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An old masia revisited

A finca, a masia and a dream of long ago

 

My dream masia in Spain?
My dream masia in Spain?

When I first came to El Maestrat 15 years ago (where has the time gone?), I photographed masses of old masias, most of them crumbling into the ground, and many for sale. There was one masia in particular that drew me, but sadly it was not “se vende” – for sale – and as romantic as it was, I was reliably told it came with no land to speak of.  “You don’t want that finca”, the local unofficial estate agent Ramon told me – he is always to be found in a random bar nursing a café solo – “not only does it have no land but the fields surrounding it are sprayed with every chemical you can think of”.

The masia I could not stay away from, Spain
The masia I could not stay away from, Spain

Still, I passed it occasionally over the years and several times stopped to take another look.  Due to the chemical warning, I was a pre-Covid purchaser of face masks.  However, as I never once saw a tractor or any other farming equipment, just beautifully tended almond and olive trees, the face masks languished until last year in my glove box.  In fact, the surrounding trees added to the masia’s romance.  Once I became excited because a “se vende” sign had been hung on the main door. Alas, it transpired that this romantic dream was in fact owned by 4 to 6 family members. The bit to sale was but a flake in the middle.

Was this masia really for sale?
Was this masia really for sale?

Two years later I made another pit stop, thinking maybe the “se vende” had extended itself across the multiple ‘segments” of this obsession of mine.  The masia was really sizeable and even had a romantic inner walled garden scattered with unkempt fruit trees.  How had I not noticed before?  However, the building had declined further, notably so. Where once the vegetation around the walls had been kept in check, now nature was climbing unrestrained up them.  Brambles, ivy and shrub oak were pushing their invasive roots into the compliant cracks between the stones, intent on reclaiming them for their own.   The “se vende” sign was slowly disappearing under the assault.

The masia was disappearing under the assault of nature
The masia was disappearing under the assault of nature

There were cats everywhere, and not feral.  Strange. This was explained when I came across a curious young man living in a run-down camper van to the side of the land, as shambolic as the finca, and surrounded by an assortment of non-eco junk. Mostly tins and plastic bags. Inside his van he proudly showed me a huge flat screen TV and on the van’s roof a solar panel and antenna just for this. His modus transport was a bicycle. The rest I did not want to know about.

Some rubbish had been stuffed in one of the "segments", El Maestrat
Some rubbish had been stuffed in one of the “segments”, El Maestrat

I retreated hastily and crossed that off the list. It was a silly unrealistic fantasy anyway.

7 years passed.  Last Sunday, exactly 14 years after having bought Masia Lavanda, I was invited with Miguel to lunch high up above in a really wonderful finca. It was a stupendous occasion with stupendous wines to match.  The owner, Jose, is an amazing cook. On top of this the views were to die for, extending all the way to the sea.   What more could you ask?

Thee masia was being reclaimed by nature
Thee masia was not even romantic anymore

On the way back, we passed the object of my erstwhile fascination and I asked if we could stop to look. Miguel turned his 42-year-old very noisy Seat obligingly up the bumpy drive. How fitting that this was our transport!

The doors were all open now
The doors were all open now

Of note was that now all the doors but one were open.  The “se vende” sign had disappeared. Whether various visitors had broken in, or what, I could not know. So, being perhaps a bit foolish and definitely tipsy, I ventured in, not one, but every single accessible door.

Warning tape - or for a party?
Warning tape – or for a party?

The cats, young man, camper van and most of his rubbish had gone. The masia was in a sorrier state than ever; there were even what appeared to be warning “dangerous building” tapes stretched across one door. Or perhaps it was for a fiesta? Joke.

From top to bottom the masia was in its final death throes
From top to bottom the masia was in its final death throes

Once inside, I was reminded, perhaps bizarrely, of Frank Sinatra who famously said during a live gig at Las Vegas, “I have to say this. Sammy Davis Junior wrote a book and said yes I can!  And when I read it, I said no you can’t!”  My dream was an utter “no you can’t do up this wreck”.

A truly original Spanish countryside fireplace
A truly original Spanish countryside fireplace

Why?  Well, there were holes in the floors, not to mention the roof of course, far too low ceilings, dead ends and detached layouts that would challenge the best of architects.  Utterly unsuitable for modern use, even though it did have a somewhat evocative fireplace. Occasionally Miguel, who wisely stayed outside, called for me to get the hell out. But I persisted, examining every nook and cranny, careful on the various crumbling stairs with their short treads and steep risers – another non-starter for 10!

The stairs were hard to navigate, El Maestrat
The stairs were hard to navigate, El Maestrat

Outside the secret garden was secret no more. The walls had collapsed. Nature had accomplished her mission and spread her tentacles triumphantly across the piles of rubble.

The secret garden had transformed itself into a cornucopia of weeds
The secret garden had transformed itself into a cornucopia of weeds

I took one more long shot and we left. That was it, the end of a saga, the end of a collection of buildings, mostly conjoined, that would never be again.

A long shot, in more than one way
A long shot, in more than one way

I felt very sad.  It was sad. This was one of the rare Castellon masias with a tejado a dos lados – double-pitched roof. In its day would have been permanently occupied, as opposed to being a temporary place in the country to stay when the land needed tending.  Once it must have bustled with life and families.  As each offspring married, another segment would have been constructed to house them. There would have been babies and births and deaths.  Joy and heartaches. Fiestas and wakes.

Many lives have looked through these ancient windows
Many lives have looked through these ancient windows

My imagination ran wild, then stagnated and petered out, much as this masia has been doing for God only knows how many decades. Now it could only continue to its final death knell and I do not want to attend that moment.  The only saving grace is I doubt, as happens so often, that what remains will be removed to make way for a spanking ugly new house at odds with the essence of el campo. The dream lacks land and this makes it unviable…ojalá – let’s hope!  In the meantime I leave you with an image of how I prefer to remember my magical masia whose real history I will never truly know.

P.S. in this area of Spain a masia generally means a farmhouse.  A mas is usually a large farmhouse. A finca is the land it sits on. At least that is how I have come to understand it.

P.S.S. Any input here welcome!

To see more old finca photos click here

12 Comments

  1. Colin
    March 24, 2021
    Reply

    Can’t help wondering, if you hadn’t already done up Lavanda, you’d have been daft enough to take it on . . .

    I suspect so.

    • stephanie de leng
      March 24, 2021
      Reply

      Of course I would have been daft . As I explain. It was simply a fantasy. Or maybe not….

  2. Carol Charlton
    March 24, 2021
    Reply

    I really enjoyed and, of course, shared your feelings as I too lIve up a mountain in the Maestrat. It is truly sad to see such beautiful old masías crumbling around us, carrying with them the rich history of this land and it’s people… Will this year of Covid will bring people back to these beautiful hills and valleys?
    As always love rolling along with you on your adventures! Bring ’em on!!

    • stephanie de leng
      March 24, 2021
      Reply

      Ahh, thank you. I hope people come who want to do them up, but most take the easy cheaper option. Knock it down and start again…

  3. Corky Gormly
    March 23, 2021
    Reply

    Now I was hoping that the end of the (very beautifully written) story would be that you had decided to buy it!
    It looks absolutely beautiful. I wish you would become its caretaker and lover.

    • stephanie de leng
      March 23, 2021
      Reply

      Well one I had already bought another place. Two, it was a fantasy. Three, reality kicked in.

      Abs it is gone now…

  4. Colin
    March 23, 2021
    Reply

    I too have had similar dreams of various masias. It’s lovely to hear your version although it would have been even better if the masia had been reformed and brought back to life.
    It’s such a difficult journey. Masia Lavanda is stunning and you have made such a great job.
    Lovely tale. Great to read and see your photos as always.
    I hope we can visit our home in Spain soon. Hoping for September but maybe next year?
    Hope all of our European friends get their vaccines speedily.

    • stephanie de leng
      March 23, 2021
      Reply

      Sadly many like that around. I think you will be able to visit this year Colin.

  5. Ingrid Spiegl
    March 22, 2021
    Reply

    This is such an evocative piece of times gone, buildings lost, or too expensive to restore, except, as you say, by nature. Wonderful photographs as ever.

    And where has the time gone…..

    • stephanie de leng
      March 23, 2021
      Reply

      The time is running away! Thank you Ingrid

  6. Marc Bernard
    March 22, 2021
    Reply

    Hello again Stephanie
    What a gorgeous grip it must have been on your ideal plans..
    When my wife and I first came to mainland Spain in the 1980s (having previously been to Menorca looking for holiday home), as I said before your descriptions of half demolished fincas in el maestrat were reminders of unrealistic ideals which we had – up in the hills and no-one around for kilometres. Some of the agents were less honest than yours! Because of health problems which came about in the interim we settled instead on the coast with all the “advantages” which would not have been present in our dreams, and later moved again to a smaller village but there was always the urge of “but for failure of body’………
    In truth, no regrets, but had we been some decades younger, then ahhh!

    • stephanie de leng
      March 22, 2021
      Reply

      I hear you! I bought one and can’t believe I managed it. It’s like starting a village in the middle of nowhere.But with sheer drops??

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