First-time visitors to Villa CP often remark on the strong visual contrast, between a traditional stone exterior and a modern interior. It’s one of the most striking aspects of the house.
But not everyone realises that Villa CP is also an Ecolodge, or Eco-villa.
The house respects its environment and is carefully integrated with its natural surroundings. The building methods and design elements were chosen to reduce consumption and waste. We used local materials whenever possible, and local builders. We wanted the house to stand for a respectful, ecological mindset. And always with an emphasis on beauty and luxury.
Ecological choices are often inherently beautiful, in fact. Staying here for a week or two, surrounded by glorious nature, will show you that you don’t have to go without life’s special luxuries, to be environmentally responsible.
Our little village is recorded in the 11th century but we don’t know exactly when this house was built. Obviously from the structure it’s old and we do know that, in the 1950s, it was still a working farmhouse. The animals lived outside for most of the year and in the winter they were brought indoors. The body warmth of the animals below helped to warm the living spaces above.
So when we first found the house in 2010, we decided to keep the living spaces on the upper floor (better views, better access to the swimming pool) and to place the bedrooms on the lower level (nice and cool in summer). The house is on a slope, so both upper and lower floors have direct access to the garden.
Natural finishes and fewer chemicals
The walls of Villa CP are finished with a natural clay-based plaster substitute. Unlike cement plaster, which contains a lot of artificial chemicals, natural clay-based plasters eliminate the need for paint (more chemicals). The green-grey colour in the walls of Villa CP is a natural pigment, mixed into the clay plaster before application.
We were lucky to have a team of great builders, who liked the idea of this product and went on a training course, to learn how to apply it.
The swimming pool has undergone some changes over the years. Initially it was a natural pool, where the water is filtered by plants such as water lilies and reeds. That’s what you see in the photo above. We loved it and so did the frogs, dragon flies, water lilies. For a year or two we had perfect clean swimming from May to September and a spectacular view from the living spaces year round.
But after a few years the problems started. Algae grow faster than the ‘good’ plants each spring and it was a constant battle to stay on top of them. (The problem is that they block the light, effectively suffocating those other plants that we need for their filtering roots.)
To make a long story short, we tried various changes, consulted various experts and after a lot of expense and frustration, decided to change to a modern saline pool. It’s been a big hit with everybody. The pool is the same size but now all of the area is usable. From 12m x 6m in the original design, with the remainder occupied by plants, now the usable area is 22m x 6m. It’s still fed by water from our own well. It has the same hardwood deck as before, from sustainable forests. The long infinity edge still looks out over the forest to the sea. And the water is crystal clear all year round.
We don’t like air conditioning and we were determined to avoid it. But we also knew that old stone farmhouses tend to be cold in winter and hot in summer. Their thick walls have thermal mass: they absorb and hold the ambient temperature and it takes a lot of energy to heat or cool them.
By adding a layer of insulation inside the walls, however, we can leave that thermal mass on the outside. So it’s quicker, cheaper, and we need less energy, to heat the house in the winter or to cool it down in the summer.
(Note that we could have chosen to do this the other way around: insulate on the outside, to keep the winter cold or summer heat off the thermal mass of the walls. But local regulations, as well as our own preference, required the stone walls to be exposed on the exterior.)
The house is now insulated to Passivhaus standards, using cork insulation produced from locally grown cork. The cork is set behind clay plaster panels, making sure the old stone wall remains a breathable construction, while keeping the warmth in during winter and the heat out in summer. There’s a little panel on the stairs in the annex where you can see how it’s done.
Geothermal heating and cooling
Geothermal power is cost-effective, reliable, sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Below ground, at about 100m below the surface, there’s a constant temperature all year round, of about 17C. We can use this in different ways in the winter and summer.
In summer, when it’s hot outside, the cool liquid that we bring up from underground, is used to cool the floors. This gives a pleasantly cool temperature in the house without air conditioning.
In winter, when it’s cold outside, we use the 17C temperature as a starting point so we only have to heat the floors a few degrees, up to say 22C, to feel nice and warm throughout the entire house.
The house has mains electricity 220V from the grid. There is a plan for a future hybrid installation for the house’s energy, consisting of solar panels plus a small windmill, to take the house off the grid.
Our drinking water comes from a deep well, close to the house. It is 100% natural, pure, cool and delicious. It’s not an unlimited supply, however, so in the hot summer months we try to use only what we need. And we recycle all our water for use in the garden.
Water in the house comes fresh from the well. The same goes for the swimming pool. But after we have used it in the house, we can recycle it for the garden irrigation, passing through a reed bed and then combined/diluted with rain water.
We collect rain water from the roof in a large tank, semi-underground and grown over with jasmine, plumbago and a glorious wisteria. Then we add the recycled water from the house, which has first been passed slowly through the reed beds. (All the water used in the house is filtered and recycled through the reed beds.) From there, this recycled water is added to our rain water in the large tank, then used to irrigate the garden during the hot, dry summer.
Our 25 hectares of private forest are sustainably managed.
It’s a mixed forest of mainly cork oak (Quercus suber), holm oak (Quercus ilex), olives (Olea europaea, Olea oleaster) and parasol pines (Pinus pinea). The undergrowth is dominated by heather (Erica arborea) and wild strawberry trees (Arbutus unedo).
The house and its land were abandoned in the 1950s. After many years of neglect, there were trees growing among the ruined walls of the house and most of the paths were unusable. So our main work in the first years was clearing paths and creating the garden.
We now harvest cork, which involves removing the outer layers of the bark from the mature tree trunks. It does not damage the tree. There are also many neglected olive trees, which we’re trying to coax back into fruit. We try to clear areas of undergrowth periodically, in zones near the house, for reasons of fire protection.
Our intention is to intervene in about one third of the forest area: the rest will remain untouched and continue to provide natural sanctuary for many species of birds, as well as rabbits, boars and other wildlife.
Orientation and shading
In the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, we want to let it in and use its warmth. But in the summer, we want to provide shade and keep it out. The shutters in the photo above achieve both. So we save energy, because we are using the natural position of the sun to our advantage. The shutters are operated by a small motor. They are closed when the house is unoccupied.
When you live in a climate like we have here, you soon learn your favourite places for different times of the day. Coffee in the morning… right here. Lunch time outside… over there in the shade near the pool. Afternoon snooze… in a hammock under a tree. And so on.
The garden was designed by Co Govers of ZEST Architecture in Barcelona, as a “water wise” garden, with species specifically suited to the Mediterranean climate, capable of withstanding drought. (Except the lawn, admittedly. But it’s lovely and cool!)
Our organic vegetable garden has fresh produce for you to enjoy, depending on the season, for example, tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, artichokes, beans, peas, onions, leeks, spinach, lettuce, hot chillies, paprikas, nasturtiums, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries …
There are fruit trees, too: lemons, oranges, tangerines, avocados, almonds, apples, pears, reine claude plums, peaches, nectarines …
Our organic compost improves the soil and we also have the advantage of some neighbouring bees to pollinate the garden, which come from hives across the valley.
You will find plenty of paths to discover, as you stroll around the extensive and varied terraces, listen to the birds and enjoy the peacefulness.
For more information about Villa CP or to book a holiday, visit http://Villa-CP.com.