If you enjoyed the latest series of The Trip, you will know that Spain has the most stunning countryside. The television series on Sky Atlantic stars two English actors/comedians playing versions of themselves on a gastronomic tour of Spain. But while it showcases the glory of Spain’s countryside, on a coast-to-coast drive from San Sebastian to Malaga, it also highlights Spain’s modern culture, cuisine and, maybe above all, confidence. And that is mainly to be found in the cities.
In any battle between the appeal of Spain’s cities and its countryside, there is other cultural evidence. Among the most popular non-fiction English-language books in recent years have been the five volumes about Chris Stewart’s life in the hills of the Alpujarras, which started with Driving Over Lemons. The Alpujarras are not far from either Granada or the Costa del Sol, yet living here, among the shepherds, where travelling to work by donkey is still perfectly normal, he paints a picture of an idyllic rural life, very far indeed from the madding crowd on the costas.
As anyone who has made the long trek out to see Chris’s farm will tell you, he is a long way off the beaten track. You don’t need to go that far. Just a ten minute drive from the coast you will soon find yourself in the countryside – el campo. Depending on where you are, of course, you can find habitable property here from under €100,000 even in Andalusia.
But why limit yourself to the south? Spain has less than 100 people per square kilometre, while the UK has over 250 and Belgium and the Netherlands have 342 and 406 respectively! With so much empty space, anyone wanting to escape the crowds is spoiled for choice in Spain. Consider the Hondon and Jalon valleys, just an hour or so from the Costa Blanca in the east. Don’t ignore the northern coast – regions like Asturias, Aragon and Catalonia. In some areas you can still occasionally here the wolves at night, while in others you can nip off at the weekend for a bit of skiing.
Actually, you can live in a Spanish city and go skiing too. Barcelona and Madrid both have ski slopes within driving distance, and even Granada, deep in the south, has the Sierra Nevada on its doorstep.
Skiing, however, is probably not your main motivation if you go to a Spanish city. You would probably choose a city for its cuisine, shopping, architecture and culture. In a city like Palma, in Mallorca, you get all four. Michelin-starred restaurants, seriously high-end shopping (hardly surprising, given how many royals and supermodels have made their home on the island), a mix of grand cathedrals and cool, quiet ancient alleyways, and an endless round of cultural events throughout the year.
That’s another advantage of the city, they don’t close down in the winter like many beach resorts do. This is when the people like to party, with winter fiestas like the “fallas” in Valencia in March or the Tamborrada in San Sebastian in January. Speaking of culture, while Driving Over Lemons is wonderful literary evocation of the charm of the countryside, for the city we have the movies of Pedro Almodovar that capture the spirit and energy cities like Barcelona and Madrid. There is sport too – La Liga one of the most exciting football leagues in the world.
With flights so frequent between Spain and the UK, the concept of euro-commuting – living in Spain but working in London, or vice versa – is increasingly popular, but there is plenty of work in Spain anyway, as its economy emerges powerfully from the recession years.
Although property is pricey in Spain’s two biggest cities, you can still get that vibe and verve (and easy flights from almost anywhere in the world) in cities like the up-and-coming Malaga, or Spain’s third city, Valencia.
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