Moving to Zafra in Extremadura

We list expat stories of their move to the town of Zafra in the Spanish province of Extremadura. We find out what is unique about Zafra.

Hi there, let me introduce myself, I am Vicki Blaylock and I now live in El Raposo, a small hamlet near the medieval town of Zafra in southern Extremadura, just over one hour from the vibrant city of Seville.

My husband Ken and I began to seriously think about early retirement, and what that could possibly mean for us.

Zafra-centreHaving travelled many times to India and the Far East, the thought of spending the winter months on a remote beach in India was very appealing. But then we thought, hang on, what about the rest of the year?

So despite the fact that we had avoided thoughts of retiring to Spain (at all costs!) one day I saw a newspaper article on Extremadura. Wow! I thought, Spain isn’t all quick fix tans, discos, high rise apartments and lager louts!

It does actually have a culture, and there are parts of Spain which haven’t been taken over by the British, and where “old fashioned values” still exist, and further more, those values do matter greatly to the local people.

So, we looked at the map of Spain, and decided, as a first step, to one of the most charming and historical towns found north of Seville – Zafra.

Our first encounter with Zafra in November 2004 was unforgettable. It was like stepping back in time 30 years. I must confess to being a naturally suspicious person, and thought that, as we spoke no Spanish and therefore stuck out like sore thumbs, people would take advantage of us – but No!

Although there were significant language barriers, local people were (and still are) extremely kind and patient with us.

The following April saw us visiting Extremadura again, further north this time, where we were again impressed with the views and the scenery and by the friendliness of the local people.

However on returning to Zafra at the tail end of our visit, it felt as though we were coming home.

So what attracted us to Zafra? Well… apart from the people, Zafra itself is a beautiful little town in southern Extremadura, located at the base of the Sierra de Castellar Mountains, midway between Seville and Mérida.

Indeed, Zafra is often  referred to as “Little Seville” with its narrow, winding streets and pretty plazas. Zafra has a wealth of historical buildings and areas dating back to the 13th Century.

We finally decided to take the plunge and we moved out here in March 2007, and have no regrets. Our initial assessment and observations of the area, lifestyle and quality of life have proven to be correct.

Below is my story of moving to the Zafra area in greater detail…

zafra

Zafra

The Big Adventure

We, (my husband and I) began our search for a Spanish property in 2004. We had no desire to live near the highly populated Costas. We wanted to experience a traditional Spanish lifestyle. As we previously lived in rural Northumberland, we began our search inland and viewed properties in all parts of Extremadura. In total we visited five times viewing property before finally deciding on a particular area. There was something about Zafra which made us feel as though we were “coming home.” We felt very safe, and believed we could be happy living there. It had all of the necessary services for activities of daily living close by. The people are so friendly, and incredibly helpful. In general there is very little English spoken, and it is true to say that neither I nor my husband spoke any Spanish. However in a very short space of time, with the help of a free Spanish class, and very patient neighbours, we could initially speak enough Spanish to more than “survive.” A further consideration for us was the proximity of Zafra to an airport. Seville airport is just over one hour on a toll free motorway. Regular direct flights are available to Stanstead, Gatwick and Bristol using economy airlines. It is also possible to fly via Barcelona to all other parts of the UK.

We settled on buying a three bedroom detached house (with a pool) in a small hamlet called El Raposo, which is around 6 km from Zafra, (10 minutes by car.) We decided against buying a property with a lot of land, as many people who chose to live “rural” and are tempted by the idea of owning and tending “the land” have found that as they grow older, the land becomes impossible for them to physically to manage. Our house has a large, but manageable garden.

Zafra 3

Photo by Vicki Blaylock

El Raposo, with its own micro-climate, is one of the main grape and olive growing areas in the region. There are a number of bodegas scattered within the surrounding countryside, all of which participate in the Ruta del Vino and positively welcome “passing trade!” (You can purchase a fantastic bottle of wine from the merlot grape, for as little as 3 Euros, or a 5 litre young temperanillo for around 4 Euros 50c!)

The house needed modernising, and we also wanted to add a work shop, a dining room and an ensuite. We used local trade and were impressed with the workmanship and the cost. No lazy trades people here in Extremadura.

House prices in the Zafra area

House prices here in Extremadura didn’t experience the price inflation as other areas/regions did. It depends very much on what you are looking for.

You can buy a small village house requiring reform in Feria, a beautiful hilltop village 20 minutes away from Zafra, for less than 40,000 Euros.

House 1, from Vanessa

Photo by Vicki Blaylock

Alternatively, if you are looking for something bigger, “Finca Tinca” could be just up your street. A fully reformed and modernised 5 double bedroom house set in 10,000 sqm of land, (complete with beautiful pool) just outside of Villafranca de los Barros, again a short distance from Zafra. The asking price has been drastically reduced to 130,000 Euros.

House 3, from Vanessa

Finally, an immaculate, fully reformed and furnished three bedroom detached house (with a pool) in the small hamlet of El Raposo. The house with a manageable garden, is set among the olive and vine groves, with no less than four local Bodegas producing fantastic and award winning wines. On the market for 155,000Euros.

House 2, from Vanessa

Rental properties are available, costing around 300-400 euros per month.

For further information regarding any of these properties, please contact www.extremacasa.com.

Zafra Overview

Zafra itself is a beautiful little Roman Town in southern Extremadura, located at the base of the Sierra de Castellar Mountains, midway between Seville and Mérida. Indeed, Zafra is referred to as “Little Seville” with its narrow, winding streets and pretty plazas. The Town has a wealth of historical buildings and areas dating back to the 13th Century, mostly situated around Plaza Grande and Plaza Chica.

Zafra 1

Today, La Plaza’s boast bars, restaurants and hotels to meet the needs of locals and visitors. In the warmer months, especially at weekends and evenings, as you approach La Plaza Grande, you will hear a “buzz” it’s not the birds…..its local people meeting, and doing what Spanish people do best! Socialising and talking.

Ease of moving around

Forget gridlocked motorways, towns and cities, the infrastructure here is excellent. You can access Seville city centre and airport in slightly over an hour from Zafra. Or, if you prefer a really leisurely trip, there are frequent inexpensive executive coaches between Mérida and Seville (via Zafra) throughout the day, seven days a week, and there is also a train service. Want to explore other parts of Spain, or indeed Europe? Many of the budget airlines fly out of Seville to an increasing amount of interesting destinations.

Family values, integration

One of the first things we noticed when sitting out in Plaza Grande, late in the evening, having supper, drinking a glass of wine, was how safe the environment seemed, and that ageism doesn’t appear to exist here. There were family groups of three and four generations socialising together. The children playing safely in the Plaza, not getting under anyone’s feet, (you rarely hear a child or baby cry!) and great granddad/granny is pushed out in his/her wheelchair to actively participate in the family gathering. I remember thinking, how nice that must be, to socialise as a family, (our own family is scattered) and that we would always be outsiders. WRONG! It is not possible, (without being rude) to avoid Spanish hospitality! Whether that is a drink in the bar, joining them for a family meal/celebration or participating in their (many) fiestas, you will be included! We have received many gifts and offers of hospitality from our Spanish friends, and yes, you do think, “what is it they want from us?” But, they only want your friendship and for you to feel welcome in the true sense of the word.

There is a huge sense of community spirit in the area, and although we are very used to rural living, there seems to be a greater sense of inclusion here than in the UK. Spanish people are more than welcoming when it comes to your attempts to integrate, and make a contribution to the community. It wasn’t too long before we were roped in to help with (among other things) the fiesta for San Isidro, along with Ken, my husband being given the “privilege” of helping to carry the Saint! We have also been very involved with the local rugby team, providing catering expertise during home matches.

Zafra 4

Photo by Vicki Blaylock

Flora, fauna and vistas

I could “wax lyrical” about the surrounding area, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, the peace and tranquillity, it is all beautiful. Within less than twenty minutes drive from Zafra itself, you can be walking in the hills, around lakes or along a riverside. But, hey… I am a “Northumbrian Lass” and to be truthful, we would never have moved anywhere that didn’t match up to the beauty of the wild and beautiful Northumbrian Hills. The area around Zafra certainly does that. That said there are a couple of bonuses, not found in Northumberland. Firstly, as a consequence of their traditional farming methods, the beautiful, colourful, wild flowers that blossom in spring and early summer; I haven’t seen anything like the display for years. Secondly, as an area, Extremadura is famed for its rich birdlife, and Zafra is by no means the poor relation. In addition to the plentiful storks, we have seen, from our garden, little egrets, red kites, red footed falcons, lapwings and hoopoes as well as many others.

Shopping

All villages tend to provide the basics for daily living. Indeed the majority have (if not daily, then certainly 2-3 times per week) a “Mercado municipal” – a local market. Here you can buy fresh meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, Spanish cheeses, chorizo and jamón. The towns inevitably boast at least one supermarket. In the immediate vicinity of Zafra there are six supermarkets. Zafra has a range of (among other things) fashion shops catering for the needs of all age groups. Incidentally the cost of living is cheaper in Extremadura than in many other parts of Spain. It is worth noting that many UK stores deliver to Spain, such as Marks and Spencer’s, Next, Amazon and The Book Depository. However if it is designer shopping you require, then a visit to Seville, Badajoz, or Málaga is manageable by car. Or you could fly up to Barcelona or Tarragona, or take the train to Madrid, where you will find shops to satisfy the most dedicated of shoppers!

For the more mundane items, such as hardware, cars, furniture etc you will find that all towns and most larger villages in Spain have, on the approach roads, a “Poligono”; not exactly an out of town shopping area, I guess we might call them trading estates. It makes a lot of environmental sense really, in that it doesn’t spoil the aesthetics of the villages and towns, and in addition it keeps any heavy traffic within the towns to a minimum.

Bars, restaurants, fiestas and ferias

Many things impact on the quality of life we experience here in Extremadura, and among them is our vast and varied social life. Many days see us sitting in our garden at lunch time with a light lunch and a glass of wine. Equally, many days see us sitting “al fresco” in Zafra or one of the villages enjoying a glass of wine with complementary free tapas, or partaking of “menu del día”, when for eight or nine Euros you can enjoy a three course lunch with wine/beer or soft drinks. Excellent value for money.

There are a number of more upmarket and award winning restaurants in Zafra, all of them worth a visit. Obviously, having lived here for a number of years, we have our favourites; it’s all a matter of personal taste. However it does give you a warm feeling when you enter a bar or restaurant, and you are welcomed with the shout “Amigos!” from behind the bar, and greeted Spanish style with kisses all round, and slaps on the back for the chaps!

Fiestas are something else! I could write forever about them. During spring and early summer there seems to be one every week. Boy! Do the Spanish know how to party! – no matter the weather! We have seen girls in flamenco dresses soaked in mud up to waist level – still dancing! (But the sun shone in sheets the following day and the whole area came out to barbeque and party in style!) Inevitably all fiestas are accompanied by traditional live Spanish music, you try NOT dancing, it’s impossible!

Come October, its Feria time in Zafra, the biggest Feria in the whole of Spain. Primarily it is an Agricultural Show, the size of which I have never seen before, (surprising as we come from an agricultural area.) It lasts for a full week and is open twenty four hours per day! (Phew!) Yes, and you can attend as often or as infrequently as you like, believe it or not, it’s all free. Despite the fact that it is essentially an Agricultural show, there is something for everyone, including a massive fairground, open market, dressage, trade halls, bars, restaurants, live shows, flamenco music and dancing, culminating in a massive firework display. However, be warned, the week following the Feria, Zafra is like a ghost Town, they are all partied out!

Zafra 2

Photo by Vicki Blaylock

Serious stuff

Obviously, to be able to take full advantage of the benefits of living here, there are two quite important requisites, communication, and staying fit and healthy. They say that communication is a two way process, and that there is more than one way of communicating. So, if you can listen, read, and are skilled at hand and body language and you can smile, then you are more than half way there. The other (less than) half you can learn at free (yes free) Spanish lessons in Zafra. Whilst on the subject of education, it is worth noting that each village has a school catering for the younger children, with older children attending nearby high schools.

The Spanish healthcare system is very similar to the British healthcare system. In fact, Tony Blair modelled the “New NHS” on the Spanish System. In other words they operate a “hub and spoke model,” with the hub being a Community based hospital offering urgent care as well as basic medical and surgical interventions. (Zafra Hospital is situated on the outskirts of town, on the road to Badajoz) More complex problems are referred to “Centres of Excellence” in the more major cities and towns such as Seville, Badajoz and Mérida. The “spokes” are the Health Centres based in most villages, from where General Practitioners consult and refer as appropriate to the “hub.” In some of the Towns there is also an out of hour’s service, which is staffed by Nurse Practitioners and General Practitioners. Zafra also has a private hospital, and you can if you wish take out private healthcare insurance for less than 20 euros per month per couple.

Having needed to access healthcare here in Zafra, I can only say I was impressed by the speed and professionalism of the services we received.

Comparisons

I would say that Zafra/Extremadura is for those people, who are adventurous, prefer something different, and who want to experience traditional Spanish way of life. It would not suit people who are looking for a large thriving expat community, spoken English and English bars in each village. Whilst the nearest beach is more than two hours away, there are many lakes to swim in, some also having man made beaches.

My advice to anyone thinking about buying Spanish property in Extremadura, would be to contact a reliable trustworthy Estate Agent. Be honest and open with them regarding your aspirations, and you won’t be sent on a wild goose chase. We and many others have used the services of ExtremaCasa, (www.extremacasa.com) and found the information given to be accurate and honest. Martyn Swan or one of his Team will literally hold your hand throughout the whole process of viewing, making an offer, completion of the sale, and will then provide an after sales service second to none. Not many Estate Agents provide this level of service.

Vicki Blaylock


Below is a video featuring some of Zafra’s most impressive places of interest.

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