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Choosing where to live

Spain is a land steeped in a rich and diverse cultural heritage rooted in its Roman Catholic religion and the occupations the country has experienced.

Most notably its Roman and Arabic periods. The country is now divided into 50 provinces, which are grouped together in autonomous communities and each of these provinces retains its own individual characteristics and traditions. When considering a move to Spain, it’s vital to research the features of each region to gain a real sense of areas that would appeal to you the most. The following three communities are all popular destinations for those relocating to Spain.

Madrid

“Madrid is enjoyed most from the ground, exploring your way through its narrow streets that always lead to some intriguing park, market, tapas bar or street performer. Each night we'd leave our hotel to begin a new adventure in Madrid and nine out of 10 times, we'd walk through the Plaza Mayor.” Emilio Estevez (American actor)

The capital of Spain is a truly cosmopolitan city, home to a wide variety and diversity of ethnic backgrounds, living comfortably alongside each other. Officially twinned with a number of large cities worldwide, such as New York in the U.S., Madrid reaches out its cultural ties and welcome across the globe.  

As the economic and political hub of the country, Madrid is not only the seat of government but also the home of King Felipe VI of Spain, the official residence of whom is the Royal Palace of Madrid. It is the third largest city in the EU, with a population of 3.2 million people.

Unsurprisingly, Madrid is also the cultural hub of the country — a city of art, famous for its many museums and outdoor sculptures lining the streets.  Each has its own fascinating history, such as the statue of the fallen angel (Fuente del Angel Caido) in the Buen Retiro Park, inspired by John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost. The statue was controversial when installed, with suggestions that it was a Satanic tribute. Whilst the controversy has abated, the statue does stand a disconcerting 666 metres above sea level. The Golden Triangle of Art houses the city’s three most revered museums, one of which — El Prado —  is one of the single most frequented in the world.

The very streets are steeped in heritage and although civil war damaged much of the city, many old buildings survive, such as Madrid’s oldest church, San Nicolás de los Servitas, which dates back to the 12th century. However, Madrid is also very much a modern city, with a thriving nightlife, a heady mixture of jazz bars and flamenco theatres alongside modern bars and discos. The city has a recognised gay quarter, Chueca, a lively Bohemian area of the city. It is also served by a comprehensive system of public transport, including its Metro system, the Cercanias local railway and many public buses.

So, whether you want to visit Spain’s largest bullring, the Plaza de Toros, the city’s two famous football clubs — Real and Atletico Madrid — or secure tickets for Madrid’s Mercedes-Benz fashion week, you have plenty of choices for how to get there.

Other important information when considering a move to Madrid:

Climate

Winter temperatures vary from 2˚C to 12˚C. Summer temperatures typically range from 16˚ C to 33˚C. Madrid is one of the driest capital cities in Europe, second only to Athens.

Employment

Dominated by the service sector, including entertainment and education, research and development, IT, accounting and finance, banking, and media, including Spain’s national newspapers.

  • Specialises in high-technology production.
  • Leading employers: Telefonica (one of Europe’s largest mobile network companies), Iberia (airline), Prosegur (multinational security), BBVA (banking) and Dragados (global construction and engineering company).

Where to live

Madrid is divided into different ‘barrios’, each with their own particular characteristics. Whilst some expats may choose to move out to the suburbs, situated to the north-west and north-east of the city, in order to benefit from the larger houses on offer, most moving to Madrid will choose one of these barrios. This is a brief overview of some of the most popular:

High end

  • Salamanca – although expensive, by far the most popular barrio for expats to live in.
  • Alonso Martinez – designer shops aplenty. Popular with bankers and lawyers.

Traditional

  • Opera el Madrid de los Austrias – the ‘old town’ area of the city. Picturesque.
  • La Latina – charming little streets but pickpockets do work in this area. Famous for its many bars and flea market.

Popular with families

  • Parque de las Avenidas – a quieter, more residential area.
  • Barrio de la Concepcion – east of the city. An easy commute to the centre.
  • Chamartin – perfect for young families.

Trendy

  • Chueca – a lively barrio. Also the gay district.
  • Moncloa/Arguelles – thriving nightlife scene. Popular with students.
  • Laviapies – probably the most multi-cultural barrio in Madrid.

Quiet

  • Goya/Serrano/Velazquez – more popular with retirees.
  • Arturo Soria – for younger expats who wish to escape some of the city’s livelier spots.

Andalusia

“Andalusia…is, of all the Spanish regions, the one that possesses a culture most radically its own.” — Ortega y Gasset, Teoría de Andalucía, 1927

Andalusia is a large area in southern-most Spain, one of the country’s autonomous communities, which contains eight provinces (Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaen, Malaga and Seville). It has its own flag and capital city — Seville — and is home to seven universities. Almeria has the largest number of non-native Spanish people living in the province.  

This region is characterised by its dramatic Roman and Arabic architecture, its tradition of fiestas and also its handicrafts, retaining the area’s rich cultural heritage in pottery, copper, gold and silverwork, as well as handmade musical instruments. Andalusia is also the birthplace of both Flamenco and bullfighting. Much of the region’s notable architecture dates back to the Muslim occupation and stunning monuments to visit include the Alhambra in Granada and the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Andalusia is also the birthplace of many famous Spanish writers and artists, perhaps most notably Malaga being the town where Pablo Picasso was born.

The landscape boasts not only an impressive coastline, but also mountain ranges (Sierra Morena and Sierra Nevada as well as the Betica Ranges). The mountain ranges affect the climate of the region, making it both one of the hottest locations in Spain as well as one which has its own ski resorts. The peaks of the Sierra Nevada National Park are snow-capped all year round. Due to the area’s high temperatures, it is hugely popular both with tourists and expats alike.

Climate

A wide variety of landscapes in the region bring with it an equally varied range of temperatures. In the winter, Grenada can experience temperatures that range between 1 ˚C and 12 ˚C, whilst Almeria’s only drop to about 8 ˚C but can be as high as 17˚C even in the coldest months. Even at the height of summer, Grenada may experience lows of 18˚C up to highs of 34˚C, whereas other provinces frequently have temperatures that soar above 40 ˚C. The highest temperatures in Europe have been recorded in Andalusia’s Guadalquivir valley – 46.6 ˚C

  • Driest area: Tabernas Desert, Almeria
  • Wettest area: Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park, Cadiz
  • Coastal regions: largely a warm-temperate Mediterranean climate.

Employment – historically agricultural but now dominated by:

 

  • Tourism
  • Retail
  • Transport
  • Customer service
  • Businesses which serve the expat community such as electricians, plumbers, and hairdressers
  • Watersports (great windy conditions off the coast of Tarifa for windsurfing)
  • Skiing (Sierra Nevada National Park)
  • English teaching

Where to live

Since Andalusia covers such a large area of southern Spain, you will be spoilt for choice when deciding where to lay down your roots. Many expats, however, choose to live in the following areas:

  • Costa del Sol – famous tourist destinations such as Malaga attract a large expat community who can find work within the tourism industry, which is so reliant on English-speaking workers.
  • Mountains outside of Mojacar – whilst Mojacar and its surrounding environs have a significant expat community, there are many houses nestled in the mountainous regions surrounding the town which provide a more traditional, less Anglophone feel to living in Spain.
  • Inland – the cities/towns of Grenada and Seville are steeped in Spanish tradition and are home to many English-speaking residents. Both have their own online expat community groups which provide support, advice, and forums for meeting other expat residents.

Valencia

A well-known regional saying is “Come to Valencia for the paella and stay for many other reasons”.

Valencia is another of Spain’s autonomous communities, encompassing the provinces of Alicante, Valencia and Castellon. It is the area of Spain that attracts the largest number of expats, mostly due to the fact that Alicante is home to the Costa Blanca.

What is less widely known is that the region benefits from immensely fertile soil and thus fruit is a product which is exported in huge numbers. Additionally, the community of Valencia is a famous producer of velvet, satin and silk.

Climate

  • A truly Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild winters.
  • In the summer months, average temperatures range from 20˚C to 29 ˚C, but frequently are above 30˚C in coastal areas.
  • Winter temperatures average between 5 ˚C and 15 ˚C and don’t drop below freezing except in inland and mountainous regions.

Employment

  • Tourism
  • Wine industry
  • Businesses which serve the expat community
  • Agriculture and fruit picking
  • Real estate
  • English teaching
  • Watersports, along the Costa Blanca

Where to live

Costa Blanca

This coastal range is perhaps Spain’s most famous tourist and expat destination; towns such as Benidorm attract high numbers of expats. With the Mediterranean Sea lapping upon the shores of 200 km of coastline and the correspondingly attractive climate, many less well-known towns and villages along this coast also now have significant expat communities. Moving slightly inland provides easy access to the coast whilst reducing house prices.

City of Valencia

There is a large expat community both inside the city, especially in Canovas and Avenida de Francia, and in the surrounding small villages such as L’Eliana and Betera. The villages are attractive to those seeking larger villas and a quiet life with an easy commute to the bustle of the city.

Costa del Azahar

Also known as the Orange Blossom Coast, this is an area which is less well-known to expats. Its starting point is in the north between Catalonia and Castellon and runs down to Valencia, some say as far as the Costa Blanca. The advantages of this area are that it has not been overdeveloped and retains traditional Spanish properties. It also boasts some fantastic beaches, and property prices (along with the cost of living) are relatively low in the region. Disadvantages include a poor infrastructure and less work within the tourist industry. It is wise to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish if moving to the Orange Blossom Coast.

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