- Higher ground
We’ve chosen a hill running down to the sea on which to build the first Monocle Springs. The incline is shallow meaning every house has a sea view, and gentle ridged steps provide plenty of grip for aerobic exercises.
- Plugged in
Though the town feels like a resort it’s impeccably connected to the city over the hill and around the bay. Small turquoise minibuses shuttle people back and forth every half hour from the promenade, complete with ramps, attendants and plenty of space for wheelchairs and walking sticks.
- The thick of it
The development is low and dense but divided into plots, separated by trees and hedges for privacy and peeping over.
- Getting around
Residents may be a little slow on their feet but even the infirm have endless options for getting around. Pavements are wide and well lit with plenty of benches for short rests. There’s a funicular that ferries people from the harbour up to the park at the top of the hill. Sunny days are spent taking in the air and views on the chairlift. Boats depart for day trips and picnics on the archipelago.
- Flower power
Each house has raised garden beds and Green Fingers is part nursery, part gardening school. There’s a local veg and flower market at weekends where residents can sell their crops. A seasonal odd-shaped vegetable contest causes much excitement and mirth.
- Mr Postman
Though the town is wi-fi connected, analogue ways of staying in touch are still the most popular. The post office is a hive of activity and the postmen on their bikes are pillars of the community who can be relied upon to run all sorts of errands.
- Art attack
Elderly minds can still be challenged, enlightened and inspired. Genevieve runs her gallery with a rotating series of exhibitions and talks. Next door Betty’s Books does a roaring trade in audio books and there are weekly readings from guest authors.
- Grey Days Theatre
For grey days, not just grey hair, the local theatre draws crowds day and night for films, concerts, theatre shows and the occasional lecture. The local amateur dramatic club stages a pantomime at Christmas, which is always a sell-out.
- Ett Hem
We persuaded Jeanette Mix (see issue 54) to bring her model of hotel to Monocle Springs. A home away from home, it’s a powerful draw; visiting older relatives is a holiday, not a chore.
- Sea baths
Following Herbst Architects’ suggestion we asked Peter Zumthor to pay a visit and hew some natural sea baths out of the rock. Shallow and quick to heat up naturally it’s here that synchronised swimming lessons and daily lengths take place. Salt water soothes old bones and there’s a café for sundowner spritzes.
- Farmers’ market
Though market day is officially Saturday there are daily fresh-food stalls and above the farm is a farmers’ market, where residents can buy home-cooked meals in small portions and wine from the vineyards.
- Leisure library
The library doubles as a promenade community centre, perfect for taking in the sea air in winter when it’s a little too nippy to snooze in a deckchair on the beach.
- Furry Friends
A favourite with visiting grandchildren, the Furry Friends zoo gives riding courses and the opportunity of petting the smaller, friendlier beasts.
- Papa Nirvana
Up on the hill is a sunken gym perfect for winter classes of gentle aerobics and yoga. Next door, thanks to the volcanic springs, is the Monocle Onsen – a perennial favourite and the best remedy for arthritic joints.
- Park pick-ups
Exercise classes migrate outdoors come summer and on balmy evenings there is salsa dancing, where romance has been known to blossom.
The individual bungalows are open plan, with the option of dividing up spaces with gliding, sliding screens. The small houses are made from wood and are quick and cheap to construct but they are airy, insulated and age beautifully. Each house has sliding doors that can be opened to turn the house into a pavilion on warmer days. Terraces with hanging benches are perfect for quiet contemplation and morning gossiping. Indoors there is ample space for entertaining friends and family and all surfaces and cupboards are at standing height to minimise any bending down on weak knees.
Bedrooms are light and airy, with low beds by German firm Schramm. Blackout blinds are operated by remote control and there’s a bedside button with a direct line to emergency services.
Flooring is cork, which is good for old joints and a soft landing for the occasional stumble. Though basic furniture from Maruni is supplied, the houses are blank canvases for your own furniture and decoration. Low lighting by Bunaco is kind to older complexions. Every home has a fireplace tended by student volunteers who clear the ashes and lay the fire ready for lighting each day.
Bathrooms make the most of the views. Windows slide into the walls so it feels like you’re bathing in nature. Toto baths are sunken with little steps into the water, a submerged seat and built-in headrest. Under-floor heating provides much warmth during the cool winters.
An agency in the town, housed in the post office, connects residents with local businesses so minds and bodies keep active. Activities including litter collection, gardening, beach combing, carpentry and karaoke are scheduled here. Weekly itineraries are put together for people who sign up, delivered each Sunday to their homes.
A skills-exchange programme happens with the local university where the elderly give social-history classes in return for IT training. It’s a way of bringing recent history to life for the students, and telling stories helps to keep memories fresh. Close inter-generational relationships are formed between the students and elders and many young people come to volunteer in the town.
Keeping up appearances is a priority for residents here and first-time visitors remark on the number of beauty salons. Beyond the obvious cut, dry and set routine, beauticians give regular make-up lessons and lengthy massages too. Barbers treat men to wet shaves as well as ear and nose-hair trimming.
A meals-on-wheels delivery service run by the farmers’ market provides a home-cooked food and clean-up service – be it for a party for 10 or a quiet meal alone. Dinner parties are encouraged and can stretch into the small hours with nightcaps and much reminiscing on the terraces.
The farmers’ market also acts as an informal cookery school, teaching residents how to prepare basic meals. Tomatoes, red wine and chocolates feature in great abundance for their nutritional value, said to prevent age-related diseases and preserve vitality. ‘The Weekly Whisper’ is the community newspaper, which keeps residents informed of all comings and goings in the town and local city. Current affairs, general announcements and a slew of light-hearted articles are gathered and everyone is encouraged to pitch in. Printed in large format, the letters page and the crossword bring friends together for debate and a dose of healthy competition over morning coffee and cakes.