their larger cousins, hares.
The Mediterranean tortoise is another creature you could encounter on your travels. They will often just retreat inside their shells when a vehicle approaches, so careful driving is needed to avoid squashing them.
These rather inelegant birds give out a distinctive cry and we regularly hear their spooky shrieks at night as they fly over. After dark they also have a tendency just to stand around. Sometimes, even in the middle of the road. On one occasion, we had to brake hard to avoid hitting one that we’d been sure would take off as we approached. It just stood there looking defiantly at us until one of us got out of the car and approached it on foot.
After a period of decent rain, there’s yet another potential hazard. Mallorcan country folk (often women; often wearing polyester pinafores) wander along the sides of the lanes, bent double and collecting the snails that have been lured out by the damp conditions. Watch out for foragers – for snails and, in season, wild asparagus – particularly as you drive around bends, as they may not be visible below the level of the stone walls. Seemingly abandoned unfamiliar vans or small cars along a country lane may be an early warning sign of foragers who have driven out from a town or village for some of nature’s bounty.
Beware of sheep (and goats) jumping from the tops of stone walls.
“Mum, wait for us!”
Sheep have a tendency to escape, because of their remarkable aptitude for climbing over dry stone walls. These woolly Houdinis can be a real danger if you come across them while driving too fast. And, take it from me, it’s almost impossible to shoo them back to where they came from. Another possibility is that you’ll encounter a shepherd moving his entire flock from one field along the lane to another field. There is no hurrying these beasts.
Horses came before cars …
In our valley we often see individual riders and also groups of people out with their horses. Occasionally you see a trotting horse – complete with trotting carriage – out for some exercise.
The above are all commonplace. Some of the more unusual hazards we’ve seen in our lanes have included a team of brightly dressed speed skaters (speed skating up the hill, no less), two donkeys that had escaped from their field and gone walkabout, and a couple of piglets that escaped from the truck transporting them from a nearby farm to their unfortunate destiny. Oh, how we cheered those two little pigs on in their Great Escape attempt … which sadly failed.
Motoring on Mallorca can be a really pleasurable experience: traffic is a lot lighter than in the UK, for example, and the island’s scenery and distant views are beautiful. But don’t spend too long gazing at the views if you’re driving … you never know what may be ahead!
Pedro de Salvador Morell (wearing glasses and grey sweater) with Celia and Nod (far right)
Making new friends has been an unexpected aspect of writing about living in rural Mallorca. Back in 2014 an English couple – readers of this blog – wrote to me with some questions about moving with pets to Mallorca. We were soon exchanging emails on a fairly regular basis and, when Celia and Nod visited the island to look for a property, we met for dinner – and hit it off immediately.
They found a rural house to do up, although – unlike previous UK homes they’d completely renovated themselves – this one would be done by local builders. They invited us to see the place in its ‘raw’ state, shortly after they’d bought it and it was clear they knew exactly how they wanted it transformed.
Managing a Building Project
We have had personal experience of having an outhouse built, for our solar electricity components, at our Mallorcan finca – while we were still living in the UK. Unless you can live close by or on site (to keep an eye on progress) and speak enough Spanish to make your needs understood, it’s important to have someone managing the project for you.
Celia and Nod have been very happy with the people working on their project. So much so that they invited us to meet the architect and two senior members of the building team, on the day they were cracking open a bottle of cava to celebrate the almost-completed project. The property has gone through quite a transformation and this friendly couple is excited that it will soon become their permanent home on Mallorca.
I took the opportunity to find out more about the services offered by Pedro de Salvador Morell of PS Arquitectos, based in Palma. For the record, most of his clients are British, Scandinavian, or German. Pedro speaks excellent English.
What services do you offer foreigners investing in property on Mallorca?
“Our office spans different aspects related to architecture and urbanism, in order to cover the broad needs of our clients. From our ‘Sale and Purchase Report’ – which is a useful tool to know the current state of the property and be able to negotiate the price – to architectural services, such as design, planning and project management, to achieve our clients’ dream house.
“As architecture has three dimensions, we work with plans and 3D models, making it easier for clients to understand the design and ‘see’ the house even before work starts.
“We work with total transparency with the client, using fluent communication and optimization of their resources. And all our work is conducted in accordance with current legislation.”
What were the particular challenges of Celia and Nod’s house?
“They bought a house from the ’90s, built to not-very-good-quality standards, but on a very nice plot. The main challenge was optimizing resources to achieve the building’s maximum potential. We redesigned the interior, modifying the spaces and light entry points, and reorganizing the interior to create a brand-new home.”
In your opinion, what’s the biggest mistake that foreigners make when buying property on Mallorca?
“Believing that it’s not necessary to take advice from local independent professionals (lawyer and architect) during the purchase process. On Mallorca there are professionals specializing in property purchase, and our experience and knowledge of construction and urban legalities allow us to reassure our clients regarding technical issues.
“Our aim is to provide clients with the information needed to help with the purchase decision.”
What would you advise anyone thinking of buying a property to renovate on Mallorca?
“Our recommendation to anyone buying a house here – to renovate or not – is to take advice from local independent professionals. Throughout our years of advising purchasers, we have noticed that no general conclusions can be deduced, as each building has its own history and particularities.
“It is essential to check both the construction status and planning legality of the building, as those determine future building possibilities and, of course, the price itself. For instance, relating to the property’s construction status, there can be structural problems only noticeable by the trained eye of an architect, or construction issues that can affect renovation plans. In this sense, obtaining technical advice prior to the purchase – as Celia and Nod did – can help the purchaser visualize the future results of their purchase.
“There are between 20,000 and 30,000 illegal properties on rural land on Mallorca, as many of them have been built or extended without meeting the legal requirements. Some can be legalized, some can’t, and some can even have a demolition order pending execution.”
And the history of your company?
PS Arquitectos was established in 1980 by Pedro de Salvador, my father. After working some years in Barcelona, developing exclusive villas in Greece, I moved to Mallorca to work with PS Arquitectos. As architects, we guide our clients through all stages of the construction/renovation of a house, from the very beginning (prior to the purchase itself) to the work’s conclusion . . . so that the dream of living on Mallorca does not become a nightmare.
Carnival is a time for fun and frivolity and, in our nearest town, Manacor, we like to be part of it. Well, at least be there to soak up the atmosphere, sway to the batucada beats, and take a few photos.
This year, for the first time, we went to see the children’s carnival, known as Sa Rueta, as well as the main event, on Saturday February 6th.
After watching the lively procession file past on Saturday night, we headed to our favourite Manacor cafe, El Palau, for a small libation (glass of Mallorcan wine). Two members of the staff were in costume but, like us, owner Nofre was in everyday attire. Seeing us come in, bundled up in outdoor clothes suitable for a cool February night, he joked: “Ah, you’ve dressed up as guiris!” A guiri is the colloquial name that the Spanish use for foreigners . . .
We’ve resolved that next year we’ll get ourselves costumes for Carnival. Something warm, like a gorilla or polar bear suit, seems appropriate. Or we could take inspiration from some of these photos?
The village of Son Macia, near Manacor, has added a topical touch to the design of their Sant Antoni event poster!
Life is never dull on Mallorca. If Christmas, New Year, and Three Kings were not enough celebrations for this time of year, this weekend is the Sant Antoni fiestas. January 16th – the eve of the Saint’s day – is when Mallorcans traditionally light foguerons (bonfires) in the streets and make elaborate effigies of the Devil to set ablaze. Mallorca’s famous dimonis take to the streets with their manic dancing and scary costumes, and people have a jolly good time, cooking food on outdoor torrades (BBQs). And because it can be surprisingly cold at this time of the year (although not this winter, so far), a few libations are usually taken – very often the famous bright green Hierbas de Tunel.
In our local town, Manacor, the Sant Antoni fiestas almost seem more popular than Christmas. For the past couple of weeks, stalls set up in town on Saturdays have been selling this year’s design of Sant Antoni sweatshirts, t-shirts, and hats – and all at affordable prices.
The excitement is building. This morning, doing a few chores in town, we had to drive around a pile of earth in the middle of several roads, on which the bonfires for this Saturday night will be built. These piles will be increasing in number over the coming days. And several shops have incorporated Sant Antoni into their window displays.
Local supermarket Hiper prepares for Sant Antoni
Hiper’s stocks of wine and BBQ grills ready to tempt us
Plenty of Hierbas de Tunel in stock
If you don’t know (and I confess that I didn’t until we moved to Mallorca), Sant Antoni was an Egyptian monk who, in the desert, was tempted by the Devil – cunningly disguised as a woman. The iron-willed monk didn’t succumb to these womanly wiles, instead walking on hot coals to take his mind off anything else getting too heated!
All this happened a long way from Mallorca, but stay with me. On the island during the 10th and 11th centuries, many folk were affected by a horrible skin disease caused by a poisonous fungus attacking rye crops. No cure was known, but the Mallorcans followed Sant Antoni’s example of using fire to fight the Devil that they believed had caused the disease.
The disease is long gone, but the fires burn on every eve of Sant Antoni, as the backdrop to much partying. And, on the Saint’s day itself, Mallorcans head for the streets again – to take their pets and other animals to be blessed by the local priest.
After the festivities of this weekend, things will quieten down . . . but not for long: Carnival this year falls on the first weekend of February.
No, The Boss and I are not currently residing at His Majesty’s pleasure in what some people dub ‘the Palma Hilton’. Neither am I pouring foaming pints of beer for British holidaymakers in a lively Magaluf bar. I’m referring to the iron window bars, known in Spanish as rejas.
They’re a common sight at the windows of houses in Spain and something that made an impression on me when I saw them, quite a long time ago, during my first visit to the country that is now my home. At the time I thought it would be horrible to live with bars at the windows, but I’ve now become so used to these things that I now couldn’t imagine not having them. Presumably many others feel the same as these traditional features are still incorporated into many new properties.
Keeping Some Out . . . Others In
They are first and foremost a security feature, enabling windows to be left open for fresh air, with a degree of protection from anyone who may wish to enter the house without an invitation. They also help prevent unsupervised young children from falling out of a window (or teenagers from doing an unauthorised late-night exit through their bedroom window to meet friends!).
At one time, of course, many houses wouldn’t have had windows fitted with glass (which is still quite expensive on the island), so bars in the window space would have been essential as a security measure. We saw an example of this once when we stayed for a night in a townhouse in Pollensa: our bedroom window in this charming old property had shutters, but no glass! Thankfully it was a warm(ish) night . . .
Another Maintenance Job for the Property Owner
The downside of these things is that they do need to be painted from time to time to keep them looking good. And it’s a very fiddly job (and one that’s often bumped down the ‘to do’ list in our house as a result). The upside – apart from the security benefits – is that property insurance companies may give a discount on premiums if bars are fitted.
For our cats too, there seems to be a feeling of safety sleeping behind the bars. Pip certainly seems to take advantage of a ‘protected’ place to snooze away the daylight hours. Her favourite window – the smallest in the house – is in our small guest suite. She’s actually the only one of our cats that can fit into it. No need for a ‘do not disturb’ sign here . . . unless I’m around with my Nikon.
These bars are very good for resting one’s feet on . . .
If you’re going to live on Mallorca, it pays to have a good relationship with a plumber. Over the years we have been here we have spent a lot of money at our local plumbers. During our early time here it seemed that almost every problem we had with the house was water-related.
Cito and his team have come to our rescue many times. He’s had a few good plumbers (and electricians – as his company Ca’n Pedro does both) working for him over that time: Miquel Angel – who once found The Boss prone on the dining room floor with blood pouring from his head after his accident with the low lintel over the front door; Pep – who accidentally put a pickaxe through the cold-water pipe while trying to locate a burst hot-water pipe under our tiled shower room floor, and Rubens (also an electrician), who rescued us when a burst of my KitchenAid blender (I was making soup at the time) caused the whole electricity system to go phut.
Cito seems to be winding down his business a bit – perhaps with an eye to his future retirement – and today it’s Cito himself who’s working at the house, aided by his son-in-law. Yes, another water-related problem at the finca!
Who Needs Hot Water?
Our house has two gas-powered acumuladores (water heater/storage units): one serving our shower room and annexe guest room; the other for the kitchen and our main guest bathroom. Naturally, the latter gets the most use; we had to replace it with a new one quite a few years ago.
The other one has quietly done its job over the years but, a week or two ago, after The Boss had attached a new gas bottle, the thing wouldn’t re-light. As it happens, the lack of hot water isn’t a problem at this time of year. Our water supply comes to the house from our water storage tank in overground pipes and the cold water has been arriving hot in our taps for several weeks, as a result of the summer heat. What should have been hot water in the heater unit was cold. Problem temporarily solved: we’d use the cold tap for hot water, and the hot, for cold!
Our acumulador had lost its looks as well as its functionality!
Cito to the Rescue
Cito came out to inspect the water heater, and removed a sorry-looking part. He came back to us later with the news that a replacement part would cost a couple of hundred euros. As that water heater is at least 13 years old – we’ve never replaced it since we bought the place in 2002 – it made more economic sense to buy a new water heater.
Today it’s been fitted in the small cubby hole housing the water unit. There was a slightly worrying moment when Cito announced that the door wasn’t wide enough to remove the old unit (The Boss had modified the entrance to the room and hand-built a new wooden door and frame a while ago). For a horrible few minutes we imagined having to undo The Boss’s painstaking work, but Cito somehow found a non-destructive solution, and the job has just been completed.
Now we have hot water from the hot taps again. And, while the summer continues, also from the cold taps.
It’s 37 degrees Celsius in the shade on the terrace of our finca in rural Mallorca. During the current heatwave (back-to-back with the previous one) our ‘family’ of adopted cats is taking life very easy. They appear each morning for their breakfast, but eat less than usual, then disappear for the day to hide from the sun, until hunger – or habit – draws them back for dinner.
At this time of the year they tend to seek shelter closer to the house, so that their various sources of water for drinking aren’t too far away. Occasionally we spot them in their hiding places. Dusty likes to sit under the turntable (which hasn’t turned for years) that supports our solar panels. It’s a spot that gets no sun at all, and he’s made it his own. Beamer heads for the dependencia, snoozing next to the stock of winter logs. When it’s hot like it is now, it seems unbelievable that we need log fires in the winters . . .
Cooling his ‘Bits’
Our newest cat – little Pip – favours the corner of our dining terrace, settling in a sun-free spot near a large pot plant. And one of her best friends – Nibbles – often joins her. Nibbles (who does occasionally live up to his name) has an amusing habit: in the evenings, when we dine on the terrace, he sits nearby on the wall, with his legs dangling down on either side of the wall. We assume this is to cool as much of his lower body as possible.
Pip (left) and Nibbles have found a cool spot on the terrace
Nibbles chilling out on the wall
All the cats are enjoying the new solar-powered water feature I bought earlier this year. It has become yet another source of water for them. This one has an additional benefit: the fountain seems to give off a fine mist when it’s in operation and when any of the cats comes over to greet us in the evenings, they usually have a light dampness to their fur. They’re clearly enjoying this way of cooling themselves.
Nibbles drinks from the fountain
And us? We’re spending the heat of the day indoors, with our Birman Minstral, enjoying the benefits of airconditioning. Come the (slightly) cooler evenings, we’re outside – topping up the water in the places where the cats like to drink . . .
This time last year I was on a mission: I wanted a water feature for our finca’s dining terrace. And I wanted it to be solar-powered, like our electricity supply. Surely that wouldn’t be hard to find?
The Boss and I scoured Mallorca to find one: we really like to buy local if we can. We were amazed that, on an island where the sun shows its face on some 300 days a year, it appeared that we were as likely to find a solar-powered water feature for sale as we were an igloo. After failing to find a supplier in Spain, via the Internet, we gave up.
A few weeks ago I was searching the Internet for something else for the garden that we couldn’t find locally. Lo and behold, I found a site for a company on the Spanish mainland offering a choice of solar-powered water features. Result!
From the Mainland to Mallorca
We wasted no time choosing and ordering something to add that sound of trickling water that should make us feel cooler during the balmy summer evenings – most of which are spent on the terrace. The fountain arrived pretty quickly and was easily assembled. I say easily, because The Boss did it. Putting together something like a solar-powered water feature comes under the heading of ‘technical’ in my book. And I don’t do technical. At least, not if I have The Boss handy at the time.
We love it. And so do our cats, who consider it yet another source of water for them around the finca . . .