THE sign says it all. ‘Desaparecido: Missing cat.’ It is handwritten in two languages, because one would reach only half the population of this place, where English is spoken as much as Spanish. This is the beautiful mountain village of Benahavís, not so long ago a typical Spanish mountain village with a handful of foreign residents, but now a bustling place where the English language can be heard in bars, restaurants, property offices and many households. And all this has happened in the past quarter century.
The property agencies here are busy, and most of their clients are English speaking. This is because. Benahavís has now become the only municipality in the province of Malaga in which foreigners outnumber Spaniards, mostly the result of the building of some 40 residential developments in the municipality over recent years, many of them with their own golf courses attached. The village has been a magnet for lovers of good food for many years, and many of those who used to drive up the winding road to eat here in the past have now become permanent residents of the village.
British and Germans
Of the 4,198 people now registered in the Town Hall, 2,473 come from 73 different countries in the world, although most are British, accounting for 1,076 and Germans, of whom there are 158. “They are almost all in the residential developments, and some of these areas are bigger than the village itself,” says José Antonio Mena, mayor of Benahavís. He adds that the foreigners of Benahavís have integrated well into the life of the village.
Englishwoman Kathryn May moved to Benahavís 23 years ago, and was among the first foreigners to have moved there. She remembers when there were no more than five foreign families resident in the village. And now, she says, they seem to be everywhere. “In general, they integrate well into the local community, and want the place to remain a Spanish village, as it always was,” she says. She has certainly made an effort at integration, having presented herself for the local municipal elections at number six on the PSOE list.
A quick look around Benahavís shows that, despite the presence of so many foreigners, this is still very much a Spanish village. Most of its bars and restaurants are owned and run by locals, and they have done a great job of it, considering the excellent reputation this village has for quality cuisine. The clients, however, are mostly foreign.
“The only Spaniard who comes through this door is me,” laughs Ana Calvente, who runs the David Marshall art gallery. And in the streets, most of the passers-by are foreign. “They mostly take part in village life, but the truth is, we see little of those who live in the residential developments.”