“They are my Swiss Guard,” jokes Eduardo Gil Lang, the 21st lord of the castle of Los Velasco, as he opens the gates. His guards are two white Swiss shepherd dogs, animals of an almost mythological beauty that seem taken straight out of a medieval tapestry. The Bilbao native, who inherited the family fortress from his mother in the 1990s, clearly pays attention to detail. The castle is an imposing 14th-century structure located in the Valley of Mena, in the northern region of Castilla y León. He has dedicated his life and efforts to preserving these walls in pristine shape.
Now, because of health problems, he’s looking to sell it. Eduardo Gil Lang needs sun and tranquility. He hung up the for-sale sign back in 2013 and although he has received many offers – almost all from foreigners –none have crystallized. “There's a lot of buyers looking around, but there's also a lot of fake interest.” There have been hotel chains and even some European nobles distantly related to the family who showed an interest. “Whoever buys it has to be a bit whimsical and want to maintain it in good shape.”
Selling a castle is difficult because who has a million euros, or two or six to buy a property? Elvira Fafián, real estate expert
What the eventual buyer will find is a perfect mix of the 14th and 21st centuries; a fort on the outside and a technological mansion on the inside. The price tag is €2.75 million. According to Gil Lang, the amount is already adjusted to the crisis.
“Selling a castle is quite difficult because who has a million euros, or two or six, to buy a property? It takes a lot of time,” explains Elvira Fafián, an expert in this market. She is the manager of a real estate company specializing in the sale of castles, stately homes,and abandoned villages. “We are going through a very good moment. Previously, for foreigners, it was unthinkable that they could buy this kind of property in Spain. It shocks them and that opens many doors for us,” she says. The foreign investor doesn’t just buy a building. He or she also buys history. That’s why properties are listed with their coat of arms. “They love the family shields, it is an emblematic thing for them,” explains Fafián.
But sometimes a buyer does not show up. Luis Sánchez did not find one, more than 30 years ago, when his family wanted him to sell the Castle of the Congosto Bridge in Salamanca, in northwestern Spain. “Some people came to see it, but there were no brave men that dared,” said Sánchez. What he did instead was to buy it himself, taking on a job that has lasted almost four decades. “Who was going to tell me that my love of history was going to end like this? Living it in the first person.”
Luis Sánchez has converted the Castle of Congosto Bridge into a fortress to protect the traditional culture of the region, with a small museum of lost trades.
The problem is that in Spain, owners get little aid in maintaining these historic buildings Pablo Schnell, archaeologist
“By holding weddings here we make some money, not much, but it’s gradually covering the expenses,” says Sánchez. “We do not want to sell to a hotel chain, because it would be awful to have to ask for permission to sleep here. But this is a very big expense and nobody pays us anything.”
According to Pablo Schnell, an archaeologist and director of the Spanish Association of Friends of the Castles, “the problem is that in Spain there are no patronage laws like in other countries, and the owner has little aid in maintaining these historic buildings.”
The association has 10,400 buildings. But they are aware that there are more that have not been catalogued yet. They are ghostly shadows of what they once were. Eduardo Gil Lang has no doubt who the ghost of his own fortress is. “It's me. On top of that, I am from Bilbao!” And with one more laugh, the 21st lord of Velasco Castle pets his dogs affectionately and carefully shuts the gates through which, hopefully, a good buyer will one day walk.
English version by Debora Almeida.