Living in the North of Spain

When I was young, Spain was just another exotic, far-away place, full of bullfighters and flamenco dancers. I never thought I’d end up living here, much less in Pamplona, the city where bulls run through the streets.

My first real contact with the country was as an exchange student in Madrid. I loved the experience and, by the time I left, I was irresistibly drawn to everything Spanish.

That’s probably one of the reasons why—three years later—I fell in love with and married a Spaniard. When he was offered a post back in Spain, we jumped at the chance to return there. And since 1992 I’ve been living my Spanish adventure…first in Málaga, on Andalucía’s Mediterranean coast, and now in the small town of Mutilva, just outside Pamplona, in the northern province of Navarre.

One of the things I like most about living here is that I don’t need a car to get around. That’s a big change from life in California, where people practically live in their cars. My husband goes to work by bike, and the kids can take a five-minute walk to school. Then I stroll to the center of town to buy freshly-baked bread for lunch, which in Spain is usually around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m.

Everything is just a walk away. There are a couple of small grocery stores, a medical center, a sports complex, a pharmacy, and, of course, several bars where you can enjoy a glass of wine before lunch (Navarre’s specialty is rosé). For anything else I might want, Pamplona is just a 10-minute bus ride away; it costs me just 75 cents each way.

Navarre is one of the wealthier regions of Spain, so it’s more expensive to live here than in some other regions, but it’s still affordable. You’ll find apartments to rent for $450, for instance. Groceries are cheaper than in the U.S., and you can get a good three-course menú del día (menu of the day) for $12.

And the added expense is well worth it. The city and surrounding towns are clean and well-kept, the transportation system is excellent, and public administration is easier to deal with than in other regions of Spain.

People in the north of Spain are more reserved than those in the south, but they’re still courteous and friendly. I’ve made many good friends, and one thing is true about Navarros: Once they are your friends, they are loyal to the end.

The weather isn’t perfect, but here I can enjoy the beauty of changing seasons, which as a California girl is something I’d never experienced before. We even get snow sometimes, but it never lasts more than a couple of days. And summers are mild, with plenty of opportunity to enjoy the parks and terrazas—the outdoor café terraces—of the city.

Editor’s note: Think you can’t retire to Spain? Think again. You can retire to anywhere in the world you like…probably this year. You simply need to know about this “loophole…”

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