Living in the North-East of Spain
North Eastern Spain is home to the historical regions of Catalonia, Aragon, The Basque Country and La Rioja, home of the popular Spanish wines.
Most of us have heard of Rioja wine, but did you know this comes from the La Rioja region of Spain? It is in fact the smallest of the Spanish regions and lies towards the north of the country bordered to the south by Castile-Leon and to the north by Navarra and the Basque Country. It is home to the Ebro River, the capital of Logroño, and the wine capital of Haro. The region is also notable thanks to the several dinosaur footprints that have been found here.
The gently rolling green hills and pace of life here will suit those who are looking for a peaceful existence in the countryside and who enjoy outdoor pursuits like horse riding, fishing, hiking and nature. Skiing is possible too and there is a strong drive towards eco-tourism.
La Rioja has seven valleys, and its highlands are home to numerous varieties of trees – including beech, pine and oak (generally used for timber). These hillsides provide excellent pasture for sheep and cattle, as well as almond, oak and olive trees – and of course the enormous vineyards used to make the famous Rioja wines.
The Phoenicians were the first to plant vines here as early as the 11th Century BC, and the Romans continued cultivation as they did in most countries they conquered.
The soil in which the famous vines are planted is a particular ochre colour and the main river is the mighty Ebro which flows south through Catalonia to finally reach the sea not far from the city of Tortosa. The Romans were here and for hundreds of years pilgrims on the route to Santiago de Compostela have crossed La Rioja where there are two Unesco heritage monasteries in the regions’ mountains.
La Rioja offers the best of small Spanish towns. Santo Domingo de Calzada, a walled medieval town, is still a major stop for pilgrims. Briones, a small village stands overlooking a sea of vineyards and Enisco is where dinosaurs lived and died some 120 million years’ ago. A place to explore.
The capital city is Logroño with a population of around 155,000 and of course its main industry is Rioja wine. Settled originally by the Romans, it has a temperate climate and is not really a major tourist spot. The medieval centre boasts over 50 tapas bars and they all survive by offering maybe two or three specialities to be served with a variety of Rioja wines.
Peace and quiet
The region will appeal to those who are looking for peace and tranquillity, as it is the least populated of all Spain’s regions, with around 65 people per kilometre. Those who seek space and calm, have an interest in wine, or are considering opening a B&B may find that this is perfect for them. In addition, to the large wine industry, there are also many natural pursuits such as walking, hiking, horse riding and angling. The region has also long been on the map for travellers, as it lies along the famous pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.
If you are looking for a genuine Spanish experience, La Rioja is the place for you. There are around 30,000 foreigners in the whole region and most are involved in some way in the wine industry – some working as guides for tourists on wine tours.
An authentic way of life in Spain
This is not a very international area, so speaking Spanish is more or less essential. Since wine is the major industry, work opportunities revolve around everything to do with wine, so teaching jobs or other more usual routes for expats will be few and far between. On the other hand, a knowledge of Spanish and an interest in viticulture, history and architecture could come in very handy…
Of course, one of the benefits of experiencing an authentic way of life here is that the cost of living is low compared with much of Spain.
The closest international airport to the La Rioja region is Madrid Airport, which is around 130 miles away. This connects the region to the UK, the rest of Spain and of course further afield. Several cities across the UK reach Spain through Ryanair, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Monarch, British Airways and many more airlines.
You can reach La Rioja by train from Barcelona, which can be connected to the UK through the Eurostar at Paris; it can take around 12 hours to travel from London St. Pancras to Barcelona.
The Empordà Region of Catalonia
The area which runs along the Eastern coast of Spain from the French border to just below the pretty seaside town of Sant Feliu de Guixols is called Empordà and is divided into two – Alt Empordà (high Empordà) and Baix Empordà (Low Empordà) – which refer to the geography rather than anything else – and there is a noticeable difference in the landscape of north and south.
This region has a beautiful coastline, with little bays and creeks nestling below steep rocky hills and also a few larger beaches which attract locals and foreigners alike. There is a pathway (Camí de Ronda), which runs along most of the coast under pine trees and other Mediterranean vegetation, which offers stunning views. The region has many different towns and villages along the coast, each with its own identity and atmosphere.
Surrounded by history
Inland, there are myriad medieval villages, where you can step into the past and enjoy traffic free streets, or wander through the quiet countryside – still never very far from the sea. History is all around you, as the Greeks, Romans, Vikings and French have all occupied this area at some time or another. Bearing witness to this are several important archaeological sites, the best known being the ruins at Empúries near L’Escala, where you have two ancient cities side by side, both Greek and Roman. The town of Castelló d’Empuries is a delightful place, at one time the most important in the region.
L’Escala in the north and Palamòs in the south are large towns where fish is landed daily and where they hold fish auctions by the quayside. These days, everything is electronic and businesses can bid over the internet. The region has a wonderful selection of fresh fish and seafood, but also excellent quality meats, vegetables and fruit. Most towns have daily markets, where you can buy all of these, along with free range eggs.
Nature on your doorstep
The Aiguamolls nature reserve and bird sanctuary is very popular, running along the coast. Here you can enjoy all sorts of wildlife and vegetation. Not far to the north is the town of Figueres, which is famous because of the Dali Theatre and Museum, a site of global interest, which welcomes visitors from every part of the world.
With good communications with France and Barcelona, Empordà is popular with second homeowners and tourists; Girona airport serves the area, with spring to autumn flights, and a few in the winter. Barcelona and Perpignan (France) airports are both accessible by train and bus services.
Close links to Barcelona and France
With good communications with France and Barcelona, Empordà is popular with second homeowners and tourists; Girona airport serves the area, with spring to autumn flights, and a few in the winter. Barcelona and Perpignan (France) airports are both accessible by train and bus services. Not far away are the Pyrenees Mountains, perfect for hiking and skiing. There is also a fast train service from Madrid which stops at Barcelona and Girona and goes all the way to Paris.
The main international airport for the region of Catalonia is Barcelona-El Prat, located around 8 miles away from the centre of Barcelona. This is the second largest airport in Spain, after Madrid, and connects the country with the UK, the rest of Spain and further afield. From the UK, you can reach Barcelona from several airlines across the country – including British Airways, easyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch and Ryanair. The Girona-Costa Brave Airport also serves the region, with mostly seasonal flights to the UK and further afield, while Rues Airport, in the south of the region is also served by airports in the UK and mainland Europe during the seasonal months.
By train, the region can be reached internationally by TGV from Paris to Barcelona – before further trains spidering out to the rest of the region.
|Province||Avg. price||1 bed||2 beds||3 beds||4 beds||5 beds|
|Barcelona||€ 680,000||–||€ 455,000||€ 505,000||€ 695,000||€ 1,062,500|
|Girona||€ 399,000||€ 105,000||€ 185,000||€ 320,000||€ 575,000||€ 769,800|
|Tarragona||€ 169,000||€ 75,500||€ 125,000||€ 170,000||€ 275,000||€ 360,000|
|NATIONAL||€ 249,000||€ 112,100||€ 160,000||€ 249,950||€ 420,000||€ 650,000|
When you say “Spain”, most people will immediately imagine beaches and promenades – but there is so much more to the country than its well-known Costas. To the north, bordering France, you will find the incredibly beautiful Cerdanya area, located in the mountains of the Pyrenees.
The Cerdanya has not been spoilt by excessive tourism, and it tends to attract nature lovers, trekkers and mountaineers, as well winter sports enthusiasts. It is a wonderful all-year-round region of Spain, and perfect for those who are not seeking a life on a beach.
A popular mountain region
This region is popular with skiers and hikers, and it rivals the Alps for all winter sports, with tourism its main industry. The capital of Cerdanya is Puigcerdà, a delightful town founded as far back as 1148. Just 6 minutes’ away by train is France, and its little town of Latour de Carol. From here you can enjoy a trip on The Little Yellow Train, which winds its way down the valleys and steep gorges to Villefranche de Conflent.
Skiing in the Cerdanya is very much a family pastime and children are well catered for. The après-ski may be less sophisticated than in French resorts, but there is always a warm welcome at the region’s hotels and hostels. You can eat very well and Catalan mountain cuisine is of excellent quality – why not try the wonderful cheeses, or the trumfas (a type of potato), the lamb, fish and game.
This is an area to consider if you are thinking of moving to Spain and want to open a bed and breakfast, or offer self-catering properties.
On the Spanish side, the scenery is just as stunning, and rural tourism is very popular throughout the year. Many farms offer accommodation or cottages to holidaymakers, in or close to the National Park of Cadi i Moixeró. This is an area to consider if you are thinking of moving to Spain and want to open a bed and breakfast, or offer self-catering properties. Communications and connections are good here. As this is a mountainous area, roads can sometimes be difficult to negotiate but generally the ski slopes and resorts are very accessible.
The closest airports to La Cerdanya include those in Catalonia, and even some based over in France; you will really need a car to reach the area, although there are regular trains from Barcelona and from France (to Latour de Carol).
Another small region, the Basque Country is home of the Basque people and the two parallel ranges of the Basque Mountains – which give the region a distinctive climate, although the continental climate is evident in the middle of the two. The Basque language is a co-official language across the region, and spoken widely – making it important for those looking to move here to learn this as well as Castilian Spanish.
Try some seafood or sample Pintxos
The cuisine here is an important part of Basque culture, and one of the main reasons for its popularity with tourists – especially the seafood, or the Pintxos, a small snack eaten in bars of taverns. Pintxos is fairly similar to the traditional Spanish tapas, with the main difference being that pintxos usually have a spike (pincho) attaching then to a piece of bread. Almost any ingredient can be spiked to the bread, but in the Basque Country the most popular include types of fish, tortilla de patatas, stuffed peppers and croquettes.
While the region does not really have a capital, the biggest and most well-known town here is Bilbao, and this is where generally the expats of the region live. Bilbao has been a tourist destination for many, many years, but numbers have surged since the building of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997. The architecture here is also attractive, with beautiful buildings ranging from gothic to contemporary in style, as well as the 18 public parks across the city.
The main airport of the Basque country is Bilbao International Airport. This can be reached by the UK from several airlines, including British Airways and easyJet, and also connects the area to the rest of Spain, and further afield. Seasonal flights connect the region to other areas in Spain from Vitoria Airport and San Sebastián.
The region is connected by train to the rest of Spain, as well as parts of France – and from there to the rest of the Europe and the UK.
The largest region in the north-east of Spain, Aragon borders the Pyrenees and is of particular interest thanks to the outstanding mountainous landscapes here – and the winter sports that go hand in hand with this. The region is also home to many historically monumental towns, including the old Kingdom of Aragon – a centre of Spanish culture in medieval times.
The population here remains low, meaning there are parts of the region that remain wild and relatively untouched. The climate here is continental moderate; the mountainous areas are very cold in winter but cool in the summer, whilst further out on a plateau it will be mild in winter and hot in summer.
Its landscape goes some way to explain the cuisine of the location, with lamb, beef and dairy products all popular. The ham from Teruet is also popular, alongside the olive oil found in Empeltre and Arbequina.
The key cities of the Aragon region include:
Capital of Aragon, Zaragoza is the most populated town of the region, and famous for its folklore and landmarks – as well as the local gastronomy.
Much of the culture here is derived from the early settlement of Christianity here, such as the well- known churches of San Pablo, Santa Maria Magdalena, San Gil Abad, San Miguel, Santiago and Fecetas monastery. All churches here are Mudéjars monuments that comprise a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Life here is relaxing, simpler and sunnier with a vibrant and welcoming expat community.
Those looking to settle here are advised to ensure you have a good working knowledge of Spanish – as there is very little English speaking here. However, once you get passed this you will find that life here is relaxing, simpler and sunnier with a vibrant and welcoming expat community. It helps that the city is cheaper than the bigger cities of the country, like Madrid and Barcelona!
Known for its harsh climate, cured ham and pottery, Terueul was also the location of some of the oldest dinosaur remains of the Iberian Peninsula. It has been nicknamed the ‘town of Mudéjar’ for the several buildings in this Moorish-influenced architectural style – and these are also part of the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The main airport of Aragon is Zaragoza Airport, about 10 miles west of Zaragoza. Much smaller than most international airports of the country, the main service from the UK to Spain here is the seasonal Ryanair flight to London-Stansted. However, there are regular flights connecting the area to other parts of Spain and Europe. The nearest larger international airports, regularly served by flights from the UK, include Bibao Airport and Valencia Airport.
Trains run to the region from Madrid and Barcelona, therefore connecting the region to the rest of Europe and beyond.
The Spain Buying Guide takes you through each stage of the property buying process, with practical recommendations from our experts who have been through the process themselves. The guide will help you to: