Into each life a little decadence should fall . . .

The Boss and I have changed a lot since we moved to live in rural Mallorca. I hope for the better . . .

For a start, living in such beautiful surroundings has made us more environmentally aware. Some of this is due to the practicalities of our ‘off the grid’ life. For example, if we’re careless in our use of electricity, the chances are that our solar system will do the equivalent of screaming “Woah! I need a little generator support here!” And diesel, apart from being rather unfriendly in environmental terms, is also quite expensive.

So, we think carefully about usage, and would never dream of running the dishwasher, the washing machine and the iron all at the same time. And I try to do jobs that require a good slug of electricity on days when our 16 solar panels are basking in sunshine. If we’re lucky with the weather, we don’t have to rely on the generator to keep us in clean ironed clothes.

We’re similarly careful with water usage: we have to be, as it’s delivered by tanker to our cisterna, 12,000 litres at a time.

I must confess that I probably wasn’t so careful about these things when I lived in the UK, even though we had quarterly bills to pay for such services. The bathroom  tap would run while I was cleaning my teeth (now a ‘sin’ in our household), and lights would be on in unused rooms, just for decorative effect. Everything was ‘on tap’ and available – even if it meant bigger bills for less careful use.

A zest for cooking . . . and gourmet goodies 

Happily, my writing keeps me fairly busy, but I do like to find time to do things such as making  bread, biscuits, and preserves. In the early days of living here, I’d have been slightly overwhelmed by a generous gift of lemons – wondering how many G&Ts we’d have to drink to use them all up! Now, I head for the kitchen (where, it must be said, I am quite a messy but reasonably successful cook) and turn these gifts into preserves.

Friends who came for lunch last Thursday brought us a large basket of organic lemons and grapefruit; this summer, we’ll be spreading the resulting marmalade on our morning toast, thinking of our friends in their home in New York, and remembering a sunny January day when I spent most of one joyful morning shredding the peel from a small mountain of citrus fruit.

But within this changed girl remains a part-time hedonist: when the opportunity is there, I love dining out on fine food and wine, and I get little-girl-excited when I discover previously untried gourmet foods and ingredients.

So, when we opened a parcel yesterday – a generous gift from our lovely friends Duncan and Kristina in Oxford, who have visited us annually since we moved here, and probably love the finca as much as we do – we were thrilled to find some delicious Fortnum & Mason gourmet goodies within. And among the wrappings was a jar of F&M Majestic Marmalade. And, I kid you not, it’s flecked with gold leaf: it lives up to its name, looking like something a princess – or her servant – would spread on her morning toast (crusts removed, no doubt).

Our breakfast toast may be rustic in style – crusts intact, and with the bottom of the loaf slightly burnt, due to our thermostatically-challenged oven – but, when it comes to the marmalade that will be gracing it for the next week or so, all that glitters is definitely gold . . .

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

A decadent start to a day in the Mallorcan countryside

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Power to the people

Shocked by the size of the bill we’d received from a local electrician – for what had seemed to be a very basic check of our finca wiring (and his sustained electric shock into the bargain) – we decided to use a different company to undertake the major work of installing additional switches, sockets and wiring for our future electricity supply.

We’d been determined to use Mallorcan labour for any major jobs around the place but, when our two new electricians eventually arrived with their toolboxes and huge reels of cable, we discovered they were actually Argentinian. No matter; they were also efficient, tidy and seemingly shock-proof – unlike our previous electrician. We were happy to leave them to get on with the job, while we solved the problem of sourcing some electricity.

Easy . . . or watt?

GESA didn’t want to know us: we were too far away from the nearest mains source for it to be viable to connect our property.  Like most of our neighbours, we would be getting our power from the sun, via a solar energy system, with a generator for back-up. Now, doesn’t that sound easy?

Knowing nothing at all about the subject, we placed ourselves at the mercy of a company specialising in these things. All we had to do was give them a list of our electrical appliances and a rough idea of usage, then they came up with a solution.

That solution involved 16 solar panels, 21 batteries, an invertor and – of course – a decent-sized generator.  All except the solar panels would be housed in the little casita we had built without previous permission, but had had legalized (at considerable cost). The panels themselves were to be mounted on a rack, cemented into a base.  What we gave no thought to at that time was where we’d actually put what would end up looking like a sunbathing version of the Angel of the North . . .

5 things to know when buying a rural property in Mallorca (Part 3)

If you’re reading this blog for the first time, welcome. You’ll find the other three things to know about (water supply, waste water disposal, and disposal of rubbish) on the previous two posts. This last part focuses on electricity and gas – two essentials.  We lived for eight months with limited electricity: no usable plug sockets and only two hours of lighting a night (if the sun had shone), courtesy of a small rooftop solar panel. I’m not sorry we did it, as it has made us more careful about using electricity – and it was quite romantic in its own way. But I’ll always remember the day when the electrician who was completing the installation declared that we finally had power. So will he: I went up to him and gave him a big smacking kiss on the cheek . . .

You’ve got the power?

Our bank of solar panels – a sight that took some getting used to!

Rural properties are often too far from a GESA sub-station to make it viable to be connected to mains electricity. That was the case with our finca. So we had to seek an alternative. We decided against wind turbines (too noisy for our liking) and opted for solar power. After all, Mallorca has 300 days of sunshine a year, so it’s a plentiful resource here.

If you’re looking at a rural property with no existing power supply, the first step in deciding what type and size of solar power system you need is to make a list of everything electrical that you’re likely to use. Armed with this information, a specialist in solar power will be able to work out the specifications for a system tailored to your needs.  A system basically comprises solar panels, batteries (charged by the sun) and an invertor. You’ll also need a generator, for those occasions when the sun doesn’t contribute enough to keep it all going, and a tank to hold the diesel that fuels it. As you’ll have gathered by now, all of these things (except the panels) will need to be housed somewhere secure and weather-proof; in our case, it’s an outbuilding.

So, there is a considerable upfront outlay, but at least you won’t be receiving electricity bills from GESA. And if you’re careful with your electricity usage, you can keep generator running costs down.

My top tips:

  • Don’t underestimate your electricity requirements. It’s cheaper to have the correct sized system installed at the outset.
  • Buy the best panels and batteries you can afford.
  • Talk to at least two solar power companies and compare their prices and specifications. Ask about the life expectancy of the individual components. Our first invertor caught fire and had to be replaced.
  • If you have to build something in which to store the system components, make sure you have planning permission (one day I’ll tell you the sorry tale of our own building)
  • Be sure that you’ll be happy with the siting of the panels. Our engineer’s first suggestion would have completely blocked our view of the valley, so we opted for a different site. As it happens, we don’t think the first location would have been as good anyway.
  • If possible, spend some time with someone else who has a solar power system so you can learn from their experiences.
  • Once the system is installed and up and running, turn it all off in the event of a thunderstorm close by. Our second invertor was struck by lightning just a few weeks after it was installed!

Going for gas

A trip to the gas depot for refills

You won’t find mains gas in the Mallorcan countryside, but almost everyone uses butano to power their oven and hob, and water heaters (although solar-powered water heaters are increasingly popular). In towns and villages, you’ll often see the orange gas canisters being delivered by truck, but don’t expect that service to be available in rural areas. Instead, you’ll need to go to  the nearest Repsol butano depot with your empty canister(s), which will be exchanged for full ones at a cost (currently) of 16,50 euros a canister. If the property has no existing canisters (which should be left behind when the current occupiers leave), you’ll need to head to a Repsol office to get the necessary paperwork. You cannot just turn up empty-handed and buy a canister of gas.

It is possible in some circumstances to have a large butano tank installed on your property, but there are certain conditions that must be met for this service to be available. Speak to a Repsol office if you are interested. It certainly saves lugging the containers around (the standard size holds 12,5 kg of butano).

My top tips:

  • Check the rubber hoses that connect the gas to the appliances – they have a limited life (an expiry date is printed on the hose) and it can be dangerous not to replace them. The efficient householder will make a diary note so that replacing out-of-date hoses isn’t overlooked.
  • Get yourself a sack barrow to manouevre the canisters about. They’re pretty heavy.
  • Save the hassle, and find an alternative, eg solar-powered water heating and electric oven/hob.

I always cooked with gas in the UK, but my Smeg oven (bought here) is very unreliable temperature-wise. Could it be the gas, I wonder?