Country houses for sale

Britons Reign in Spain

Two hours and you are in London. As far as commuting times go, Sotogrande rates with Cheltenham or Bournemouth. Except that this lush resort sits lazily under the Andalusian sun on the Costa del Sol, southern Spain, thousands of miles away from rain, fog and cold winters. This is probably why an inc-reasing number of Britons are ditching Blighty to live here all year round.

A peaceful oasis in the bustle of the Costa del Sol, Sotogrande became the summer playground of los que conten in Madrid when it was developed 45 years ago. Then the British discovered it, and now they vie with the locals for the vast plots of the La Reserva neighbourhood, the luminous townhouses of Los Cortijos and the Marina?s luxury apartments. ?Sotogrande is attractive because it has a lovely countryside and plenty of space,? says David Vaughan, who represents the estate in London (020?7736 1700). ?It?s very tranquil and people love it.?

What makes the place unique, how-ever, is that about a quarter of its residents live here throughout the year. Many work in nearby Gibraltar. Some even telecommute to the UK. And because people mill about Soto-grande?s tree-lined avenues from January to December, the estate has a lively marina, plenty of shops and good restaurants?not to mention Elysium, the health club of the Almenara Golf Hotel, which won the Johansen?s Spa of the Year award in 2004.

But perhaps dearer to the hearts of British expatriates is Sotogrande?s international school, which takes children from three to 18 years of age, and its day-care centre, which looks after the little ones. ?Many families look in the Sotogrande area,? says Jacqueline Hartley of Spanish estate agent Kristina Szekely (+34 95 281 0102), who explains that parents find the estate, which has 24-hour security, playgrounds and plenty of trees, a good place to raise their children.

The only thing that is greener than the trees here are Sotogrande?s golf courses. Two of them, Aldemara and La Cañeda, are public and three?Valderrama, Sotogrande and La Reserva?are private. ?Valderrama is Valderrama, but La Reserva is new. Golf evolves and this course is fabulous,? Mr Vaughan says.

The Sotogrande polo season is also a great attraction because it is very long. ?I do not ride myself, but friends who do tell me the facilities for horses are superb and, if you play polo, it?s first class,? Miss Hartley says.

Children, teleworkers and plenty of horses all conspire to give Soto-grande a village-like feel which is remarkably different from other developments. ?Sotogrande is a gated community with many community focal points,? says Mark Stucklin of buyers? consultancy Spanish Property Insight (, who jokes that the estate has a higher number of Country Life readers than any other place in Spain. ?It has big villas and big plots, but an understated feel, and attracts a more discreet type of buyer.?

Perhaps it is because it is so different that Sotogrande is bucking the slow-down which began affecting the Spanish market at the end of 2004. ?The market is going through a difficult period across the board on the Costa del Sol. But Sotogrande is doing better than most,? Mr Stucklin states. ?In difficult markets, people retreat to quality, and Sotogrande definitely has that reputation. And it has people living there all year round, which introduces a new pool of demand.?

Vaughan confirms that Soto-grande has defied the cooldown so far and has been remarkably busy, with a healthy number of people buying off-plan from the developers and a buoyant market for resales. ?We had the fastest growth at the top, with record prices,? he says. ?We had buyers paying up to ?7 million.?

That said, value for money remains competitive when compared to Bri-tain, and this keeps fuelling demand from the expatriate brigade. ?In Soto-grande, with ?500,000 you can buy a 198sq m townhouse at Los Cortijos, Mr Vaughan says. ?For that, you don?t get a basement in Bermondsey.?