Should I Stay or Should I Go?
The definitive guide to moving abroad and whether it's right for you


This is a preview to the chapter Spain from the book Should I Stay or Should I Go? by Paul Allen.
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While the ippr survey put the number of Britons in Spain at three quarters of a million, Spain’s National Statistics Institute (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica) estimated as many as 1.1 million British nationals were resident in Spain in 2006. That was up 21 percent on the year before. And with budget airlines now flying to a multitude of destinations across the country, Spain has become more accessible than ever. Meanwhile, the latest figures cited by the Association of Americans Resident Overseas puts the number of US citizens in the country at almost 100,000, making it one of the top 10 most popular destinations for expat Americans.

Historically, the resort towns of the Costa del Sol and Costa Blanca have been particularly popular among the expat crowd, with their promise of sunshine, cheap living and a laidback pace of life. Indeed, some areas are so thick with Brits – and other European nationalities – that they’ve become almost a home-from-home, save for the blue skies.

But while the Eldorado expat stereotype is undoubtedly alive and kicking, increasing numbers of arrivals are heading away from the traditional enclaves in search of the ‘real’ Spain long eulogised by writers from Ernest Hemingway to Chris Stewart.

For some that means the bustle of Madrid. Others are searching for a slice of authentic rural life among the parched lands of Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura, or in the green and rugged beauty of the northern coast.

Each region certainly has its own particular charms. Despite its Benidorm/Torremolinos image, Spain is a country of massive regional variety, and hidden depths. Indeed, even a few miles inland from the most blighted resorts traditional Spanish life in traditional Spanish villages marches on.

After spending five months of 1997 criss-crossing the country, and having lived in Spain for over six years, I’ve been fortunate enough to sample much of its rich diversity. And what I’ve found is not so much a nation as a collection of miniature countries, each with its particular history, culture, landscape, even language. The trick is in finding the bit that best suits your tastes and interests.

If you’re looking for inspiration on where to go you can always take a leaf from one of the many moving-to-Spain books that have flooded the market in recent years.

There’s Andalucia’s Alpujarras region as per Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons, No Going Back’s Martin Kirby and the journalist Matthew Parris (A Castle in Spain) in Catalunya, the Costa Blanca as depicted in Derek Lambert’s Spanish Lessons, or Mallorcan farm life à la Peter Kerr’s Snowball Oranges.

For my wife and me though the choice was easy. My in-laws had owned an apartment for many years in a Mediterranean fishing town close to the French border. We used it as a base from which to explore possible locations both on this stretch of the Costa Brava and across into France, but in the end could find nowhere to surpass its year-round lifestyle potential.

For one, we wanted to be on the coast. We both come from the south of England, and so are used to having the sea close by (if that’s what you can call the English Channel). And of course Spain bakes in the summertime. What better way to avoid being flambéed in the sun than a dip in the Med?

Another big lure was that the town has its own permanent community. On parts of the Costa Brava – and indeed all over Spain – the resorts are deluged in summer and ghost towns in winter, with barely a shop or bar open. And while our town also sees an influx of both domestic and foreign tourists during the summer, nevertheless the beating heart of a community – with its schools, shops, sports centre and restaurants – remains throughout the year.
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