Discovering Les Gavarres, Girona
In early 2016, 44-year-old US lawyer Robert Edwards bought a magnificent masia (country house) via Lucas Fox in the midst of Les Gavarres, Girona, a beautiful Natural Park covering some 28.000 hectares between Girona city and the Mediterranean and is one of Catalunya’s most breathtakingly beautiful areas. Originally from San Francisco, Robert decided to devote the next few years of his life to transforming the masia into a home which could also run as a rural hotel. As well as detailing the progress on his own blog, Robert spoke to LFStyle about his vision for the project, the challenges he has been facing and his thoughts for the future.
LFS: What made you decide to move to Spain and in particular to Les Gavarres?
RE: I’ve always loved Spain. I came here at 16 to study Spanish with a homestay program and have returned repeatedly to travel. After 20 years of working as an attorney in California, I needed a change of scenery and a change of routine. I researched various regions of Spain and decided to start house hunting in the Costa Brava/Baix Empordà. Lucas Fox’s Tom Maidment suggested a masia in the Gavarres, a protected area just inland from the Costa Brava. After seeing Mas Oms and the views from the house, I could not put it out of my mind.
LFS: You have taken on a huge renovation project. Was that your original plan?
RE: My original plan for Spain was to take on a smaller renovation project. My experience in the States has been DIY, so the best fit for my skill base would have been a smaller project where I could do most of the work with my own two hands. The current project involves significant cash investment and professional intervention in the remodel, but in the end I hope it will afford more upside, both financially and in terms of satisfaction.
LFS: Can you tell us a bit about what your project entails and what the overall vision is?
RE: Mas Oms is a classic Catalan farmhouse (masia) dating back at least to the 14th Century. Over the years it has grown and evolved, prospered and suffered. When it came to me it was a very solid structure with some recent improvements (new roof, internal structural reinforcement), but with no clear roadmap for the future. My challenge is to create a comfortable living space that conforms to modern expectations. The concept is a “single-family-plus” home. It’s a modular plan, with enough space for a big family plus extended family and/or guests. Or perhaps a smaller family plus paying guests. The house is spread over three floors with multiple common areas and terraces. I want to make it work for the most typical family needs, but also be adaptable to particular circumstances.
LFS: Who did you enlist to help with the renovations?
RE: An architect with lots of experience renovating masias (including his own) and great knowledge and connections in the area. Also a builder with the same experience and a fantastic reputation locally (especially in the trade).
LFS: How long do you expect the process to take from start to finish?
RE: Three years, though I will be moving into the house as soon as the heating is connected.
LFS: You are currently living ‘on-site’. Do you intend to live there full-time once finished?
RE: I am living in a small apartment attached to the rear of the masia, relying on a wood stove for warmth. It is basic but serviceable, and I’ve made some improvements along the way. Once I move into the main house, I plan to remain there until the job is done. After that, TBD.
LFS: For those that do not know Les Gavarres, can you describe what it is like?
RE: Les Gavarres is a protected natural space between the Costa Brava and the inland Girona plain. It is the quintessential Mediterranean cork and holm oak forest. From my house I see great swaths of blackish-green mountains (hence the name of my immediate neighbourhood, “Montnegre”), dotted with venerable stone farmhouses every kilometre or so. I also have a view of the coastal plain and a slice of the Mediterranean. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it. Certainly not in the USA!
LFS: You are a long way from home and presumably knew few people in the area initially. Has that been a challenge?
RE: Yes! The neighbours have been incredibly kind and helpful and welcoming. I have also been lucky to meet friends of friends and acquaintances. But living in a farmhouse in the woods is very much a quieter life than living in San Francisco.
LFS: When you bought, you also obtained the so-called ‘Golden Visa’. How has this helped you?
RE: Without the Golden Visa, I would not be able to live in Spain. The rule for Americans is 90 days in the Schengen zone and 90 days out. There are other ways to obtain residency in Spain, but I was not eligible.
LFS: Following the US elections, Lucas Fox has seen a surge in visits to its website from the USA. Does this surprise you?
RE: Not at all! I received quite a few desperate texts in early November requesting extended visits.
LFS: What do you think many American citizens will appreciate about Spain that they don’t have in their own country?
RE: The richness of the culture and architecture – you won’t find ancient stone villages or Romanesque churches in America. The lifestyle – food, wine, endless festivals, evening strolls, street life, “el tapeo”. And the prices are shockingly low, especially once you leave Madrid and Barcelona.
LFS: How important do you think it is to speak Spanish before moving to Spain or to speak Catalan before moving to Catalunya?
RE: I arrived with a good command of Spanish and it has been very helpful. I know other expats who manage with limited language skills, but they tend to dread interaction with locals, especially officialdom. In Catalunya everyone speaks and understands Spanish, but Catalan is important for social integration and placating the pricklier locals. Learning Catalan has been harder than I expected.
LFS: Do you see yourself returning to the US one day?
RE: Yes, at least for a visit!
LFS: Can you describe Les Gavarres in 3 words?
RE: Forest. Hills. Tranquility.