Publié le by NmNomador
Housesitting: The Gateway to Overlooked Destinations
The dogs and I weren’t alone on our morning walk. Just ahead of us, three sheep meandered down the quiet two-lane road through Y Fron, a small village in Northern Wales. I tried to downplay my excitement so as not to scare them. (I don’t encounter many free-range sheep in Southern California). But they were less enamored of me as I was of them, so as soon as we got close, they scurried up a hill. I needn’t have worried, however; sheep weren’t in short supply in this little slice of the world.
Most days I saw geese next door frolicking in a plastic kiddie pool, and 500 yards farther was a roadside chicken coop. Sometimes the dogs and I even passed cows sunning themselves on a mound of grass that our tiny road circled—a kind of rural roundabout. There was no pen, no gate. Just five or six cows hanging out on a grassy island in the street.
A gravel path off the main road wound through wide expanses of green pasture, where thoroughbreds gallopped against a backdrop of the glistening Irish Sea. While we rarely encountered people or even cars on these walks, we were never alone.
One of the greatest joys of housesitting is visiting unknown, unheard-of (to me) places -- the ones that didn’t make it onto my destination wish list. I ended up in Y Fron because I was traveling around mainland Europe with a flight back to LA from Dublin. A housesit near the ferry crossing in Holyhead, Wales suited me just perfectly.
Ubrique, Spain was another unexpected delight. After a few weeks of event work in Cannes, I took advantage of my ability to work remotely and extended my trip. With 10 weeks to play with and the desire to offset housing costs, a five-week housesit in Andalusia screamed my name.
My British expat host picked me up from the tiny airport in Jerez, whisking me to my temporary home. As we descended through the hills, a cluster of stark white buildings gleamed in the valley. We were entering a traditional pueblo blanco, one of several whitewashed towns that dotted the area around Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. The hairs on my arm stood up when I saw it. If it were as beautiful up close as it was from afar, I was in for an amazing five weeks.
The house was perched atop a steep, cobbled road. It was the kind of street where neighbors sat out front, fanning themselves and chatting in lightning-fast Spanish, like a 1950s TV show. I could only imagine how quickly their American visitor became a topic of conversation. Most mornings were spent on the covered patio just off the kitchen, surrounded by a jungle of plants, sipping French press coffee while working on my laptop.
Two Spanish water dogs and two black cats were under my care, so each day began with a hike up the mountain just behind the house. The dogs and I climbed over rocks and pushed through shrubbery while passing remnants of the old Roman Road.
In the evening, when the summer heat broke, we strolled the neighborhood or went down into town, often stopping at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento for people-watching and a cold beer. Restaurant tables spilled onto the grey and white checkered plaza where children played freeze tag and filled water balloons from the square’s old-fashioned water fountain. I fell in love with Ubrique’s fountains, spread all over town. Out of antique brass spigots flowed cold, spring water—perfect water bottle filling stations.
It turns out Ubrique is a well-known leather manufacturing town, catering to a range of labels from Ralph Lauren to Yves Saint Laurent. One particular street downtown is lined with leather shops where I managed to knock off some Christmas shopping in July. I even spotted tourist vans, perhaps on a day trip from Seville. Just because I hadn’t heard of Ubrique, didn’t mean other people hadn’t.
The same was true for my little corner of Wales. Caernarfon, the nearest town to where I was staying, earned its place on the map centuries ago. Caernarfon Castle, built in the 13th century, is where Prince Charles was crowned. Had I not been so close, I wouldn’t have made a point of visiting that castle, and what a magnificent site I would have missed. The town itself, with flower-filled window boxes adorning pubs made of stone, was just as charming; a fairytale setting in its own right.
Neither location was on my travel radar, but I can’t imagine not having visited. Each surprised and charmed as only unexpected finds can do. Which only opens the door to many other non-list places to discover.
Shelley Graner is native Southern Californian with gypsy blood. She left the corporate marketing world in 2013 for a volunteer fellowship with Kiva in India, then traversed Asia and Latin America for a year. When a subsequent work assignment took her to Europe, she discovered housesitting, enabling her to live and work like a local (with the bonus of furry companionship!). These days Shelley works as a freelance writer and marketer. While she’s currently planted in SoCal, she’s always dreaming of her next adventure. You can find her at ShelleyGraner.com, Instagram and Twitter.