Ronda, the City of Dreams in Andalusia, Southern Spain | Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages | Page 16

Currencies Direct Announce Partnership with La Caixa for Zero Commission Transfers

Currencies Direct Ltd and Spain’s La Caixa, one of Europe’s leading savings banks, have announced a partnership offering zero commission transfers between customer accounts and Currencies Direct, specifically for people needing to transfer funds between the UK and Spain whether to buy or sell property, or to cover monthly expenses.

The agreement has been hammered out to provide relief from fees for bank drafts in Spain, which are often charged at 0.6% and have been known to be 1.25%, still cheaper than using the bank for end to end transfer, but an expensive and unnecessary fee nevertheless. As well, other commissions charged by La Caixa will be waived if the account is a Currencies Direct ‘la caixa’ account.

Jose Ivars-Lopez, head of marketing at Currencies Direct in London explained “We also offer some great benefits on banking through our partnership with la Caixa bank. If any of our customers open a Currencies Direct la Caixa account in Spain they can make immediate transfers to that account from the UK via Currencies Direct. No more clock watching, or cut off times”.

Under the agreement, all funds transferred via a Currencies Direct ‘la caixa’ account will be available in the client’s Spain account as soon as the funds hit CUrrencies Direct, a significant improvement on past transfers that could only be completed by a certain time of the day. The service is of particular use to property buyers who need to have funds cleared in Spain prior to signing property transfers.

British expats living in Spain and making regular monthly transfers to cover living expenses and who open a La Caixa account with Currencies Direct will also now have funds available for direct bank payments to utilities on the day the funds arrive in Spain, and not have to wait until the next business day.

The number of expats resident in Spain is still a significant number, with the British consul in Malaga estimating that over 400,000 British stay full time or part of the year in the Costa del Sol, and with rising numbers of Spaniards working in the UK and repatriating funds to support mortgages and other expenses, the market for pound/euro transactions is significant.

Customers of Currencies Direct have been mailed a letter with the following benefits to opening an account through La Caixa;

  • 0% commission charged when you deposit a bankers’ draft
  • Immediate transfers from UK to Spain – no cut-off time
  • No fees to make transfers from Spain to UK or reverse if you use your ”la Caixa”
  • Online banking in English
  • Exclusive Visa Debit Card

 

La Caixa currently have 5,500 branches throughout Spain, and over 8,100 ATMs, servicing 10.7m customers. Read more about Currencies Direct.

Natillas, a tasty Andalucian dessert

To say that natillas is custard is rather like saying that champagne is only wine. This dessert has a fresh delicacy and a charm which makes good old English custard seem dull and heavy in comparison. Nothing completes a delightful family meal on a summer afternoon than a “pudding” of natillas!

Ingredients (serves four)
half a litre of milk
the whites of 2 eggs
1 stick of cinnamon
150 grams (5 oz) sugar
4 egg yolks
lemon juice
lemon peel
bizcocho soletilla (ladyfinger biscuits)
vanilla bean
cornflour
salt
butter

Place the milk in a saucepan, add the cinnamon, vanilla and lemon peel, and bring slowly to the boil. Once it reaches that point, take it off the heat and let it cool a little before you strain off the peel.

Fold the egg yolks and sugar together and place the mixture in the top section of a double-boiler (also known as a “bain-marie”). Hold back a tiny amount of the milk (three or four tablespoons). Whip up the yolks as you add the warm milk.

Using the held-back milk, dissolve the cornflour and then work this into the larger mixture. Heat this custard mix over boiling water for about ten minutes, stirring constantly, until the custard has thickened up. When it has reached the consistency you desire, take it off the heat.

Place one of the ladyfinger biscuits in each of four dessert bowls. Pour the custard evenly over each, and then place the bowls in the fridge to cool.

Whisk the two egg-whites until the liquid is quite stiff. Stir in the sugar, a pinch of salt and some lemon juice.

Butter an oven tin, and put the meringue in, creating four separate portions. Dust them lightly with cinnamon, and give the lot ten minutes in a medium oven, taking the tin out when the meringues have started to turn golden.

Cut the heat, and let the meringues cool to room temperature inside the oven before placing them on top of the four custard portions.

¡Buen provecho!

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eBook Review: Spanish Legal Property Information by Perez Legal Group

The current financial crisis in Spain, dwindling property values, and the desperation felt by many as they try to sell their homes before they are repossessed has created a buyers market for those with cash or approved funding. It seems prudent therefore to be aware of the legalities of buying or selling Spanish property, and thankfully Perez Legal Group in Marbella have created a freely downloadable ebook that runs through almost everything you should know.

Raquel Perez created Perez Legal Group with the objective of being different from other legal offices in Spain, and with her offices in Marbella, she and her team are very accessible to expat residents in Malaga province. Her group is the first to offer a weekly free legal clinic, and has created a book entitled “Spanish Legal Property Information” that can be downloaded free from the firm’s website.

“Spanish Legal Property Information” is a mini format ebook, that if printed on paper would be about the size of a typical language phrase book, and is 55 pages of legal advice that aims to give English speaking people a solid introduction to the basics of buying and selling property, property taxes, resident status, Spanish wills and inheritance taxes, and bank accounts.

The first thing to realise is that any transaction of property needs to be completed correctly in accordance with Spanish law, and the laws here in Spain are not the same as the UK, Ireland, or the USA. As well, Spanish law when followed correctly offers all of the protections expats expect back home, but in Spain many have lost a lot of money through incorrect application of the law. In many cases this has been due to unscrupulous sales agents, but the majority of cases might have been avoided if local laws had been better understood.

This is where “Spanish Legal Property Information” steps in. The guide briefly and succinctly explains how property ownership is registered, who has to pay the taxes, what your lawyer (abogado) has to check to make sure your rights are protected, and defines the various values that can be attached to property.

Specific vocabulary that is mentioned and explained includes plusvalia, IBI, escritura publica, catastro, hacienda, fiscal representative, NIE, incremento de patrimonio, padrón, usufruct. Whilst the guide is short (only 55 pages), this type of vocabulary is essential if you wish to understand the jargon used in property transactions, and without which you may misunderstand something important.

As an expat writer in Spain I find the majority of property owners will quickly learn about the legalities of owning property, but often never take the time to understand wills and inheritance, and as a consequence blindly ignore what Spaniards know in the mistaken belief that their foreign will protects them, or that they can register a foreign company to own their assets in Spain and never worry about inheritance tax.

This is dangerous thinking and has led to many dependants losing far more of their inheritance than they needed to, simply because the relative was too bloody minded to research their options for leaving assets to spouses and children before they passed away. In fact a family trust in the form of a Spanish company is possible, but only with foresight and the writing of a Spanish will. Chapters 7 and 8 of “Spanish Legal Property Information” should be considered a mandatory read.

Furthermore, the authors explain that it is possible under existing Spanish law to mitigate upto 95% of the inheritance tax payable upto the 120,000 euros if you were resident in Spain prior to dying. Given today’s depressed property values this amounts to a significant saving.

Whilst “Spanish Legal Property Information” should not be considered an exhaustive guide to property ownership, it is a worthwhile read for anyone considering or already owning property in Spain. It as also small enough that most readers will take on board the essentials in a very short time.

The ebook can be downloaded free from the Perez Legal Group website.

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Licensed Real Estate Agents – Buying Property in Andalucia

In many English speaking countries an agent who sells real estate must be a licensed professional who has attended a course and passed an exam, and in some jurisdictions is required to pay into a consolidated fund to protect buyers. In Spain the situation is different, with many believing there is no requirement to be licensed.

In fact the situation isn’t all that different, certified real estate agents do exist, but so too does a lesser qualification that also entitles a person to act as agent for real estate. The two bodies that regulate agents are the Colegio de Agentes de la Propiedad Inmobiliaria (COAPI) for real estate agents, and the Asociacion Profesional de Gestores Intermediarios en promociones de Edificaciones for people who are intermediaries between the public and the government. See SpainExpat for a better definition of a Gestor.

Both are considered professional organisations, and members of both groups are legally allowed to act as agents for the sale, purchase, and rent of buildings, but only the COAPI members are considered to licensed real estate agents in the sense that English native speakers would understand. For the benefit of real estate buyers and sellers in Andalucia, API members are real estate agents, and gestors are administrative intermediaries. We advise only dealing with an API or Gestor as agent for property.

Colegio de Agentes de la Propiedad Inmobiliaria (COAPI)

Nationally in Spain real estate agents are generally expected to be “Agentes de la Propiedad Inmobiliaria”, quickly translated this means real estate agent, though in Spain this implies that a license has been granted and that the agent is a member of one of the colleges of real estate agents.

The API is the highest level of certification that can be applied for to become a real estate agent.

Agents who have API certification are expected to have completed a course of study, passed an examination, and been accepted as members of their local COAPI. The training and certificate is reconised by the Ministry of Development, and agents who are found guilty of misconduct can have their license revoked as well as face fines imposed by the college. This is in addition to any other civil or criminal penalties that might apply.

Moreover, the fees that an API can charge are strictly regulated by their college, ensuring buyers and sellers know up front what additional fees will be levied to pay agents commissions. Theoretically this should mean every API dealt with for the same property will offer their services for the same fee, typically 3-5% depending on type of property.

There isn’t a single umbrella organisation for real estate agents in Andalucia, each province has their own college for the licensing of agents, though they all adhere to community level laws relating to customer and seller protection and insist their members do so as well.

Agentes de la Propiedad Inmobiliaria Andalucia

Malaga
Address: Calle Marques de Larios 4, 29005 Málaga
Tel: 952 218 814

Cadiz
Address: Calle Columela, 33 – 1º, 11004 Cádiz
Tel: 956 211 981

Sevilla
Address: C/ Perez Galdós nº 3 cp. 41004 Sevilla
Tel: 954 212 620

Córdoba
Address: Plaza de Ramón y Cajal, 1, 14003 Córdoba
Tel: 957 47 13 27

Granada
Address: C/ Recogidas, 8, 18002 Granada
Tel: 958 52 34 89

Jaen
Address: Avenida de Granada 1, 2º C, 23003 Jaen
Tel: 953 222 241

Almeria
Address: C/ Zaragoza, 13, 04001 Almería
Tel: 950 23 37 99

Huelva
Address: Calle Miguel Redondo, 29 – Entr., 21003 Huelva
Tel: 959 245 102

Asociacion Profesional de Gestores Intermediarios en promociones de Edificaciones (GIPE)

Whilst not technically a real estate agent, given the broad range of services a gestor (or gestoría) can undertake, in reality many GIPEs in Andalucia have actually undertaken specialist training by the association to give them the knowledge required to act as property agent.

Determining which gestor has actually undertaken this extra training isn’t easy, some will proudly show off a certificate on their office walls, many won’t. This shouldn’t necessarily preclude you from accepting them as agent, the first step is to make sure that the gestor you approach is actually a member of the association, and secondly, ask around town to make sure they are highly regarded.

Whilst it is unfair, the fact is that many ‘gestors’ are not actually members of the association, they may indeed simply be people with connections. Opening an office as a gestor without proper accreditation has happened in the past, and will no doubt happen again, so due diligence should be considered mandatory.

Many larger towns have their own chamber of commerce, and asking for a list of their members who are gestors should priovide you with some peace of mind.

The Asociacion Profesional de Gestores Intermediarios en promociones de Edificaciones is based in Málaga, Andalucía
Address: c/ Salinas 6 – 1°, 29015, Málaga
Tel: 952 060 095

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Spain Votes to Implement Deficit Limit in Constitution

Friday 2nd September may well go down in history in Spain as a mostly unified bipartisan congress voted amend the constitution to limit the amount of Spain’s public debt and avoid a repeat of the current financial crisis.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and leader of the opposition Mariano Rajoy, respectively leaders of the two largest parties between them had enough votes to ensure congress would pass the budget deficit amendment, though all of the smaller nationalist and fringe parties abstained or were not present during the vote. The bill passed congress 316 to 5 with 29 abstentions.

The amendments make two important provisions for future Spanish and regional governments with respect to financial afairs, with national and community governments now expected to balance their annual budgets, and a debt ceiling imposed on national and community level governments of 0.26% of GDP and 0.14% of GDP respectively.

With Friday’s vote, Spain becomes only the second state in the European Union to constitutionally limit public debt, and at a combined 0.4% for national and community governments is well below the current EU limit of 3% of GDP. The reforms will come into effect in 2020, with reviews of the percentage amounts possible in 2015 and 2018.

Whilst the vote never seemed to be in doubt, the lack of support from the smaller parties is a worrying sign that PSOE and PP as the nation’s two largest parties are not getting the support of smaller parties and begs the question what will happen after the next general election as the two majors line up for the possibly inevitable coalition government that is a hallmark of Spanish politics.

Numerous political parties, trades unions, and the M15 protest movement called for a referendum on the amendment, with the intention of voting against both the constitutional change and the other austerity measures the government has introduced at the insistance of the IMF and European Central Bank (ECB). Major trade unions with millions of members, nationalist parties with sizable bases in Catalonia and the Basque countries, as well as the enormous pulling power of the M15 movement now look set to challenge the two main parties in the coming months.

Assuring the constitutional amandment passes Spain’s senate will be the next task of Zapatero and Rajoy, though they are not expected to face much dissension within their party ranks. The more serious challenge comes from the UPyD party whose leadership have filed notice they intend to appeal the reform in the Constitutional Court on the grounds the measure was rushed through without proper consultation.

Spain’s national deficit of 9.2% of GDP in 2010 is now looking like might drop to 6% by the end of the 2011 financial year, and both the PSOE and PP have committed to bringing Spain’s national debt down to the EU mandated limit of 3% by 2013. These measures are intended to avoid a repeat of a Greek style bailout for Spain but with Italian austerity measures looking doubtful Spain may yet be forced to call in the IMF.

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Lifting the lid on Tapas

The original Tapa was a small dish that the camarero (barman) would place over your drink – hence the name: lid. The reason for this practice is unclear: perhaps it was to keep the flies off; perhaps it was the combination of poverty and heat, which made eating a large meal impractical. Either way, the important thing was that the snack was free!

Nowadays, tapas have evolved from those humble beginnings to become practically an art form in Seville and Granada. In some cities (Granada and Jaen for example) you will often automatically be given a tapa whenever you order a drink; in most other places except to pay a couple of euros for most tapas.

There are four basic sizes of tapa:
pincho – mouthful
tapa – saucerful
media-racion – half a plateful
racion – plateful

The tapas list will be displayed on a menu at the bar, or a board on the wall, or, most likely, you just take your pick of what you fancy from trays under a glass counter. If you eat at the bar, you’ll pay the price on the menu; if you eat at a table or outside on the terraza, you’ll end up paying double about 25 per cent more. Settle the bill once you have finished eating, rather than when you order.

Classic Tapas
Aceitunas (rellenos) – Olives (stuffed)
Albondigas – Meatballs
Almendras saladas – Salted almonds
Boquerones en vinagre – Fresh anchovies in vinegar
Calamares rellenos – Stuffed baby squid
Calamares a la Romana – Fried battered squid rings
Calamares en su tinta – Squid cooked in its ink
Chanquetes – Whitebait
Chorizo al Vino – Spicy sausage in red wine
Croquetas – Croquettes
Empanadas – Flat pies
Empanadilla – Small fried pasties
Ensaladilla de Rusa – Russian salad
Flamenquines – Ham and pork rolls
Fritura de pescado – Flash fried fish
Gambas al ajillo – Prawns in garlic
Huevos rellenos – Stuffed hard boiled eggs
Jamon serrano – Cured ham
Mejillones al vapor – Steamed muscles
Pan con tomate – Bread rubbed with fresh tomatoes
Patatas ali oil – Potatoes in garlic mayonnaise
Patatas Bravas – Potatoes in a spicy sauce
Pimientas de Padrón – Fried hot small green peppers
Pincho moruno – Grilled meat brochette
Pisto manchego – Ratatouille wtih meat
Pollo al ajillo – Garlic chicken
Revuelto – Scrambled eggs
Riñones al Jerez – Kidneys in sherry
Sobrassada – Soft Mallorcan paprika sausage
Tortilla Española – Spanish Omelette

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Malaga’s Alcazaba Fortress and Gibralfaro Castle

On the city’s highest ramparts are the dual fortresses, the Alcazaba and the Gibralfaro castle, both originating in their present form from the Moorish period, though parts of the Alzacaba are known to have been built on ruined Roman structures.

Malaga has recently started to shine as a tourist destination, latest statistics suggesting over 750,000 passengers of cruise ships tour the city every year, so it isn’t surprising that repairs to many of the city’s best monuments have been carried out. The Alcazaba area is one in particular that has benefited and is now an essential site to visit.

At its highest point are the towers of the Gibralfaro Castle, proudly standing more than 130 metres above the city port and giving spectacular 360 degree views of the city and just below, the Plaza de Toros of Malaga. The castle is the newest structure in the complex, having been built in the 14th century by Yusuf I, and is believed to have been constructed on an earlier Phoenician tower that may have been a lighthouse.

Actually the name Gibralfaro is descended from the Phoenician word for light, Jbel-Faro, and being a semitic language, shared this root with later Arabic tongues that came to be used in Al-Andalus. The word faro has entered Spanish from this and generally means lighthouse.

The Alcazaba (from the Arabic al-qasbah, قصبة, meaning “citadel”) lies further down from the castle, though the two are connected and the 2 euro entrance fee will get you into both. Malaga was an important port city for the Kingdom of Granada, but long before that had been both part of the Emirate of Cordoba, and after its fall to the Christian monarchs, the city became nominally independent under the Algerian Zirid dynasty. It was in this time that King Badis of the Zirids built the Alcazaba in the 11th century.

Within the Alcazaba is the military citadel of the Moors of Malaga, as well as the Grenadine Palace (Cuartos de Granada) where governors of the city would live whilst in control of Malaga. The palace itself is in parts older than the Alhambra, and may in fact have been an influence when the Alhambra was built, and many visitors to Malaga’s Alcazaba consider it more beautiful, though it is clear the gardens in Malaga’s Alcazaba are smaller and not as impressive.

Whilst Almeria’s Alcazaba is the biggest in all of the territory formally ruled by the Moors of Al-Andalus, the Alcazaba in Malaga is considered the most complete and best preserved in Spain, and is still a huge monument that defies a quick look around. Expect to dedicate at least 3 hours or more to fully exploring the Alcazaba in Malaga.

Part of the reason the Alcazaba is so big relates to the defensive walls built around the hill with huge towers, gates, and double backed entrances designed to make the fortress easy to defend, and impossible to attack. Despite being under Muslim rule for nearly 800 years, very little of that period could ever be said to have been completely peaceful.

Within the walls of the Alcazaba several towers and gates stand, Puerta de la Boveda, Puerta de las Columnas, Torre del Cristo, Puerta de los Cuartos de Granada, and Torre del Homenaje, tha last of which was where Ferdinand and Isabella hung their standard after conquering Malaga in 1487.

A highlight of the tour of the Alcazaba is the living areas of the Moorish governors in the Cuartos de Granada. It is still possible to see how these people lived, and the ornate walls and pillars should not be ignored. Mudejar carpentry and design are evident in the ceilings and wood panelling, with many patios opening to ponds and small gardens.

Malaga’s small but interesting Archeological Museum is housed within the Alcazaba.

Albondigas Claras

Albóndigas Claras (“Pale” Meatballs)

Pork is a staple of the Andalucian diet, and has been so for six hundred years. In the times of religious intolerance, when Jewish and Arabic people were being expelled from Spain, the Andalucians made a point of cultivating a cuisine which would be offensive to those “infidels” who chose to stay! We live in far more tolerant circumstances today, and we can enjoy our culinary heritage with easy consciences.

Albóndigas are a quick and convenient way of using up the remains of a family joint. In modern times we simply ask the butcher for minced pork, but in the days before refrigeration (not so long ago here in Andalucia – my childhood was spent in total ignorance of such luxuries!) and when strict religious observance forbade the eating of meat on certain days, there had to be a swift way of cooking up the last of the leg of pork – and albóndigas was that way!

Many are the forms albóndigas can take, including meatballs made of cod, but by far the most common are albóndigas oscuras (“dark” meatballs, simmered in tomato sauce) and albóndigas claras (“pale” albóndigas, prepared with a light almond sauce). We shall be making the latter today. (By the way, the name “albóndigas” is pronounced with the stress on the “bon”, so it’s al-BON-digas.)

Albóndigas Claras

This recipe will make sufficient meatballs for 6 servings

Meatball Ingredients

  • 500 grams (18 oz) of minced pork
  • 50 grams (2 oz) of bread
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons of finely-chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons of finely-chopped parsley
  • flour
  • salt
  • pepper
  • nutmeg
  • olive oil

Sauce Ingredients

  • 25 almonds, blanched and skinned
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of caldo (ie, stock)
  • 10 peppercorns
  • olive oil
  • half a teaspoon of saffron
  • salt
  • 1 small glass of white wine
  • milk

Preparation

Put the minced pork in a bowl. Soak the bread in milk, then squeeze off the excess and place it in with the pork. Crush the garlic and add it, also blending in the onion, parsley, salt, nutmeg, pepper and the beaten egg. Mix it thoroughly, so that an even paste is achieved.

Taking pieces of the paste, and with flour on your hands, roll them into spheres about the size of golf balls. The balls can now be fried on a gentle heat until they are cooked through. When brown on all sides, they can be taken off the heat.

Fry the almonds in oil, together with the bread and garlic. Blend the peppercorns and saffron, using a little salt, then add the almond mixture to this. Work in the wine, so that you end up with a smooth paste. This can now go back into the hot oil, to which the caldo is now added. This will need only a few minutes to form a delicious sauce.

The meatballs can now be added to the sauce, and heated gently for about 20 minutes. If the sauce starts to turn viscous, add a little more caldo or water.

¡Buen provecho!

Information – Hotel booking – Activities – Events in Ronda and Surrounding Villages

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