Settling In To The Spanish Lifestyle

Posted on: 13 May 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Ex-pat columnist and established bestselling author Kitty Neale brings us up to speed with the Spanish culture and lifestyle.


Since moving to this part of Spain we have explored the region, travelling along the coast in both directions, and inland too. Each area has its own special charm and there is something for everyone; mountains, pine forests, secluded coves, bustling beaches, and towns and cities, with both coastal and mountain roads offering stunning views.

Of course some areas are green, but you can’t expect the lushness of the UK. At first I found that much of our area looked arid, however, I’ve become used to the terrain now, and the sunshine, aqua-marine sea, and exotic flora and fauna more than make up for it.

In our garden and in the orchards, the orange trees have blossomed, their wonderful perfume filling the air. On our terrace the evening jasmine is in flower, a climbing plant that has a beautiful heady aroma.

Though we are all feeling the pinch with the exchange rate, eating out is still relatively inexpensive and you can have a Menu Del Dia (meal of the day) for around 8 euros. This usually consists of a choice of starter, main meal and pudding, and in some cases a bottle of wine.

If you want company there are many ways to make friends in Spain and among the English there are various clubs offering a host of different activities from art and crafts to dance and walking to name just a few. We have recently become involved with an organisation that rescues dogs and we go along to their fundraising lunches where a good time is had by all.

Until recently we had three cats, but sadly we just lost one. We have found that the vets here are wonderful, and less expensive than in the UK, and the care our cat got when she was ill was second to none. So far we have resisted the temptation of adopting a dog, but instead we sponsor Monty, an elderly cocker spaniel who is blind and almost impossible to re-home.

I’m not going to paint a picture where everything in the garden is rosy in Spain, and as in any country, we can of course find things to complain about. Telephone and broadband is very expensive in comparison to the UK, and as immigrants, we certainly don’t get free handouts.

There are also pick-pockets and burglars around. So far, in over five years, we haven’t had a problem, but we’ve heard of people who have. However, we hear little of violent crimes.

In our area, Spanish youngsters are well behaved and the only time we see drunken behaviour on the streets is from the tourists. When out walking, other than in the tourist areas, the pavements can be in a state of disrepair, so caution is needed, but as our rates are so low we don’t complain.

When it comes to Spanish banks, we aren’t enamoured and most people find cause to complain about charges they haven’t encountered in the UK. Once again, shop around, but some charges seem inevitable.

As for utility bills, they must be paid by direct debit, but as we are in a rural area, our water bill is a fraction of what we paid in the UK. Electricity charges, however, are creeping up, so we use bottled gas for heating in the winter months.

We decided to give up on our old, UK-registered car soon after we started driving here. When buying a new car we found that, unlike in the UK, it was impossible to haggle and we had to pay the list price.

One of the more expensive things in Spain is insurance. It’s illegal to tow a car, so breakdown cover is incorporated, and once again you will need to shop around. Road tax is low, for instance we pay 49 euros a year, and of course petrol or diesel is less costly.

My husband adapted easily to driving in Spain, but there are differences; mainly the road layouts. With many tourists unused to this, extra caution is required, but other than in towns or cities, there is less traffic to worry about and, as the Spanish avoid motorway toll roads, they are mostly empty.

I would highly recommend some of the Spanish fiestas, for example, the Moors and Christian festival. This fiesta goes on over two or three days, first with the beach landing, which is accompanied by the sound of defensive cannon fire, followed by mock fighting on the streets.

When the parade is held, usually in the evening, the costumes are amazing. Most fiestas end with a spectacular firework display, usually at midnight, and are well worth seeing. There are so many fiestas that it would be impossible to mention them all, but in Spain there are several regional magazines produced in English that list the dates they are held, as well as, of course, the market days.

Nowadays, anything you want in the way of British food is available and, unless you are in a very remote area, you will find shops selling British products. However, they are more expensive than in the UK, so mostly we buy Spanish produce.

In the summer months, our diet mainly consists of salads which can be bought very cheaply at the market, and fish to throw on the barbecue which is inexpensive too. Locally grown fresh fruit is in abundance, and again cheap.

Since moving to Spain our health has greatly improved, which I feel is due to a better diet, the sunshine, and the slower pace of life. Our blood has certainly thinned which is great if you have heart or circulatory problems. When we first arrived we found it warm, even in December and January, usually wearing a cardigan at most.

Nowadays, like the Spanish, we have taken to wearing coats in the winter, though heavily quilted anoraks are still unnecessary, and those we brought with us from the UK still remain unworn.
We are slowly getting to grips with our garden and it’s certainly different from gardening in the UK, but more about that next month. Including the insects.

Until then, love and rainbows to you all,


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