Choosing our Spanish home: How the Pandemic changed everything
A few months ago (in March of 2020) we had decided that Valencia would be our future home in Spain.
Valencia is a beautiful city with all the amenities of big city life: tons of bars, cafés and restaurants, a vibrant old town, a great Central Market, lots of green space, gyms, an airport with flights all over Europe…
It checked almost all our boxes.
Then Covid hit. We were in Leon at the time and ended up getting stuck there in lockdown for the next 3 ½ months.
The time spent in lockdown changed everything. It totally screwed with us.
Thinking of moving to Spain? Marta at Balcells Group helped us get our Visas. She’s an immigration expert and will help you with all your Visa needs. More detail here.
We came out of lockdown realizing that our priorities had changed.
- The amenities of big city life are not the attraction they once were. Bars, cafés and restaurants are no longer a priority for us.
- We’ve decided that we will never join a gym again. We’ll work out on our own. When we have a base we’ll get ourselves some workout equipment.
- We prefer not to be in a densely populated city. We’ve lived in large cities all of our lives…maybe we’ve gotten to the age where it’s dawned on us that large cities are for younger people.
We realized we want something quieter and closer to nature. That means a town or small city, close to mountains and/or sea.
Many of the other items on our checklist are still the same as when we set out looking for a base in Spain:
- We don’t want to live in an expat enclave. We want to be among the Spanish.
- We want to be within 3 hours of an international airport.
- We still want to be somewhere that attracts tourism. Lissette would like to one day run an Airbnb. I’d maybe want to do tours.
- We also learned from our trip around Spain that we don’t like those coastal communities featuring row upon row of apartment buildings. That’s not our vision of Spain.
We definitely know what we don’t want and have pretty good ideas of what we do want. The question is finding a place we feel we can call home.
Related: Where to live in Spain as retiring expats? Choosing our base…
Spain vs Croatia: comparisons
It’s a bit funny that our experience finding a base in Spain is totally opposite of what it was in Croatia.
The first place we visited in Croatia was Split. We fell in love with it right away. It is a medium-sized city on the Adriatic with incredible sea and mountain views. The nature was all around us. The old town is stunning and we never stopped being awed by the beauty of Split.
The problem with Croatia was language and restrictive immigration laws. It is also third world-ish in some respects. A great place to visit – but I couldn’t see myself living there the rest of my life.
Spain is different. It is civilized, organized, and orderly. We speak the language, we like the people. Immigrating here isn’t too hard.
But we honestly haven’t fallen in love with any one place enough to be able to say we’re ready to call it home.
So what will our future base be in Spain?
The places we’ve visited in Spain: Seville, Cordoba, Malaga, Granada, Jaen, Alicante, Valencia, and Leon. There are many beautiful towns and cities in that list.
Looking at the different places and at our “new and revised” checklist, the place at the top of our list is Granada.
Related: Granada as an expat – could we live here? The Pros and Cons
Granada is beautiful. I’m not going to tell you that we fell in love with Granada the way we fell in love with Split – but of the places we’ve visited so far in Spain it suits us the best considering our new priorities.
What really sets Granada apart is the natural environment: there are the huge Sierra Nevada mountains right behind the city where there are tons of hiking opportunities. The sea is an hour away. The city is attractive, historical, and the vibe relaxed. Plus the whole region has lots of attractions – we won’t get bored.
Related (from another blogger): Is Granada the Best Place to Live in Spain?
So the goal when we make it back to Spain? We’re going to rent a car and explore Granada as well as some of the pretty small towns around Granada. We’re hoping that by the end of 2020 we’ll have finally found a home in Spain.
Update: Why we chose Nerja as our new home in Spain (and why it’s perfect for the times)
Related: Where will YOU go when you can travel again?
Related: Valencia (Spain): could this be the place we choose to live in Spain?
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It is interesting how foreigners see my country. It is going to be difficult to fit all of your requirements, mainly if you want to avoid expats. Check Cadiz capital or Jerez, also try avoiding the coastline in Málaga province. I will also try with the North, the weather will be worst during the winter (summer will be great) but the landscape it beautiful and both, sea and mountains, very close. People is also very friendly, it’s just the first step. Thinking about Galicia(Santiago, A Coruña), Asturias (Gijón), Cantabria (Santander)and Basque Country (you can perfectly live without speaking basque but it will be more expensive, yes). Good luck and all the best!
Thank you Amaia – funny that your name is Amaia because we have been watching the Baztan trilogy on Netflix 🙂
Very much appreciate your comment and insights. As somebody else said, we don’t have to stay in the same place all our lives. We’ll be coming back to Spain soon and settling somewhere but will keep on discovering Spain and possibly living in different places as we do.
Thank you again!
Hello, was interesting to read your blog. I am american, speak fluent Russian and English, no Spanish at this point unfortunately. I am considering to retire in Europe. Wish I could do it sooner. I buried my husband this spring, but have 87 y old mother who I could not leave. I consider spain or portugal. But Lisbon is so hilly I could not walk with my bad knees. Comparing to you I like big city with orchestra, theater museums. I will be relying on public transportation exclusively and am traveler all around the world. Considering me be single, mid 60 where would you suggest? I was thinking Valencia. Beach is not important really. I hate to lay down on the sand, but nice weather is important after dreary american Midwest. Also i would need affordable Healthcare and appartment/ duplex. Is it possible to live on 50000 euro a year? Thanks and good luck
Always interesting reading the circumstances that lead to people choosing to relocate to other places. Thank you for sharing.
Based on what you’ve said, I really think you’d like Valencia. It has everything you mention wanting and it’s flat, has sunny weather, is dynamic, and is a pretty place. It’s also a transport hub with easy access to other places in Spain and/or flights to other places in Europe.
As far as the budget etc, you would have no problems at all on 50,000 euro a year.
Brad & Ying | Jolly Hobos
Great to hear you have made a decision that you both think will fit your changed perspective.
Sore legs from walking is a good sign that you have some freedom now that you have finished serving your lockdown and iso time!
Although we aren’t looking to settle down anytime soon, we also feel the need to skirt the big cities as much as practical for awhile. We aren’t much for living the party lifestyle, so sacrificing bars and clubs is not much of an issue 🙂 – but being close to natural spaces and the outdoors is super important.
As you describe it, Granada seems a great fit (on the wish list for us).
Let’s hope things improve on the international travel front, that you have no issues with visas and start getting life back on track! Fingers crossed for you both.
I feel for the two of you. You just started travelling full-time and are living through this hell. The last couple of days we’ve had to get admin stuff done here in Canada. Means putting on masks, queuing, constantly putting alcohol on hands. Gets real damn old after a while. Right now we have zero interest in sightseeing through a city. Sometimes I just want to go home and take off the mask. You’re fine in Croatia…but who’s going to go to Rome, Florence or Venice or any other cultural city?
In short, really difficult time to be starting out on this venture. On the other hand, a vaccine looks like it’ll be available in 6 months or so all going well…hopefully a semblance of normal will return.
All the best to the two of you!
Hi Frank…. congrats to both of you for making it through your Lockdown Part 2! I’m only half way through my quarantine here in T.O., but with the nice weather, I’m still sneaking off into nearby ravine forests for walkabouts. Other than to visit family here, I’m also in the process of applying for the French Long Sejour Visa. At this time, the French Consulate is only prioritizing certain visa categories which unfortunately doesn’t include the one i fall under…..so, i might have to postpone it the application until another time. But i will be following your progress to get your non-lucrativo Spanish visa. How are you dealing with the requirement to have Spanish Health insurance coverage? And do you need to have a signed/registered lease for an apartment in Granada? That’s a hefty €500 visa application fee for canucks …. i hope you guys aren’t denied. Just wondering, but have you thought about exploring France for long-term stay? I think it would tick a lot of your boxes and i believe you speak French. BTW, your changing priorities/values in terms of where to live and lifestyle align pretty good with my own. I realized many years ago that i couldn’t live long-term in big cities/snakepits and nature had to be easily accessible. I’ve been to a few places in Spain but never to Granada. I think it’s on a high plateau, which could mean somewhat chilly winters but for a canuck…. no hay problemo! Suerte hombre!
You know, we ended lockdown 2 days ago. Been doing lots of walking and our legs and asses hurt! You don’t realize what all this lockdown does to the body…
Yes, France would be a possibility for us as well. It’s more expensive, that’s the downside. But if ever Spain fell through it’s something we would explore. And if/when we do get our Spanish Visa we want to explore France, it’s a country we haven’t seen in 20+ years.
Do you have a city/region in mind in France? And why France?
We got our health care in late February. Went to an Adeslas office in Jaen (a reference from an expat in the area) and took us an hour to get the insurance. The only issue was setting up payments but then we found out Sabadell allows foreigners to open accounts without a NIE number. So we’ve got both a Spanish bank account and Spanish private insurance. If ever you need more info let me know.
No, no signed lease. Canadians don’t even need to specify an address. But speaking to other expats, it really depends where your applying. I knew someone who applied from Mexico City and he needed a lease. I know an Australian who only needed a fixed address (used a friend’s address). So it’s very variable depending where you’re applying.
We were in Granada in February and it got a bit chilly at night. But you’re right…for a Canadian it’s just refreshing. We actually like it, we don’t need sweltering weather year long…
Let me know how you get along with the French Visa. Good luck!
Thanks for the add’l details regarding the non-lucrativo visa Frank. So far, it appears that everything is lining up well to ensure a positive outcome. At least the Spanish consulates are still receiving applications for this visa type, which is not the case for the French consulate. I’m planning on returning at the end of Aug. and it’s looking dubious that I’ll be able to progress much towards a long séjour visa by then.
Anyways, why France? Firstly my partner lives there in la Gard in a small town called Sommieres between Nîmes and Montpellier. It’s a pretty working town with an interesting medieval quarter, fantastic weekly markets and a small group of fun expatz. The English writer Lawrence Durrell lived there for 25 years. Secondly the nice sunny weather – although July/Aug can get bloody warm (and the locals say it’s getting hotter every year!). Thirdly, France rates highly for long, multi-day cycle touring options with a network on par with Germany.
Lastly, the high quality of food of course! It makes me cry to see and taste what passes for food here! I imagine you can relate. And you’re right that France can be more expensive than other European countries, especially the restaurants, and often with lousy value. What, i paid €30 for that skimpy dish? From my experience, it’s possible to manage the higher costs of France by shopping at the markets and staying in smaller towns which are usually less expensive and with fewer temptations. Having been in Toronto for the last week, I’m a little shocked at how things have become quite expensive here -food, rents, certainly as high as in France in some cases. I don’t remember that from just a few years ago. Anyways, more later….. saludos, don
We’re often shocked by the prices in Canada. And then add the 15% on top of everything.
I have to say really strange being back. Went for our medicals downtown today and it’s dead. When I worked here 10 years ago the metro would be jampacked going in to work, would often have to miss a train. Now it’s about 20% full at rush hour. People must be working from home. Walk into one of the highrises and it’s like going in on the weekend.
Canada is much more hardcore about safety measures than even Spain was. And people are respectful of space.
A bit shocking walking around a dead downtown on a weekday.
Ah, you’re a cyclist! Yes, I’ve heard France great for that. I’d like to do my own cycling in Spain. Croatia (at least Central Dalmatia) was not bike-friendly.
That’s a very nice region you’re looking to settle in, have heard lots about Nimes and Montpellier.
Keep in touch, interested to see how the visa works out for you!
i hope it all goes smoothly Frank. its pretty much a sure thing here that we wont even be able to leave Australia by the end of the year. at least if you move by the end of the year, hopefully things are more normal by the time summer hits next year and you’ll be able to escape the heat. Fingers crossed for you!
Tanja/The Red Phone Box travels
So Granada? sounds interesting. I’ve never been there so I can’t really comment more. hope you’re well
Thanks for the comment Tanja 🙂
I’ve always backed away from Granada because of all the tourists. I suppose if there’s a nice little town, nearer the mountains but with easy access to the city it might be nice.
I’ve never liked big cities (even though I reside on the edge of one), especially ones with over 250,000 pop.
It’s a nice, smaller city Ted. True there are tourists – but in a very concentrated area. But we might do as you mention, stay outside. They have a metro/light rail system that extends to a few towns outside Granada proper so we’ll include those when looking.
I have been to Spain only once, and spent a week in Salamanca. I loved it. Have you been there yet? It’s not in the list of cities you’ve visited. You two might like it a lot.
We didn’t consider it as a place to live (haven’t heard of expats doing that) but we had wanted to visit Salamanca on this visit. Unfortunately got stuck in lockdown…
But it’s on our list of places to explore 🙂
We haven’t yet visited Granada, but we’d love to. When we stayed in Malaga, we tried (way ahead of time) to get tickets to the Alhambra, but everything was sold out in our time frame. A good reason to return, along with visiting BBQ Boy & Spanky.
I agree with Anita’s comment in that nothing is permanent. And, I do believe as we get a bit older, we get a bit wiser and our priorities change. Granada is a great start to your next chapter. Is there an actual immigration office in Granada? If not, how far will you have to travel to make appointments?
Seems as if you’re nearing the end of your quarantine and will come out of the lockdown in Spain, and the Canadian quarantine, on the good side of health. Fingers crossed!
Great, sounds like we’ll have a lot of visitors! Would be a pleasure Patti.
Yes, there is an immigration office in Granada. There is also an expat facebook group (“Expats in Granada”)
Coming out of Canadian lockdown tomorrow Patti! So far all good 🙂
Excellent! Now, stay safe out there as you venture out and about.
p.s. Don’t judge Portugal by Lisbon! 😉 You haven’t yet traveled to the best parts of Portugal.
Marti L Bridges
One of the things you didn’t mention is good health care options. If this is going to be your new mostly forever home, you really should factor that into the equation.
I don’t believe in forever Marti, but yes: Granada has good health care. Spain generally has good health care and one of the things we had to do for our Visa is sign up for private health care. So we’re in good shape 🙂
I think it’s as important to know what you don’t want versus what you do want and can definitely understand how the pandemic and lockdown has changed your priorities. I love Granada and have spent some time driving in the the Sierra Nevada mountains. So many different landscapes to offer (the old “Spaghetti Westerns” were filmed not too far from there) and there’s no chance that you’ll run out of things to do. Selfishly, I’m also cheering for Granada as it’s not too far from the Algarve. LOL! I think one of the big life lessons I’ve learned during this last decade is that very few decisions have to be permanent and renting, especially at the beginning, makes it easy to pivot and move in another direction. From following your blog, I know that you’ve learned and embraced that lesson too. How great though, to have that decision made for now and move on to your next chapter. Keep well and here’s hoping that the application process goes smoothly!
You’re very right Anita. I’ve gone back and forth about buying but I think it would be a mistake. I’m a big believer in flexibility and not getting stuck in a box.
If we ever get through this Anita we’ll one day visit you in the Algarve and you can visit us in Granada. We look forward to that day!
I have not been to Spain or Portugal but I have heard good things about Portugal being a good retirement choice, Lisbon in particular. Have you considered Portugal? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks Haifeng. Lisbon is not our favorite place. We spent a month there a few years ago. Big city. And I’m honestly not a big fan of Portugal. We much prefer Spain (it also helps that we speak the language).
I just read Driving over Lemons by Chris Stewart – it is set near Granada and because of his books I plan to visit there when and if they ever let us out of the USA…
Never heard of the book but just looked it up. Sounds like a good read for anyone going to the region.
Latest today is that Spain is struggling with some flareups and France talking about closing the border with Catalonia. I think travel will be touch and go for a lot of people for a while…
We have fond memories of Grenada – I proposed to my wife there. We didn’t spend more than a week in the area, but I think Ronda is worth a visit when you go back. It is a couple hours away but it may have what you like about Grenada, but in a town of 35,000.
That’s nice TJ. I proposed to Lissette in Bacharach (Germany), it our special place that we’d like to get to one day.
Yes, have heard of Ronda. There are actually lots of very pretty small towns in the region and if we end up in the area it’ll be fun renting a car and exploring. Lots of See.
A sample of some of the towns in Granada province (in case you get back) :https://blog.fuertehoteles.com/en/destinations/granada-villages/
Things being what they are…pandemic, climate crisis…I like that you want to be around a smaller place, in nature. So important for the changes needed in our new world. Good luck!
Thank you Chris. You’re absolutely right.
We visited Granada a year ago and loved it. However we visited it during a festival time and it was very crowded which was the one downside. We did love Seville. I’ve been eagerly following where you were going to decide to settle down. I a, hoping at some point to get back and explore more of Spain
The Spanish love their festivals! Yes, we saw some of that in Valencia and it can be a downside.
Glad to hear you loved Granada. We spent 10 days in February. There were tourists but it wasn’t overwhelming and they were mostly concentrated in the center. They are also cultural tourists, not the party bums you see on the coast.
Spain’s great, hope you get back Mary!
This sounds great. I like the sound of Granada – although I would be out in a smaller town near Granada, or even in the countryside outside a small town…. I am no longer even a town person! – thanks for keeping us updated. – best to you both.
Thank you Jan. We always like to walk, which is why we like towns/cities. We don’t want to get in a car to get groceries or go for a coffee etc. In actual fact I haven’t owned a car since my 20s and that’s maybe the only thing that makes me nervous about being too isolated.
So Granada, or a small town. But it has to have the essentials. I guess we’ll just have to have a look around when we get back