Have you ever spent two weeks in a place and thought ‘Hmm, I could easily spend two years here’? Well Jerez is that kind of city. I was on a six-week jaunt through Spain, exploring the Andalusia region, and after a 10-day stay in Seville, I headed the hour south to Jerez. And I was far from the only one. Tourists, expats and locals alike have been experiencing the beauty of Jerez for decades, enjoying a high quality of life at some of the cheapest prices in Europe.
Situated on the Paseo del Espolon, with its interlocking arch of Plane trees, Restaurante Polison was a picture-perfect lunch spot on a mild Iberian afternoon earlier this year. Seated on the sunny patio, Keith and I tasted authentic tapas including Jamon Iberico, Spanish ham drizzled with olive oil and topped with coarsely cracked pepper and served with a basket of fresh bread—and drank the crisp white Albarino wine. The view was priceless and the lunch a steal at under $20 for two. The funny part is, we hadn’t even planned to be there.
It’s more than 25 years since I lost my heart to Spain. On my first visit, its romantic, rich history, its people and the rhythm of the days won me over. These days I spend several months a year there, getting my fill of sun, siestas and serrano ham. (Part-time living in Europe is easy: You can spend 90-day stints on a simple tourist visa.) This year a five-kilo ham, cured to perfection, is already waiting for me. Hey—I’ll have months to eat it.
If you’re considering a visit to Europe—or even a move—Madrid needs to be on your radar. A sunshine-filled cultural haven, this friendly city will capture your heart without breaking your budget. The underlying authentic charm and laidback, understated vibe of Spain’s capital proved irresistible to me when I first arrived. It’s been home for nine years now and I’m still head over heels. Here’s just five reasons why…
Lying at the heart of sunny Andalucia, Seville is one of southern Spain’s most beautiful cities. Waves of conquerors, from the Romans to the Moors, have left their stamp on its spectacular architecture. Thousands of tapas bars line the streets, and the warm Spanish sun nurtures parks full of palm trees. With such beauty all around, it’s easy to see what drew expats Karen and Rich McCann to Seville, where they now enjoy fine dining, a great social scene and terrific, inexpensive healthcare.
Selfishly, I thought that nobody knew about the beautiful, cultured, artsy Spanish city of Girona and that I could keep it as my secret place. But it's impossible to keep a place like this under wraps. I fell in love with Girona and moved here in 2012. This charming, fun, easy-going city checked all my boxes. I can walk or cycle everywhere through beautiful streets that are full of history. It's full of delicious gastronomy, cheap local markets and regular cultural events to keep me interested. Surrounded by mountains I'm close to nature and if I crave the sea, it's just a 40-minute trip away. Or in three hours, I can be up in the snowy mountains, whizzing down ski slopes. Girona is also well connected by train and air to the rest of the country and Europe.
First, this is Europe. That means walkable cities (leave the car behind), with culture and history all around you. Want to stay in a restored castle or live in a centuries-old (but renovated) apartment? You can. Like museums? Science, art and history museums are all over, and many have hours when they’re free of charge. (Madrid’s Prado Museum, with its free evening hours, is a personal favourite. And you can admire Bilbao’s new Guggenheim Museum from the outside; the building itself, and its surrounding park, are the big draw in my book.) Like concerts? You’ll find everything from rock and jazz to opera and zarzuela (Spanish operetta). I’ve gotten concert tickets in Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city and a great centre for music, for €15 ($23).