Living in Spain: City versus Country

There are so many choices of where to live when you are planning to retire that it can be a minefield of indecision.

Having lived both in Spain’s capital, Barcelona, and a tiny village in the countryside about half an hour inland from Mataro, I can shed some light on what both options are like and some of the pitfalls to avoid when making up your mind.

For three years, I lived in a flat right in the centre of Barcelona and adored it. But once I’d moved out into the countryside, I realised just how noisy it had been in Barcelona with the background hum of traffic and the sirens going by at night.

So how do you decide, if you’re not rolling in money and able to do a bit of both?

To start it’s a good idea to make a list of pros and cons and work out what are the most important lifestyle factors for you.

Here are some examples from my experience about the differences of city or country and how you can adapt:

Pros of the Country

One of the main reasons my partner and I moved from the city to the country was that we wanted dogs. We ended up with one before we moved out and it isn’t easy when you’re in a second floor apartment with no lift. That’s not to say that it’s impossible and lots of people do keep dogs in Barcelona, it’s just that you have to make sure you take them out several times a day, which is harder if you can’t just open the back door to the garden.

When we moved out to the country, to the tiny village of Canyamars, half-an hour inland from the coastal town of Mataro (below), we had plenty of land, peace and quiet, open spaces, lovely views and lots of places to walk the dogs.

I was pleasantly surprised about how easy it was to get involved with the community there. The village was at the end of a road which led nowhere but up into the cork forested hills. Fortunately, it had a little shop and two restaurants and they were a Godsend for meeting people. Within a few weeks, I had met three English women and an American around my age all living in the area and married to Catalan men. They all became great friends.

I also joined the local dog rescue group in the next village. They walked dogs at the pound and fostered and re-homed them. Of course, I ended up with three of my own and fostered plenty more over the years. It was a wonderful way to meet people and do something worthwhile at the same time.

Before long I had more friends than I had had in the middle of Barcelona. I think one of the most fortunate things was that our home was in easy walking distance of the village, the shop and the restaurants. We got to know the owners and all the waiters and they felt like a home from home. The son of our wonderful gardener Manolo worked there too. People used to come out from Barcelona at the weekends to eat there so there was a bit of a buzz.

Most Spanish villages will have at least one cafe, bar or restaurant and they are great places to hang out and get started meeting people.

Even the smallest villages will also have their fiestas which really bring together the whole district too.

Cons of the Country

After moving out of the city, I became a bit lazy about singing in a choir as I couldn’t be bothered to drive 45 minutes into the city for evening rehearsals. If you love doing something like singing, classes or other cultural activities which you can’t access as easily in the middle of nowhere, think about how you might get around the difficulty. Maybe you could stay the night in the city once a week or perhaps you could find a village close to a medium-sized town where there is more going on. Even the smallest Spanish towns usually have theatres and lots of cultural activities.

Of course, if you move out of the city, you will probably need a car. Living in Barcelona, we rarely used ours as we could walk everywhere or easily catch a bus. We had lots of cafes and restaurants on our doorstep and fabulous indoor markets just a couple of blocks away.

It’s also advisable to think about how important distance to doctors, hospitals and amenities like large shopping centres will be as you will need to drive to all those things. It might be fine at the start, but in the long-term it could become more problematic.

One way to move somewhere quieter but which still has good access to cultural activities and amenities would be to choose a slightly bigger town on a good railway line. There are plenty of those within easy reach of Barcelona, both to the north and the south as the railway line goes up and down the coast.

One of the things I missed living in the country was being as near to beaches as I was in Barcelona, as our village was half-an-hour inland, so I’m seriously considering moving to one of the towns on the coast between Barcelona and the Costa Brava when I finally retire for good.

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