Living in Spain: Enjoy an Affordable Lifestyle on the Coast

I love Spain. Every time I’m there I fall right back into the lifestyle. Someone recently described the Spanish as having “perfected the art of hanging out,” and I have to admit I agree. They’ve raised it to an art form. And the siesta? Greatest invention since sliced bread, in my book.

I’m not alone in my assessment. I meet folks all the time who say, “Spain? Oh, yeah….” And then they sigh. Maybe they remember lingering over drinks with friends at 3 a.m. in Barcelona, or enjoying a paella on the beach in Alicante on a summer’s afternoon. Perhaps they recall watching the moonlight on the Alhambra, in Granada, or the sun glinting on the sea at San Sebastián’s perfect, half-moon beach, La Concha. Whatever the memory, it’s a good one.

And today these moments don’t have to remain memories…they can be day-to-day life. In many parts of Spain, the country’s dismal economic crisis has lowered property prices and rents to more affordable levels. Everyday expenses like groceries already sport some of the lowest prices in Europe.

I’m just back from three months in Spain, so I can attest to the prices. What about $4 for a liter of excellent local olive oil? Or less than $5 for a bottle of wine? In season, many veggies cost €1 for a kilo, even in major cities like Madrid. That’s 59 cents a pound. (And given Spain’s warm climate, the “season” is very long….) Meat may run more than in the U.S., but local delicacies like sausages and cured ham—so expensive in the U.S.—run much less here.

Prefer to eat out? I’m a big fan of Spain’s set-price lunches, the menú del día: two courses, plus dessert and/or coffee, as well as a main beverage (which can be wine), for a price that’s usually around €10—that’s $13. Bottom line: If you love the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet, there’s no place like the Mediterranean for doing it well and affordably.

Living on the coast in Spain

Right now, some of the best places for a high-quality, bargain-priced lifestyle are along Spain’s coasts, especially the Mediterranean. Towns and cities here tend to have good bus and rail connections, and some have airports (though the “international” flights tend to be within Europe). And because these are tourist areas, you’ll find more English spoken here than in Spain’s interior.

During the boom, overbuilding was rampant in many coastal areas, so you need to do your due diligence before buying a property. Still, there are many places along the Mediterranean—notably in the southern province of Murcia, in and around the city of Alicante, and farther north in the province of Castellón—where you can find well-appointed, comfortable apartments near the beach for $150,000 or less.

As with anywhere else, in Spain it’s a good idea to rent before you buy. Fortunately, you tend to find plenty of rentals—from apartments to villas to entire estates—along Spain’s coasts. You may need to hunt for bargain-priced short-term rentals—those for six months or less. But long-term rentals are another story. In Alicante, long-term rentals start at about €400 ($520) a month. The same holds true in towns like Puerto Mazarrón, in Murcia.

But for affordably-priced, big-city life on the sea, my new favorite is Málaga, on Spain’s southern coast. Long-term rentals can run €700 (about $910) and up, but you get big-city amenities like museums (a Picasso Museum, for instance—he was born here), chic shopping, and great restaurants. There are plenty of beaches…and even in winter temperatures are usually in the 60s F. Now that’s a lifestyle that’s hard to beat.

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