The chances of Spain?s Costa de la Luz remaining the forgotten coast that it currently purports to be are depressingly slim ? so now is the time to get interested. For the past few years this strip of Andalusia, which weaves its way from Gibraltar to Portugal, has quietly been heralded as the only area which escaped the greedy speedy developments of the 60s and 70s that have blighted much of the Spanish coastline ever since. Boasting miles and miles of sandy beaches, affording spectacular views of the Moroccan coast, with picture postcard white villages tucked into the mountains behind them and expanses of unspoilt countryside, it?s a beguiling insight into southern Spain as it once was.

Pockets of developments do crop up, and the general consensus is that, with the onset of daily flights into nearby airports in Jerez and Seville, these are set to grow. However, the local government isn?t entirely oblivious to the negative effects of uncontested development on the neighbouring Costa del Sol, and there is a welcome caveat. The Costa de la Luz is hemmed in by national parks and building is heavily restricted in its villages and on any land classified as rústico. ?The area is so protected that building land is like gold dust,? says Chris Mercer who runs a Spanish property company based out of the UK and Spain (+44 (0) 1491 574807).

?I defy anyone not to like it,? he enthuses. In fact, so taken is he with the area is that he is moving his wife and young family out permanently in a couple of weeks. ?The people who are attracted to the area are those who have a pioneering spirit, who are looking for a more genuine side of Spain, for those wanting to turn their backs on the marble and glitz of Marbella. It?s very different; vastly underdeveloped, and always will be.?

Aside from its obvious geographical charms, the attractions of the Costa de la Luz extend to an average of 300 days of sunshine a year, affordable property prices and a relatively low cost of living. But the pioneering spirit and affection towards the lack of development and infrastructure needs to kick in when it comes to other matters. There are no international schools, for instance (the nearest are in Sotogrande, a not easily digestible morning commute), sophisticated dining and nightlife is almost unheard of in the area, and shops and supermarkets cater to a very Spanish consumer (again, those in search of Vegemite will have to go without, or travel some distance for it).

The other aspect to consider is the wind. Locals and aficionados are divided about its relative merits, but the Costa de la Luz is definitely not a place for wind-haters. The fierce Levante and Poniente winds blow for a couple of days a month, and are responsible for Europe?s best wind and kite surfing beaches in Tarifa, but are also said to drive some of those exposed a little insane. ?The wind calms down the further west you go but I can?t help thinking that it?s because of this it that the property market in the area hasn?t grown,? says Naomi Greatbanks of Savills (+44 (0) 20 7016 3701).

The area is starting to see a surge in buyers, but the market is mostly dominated by affluent Spaniards from Madrid and Seville who are looking for second homes. Prices in Tarifa, once a sleepy Moorish-style village which has now morphed into a laid-back, hippy, Siena Miller-chic town as a result of its windsurfing fame, have soared in the past couple of years and apartments with sea views can go for as much as £600,000. ?There is increasing interest from international buyers but not a lot of product,? explains Ms Greatbanks. ?But there are still some reasonably priced properties.?

After Tarifa, the other popular pueblos blancos worth considering in the area are Vejer de la Frontera, Medina Sodonia, Zahara de los Atunes and Conil. Savills currently have two good-sized townhouses, with five or six bedrooms, in Vejer with price tags of a little over £250,000. They are also marketing a much larger property in Medina Sodonia ? a 19th century townhouse, with 24 rooms surrounding an inner courtyard which is on the market for ?750,000 (about £501,000). The town, which is 20 minutes from the beach and 30 minutes from Jerez airport, has been declared a historic and artistic zone of cultural interest; a perfect spot to establish a boutique hotel.

For those looking to spend a little less, but still wishing to buy within the mountain villages, three-bedroom new townhouses in La Noria, a smallish development in Vejer, are going for about £130,000. The properties, which have been built following typical Andalusian architecture, with sun terraces and parking, look down on one side to the coast (which is ten minutes by car) and on the other on ranches and farms, which are on protected land. Mr Mercer, whose company is exclusively marketing the development, says, ?It?s much cheaper than the Costa del Sol where properties like these, but in nothing like as good a position, would cost well over £200,000. Only this week we?ve sold to some local buyers which means that the pricing is right.

?The whole of the Costa de la Luz,? continues Mr Mercer, ?is lacking in villas and with the tight building regulations that have been levied, it means that the scarcity factor will keep prices strong.? He does warn, however, that there has been a lot of illegal activity in recent months, where small time developers have been building villas without permission on land which isn?t classified for development. Property prices in Spain have risen by an average of 93% since 1997 and according to Mark Stucklin, of Spanish Property Insight, all the lesser known coasts such as Almeria, Cálida (Murcia), Luz, Azahar and Dorada have enjoyed robust price increases in recent years. While cautioning that the differential in price hikes is shrinking, locals and expats agree that the Costa de la Luz is still one of Spain?s best kept secrets and offers some of the best capital growth potential in the country.

This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, July 14, 2005. To subscribe click here.