Former Black Watch officer turned safari guide, Hugh Arbuthnott, tripped into owning a property in southern Andalucía after a ‘somewhat boozy dinner party’ held some 17 years ago. Unlike most second-home buyers, he made no research trips, contacted no property agent, and took very little professional advice at all.

‘We could have ended up being coowners of a farm in Croatia, for all we knew,’ he says. Nearly two decades later, he and his wife happily run walking and cultural tours near Gaucín, which, fortuitously, has gone from being a larger than average Moorish citadel village (or pueblo blanco) to something of a honeytrap for artists, bohos and, increasingly, wealthy foreigners who can

afford the sky scraping property prices.

‘The real gem of southern Andalucía are the huge swathes of untouched land which are designated parque naturales,’ enthuses Mr Arbuthnott, adding: ‘There are simply miles and miles of beautiful scenery, which is ideal for walking, riding, picnics or even driving through.’

Planning laws laid out by the Junta de Andalucía have undergone something of a divergence in recent years: on the coastline, developments continue apace (although there appears to be a hiatus while the Marbella Town Hall is under investigation); inland, they have rendered it virtually impossible to issue building licenses. Crack open the champagne. Behind whichever epithet you’d like to give the coastline, the hills, villages, views and bounty of Andalucía have had a mantle of protection laid over them. For the time being, anyway.

Other insiders, however, argue that travellers in search of the bucolic Spanish idyll, with old men in black caps and donkeys causing traffic jams, need to venture further into the province.

‘We recommend anyone in search of real Andalucia taking a look at Cazalla de la Sierra, north of Seville, or Alcalá la Real, near Granada,’ says John Clarke, a writer based in Ronda, who, together with partner Robert Barclay, has just started up a company to help buyers find properties off the beaten track (see www.andalucia-exclusive.eu). Mr Clarke also points people towards the good stock of 18th-century palaces ripe for restoration in towns like Ecija, which lies between Seville and Córdoba. ‘It can get a little hot (it’s dubbed the frying pan of Andalucia), but the town sits on a plain where there are literally thousands of Roman ruins waiting to be excavated. The French have already started buying up properties there,’ he says.

On the market in the Costal del Sol

Casa Calista, Benhavis, is set in one of Andalucía’s most exclusive estates, El Madronal. Just off the road to Ronda, within 20 minutes of Marbella. This property, priced at ?3.6m (about £2.4m), has incredible views of the coast, and, for those who need it, parking space for 10 cars. Contact Sarah Dodgson at Hermosa Homes in Spain (00 34 952 76 54 58).

Diana Morales (00 34 952 76 51 38;

www.dmproperties.com) are marketing a five-bedroom Andalucian-style house in the hills above the Marbella Club Golf Resort, with views down to Gibraltar. The house, which was built three years ago, has under floor heating and carved wooden doors throughout. It is on the market for ?3.75m (about £2.5m) and comes with two golf club memberships