The sun is shining and the almond trees outside my cave house are in full bloom. The fig tree is showing the first green signs of reawakening whilst the vines slumber on in the warm air. Blue sky, snow-capped mountains and the birds singing for all they are worth – what could be nicer than that?
You’ve probably gathered by now that I like it here. I live in an uncommercialised and relatively undiscovered part of Andalucia, southern Spain, in an area known as the Altiplano de Granada. I especially like living in a cave house. My home consists of a series of underground rooms, hewn out by hand centuries ago. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these dwellings in this area.
Cave houses come in every shape, size and condition from long abandoned, collapsing holes in the ground to luxury family homes complete with swimming pools and Jacuzzis. There are town caves and country caves. There are whole hillsides covered with cave houses, excavated one above the other, with chimneys and tv aerials protruding from the ground. There are old caves and there are new caves still being created today. There are isolated caves tucked away in the countryside with fantastic views all the way to the far-off Sierra Nevada, the Sierra de La Sagra or the great lake of Negratin.
Great views in the Altiplano de Granada are not in short supply. Nearly all its varied landscapes have a certain majestic and sometimes alien magic about them. There are weather ravaged deserts, verdant hillsides and lush, green valleys. This is an ancient land, steeped in history, where, it is said, man’s first hominid ancestors in Europe settled 1.6 million years ago.
People often ask if it is not claustrophobic living in a cave and the answer is “no”. The underground rooms are usually whitewashed, windows let in the light and many of the rooms have a spacious and airy ambience. On a cold winter’s night however, when the north wind blows the last remaining leaves from the trees and all you want to do is stay in by the fire, then the words “snug” and “cosy” spring to mind. One is reminded of artists’ impressions of Badger’s parlour from “Wind in the Willows”.
People also ask if it isn’t damp living in a cave. Once again the answer is “no”. These are not water-worn limestone caverns. These are man-made dwellings excavated into dry hillsides. They are so well insulated by the metres of compacted earth and rock above that they are warm in winter and refreshingly cool in summer. The temperature inside a cave house remains at a constant 18C to 20C throughout the year. They have no need for air-conditioning in summer and have much reduced fuel bills in winter. One happy cave owner was telling me recently that it cost him only 38 euros to heat his home last winter.
A popular story about cave dwellers of times gone by is that when a woman became pregnant she would start to excavate another room to accommodate her growing family. If this is true, then these women must have been extremely fit because I can assure you that I know from personal experience that it is back-breaking work. Making even fairly modest alterations requires the removal of literally tons of rubble.
Economical to buy, relatively economical to modernize and economical to live in, cave houses are becoming more popular each year. I can’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else.