Picture a sun-drenched, white house with a shady courtyard, perched on a cliff-top site in Spain. With the deep blue sea beyond, and an olive grove nearby, it’s the stuff of which fantasies are made.
Beaches…mountains…fabulous cities…cracking festivals, and, of course, guaranteed sunshine. It’s not surprising that Spain is the most popular country for Europeans seeking a home overseas.
There’s far more to Spain than golf courses and a concrete sprawl of look-alike apartments. Venture a few miles into the Andalucian hinterland, into the far west, along the Bay of Biscay and along the Costa de la Luz and Costa Azahar. The “real Spain” is waiting for you.
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- Population: 47,370,542
- Capital City: Madrid
- Climate: Temperate; clear, hot summers in interior, more moderate and cloudy along coast; cloudy, cold winters in interior, partly cloudy and cool along coast
- Time Zone: UTC+1
- Language: Spanish
- Country Code: 34
Today real estate shoppers in Spain will find good-value properties at bargain prices in three scenic mountain towns—Mijas, Ojén and Torrox—located 30 minutes from the popular resort town of Marbella. With more than 2,800 hours of sunshine a year, this region attracts travellers and expats looking to escape a harsh winter back home and save money at the same time. “A couple can live well for about $2,400 a month, including $600 in rent,” reports InternationalLiving.com editor Nazareen Heazle.
In 2010, after several years of dreaming, planning, and preparing, Betsy and Warren Talbot sold their home, packed a couple of bags, and left the U.S. on a one-way ticket with the intention of traveling the world full-time for five years. Little did they know that their five-year travel dream would become an indefinite adventure, with a sustainable location-independent income, and a lifestyle full of more freedom and better health than they could have ever imagined. Since hitting the road on that crisp October day, they have picnicked in Provence, fallen in love all over again in romantic Florence, snuck away from the crowds to write and recharge at a 300-yearold farmhouse in Portugal, hiked the 335-mile Lycian Way in Turkey, camped overnight on the ice of Antarctica, learned Spanish in Mexico, and recently bought a house in a small countryside town in the Andalucía region of Spain.
A populace that appreciates art, a local government that supports artistic endeavors, and a network of galleries to show your work…these are key ingredients for artists choosing a place to live. Surroundings that inspire creativity, whether through architecture, natural beauty, or indigenous influences, are also important. Finally, affordable accommodation and studio space are vital as well. A place where you can live well on a little income and concentrate on your work. Fortunately, even as artists get priced out of metropolises like New York City and Paris, other cities have stepped in. These havens can be found around the world. And even if you’re not a painter or sculptor, these cities are great for those who love and appreciate art…not to mention perfect places to sample new styles and snap up unusual pieces at bargain prices.
It’s no secret that Spain’s property market has been at rock-bottom the last few years, but it’s slowly starting to pick up here in Mijas. Buyers, mostly from Western Europe, are making their way back to southern Spain. They are buying with a view to retiring to the area. (Mijas already has a very international community…I met an Irish woman who runs a chocolate shop and a relocation consultant who’s originally from England.) That’s good news if you like the idea of living here. There’s a good choice of rentals at affordable prices. And, despite the return of the European snowbirds, there are still plenty of great-value properties for sale.
I love Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. Many folks overlook its charms in favor of Madrid, Barcelona, and the Moorish cities of the south. But if I were to choose one location for full- or part-time living in Spain, I think my heart would be set on Valencia. For around $2,000 a month, including rent of a chic, centrally located apartment, I could embrace the arts, stroll the beaches, eat out often (and well), and I would be perfectly placed to explore the rest of Europe, too. Let me explain…
It’s a day for dreaming of Andalucia. So I’m letting Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain take me on a musical journey back to Granada—back to the lament of flamenco guitars, orange trees, and jasmine-scented patios with pattering fountains. On my last visit to Spain, I added a Granada side trip. Sheer indulgence as I’d been before, but it’s a city made for indulgence. De Falla’s old garden, just above the Realejo neighborhood, is laden with roses. Gardens have a long history in Spain. For the Moors, a garden symbolized an inner paradise and a reflection of heaven.
Cosmopolitan cities, glorious sunshine, delicious cuisine, and low costs—as a retirement or second-home destination, Spain is hard to beat. The southern province of Andalucia, particularly the area around the Costa del Sol is the epitome of good-value, romantic Spanish living. It has everything: long sandy beaches perfect for strolling on…romantic, white-washed hill towns cling to the Andalusian hillsides…a sunny climate where snow and even rain are a rarity…and a cost of living so affordable you’ll find it hard to believe you’re in a European country.
It’s a sun-drenched morning as I stand at a lookout point above the town of Mijas. Below me, the gleaming white buildings, with their roofs of rust-red tile, tumble down the mountainside. The pine-covered hills of the Sierra de Mijas mountain range reach up into the clear sky to my right. On my left, I can see the Costa del Sol—the Sun Coast—with the glittering Mediterranean Sea stretching to the horizon. It’s a comfortable 66 F here in Mijas, which is located in southernmost Spain. With more than 2,800 hours of sunshine a year around these parts, it’s the perfect place to escape a harsh winter back home.
At a sidewalk café in the Plaça de Sant Jaume, patrons chat over their cafés con leche or sit reading the paper, their dogs lying patiently at their feet. Trees shade this corner of the city from the summer sun, turning the café and its little square into oases of cool, civilized tranquility. Yet mere steps away is the busy Plaça de la Verge, with its government buildings, spouting fountain, and camera-toting tourists from a dozen countries. I’ve walked to Sant Jaume along the narrow streets of the ciutat vella, the old city. At practically every corner, it seems, is a plaza, a medieval building, or a row of elegant, neo-classical facades. This is one of Europe’s largest and best-preserved historic centers; it can take days to explore it all. And after you’ve done that, there are still the many modern neighborhoods to see, with their shops, museums, concert halls, parks, and chic apartment buildings.
InternationalLiving.com’s just-released Annual Global Retirement Index profiles the best destinations for good-value living around the world today. Using input from a large team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, the Index combines real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. “The world’s top retirement havens for 2015 may dot the landscape from Asia to Latin America to Europe, but they share certain assets,” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “They’re safe, offer good value, and are places you can settle with relative ease.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
Located on Spain’s popular Costa del Sol, Málaga is clean and bright, with a pedestrian-only city center and a revamped harbor. The city is brimming with museums, great dining, and plenty of shopping to suit all tastes and budgets. The best of “old” Málaga is well preserved. The city, with its miles of seashore, is cheerful and vibrant, oozing trademark Andalusian charm. Year-round the sun shines and winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January). Sea breezes blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hotter summer days. “Málaga remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. Here you can enjoy big-city life with laidback charm,” says InternationalLiving.com editor Glynna Prentice.
Stomping my feet as hard as I could, I twirled around in a frenzy, flailing my arms and yelling before coming to a standstill next to the dark haired woman in front of me. “Bien.” She clapped her hands once and then left the room. I smiled as the guitar player and other students picked up water bottles and wiped down their foreheads with small towels. I was in Seville, Spain, and having the time of my life learning to dance flamenco.
At 2,800 years old, Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world. Founded by the Phoenicians in about 770 BCE, it’s been inhabited by half-a-dozen major civilizations since then. As a result, it offers plenty for the history buff. Just past the Roman amphitheater is the Alcazaba, the medieval Moorish quarter. And you can take a bus up to the Gibralfaro, the Moorish-era fortress sitting above the city that offers one of the best views around.
Happily, the best of the “old” Málaga remains, as well. The sun still shines, there are miles of seaside, winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January), and sea breezes still blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hot summer days. And Málaga is still cheerful and vibrant, oozing its trademark Andalusian charm. Best of all, it remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. So if you enjoy big-city life with laidback charm and a side of seashore, give Málaga a whirl. You can even get by in English.
We typically see Path of Progress opportunities in places that are on the up…we usually discover distressed opportunities by finding high-quality inventory somewhere that’s broadly in crisis. It’s rare that we see the convergence of both these trends—but today that’s the opportunity we have along a stretch of Spain’s Costa del Sol. San Pedro is a pleasant sleepy Spanish town of leafy squares and pedestrian streets. Marbella is 12 minutes away (by car…25 minutes by public bus).
As an antiques enthusiast, I like to ask dealers with different areas of expertise what’s hot and what’s not. A Spanish buff told me recently that Spanish Civil War memorabilia, once considered inappropriate and politically embarrassing, has now become collectible. Spain doesn’t have a great tradition of preserving reminders from its recent past. The Civil War was a complex and tragic period in the country’s history that divided families and set brother against brother.
Twenty years ago, when I first visited Málaga, it was the ugly stepsister of Spain’s Costa del Sol: a little scruffy and down-at-heels (though with gloriously sunny weather and a seaside location). So it was pure pleasure to return last summer and find it transformed into a Cinderella: one of Spain’s most livable—and affordable—cities for coastal living. Today’s Málaga is clean and bright, with a pedestrian-only city center and a revamped harbor area that is a joy to stroll. The city is brimming with museums, great dining, and plenty of shopping to suit all tastes and budgets.
This morning, I awoke to bright blue skies, crisp autumn air, and the slow, muted clanking sounds of cows wearing big metal cowbells and moving down the street just outside my window. You see, today I am living in a small town in the Swiss Alps. It’s October, which means the farmers are bringing their cows down from the high altitudes and into the low fields and warm barns for the winter. The air smells faintly of fields and campfires. And aside from the bells, all is quiet.
Penny Hierons didn’t think she was capable of learning another language. Now she makes a living as a Spanish-to-English translator…and she lives on the beautiful southeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain. “I assumed I just didn’t have the bit of the brain that involved doing languages because I’d never shown any inclination or talent for them. But that wasn’t true.”
Semi-retired and up for adventure, my wife Char and I have been traveling in South America for the last 11 months. We’ve rented a car for seven weeks to explore Chile; trekked in Patagonia; lived and cruised for one month in the Galápagos; ridden horses into a remote valley similar to Yosemite; hiked over a mountain pass to Machu Picchu; attended a gaucho festival (cowboys showing off their stuff); explored a remote Peruvian jungle; hung out in a grass shack on a beach; learned to cook Peruvian food; taken kitesurfing lessons; swam with baby sea lions; and cheered at soccer games.
Eileen McRae has lived in Spain three times. And during those trips her Spanish has gone from passable…to conversational…to fluent. It has allowed her to play basketball with a local team, visit Spanish friends in their own homes, and pick up a job as a nanny.
Rodney Evans’ tale of wanderlust includes midnight buses through Tijuana, Mexico…traveling around Europe and the Americas, making friends and playing music. Along the way he taught English in Spain and elsewhere. If you like Europe and its history…its romance and culture…then where better to base yourself with a live-anywhere income like teaching English than Spain?
Café con leche is the typical Spanish coffee. Now you could head to the American-style shop a few blocks from my apartment for a $7 plain coffee. However, I prefer the local café where you can sit outside on the cobblestone patio and sip leisurely while people watching.
It’s 1 a.m. and I’m sound asleep in bed when I hear a big boom. I’m startled awake, so I jump up, grab my robe, and run onto our giant balcony that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Directly in front of me the moon is shining bright and sparkling off the water.
Spend any extended amount of time in Spain and you’ll likely walk away having learned two of life’s important lessons: how to live in the moment and how not to sweat the small things. Spaniards are famed for their friendly and relaxed attitude, and their commitment to always putting family and friends first means life becomes fabulously freewheeling.
To some folks, home is a place on a map or a house filled with memories and possessions. But for Ellen and Hank Barone, “home, it turns out, is something internal and portable. We’ve traveled to all 50 states and six continents and are curious and comfortable in the world,” says Ellen. “So in 2011, when we began looking for a new place to live—it wasn’t restricted to the U.S.”
Salud! Ching, Ching! These three words are so simple, yet they hold so much meaning. Friendship, happiness, and a lifetime of health—that’s what we toast to as we raise our sparkling Catalan cava to the blue sky. A refreshing glass of sparkling wine is just what the doctor ordered to celebrate this sunny day with friends in Sitges.
I’d probably been trying to learn Spanish for a good year or more before I had a sudden realization that dramatically and instantly changed my attitude—and had me picking up new words faster than ever.
Spain is one of my favorite countries. It’s both a fascinating destination to visit and a great place to live (and I’ve done both). So when people ask me what’s so great about Spain, I can list a lot of advantages off the top of my head. But to get you started, here are my top five reasons why Spain is a great place to live:
I arrived in Alicante planning to stay just a few months, thinking I’d wait out Spain’s scorching summer months here beside the city’s languorous stretch of Mediterranean coastline, a chance to relax and recharge before returning to a larger city. My German landlord eyed me dubiously. He’d moved here almost a decade ago, planning to stay just one year.
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for traditional food markets. I seek out farmers’ markets in the U.S. and traditional food markets when I’m abroad. Belize, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador… I’ve explored markets in all these countries, thrilled at the colors, the smells, and the variety of wares, many of them exotic local fruits, vegetables, and more. And, of course, I’ve explored many markets in Spain.
I go to Spain whenever I get the opportunity; this is my third vacation there in the past five years. This time I’ll head to the North of Spain…to the little-known but very affordable region of Galicia. Previously, I’ve visited artistic Barcelona, historic Seville, and sun-soaked Malaga…three cities with their own distinctive characteristics, appeals, and benefits—and I’m anxious to follow up this vacation with another soon, to picture-perfect Valencia, the bull-running city of Pamplona, and the traditionally preserved hillside towns of Cuenca and Ronda.
With almost perpetually sunny weather, glittering stretches of Mediterranean coastline, and a relaxed, easygoing lifestyle, Spain has long been a favorite playground for Americans on vacation. But plenty of business-savvy Americans are extending that vacation into a way of life, and making a prosperous living here, too. In a country where even the Prime Minister struggles to speak English, locals are only too aware of the need to improve, meaning native speakers can easily find work as English teachers and translators.
Pundits are divided on whether Spain’s property market will see further price falls. A huge overhang of unsold homes remains, but for the first time in seven years, sales in Málaga province showed an increase in 2013. Spain will always be a popular retirement destination for northern Europeans, and the number of U.S. citizens registered as living in Spain has increased, too.
Ten years ago American health professional Jonathan Ahladas left Springfield, Massachusetts to make a new home in the Spanish capital, Madrid. He’s still glad he did. “In the States your routine is going to work, taking the car, driving home, and then you’re home for the rest of the day,” says Jonathan.
“I love the stimulation. Every time I take someone on a tour I learn something new about places I’ve seen hundreds of times before.” So says Helene Kahn who has loved Mexico since she was 10 years old. Now she lives in the artistic hub of San Miguel de Allende and gets paid for something she loves doing: showing people around her adopted country.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit but…I knew barely a word of Spanish last year when I arrived in my new home in Spain. I had plenty of time to prepare for the impending relocation but I’d busied myself working full-time and, like lots of other native English speakers, the few Spanish classes I did take just didn’t seem to stick.
Most North-American tourists to Spain visit Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Andalusia’s Moorish Triangle—Seville, Córdoba, and Granada. Relatively few get over to Valencia, the Mediterranean-port city that is Spain’s third-largest metropolis. And that’s a shame. Because Valencia has a lot to offer, as I recently had a chance to discover.