Why we chose Nerja as our new home in Spain
Updated October 1, 2022
It’s funny looking back at our post of prospective new bases in Spain. It was written in early January 2020. We didn’t have a base in Spain at the time and were on a scouting trip that, if everything had gone to plan, would have seen us travelling around Spain for 3 months.
Then Covid hit. We were about halfway through our trip. We ended up being stuck in lockdown in León for 4 months.
We had always been urban people and when we started our scouting trip we ideally wanted to be in a cultural, mid-sized city. It’s why, after we visited all those cities on our list, that we were sure Valencia would be the place for us.
That was before lockdown. With each month that went by we came to the realization that even a mid-sized city like Valencia was “too city”. Lockdown changed our priorities. And then our minds switched to Granada, another city we had really liked but which was smaller and closer to nature.
Honestly though, we had never really fallen in love with Granada as a place to live. And again, being in a city didn’t really appeal to us. Granada was the best option of what we had seen but we weren’t really convinced.
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.
When our long-term Spanish visa was accepted (September 2020) we knew that when we got back to Spain we’d have to make up our minds fast. With Covid, it wasn’t the time to travel around exploring different places.
We decided that Granada would probably be the place…but that first we would go see Nerja.
Nerja is a seaside town about 45 minutes east of Malaga on the Costa del Sol. It had been introduced to us by Nicola who had contributed a guide on the best places to live on the Costa del Sol. I had originally thought of visiting Nerja on our initial scouting trip but at the time I thought it might be too small for us. And after having previously lived in a seasonal city like Split in Croatia (too dead in the winter, too crowded in the summer) that aspect of Nerja turned us off.
With our new priorities, we had decided to go have a look at Nerja.
Nerja is surrounded by nature. The coast is lined by beaches, behind town rise mountains (the Sierras de Tejeda, Almijara y Alhama). In a way, Nerja reminded us of a mini-Split. It’s maybe not as dramatic as Split. But the nature is beautiful.
We were a bit nervous that the town might just be a beach town. It’s not. It’s a “little city” that has all the amenities of a bigger city and most of it caters to a local population who actually live in town. You’ll find hardware stores, furniture stores, and all other kinds of establishments that people who live in a town need. That’s important. When we were in Split we searched everywhere for a hardware store where we could buy nails. We asked locals, we went to the tourist office. The nearest hardware store that sold nails was one of those huge Home Depot-type stores in the suburbs. We had to rent a car or take a taxi to get there. In Nerja we’ve found anything we’ve needed within a few blocks. I bought running shoes – I didn’t have to go to a shopping center outside the center, the store was just a few blocks away and I paid $60 for a great pair of Sketchers running shoes (ie. local prices, not tourist prices). We bought a bed for our new apartment. It was a relief to see that Nerja has everything that we needed, in fact more so than Split (which is much bigger)
Nerja is also a pretty town. You won’t be blown away beautiful churches or plazas. Culturally it won’t blow your socks off. But it is a pretty town and it’s very pedestrian friendly.
Finally, I had mentioned that location was important. We didn’t want to be far from a major airport and being 45 minutes from Malaga we aren’t. For that, Nerja is the perfect base.
The above are the positives. Negatives? Initially we wanted to be in a more Spanish, more cultural city. We also didn’t want to be in a place with a lot of tourists and expats. Although there are many locals living in Nerja, I read that 25% of the population are expats. So Nerja isn’t the immersive cultural experience that we were initially looking for.
Nerja is a very nice place.
Looking for a real estate agent? We used Diane Jacobs to help us find our apartment in Nerja. She specializes in long-term rentals but also handles all your other real estate needs.
Contact her here
So why I am updating this post?
We’ve realized over the last two years that Nerja is probably not our forever home. As I state in the title, Nerja was “perfect for the times”. It’s a nice place that’s been good to us. We’re thankful to have found this town. But it’s not a place we see ourselves long term. I’ll be writing more about that pretty soon.
With our feet now on the ground in Spain – and with lots of time to explore – we’ll be revisiting the list of prospective bases that I mentioned at the top of this post. We’ll also be exploring many new places. 2023 might be the year we find a new home in Spain.
Update: What’s it like living in Nerja? The Pros and the Cons
Related: Thoughts on Living in Spain (1 year in) – interview on Spain Revealed
Related: Living in Spain – are we “Expats” or “Immigrants”?
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Hi Frank, I really enjoy your posts and u tube videos (wish there were more!). I fell in love with Nerja years ago. I plan to retire there, hopefully very soon, sometime this year. As an aside, when my daughter was 9 years old I took her there for the first time and showed her the church, jokingly telling her that maybe she can get married there one day. Well, she’s now in her 30’s and will have a Nerja wedding soon!
I love the pictures of your home. Are you in Nerja proper? I plan to buy a small place and was wondering if you can recommend an English-speaking realtor?
Thanks for your comment. I see you filled out the realtor form and I passed it on to Diane – she’ll be contacting you soon (she’s been a bit overwhelmed lately).
Did you see our latest video? Here. We haven’t done much YT but are working on doing more videos. If you have any specific topics you want addressed feel free to suggest some 🙂
For the apartment: we’re near the Parador. The best part of town I think (ie. a few minutes west of “downtown”)
Great about you daughter, I know Nerja is a popular wedding destination.
We have more on Spain and Nerja on our Spain-only blog: Mapping Spain and our Mapping Spain FB Group if you’re interested.
Please keep in touch and let me know if you have any issues or questions related to Diane.
Alice Roco Levy
Hi Frank, thanks for your reply. I’ve reached out to Diane. I’m curious about why you think the Parador area is the best place? As I said I plan to buy a place but am really not sure where I’d like to live. I told Diane I wanted to find a place in the center but If the price is right it probably wouldn’t’ be bad being a bit father away (if I can find a place that looks like yours!)
That might be an idea for a new video – best places to live in and around Nerja! You know you’d have me thrilled to watch!
Thanks and my best,
We like the Parador area because most of the buildings are low-rise complexes with gardens, pools etc. The Torrecilla area is popular as well but most of the buildings there higher. It’s a more populated area. There are areas outside the city center but personally I wouldn’t want – what’s the point in living in Nerja if you need a car to get to the center or to go to the beach?
You actually read my mind. I’ll be publishing a post this weekend written by Diane where she talks about the different parts of town to live in. I thought of walking around adn doing a bit of video to supplement that. If I can find the time that’s what I’ll do 🙂
Hi Alice. I did a post (and video) on real estate in Nerja on our other blog: What you need to know about Real Estate in Nerja
Hello, Your site looks like the best and most clearly informative of the dozens I’ve looked at as we consider a move to Spain. Thanks for all the great info.
My wife and I are planning on being on the Costa del Sol this Sept 2021 for 2 weeks. We are doing a bit of an exploratory trip to see if living there is right for us, as we both just retired. I ski 30+ days per year, the wife hike 20kM in a day easy, so we love nature and in reasonably good shape. We were thinking Malaga, but I think we’ll give Nerja a try, as I am a pretty social guy and was hoping to find a place with just enough expats to make quick friends, but still close to that wonderful electric atmosphere that is Spain. Do you know of any other communities on the Costa del Sol that we should investigate? Cheers!
Thank you very much for the kind words!
You should have a look at this: Top Places to live as an expat on Spain’s Costa del Sol. It was contributed to our blog a few years back by a long term expat in this area.
I will say this however – of what we’ve seen Nerja is the top pick. Unlike many of the places along the Costa del Sol you don’t see the ugly highrises here. Nerja is a whitewashed town with mostly low level buildings. It feels like a traditional town. That, and the nature around it, are what we like so much about it.
You should also have a look at our new site, Mapping Spain, which deals only with Spain. There we have an expat series that covers different towns and cities in Spain including some on the Costa del Sol. Estepona, Benalmadena, and Torremolinos for example.
Ben J Siebert
Hola Frank. I am here in Nerja for a week, and wondered if there might be an event for English speaking redidents during our stay. If you’d be up for tapas and a vermut contact me at [email protected]. I check it daily while here. Hope to meet. Thanks!
Hi Ben. I’m sorry, it’s not something we do, especially with Covid.
But if you have questions I’m happy to help 🙂
My husband and I are retiring to Spain. We currently live in Alabama in the States. We hope to have everything in place March or April 2022. (depending on the virus situation) The past few months, I have been thinking that Nerja maybe the right place for us. I would like yalls opinion. We need a base since we want to travel but e be home when we are there. I would like to be able to walk to the beach, the market, pharmacy etc. I would love not to have to have a car. We don’t want to be in the tourist areas. We love the outdoors and fishing. We have 2 large dogs that have paperwork stating they are assistance dogs. They are older now and well behaved. We would like to integrate into real spanish life. I am thinking of staying at a airbnb or similar for the first month while we find a place to rent.. I had rather rent than buy at this point. Neither of us have ever been to Spain so we could really use your input.. We are too old to keep up with the young party hard crowd now. Can yall give me some ideas or specific locations? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated.
I would say that Nerja fits most of your points – except that there are (in normal times) a lot of tourists in town. It’s definitely not the typical Spanish town as there is a good sized expat population. So if that is a priority you may be disappointed. But I will say that if you’re flexible you have the best of both worlds, with typical Spanish flavour as well as everything expats would ever need. Also, most expats here on the old side, the young tourists go downtown 🙂
Have a look at our Spain-only website. We have an Ask an Expat section that focuses on different places in Spain. You might find it helpful in weighing different places. And if you ever have more questions about Nerja feel free to write me personally.
Ps. we also rent. no need to buy
Just checking over your blog – super interesting life you are both leading! Congrats on your beautiful space in Nerja! We had a month long holiday organized for Sep-Oct 2020 (Spain and Portugal) … well, you can imagine what happened! Anyway, Nerja was on our list … but there is always 2021 … 2022. Best of luck – keep doing what you love – you are both a real inspiration!
Thank you very much for the kind words Lucy-Ann. When the time comes don’t be shy with any questions you may have, I’ll help you best I can!
Congrats on chosing Nerja! it’s a fantastic place. We live in La Cala de Mijas, about 35 minutes West of Malaga and it is a similar place. Both places are about the best to be about in times of Covid. Seaside, monuntains, hiking trails, nature…
Thanks for the comment Valentina. Never heard of it and just googled it – looks very pretty! I like that boardwalk along the coast. One day, when things get back to normal, we’ll be sure to stop by and have a look.
wow great news Frank. It looks like you’ve found a great spot! Small but handy location, seaside which will be a good thing in the summer when it gets so hot. and you look like you’ve got a nice place to win.
Great news, Frank. My congratulations! Your new apartment is superb and the yard can be a gym in case of the new lockdown. With all these lemon trees, I hope Lissette knows the recipe of limoncello.
Exactly Victor, we’ll be using it as a gym to workout. We also have a 3rd bedroom upstairs and will get a spin bike.
I love limoncello. Unfortunately if I want limoncello I’m going to have to make it myself 🙁
Looks like a nice little place! Even though my passage through Spain is quite some time off, it’s currently not going through Malaga and Nerja. The plan is to head north from Gilbraltor to Seville, before going east (and not hitting the coast again until Cartagena. Maybe I’ll consider returning to the coast much sooner and go through Nerja.
I know you’re the big bike guy – will you be doing this by bike Stephen?
Biking something I really want to do here. In Croatia it was too dangerous, absolutely no shoulder on major roads. From what I’ve seen so far in Spain, there’s usually a wide shoulder.
I’d be curious about your biking adventure and your itinerary. Would you be following major roads? Are there special trails for bikes?
Hi Frank. It will all be by bicycle. It’ll be a mix of what roads I take – I’d prefer to keep to the less busy roads, but main roads are unavoidable at times. If there’s an alternative, I’ll take it – whether it’s a minor road or cycle path.
I’d be curious how you plan it. Do you map it out ahead of time? Or do you do it for every leg once you’ve reached a destination?
I usually plan in advance, and make any adjustments later. I usually plan, as that gives me the flexibility to stick to the route, modify it, or abandon it altogether.
Loved reading about your journey, wishing you health and happiness in Nerja.
We have been visiting there at least once a year since 2007, also love Granada and we were supposed to be back there in August but fingers crossed we will make it next year. Luckily we made it to Nerja in Feb/March before COVID hit. Did you visit Seville we found it to be a great city with small suburbs giving you that local friendly feeling.
Thank you very much for your comment Ann. We love all those cities as well, including Seville where we spent 2 months a few years ago. In the end it just came down to our priorities changing because of Covid and wanting to be close to nature and away from busy centers. Who knows what the future holds.
Always great hearing people love Nerja. Confirms our decision 🙂
Congrats for your new home, all that area by the sea is beautiful, my wife and I personally fell in love with El Puerto de Santa María in the Cadiz Bay, have been there a couple of times and next planned trip will be Portugal and El Puerto with some more Andalucian places like Sevilla but not too many, we have a very nice group of locals in El Puerto and had always had a very good time. The apartment looks nice and roomy. Wish both of you the best, enjoy Nerja.
A lot of people have mentioned the Cadiz area Carlos. I’m curious to have a look there sometime. Lots of great destinations in the area and I’m going to have to think of buying/leasing a car long term. But it’ll have to wait until things are normal…
Thanks for the wishes Carlos, wish you the best as well in being able to travel again soon.
So glad you guys have finally found somewhere after all your waiting and musing, sounds like the ideal spot to put down roots, and to be so close to some of the country’s most incredible scenery, wow! Hope the next few weeks go well and you get your new nest all nice and homely, the house looks lovely. We’re in lockdown again here in the UK (too little too late in our opinion, thanks Boris), so are having to make do with living vicariously through others right now – so I’m looking forward to hearing more about the area, especially the hiking.
We might end up in a strict version of lockdown Heather where we can only go out to do grocery shopping and an hour of exercise. Unsure yet, but we were told that yesterday by a Spaniard we know. Sucky times.
All the best to you there Heather. We have a lot of British expats here and a lot of British food options including about 10 Indian restaurants that I’ve seen so far. We can thank the Brit influence for that 🙂
Just another question/comment, I would like to hear about your house-hunting experience. How did you get a reliable agent, what should we expect to encounter when looking for a rental, are there fees what should we be cautious about, risks, etc? Would you be able to create a post about that? Thanks a bunch.
I actually had an agent referred to me by a reader of the blog Edith and it worked out nicely. I didn’t really like the first of the bunch of places we visited but then we saw this one and grabbed it.
Always good to have a recommendation by someone who’s actually used a specific agent because there’s a lot of agents and I’m not sure how many are reliable. Basically, they each have a network of places/owners they know. Their commission is 1 months rent.
I’ve already recommended her to someone else who was asking me for an agent in this area. If I start getting more enquiries I’ll have to make sure to get a cut of her commission!
If you ever want something more specific Edith write me personally and I’ll give you contact details and help you with any other details you might be curious about.
I was going to ask you about exactly this. I will keep your contact in mind. I think for us, we will try to follow your process. Visit places, try them for a short period of time. The apt. looks lovely. I’m sure it will be even better when you unpack.
If you need my contact let me know John. She specialises in the Nerja/Frigiliana area but also has houses and apartments in Malaga.
We were supposed to get our furniture today but it will be tomorrow. It’ll look great with our stuff in it. More than anything just looking forward to getting on with living. I’ve got a bike and a basketball that I can’t wait to see again.
Congratulations guys on your new home. I have not been to Nerja, but I have friends who absolutely love it. This region near Malaga has so much to offer and I am sure you will both be very happy there. It must be such a great relief to finally being able to settle down, bring all your things to one place and start enjoying your new life? I will be looking forward to following along and have subscribed to your new blog, but have not received any new posts. Maybe I did something wrong? So I go over again and check it out. Keep well guys.
Thank you Gilda. Yes, it’s a relief. And we’ll finally get all our stuff out of storage and live like normal people. But the day things get back to normal again we’ll be travelling again, maybe do some house exchanges with people we know.
Thanks for subscribing on the new blog Gilda. I haven’t sent out new post from there yet, it’ll take a week – 10 days before we settle in here and I can concentrate on the blogs. But I’ll get there and I’ll be sending out posts when I get to some sort of normal schedule 🙂
Such an interesting blog and it seems the world wants to live in Spain (who can blame us?). I am also interested in any information regarding migrating and living in Spain and would gratefully receive any advice or stories you can share.
Have you looked into the Spanish non-lucrative Visa? All about that here.
We have a blog 100% dedicated to Spain including a lot of interviews that we’ve done with Expats living in different parts of Spain. That might help in choosing the right region for you. Our blog is MappingSpain.com which I’m linking here.
If you have any specific questions don’t be shy to write me 🙂
I have looked at your blog, but find I need more specific questions answered, such as: “Do you get hit with international transfer fees every time money (from pension) goes into your Spanish bank account from my (in my case, Australian) bank account, and how much does this hurt?, but lots of other questions, too.
Is there a way to email you privately (promise not to be too annoying!)?
Hi Catherine. No problem, feel free to email me privately.
Yes, we usually send one lump sum payment from our Canadian bank to our Spanish bank every month. They charge $10 Canadian. Rate isn’t the greatest so I know they skim a bit there as well. But at this point I’ve just been overwhelmed by other things. I know one of our readers has recommended a company called Transferwise which, I’m told, is about 3% cheaper than the banks.
Congratulations on your new home. It looks lovely. As for traveling in the EU, I suppose it’s risky to take vacations anywhere, lest you end up stuck far away from home. Sweden is still open if anyone wants to see the Northern lights. Haha. Since you guys fled the Canadian winters for the Mediterranean (you must be the envy of many of your friends), I doubt you want to head north. (chuckle)
Keep us posted. I like following your blog.
wow – sounds great for you guys. Congratulations! Am looking forward to your hiking reports and pictures.- Best to you guys, Jan
Thank you very much Jan!
Glad you finally found a nice place guys. It looks good and you don’t have to mow any grass 😉
No, but tons of plants and trees to take care of. We have a lemon tree that’s blooming right now and we have to pick the lemons and trim the tree. And we have ivy that I have to steer in the right direction. I’ve always had a green thumb so I look forward to all that.
I have been following your adventures for a while and always look forward to reading your travel letters. From your very first post on your return to Spain I immediately knew where you were because of the photos. My husband and I spent 6 weeks there a few years ago during the winter months. We loved the town and have fond memories. Congratulations. I look forward to reading more of your adventures in Nerja and the rest of the Costa del Sol when it is safe to do so.
Thanks so much Pru. As I said to another commenter, it’s really nice to hear from other people that they also love Nerja. It’s new to us, so positive comments on the town confirm our choice. Who knows, maybe it will be our home for many years to come.
How exciting to see you there, never heard of Nerja, now I know. The apartment looks awesome and lucky you with timing before a new lockdown. You deserve the new future after all the headaches this year. Good luck.
Thank you very much Sara. We were just saying the other day how lucky we’ve been with timing: we left Spain in July when cases were down and entered Montreal where cases were also down. We came back to Spain as cases in Montreal were escalating and just before travel restrictions were being imposed, and now we have a new apartment just as new lockdown measures are coming into effect. We’ve been very lucky with how things have worked out.
From your pics, your apt. looks very nice. I have friends who live PT in Nerja. They own a home and split their time between Nerja and NYC. Through their home, they have also gained Spanish citizenship. So they can travel back and forth. They absolutely love Nerja!
That’s great to hear John. I know from the expat pages that there are a lot of part-timers.
We’ve never had a place that’s so big in our lives. Maybe too big. But for at least the next few years it will be perfect and we have a lot of outdoor space in case they decide to have a “real” shutdown (where you can’t leave the house except for grocery shopping and an hour of exercise). I was told yesterday it’s something they’re actually discussing…
Congratulations on finding a great place to settle in. How far is Nerja from Salobrena? I remember hitchhiking through there many years ago and thinking it was a beautiful little seaside town. At the time, there were orange groves between the Mediterranean and mountain.
Thank you Diane. Salobrena is 30 min up the coast – unfortunately we won’t be allowed to go there for a while because it is in Grenada province and the government has put in restrictions between provinces because of Covid. The city of Grenada is actually a hotspot right now. But yes, we definitely want to visit Salobrena.
Still lots of orange groves, very pretty!
Congratulations on your new home! It looks and sounds like a wonderful fit!
Thank you Tom! Appreciate it!