Going Underground

The Journal (Newcastle, England), March 10, 2005 | Go to article overview

Going Underground


This week Justin and Colin are cave dwelling.

All across Europe, from Greece to Spain and Italy, people are digging in, going down and adopting tendencies more commonly associated with troglodytes.

The reasons are various ( and we'll discuss them later ( but there's no doubt about it: cave living is gathering momentum.

Our involvement with cave living ( and it's a huge involvement ( started some five years back when we visited the Sarlat home of friends Stephane and Carole while en-route to write a magazine feature on the chateau home of French resistance singer Josephine Baker.

Dead for decades, her previous pile remains a perfect time warp to her frantic life.

As much as we were excited to be featuring her home it was the hillside homes so perfectly carved into the nearby mountains that really caught our attention. Sadly, back then, we didn't have time to investigate but ventured back recently while conducting research for The Ideal Home Show 2005 which runs until March 28.

Regular Journal readers will know that at last year's Earls Court show we designed a 60ft houseboat but this year, well, we really raised the stakes.

Indeed, inspired by the cave dwelling phenomenon that is taking Europe by storm, we have designed a cave!

And blimey ( it is gorgeous. Constructed off-site then brought to Earls Court by lorry it is divided into four elegant rooms.

But before we tell you any more we've put together a potted history of cave dwellings and are going to explain, for example, the difference between a cave house and a cave home.

In Spain, where there is a proliferation of architectural styles ranging from Moorish castles to glorious stone villas and modest fincas, there are also thousands of cave homes that are older than any of them.

In Northern Andalusia, for example, lies the tiny town of Galera where casas-cuevas are still inhabited by a resilient community.

Sadly, recent years have seen many inhabitants lured to prosperous cities and countless caves have been abandoned. As recently as 1960 there were more than 5,000 people living underground, but now there are only 1,000.

Galera, however, has come up with a plan to revive its population. Spotting a gap in the market for unusual rentals, the council refurbished a selection of caves and via a stout ad campaign unleashed colossal demand.

This renewed interest led to a further batch of caves being refurbished and put on the open market. Well, they were snapped up.

So what makes these homes so attractive? Well, for starters, as the European property market booms and prices continue their vertiginous ascent many people look to alternatives. And the caves have become very much more of the moment.

No more the amenity-lacking rock pods carved with na-ve tools by the homeless hundreds of years ago Nowadays, the average cave is linked to electricity and water with mains sewerage as standard.

Because the rock is soft, but completely waterproof, they can be sealed against the elements and have an almost constant 18C temperature, even though outside temperatures can be -10C or 40C.

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