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Where to Live in Spain?

by Dee Andrews

Once our family decided living in Spain was for us, we then had the fun and difficult task of deciding where to live! We pulled out a map of Spain, scoured the internet, asked friends, read books and were determined to find the best places to live in Spain.

The top considerations we used for finding the best place to live were:

  • one of the Spain regions on the coast for warmer weather and proximity to the Mediterranean Sea,
  • a Spanish village, small town vs big city,
  • an international school option for our children should the local school not work out, and
  • places in Spain full of Spanish culture and character, perhaps one of the those white villages?


View Where in Spain in a larger map

We initially focused on the less populated “ends” of the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. A recommendation from a friend of a friend also drew our attention to the Valencia region. From there, we googled international schools and plotted them on our map of Spain.

With four places in Spain on our short list, Spanish villages in the Andalusian and Valencia Spain regions, we rented houses in each for several weeks, planning to use the summer months to determine which we liked best and where to live. We were off!

Nerja and Frigiliana

Frigiliana, Spain

Frigiliana, Spain

The white villages were high on our list and Frigiliana was our first destination. We spent three weeks in a house between the village and the small town of Nerja. Frigiliana was known as a beautiful white village with a local baker, fishmonger, butcher, and wine-merchant. Sounded like an ideal Spanish village to me, full of Spanish culture and character. Unfortunately, Frigiliana never got much of a look. Our settling-in needs took over,
Beach of La Herradura

Beach of La Herradura

and we traveled into Nerja those first weeks for groceries, internet connections and the beach. We discovered the old town of Nerja fairly quickly with its cobbled streets, difficult parking and many English speaking expats. Other Spanish villages up and down the southern Spain coast had more appeal to us, Almuñécar and La Herradura both. And there was an international school in Almuñécar which made it appealing. It was larger too and felt like a working Spanish town, full of Spanish culture and not a tourist destination.

Places in Spain Near Valencia

View from El Sequer in Benimeli, Spain

View from El Sequer in Benimeli, Spain

From Frigilana, we headed northeast toward the Spain regions of Alicante and Valencia. There were a handful of Spanish villages within the Jalon and Rectoria Valleys nestled amongst the grapevines and orange trees that we were interested in exploring for the best place to live. We were staying in a very small one, Benimeli, which was incredibly quaint with its 350 inhabitants and local baker named Delores. The Rectoria Valley had much more Spanish culture whereas the Jalon Valley was fairly built-up with British expats and golf course homes. Beautiful, but not the places in Spain we were looking for.

Our first experience in Javea.

Our first experience in Javea.

We really enjoyed Javea, which had a population of about 30,000 and was on the sea. It reminded me of southern California without the attitude and sprawl! The arenel area felt like a beach town, the port full of Spanish culture and lively with restaurants. We heard a lot of Spanish being spoken, though German, French and English too. There were two international schools, great weather, great beaches and the Montgo mountain. We liked what we were seeing in Javea.

The White Villages of Casares and Gaucin

Our View of the Gaucin Castle

Our View of the Gaucin Castle

We moved to the mountains next, traveling back down to the western edge of the Costa del Sol, near Estepona, then up to Gaucin and two weeks later to Casares. Both Gaucin and Casares were beautiful, breath-taking white villages, but ultimately felt too small and remote for our family. Gaucin was a wonderful place though for an authentic Spanish holiday in one of the white villages, and we enjoyed our dinners in the squares and walks to the local swimming pool.

Our First Glimpse of Casares

Our First Glimpse of Casares

Casares, at only nine miles to Estepona and the coast, had been high on our list of Spanish villages. It was a picture postcard white village with a population of around three thousand and supposedly had avoided the tourists. From the top of the town, some 1,400 feet above sea level, you could see the African coast with the Rock of Gibraltar looming in the foreground.

Javea is Where to Live in Spain!

Though we enjoyed our travels… and most of our experiences… in all of the places in Spain we explored, by this point in our journey, we thought Javea would be the best place to live in Spain. We eagerly committed to a rental house and schools. We also had Denia, Valencia and Barcelona very near for further travels. The weather seemed perfect, and the sea and mountains were all around us! Of all the Spain regions we visited, Javea felt like home!

Which places in Spain do you think are the best places to live? Tell us which Spain region, city or village you’d choose to call home!

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Travel Blog February 9, 2010 at 10:07 am

I love to visit Spain in February and march for the festivals but wouldn’t be able to cope with hte heat during the summer
.-= Travel Blog´s last blog ..Tunisia | The Hammamet Garden Resort =-.

My Traveling Troop April 25, 2011 at 12:39 pm

It’s so nice to finally find a blog that dives into the topic of living in Spain! I am currently taking Spanish in the U.S. with the hopes of not only traveling to Spain, but living there some day — even if it’s for a short while. I checked out the pictures you posted of your time in Javea and they are absolutely breathtaking. I will definitely have to add the town to the list of places I want to travel to and live in some day. :) Thanks for sharing!

Dee Andrews April 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Glad you found Travel and Travails! Good luck with your travels and moves… looks like as a military family you may have many more moves in your future. I love exploring new places and I’m excited that our daughters are growing up to appreciate new perspectives. Definitely visit Javea!

Margo Jackson June 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for the info, just trying to put a few places together when we go over to the uk to visist family then abroad for few weeks, as we wanted to go back to Barcelona I found your info very useful because they sound just like the places I would love to see more of. not the tourist strips.

Margo Jackson June 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm

PS Dee can you give me any tips on how to get a website, as I want to try and advertise some craft that I am making. Hope you dont mind me asking.\
Margo

Dee Andrews July 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Hi Margo,

Glad you found some useful information here about places to visit in Spain. They are some of my favorites!

Also, see http://www.Wordpress.com for an easy website or blog.

Louisa Sykes July 9, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Hiya,

we are moving to Benimeli at the end of the month, I was wondering if you had anything to do with the primary school in the village?
thanks
Louisa

Dee Andrews July 12, 2011 at 6:23 am

Hola Louisa,

Benimeli brings a smile to my face; it is such a wonderful little village! My daughters loved running all around on their own, exploring its streets and parks. While we enjoyed it immensely for the three weeks we were there, we did not consider living there long term because it was so small. I do remember there is a primary school and several families we met with small kids who attended. Wishing you the best ~ Dee

Maya Seyti September 24, 2011 at 5:18 am

Hi Dee,

Thanks a bunch for all the useful information about your experience in Spain and your stay in Javea. My family is considering living in Spain for long term and we are going to apply for the non-lucrative visa. We would greatly appreciate any feedback regarding the following queries:

–Did you have to travel first to Spain as tourist to determine which area to live in and sign the rental contract before you apply for the non-lucrative visa? Because apparently we have to mention in which area (Provence) we will be living in Spain in the non-lucrative visa application and the rental contract has to be in that area.
– Did you have to rent a house for the whole year and submit a registered rental contract in the visa application? If yes, did you have to pay for the whole year or just a deposit, and how did you sign and get the contract if you were not yet in Spain? Any rental agent you personally dealt with and would recommend?
– One of the requirements is to have private medical insurance in Spain BEFORE applying for the visa. An active medical insurance certificate must be submitted in the visa application. How should we do that while we are out of Spain? Any medical insurance agency you dealt with and would recommend?
– Would you recommend we deal with an immigration lawyer? Does it really reduce the time frame and increase the chances of getting the visa? or there is really no difference whether we do the application procedure on our own?
– Some suggested that buying a property instead of renting significantly increases the chance of obtaining the non-lucrative visa. Any feedback on that?
– Our daughters will have to join an international school (Teaching in English), we did some search in the Javea area and found the “Xabia International College”… Any feedback on this school? Do you know any other KG and Primary schools to recommend in the area?
– Overall safety in Javea and the Valencia area?

We would greatly appreciate it if you will have the time to provide us with detailed answers to the above queries as we really would like to experience and enjoy living in Javea area.

Many thanks in advance.

Kind Regards,

Maya

Maya Seyti September 24, 2011 at 5:21 am

Hi Dee,

Thanks a bunch for all the useful information about your experience in Spain and your stay in Javea. My family is considering living in Spain for long term and we are going to apply for the non-lucrative visa. We would greatly appreciate any feedback regarding the following queries:

–Did you have to travel first to Spain as tourist to determine which area to live in and sign the rental contract before you apply for the non-lucrative visa? Because apparently we have to mention in which area (Provence) we will be living in Spain in the non-lucrative visa application and the rental contract has to be in that area.
– Did you have to rent a house for the whole year and submit a registered rental contract in the visa application? If yes, did you have to pay for the whole year or just a deposit, and how did you sign and get the contract if you were not yet in Spain? Any rental agent you personally dealt with and would recommend?
– One of the requirements is to have private medical insurance in Spain BEFORE applying for the visa. An active medical insurance certificate must be submitted in the visa application. How should we do that while we are out of Spain? Any medical insurance agency you dealt with and would recommend?
– Would you recommend we deal with an immigration lawyer? Does it really reduce the time frame and increase the chances of getting the visa? or there is really no difference whether we do the application procedure on our own?
– Some suggested that buying a property instead of renting significantly increases the chance of obtaining the non-lucrative visa. Any feedback on that?
– Our daughters will have to join an international school (Teaching in English), we did some search in the Javea area and found the “Xabia International College”… Any feedback on this school? Do you know any other KG and Primary schools to recommend in the area?
– Overall safety in Javea and the Valencia area?

We would greatly appreciate it if you will have the time to provide us with detailed answers to the above queries as we really would like to experience and enjoy living in Javea area.

Many thanks in advance.

Kind Regards,

Maya

Dee Andrews September 26, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Hello Maya, Happy to answer your questions as best I can:

– We did not travel to Spain first as tourists to determine where to live. We narrowed it down to four towns and just picked one to put on our visa applications. In the long run, this did pose difficulties, so I would recommend knowing where you’d like to live first. I thought the rental contract they requested for the visa applications absurd. I wasn’t going to commit to a year contract before I had the visa? We did not find the consulate’s office very helpful with this conundrum. Initially they just said to put N/A, but that caused it’s own set of delays. We did eventually send a copy of the short term rental contract we had and explained it could be extended, though we ended up renting a different house long term.

– We discovered no Spanish health insurers would provide coverage to us unless we actually lived there and had the necessary documents (visa and Spanish bank account) so we purchased international travel medical insurance through International Medical Group. You can receive an instant online quote, and they will easily provide the documentation you need for your visa application. The cost for our family of four for one year’s emergency coverage was $2,410. Google them!

– I have no idea if an immigration lawyer reduces the time frame or increases the chances of getting the visa. I would seriously doubt it. They may help in that they’re familiar with the process and actually know people at your consulate and/or speak Spanish, but since the applications go from the Spanish consulate in the US to the consulates in the region in Spain to which you apply and then perhaps down to the local offices, I’m guessing once the applications leave the US…. I don’t know, I’d ask a lot of questions being spending money and counting on a lawyer.

– Never head about buying a property instead of renting to increase the chance of obtaining the non-lucrative visa.

– There are at least 2 international schools in Javea and several in the Valencian suburbs. Both XIC and Lady Elizabeth were good schools. Lady Elizabeth is much more of a British experience and education and XIC more of a mix of nationalities and I thought a little more Spanish and international in flavor.

– The overall safety in Javea and the Valencia area was good. I never felt unsafe (well, perhaps one dark night in the long-term parking lot at the Valencia airport… but as with any situation like that, you want to be careful.) OUr daughters, 7 and 10, at the time, ran all around the Javea port by themselves with their friends on Friday afternoons while we had coffees, went to the movie theater there in Javea by themselves…. it’s a wonderful little place.

If you haven’t seen my post about the visa process, read it for more information.

Let me know if you have other questions too and best of luck,

Dee

Sharry October 31, 2011 at 6:19 am

Dear Dee,
Thanks for sharing your interesting and useful information. I’m traveling to Valencia for studying my master but beforehand I need to participate in a language school to improve my Spanish at least five month before my university starts. I prefer opting somewhere having the least life expenses(approximately 500 euro a month) just while I’m taking language courses but also their local accent is considering to me. I’ve been told to take part in Malaga’s language schools as its life expense is low.what about Javea or other cities?and how are job opportunities there?I know it doesn’t go well due to their economic recession but do you think I can rely on teaching English there or not? In these regards would you please share your information with me?
many thanks in advance
sharry

Dee Andrews October 31, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Hi Sharry,
I understand Madrid and its surrounding towns to be the best for the truest Spanish accent. I recommend Salamanca if you are searching for a smaller city than Madrid and it has many language schools. I don’t know much about living expenses. The coasts have many rentals but I would think smaller towns in the interior might be less expensive.
~ Dee

Erin August 19, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Thank you for this! We are considering doing something like this as well, and this was very helpful.

lyndsey November 26, 2012 at 6:10 pm

I hope you can give me some advice. I am teaching English in Castellon but I am just not feeling it and although the place loks nice and it’s an hour on train to Valencia etc it’s just not for me. I like the size of Castellon as it is easy for me to walk to classes but I like more open people and excitement and I think here is only ideal for families. I have lived in La Linea near Gibraltar before and that was quite dangerous full of gypsies but I made loads of friends,still wasnt the best of places and I love Benidorm but mostly for holidays and sometimes that can be annoying with all the drunken brits. Give me some advice please some of my choices so far have been either Barcelona, Valencia, Murcia, Granada and Sevilla. Which one would you go for?

Lena December 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Hi Dee,

We are expats in Dubai and thinking about relocatting to Spain. We have young children, so an IB school is something we would be looking for. As well a perfect place to raise the family and still be part of Spanish culture.
Where would be my starting points to look? I`m looking for good schools, nice rentals, access to the beach.

Thank you

Dee Andrews January 3, 2013 at 10:13 am

@ Lena,

There are two British international schools in and near Javea, Xabia International and Lady Elizabeth. We considered the local schools, but discovered that they teach in the regional language, Valenciano, not Spanish, so opted for the international schools where are daughters had a Spanish class each day. They also played sports through the local recreation center. That was the best way for us to meet local families and practice our Spanish. Most families at the international schools are expats, a few locals. I don’t believe either are IB schools though.

We too wanted to be near the beach and good schools. We did consider Gaucin and Casares, up the mountain from Marbella, and while they are small Spanish villages, there is definitely an expat community in both and you’re a relative close drive to the coast and airport. They are small though, really small. I enjoyed them for the 2-3 weeks we were there exploring them, but I think over the course of a year, I would have needed more. There is an international school somewhere in that area, too far to drive from Gaucin, but perhaps Casares. It’s west of Marbella.

We really tried to find a Spanish experience on the coast, because we wanted to be near the beach, but truly we felt at the end of our year, we should have looked to the interior of Spain (Salamanca, Valladolid, Cordoba, Granada maybe.) The exception might have been Valencia, on the sea but larger and a Spanish experience with few expats. A wonderful small city! I highly recommend looking at the international schools near Valencia. I think they’re in the “suburbs” but I wish I would have known to explore them more. There are also probably many private schools in Valencia that may offer instruction in English and Spanish, more of a dual immersion experience. And we avoided Barcelona because of Catalan, but in hindsight, I would have looked there at the international schools.

Have fun exploring, Dee

Dee Andrews January 3, 2013 at 10:27 am

@ Lyndsey, Sounds like you might prefer a small city where you can walk easily to things but there are more things to do and people to meet. I highly recommend Valencia, near you and on the coast. I love it’s small city center. Have you explored it much? Sevilla has many students studying Spanish which may be interesting to you for meeting people. If I was living somewhere without my family and wanting to explore, I’d strongly consider Barcelona too. LOVE the art and architecture there! Good luck!

Spanish villages May 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Those interested in the best place to live in Spain can visit spanishvillages.com. It has taken me a total of 2 years to gather all the information about all villages in Spain. You can look for the most beautiful villages and look for schools, hospitals and other businesses and services in any village of Spain.

Dominique May 30, 2013 at 1:31 pm

My fiance and I are considering moving to Spain after our undergraduate studies. He really like the beach, I really like small cities – big enough without being crowded. He already speaks Spanish, I am learning. We would like to complete our graduate studies and live their permanently (adding to our family, etc.). Where would you suggest?

Also, what was the process you went through? I have been researching, but it’s been very confusing.
Gracias!

Dee Andrews May 31, 2013 at 12:04 pm

@ Dominique, check out Valencia. On the Mediterranean, great small city, love the old city center. Regarding the “process we went through,” if by that you might mean immigration, read my post about the visa process. And realize I wrote it some 4 years ago, pre-economic crisis in Spain, so not sure how difficult it is now (and it was difficult then!)

Michael July 27, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Hi Dee,

Great commentary on your experiences in Spain. I was looking for a blog just like this.

Our family is planning on living in Spain for 3 months next summer (wife and two kids – 3 and 13). We are trying to narrow areas/regions down but thought you might have some insights. We have both lived in Europe previously but only have visited Spain once.

Our criteria are:

-close to nice beach
-have some city hub but not too big
- within 2 hour drive of an airport to fly to other spots in Europe for weekend trips.
- not too tourist but some international flavor.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

Best, Michael

Davel September 3, 2014 at 10:08 am

Hi Dee,

What a delight to come across your blog. I wish I had seen it last week! My husband and I are considering moving to Spain and I am overwhelmed by the choices. Xavia was recommended to us by a Spanish friend of ours. The other choices were in Tarragona and finally further up to Catalunya (stunning dramatic rock and mountain formation near coastal area). Punta de Rosa looked fantastic from google sat map!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the following:
Xabia: is it becoming more of a expat area? While I love a mix of cultures and languages, we are drawn to ‘authentic spanish’ and a splash of ‘mix of the european crowd’ rather than the other way around

Does Xabia have any high up vantage points? We like to have a sea view and don’t need to be too close to the coastal area if that means a compromise on newly built up areas (but we like ‘old/historic busy towns). A 20-45 mins drive to be near the sea is fine for us

I’ll be checking transport to and from Xabia next- we were planning to fly into Valencia and booking a car from there.Any tips on getting to Xabia are welcome.

Other than that, we plan to meander along and drive where the wind flows to see what appeals. We haven’t booked a place to stay, but if you have any recommendations, we’re open for suggestions ( 2-3 days only)- Pensione, Hotel, self-catering- we don’t mind any of it. Excited at the prospect of hearing your thoughts.

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