I was born in Kortrijk, Belgium in 1963 to English Dad and an American - Austrian Mum. Having been a student from 16 to 18 at Brockwood Park, Krishnamurti School, supported my passion for travel, language and inquiry.
In my early twenties I finally got the opportunity and took off on a six-month long adventure that would take me to Israel, Palestine, Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic and eventually Spain where I ended up in Los Caños de Meca. It was the second time I’d been here, and this time it completely bewitched me.
I heard through friends that land was being sold cheaply – 800 pesetas (5 Euros) a metre– and could be paid off over five years. In 1988 I bought 2000 square metres and set about building a traditional Andalucian house set around a courtyard, with the idea that I would live in one half and rent out the other half to pay for the loan. Casas Karen took off from here. I gradually bought more land around the house, which included an old farmhouse and two original thatched chozas, and with the help of friends I started renovating. We opened for our first guests in September 1989.
The property has grown over the years to make room for the new choza grande (big choza) and to extend the choza pequeña (small choza) and chozita (studio choza). In 2004 I bought another 2000 square metres of the surrounding land - Casas Karen is now nearly 8000 square metres - because I wanted to protect the land and live in the natural environment that I have come to know and love.
On a personal level this is a huge achievement for me. I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult aged 41. With the support of loving family and friends, the Outlook courses & the Work of Byron Katie as well as an excellent life coach I have been able to achieve my dreams. I’m much more confident in myself now and have learned to value the input of others more. Casas Karen goes from strength to strength and I encourage anyone who has or lives with someone with characteristics of "ADD or ADHD" to go for it. The greatest challenges in life are those that bring the greatest rewards.
Juani Gomar Ventura
I’m originally from Vejer de la Frontera, one of the most beautiful Pueblos Blancos (white villages) in Spain and joined the Casas Karen team in 2006. My grandparents had lived in a straw choza and it was a big surprise for me to see them recreated at Casas Karen, I’d not seen one in such good condition for years.
I’d studied marketing in Cádiz so it seemed like a good fit to come and work with Karen.
Today I’m the general manager and look after reservations. The place attracts so many interesting people and it gives me huge pleasure to be part of making their holidays special. Going to work in such an extraordinary environment, with the constant sound of the sea in the background, is also pretty magical.
Oliva Navas Leal
I was born in La Muela and lived in a straw choza until I was 14 years old. It was the best time of my life. My parents and grandparents were all born and raised in chozas, which had no windows, only one door and a floor of earth. It was a hard life sometimes for them, but I was attracted to Casas Karen because it reminded me of something special that we are in danger of losing.
I worked here first from 1993 until 1998 and returned in 2008. I love the peace and tranquillity of the place, and keeping the houses clean and beautiful and looking after the gardens has become my passion.
Pepi Basallote Gomez
I was born in San Ambrosio, just at the foot of the natural park. When I got married I went to live in Seville, but after a few years returned to Vejer and joined Casas Karen at the end of 2009. I remembered the chozas from when I was a small girl (ours were made of mud, stone and chalk, with a roof of straw) and it was just so wonderful to find a place that was keeping the tradition alive.
Working in the open air and being so close to the land, whether it’s looking after the houses or keeping the gardens beautiful, is massively important to me. So being surrounded by the animals, the sun and the light of Caños is a kind of paradise and one I love to share with the people who visit.