One spring morning in Catalunya, Matthew Parris came across an awesome sight; a large, moldering, old house that immediately spoke to him. Clearly medieval and once high status and in the process of remodeling, the house had been left to sit and rot for at least fifty years. It was called L’Avenc; virtually everyone in the small nearby town knew about it and thought its slow destruction was sad, but none of them was going to save it. So Parris, his sister Belinda and her husband, and her husband’s brother put together the money and purchased the house themselves. The remodelling took longer and was more expensive than any of them had imagined, but their goal to save the house kept them going through catastrophe after catastrophe.
I’ve seen it bandied about that this entire book is mostly an advertisement for the holiday cottages Parris and his family built alongside the house, but I thought it was quite a lot more than that, especially considering I didn’t even realize that you could stay there until halfway through the book. (Of course, I want to now, so if it was an advertisement, it worked.) I loved the fact that these four people took on this medieval house. One of them did research into its origins and found out the various stages of its actual construction; parts of it date from the 12th century. Anyone who spends hundreds of thousands to rescue a medieval house is awesome, and this book truly gets across the author’s love for this house and its character.
He also conveys the vast difficulty, sometimes seemingly insurmountable, of actually restoring the house. The roof was falling in, the floors were rotting away, and there were no plumbing, electricity, or telephone lines. The construction went on for years, hampered by legal difficulties and an angry neighbor who cut off the family’s water supply and refused to reinstate it. It’s not even finished when the book is, although I think it must be by now.
A Castle in Spain is also partly travelogue, with Parris extoling the virtues of various parts of Catalunya (also spelled Catalonia). He expresses plenty of regret that people mostly visit Spain to go to cramped beaches and cities instead of exploring the beauty of its interior, Catalunya in particular. I must admit that despite my recent interest in travelogues, I found these parts a bit boring. I would love to visit Spain, but I am not sure Parris’s writing style is that suited to it, and I found his discussions of the house much more interesting.
This book is a very interesting tale of a family and a mission, with some history and culture thrown in for good measure. It is perhaps not the most standout of its genre, but it certainly made me curious about the area. I wish I could actually afford one of the holiday cottages, if only to see it all myself in person. Recommended if you like travelogues, memoirs, and old, crumbling houses. It seems to be out of print, but used copies are about for fairly low prices.
I am an Amazon Associate. I borrowed this book from my local library.