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Nature in the southern Costa Blanca

Nature in the southern Costa Blanca

Much more than white sand beaches and Mediterranean sunshine, the southern Costa Blanca also boasts a magnificent natural heritage. Whether you are out to discover rare species of fauna and flora or simply go for an invigorating walk in a unique environment, here is Sonneil’s guide to the Southern Costa Blanca’s most unmissable natural beauty spots.

The Pink lagoons of Torrevieja and la Mata

Boasting great ecological wealth, the salt flats of Torrevieja are probably the most famous natural park in the Southern Costa Blanca. Their dense waters, with a high salt content, have a very particular pinkish colour due to the seaweed that lines the lagoon bed. Adding to the pink theme that dominates the area are the flocks of flamingos that inhabit the wetlands. In all, there are about 100 types of aquatic and marine birds plus other animals in this amazing natural park.

Apart from the lagoons of La Mata, Torrevieja also has a beautiful 2,000 metre-long beach called La Mata Beach, which is famous for its sunsets.

Finally, the Parque de Las Naciones, which at more than 40,000 m², is worth seeing for its central lake which people say is shaped like European continent. A dedicated area for children makes the place very pleasant for a family outing.

The parks of Guardamar del Segura

In the area of ​​Guardamar del Segura, Reina Sofia Park is a breath of fresh air with lush vegetation and waterfalls. There’s lots to see and do in the park including spaces for children to play, several ponds and waterfalls where a wide variety of animals such as squirrels and birds and ducks can be seen. There’s also lots of walking paths and areas shaded by the various types of trees, including pine trees. Another equally sublime environment are the dunes of Guardamar del Segura, known as Parque Alfonso XIII. Thousands of trees have been planted among these dunes, which cover more than 800 hectares.

The Palmeral of Elche

Declared an “Artistic Garden” in 1943 and classified in 2000 as a World Heritage Site, the rare beauty of this landscape will take your breath away. Here, in a quiet atmosphere of more than 12,000 m²,  you’ll find a lush abundance of Mediterranean and tropical plants such as orange, pomegranate, carob or jujube, as well as a huge range of palm tree and cacti species from around the world.

The wild and beautiful El Carabassi beach is also to be found in Elche. The entire area with its rich marine life and location near the salt marshes of Balsares and Clot de Galvany and has been granted ecological protection status.

If you dream of living close to spectacular scenery, then check out Sonneil’s properties in the Southern Costa Blanca!

Things to consider when buying a property in Spain

Things to consider when buying a property in Spain

Buying a property is the biggest investment most people will make in their lives. Buying one abroad is an even bigger undertaking as it involves navigating a foreign legal and financial terrain. It is normal to feel daunted by the task, but like anything in life, the better prepared you are going into it, the more likely you are to make a success of it. That being the case, Sonneil has compiled a list of important things to consider when buying a house in Spain.

Location, location, location

A house gains in value if it is located in an area with high quality schools and with good communication and transportation routes to the main urban centers, so be sure to ask about these local amenities. It’s a good idea to ask about future development plans pending approval as these may affect the house or its surroundings, and find out as much as you can about how much other properties in the area have sold for recently.

Viewing the property

When visiting the your prospective property purchase take note of things like the orientation of the house, ventilation of the bathrooms and kitchen, the state of the electrical installation, the arrangement of partitions and doors and the ambient noise levels outside. Take photos and write down your observations in a notebook to better remember the property after you leave. Ask the seller about the building’s energy efficiency rating. Choosing a home with an A rating in terms of its energy efficiency means an estimated saving of 89% compared to an F rating, thus allowing you to save money while you save the planet.

The purchasing process

The deposit agreement

Once you’ve chosen your new home and are ready to start the process of buying it, then the legal and financial considerations come to the fore. This starts with the signing of the deposit agreement. The deposit is usually around 10% of the cost of the house. Once the agreement is signed you take on the rights and responsibilities of a buyer. If you later decide not to go through with the transaction, you will lose this deposit but if the seller cancels the sale, they will have to return the deposit to you.

The title deed

Next is the signing of the title deed. This part of the buying process must be done in front of a notary with both the buyer and seller present. The deed must contain a description of the property as well as explaining any mortgages or charges on the house, the final sale price agreed and how it will be paid, plus the taxes and expenses related to the sale.

Taxes and other charges

The main taxes to be paid are the property transfer tax (“Impuesto de Transmisiones Patrimoniales” or ITP) and VAT. Other expenses include notary costs, the payment to add your name to the property register and any costs related to the mortgage.

In the end, the total taxes, charges and expenses represent around 8% to 13% of the purchase price, depending on the autonomous community (Spanish region) in which you are buying.

If you have reached this far in the process, then congratulations, you are the proud owner of your own Spanish property!  

Costa Blanca beaches

Costa Blanca beaches

The Costa Blanca is located in the province of Alicante south of Valencia on the Mediterranean coast.

With an average temperature of 20°C and 300 days of sunshine a year, the Costa Blanca is one of the most visited seaside destinations in Spain and also attracts many foreigners to come and settle here. The majority of whom are drawn by the 235 km of coastline that Costa Blanca has to offer.

Below are just some of the best beaches on the Costa Blanca, according to Sonneil.

La Caleta in Villajoyosa

Sand and rocks mix here to create a quiet beach of turquoise and crystalline waters, with a calm sea, separated from the rest of Alicante’s beaches. It is the perfect place to spend the day, enjoying Alicante’s clement weather. Like most popular beaches, La Caleta is equipped with umbrellas and deck chairs, scooters, and other rental services as well as kiosks offering food and refreshments.

Tabarca Island

Another of our favourite Costa Blanca beaches can also be found near Alicante. Tabarca Island, besides being the only inhabited island in the Valencian community is also a nature reserve/paradise for tourists. Accessible by boat from Alicante, Santa Pola, and Benidorm, its main beach, known as Tanarca or Levanteis, is one of the best in the Alicante area. You will find all types of services for your day of sun and sand, including restaurants and rental scooters. The beach itself is a mix of golden sand and pebble, with a seabed that is crystal clear, inviting swimmers to discover the flora and fauna under the water.

The Granadella in Jávea

Surrounded by nature, Granadella cove in Jávea, is considered one of the precious coastal jewels of the city. At only 200 meters long and just over 20 meters wide, this small gravel beach has had a blue flag for nearly 30 years, making it a favourite for scuba diving enthusiasts.

Cantal Roig in Calpe

One of the most beautiful cities of the Costa Blanca, and also one of the most visited in the summer months is Calpe. Brooded over by the spectacular Peñón de Ifach – a massive limestone outcrop jutting out of the sea – it has a total of 11 beaches and coves. Among the most charming of which is Cantal Roig. One of the smaller beaches, it has fewer tourists and is located right at the foot of Peñón near the fishing port. Its calm, perfectly transparent waters are perfect for observing the world beneath the waves. There are some rocky areas in the water, so if you like to explore, we recommend you wear appropriate footwear.

Carabassí in Elche

Unlike most of the beaches in our list which are characterised, at least in part, by areas of gravel or pebbles, Carabassi in the city of Elche stands out for its large expanse of fine golden sand as well as the system of dunes and pine forests that surround it. Carabassi beach also turns heads thanks to its dedicated nudist section. So if you want to be completely surrounded by nature, head to Carabassi!

What is a “Cala”?

What is a “Cala”?

Among the most picturesque features to be found on the Costa Blanca coastline are calas, or coves, in English.

Formed by a process of erosion whereby softer rocks are worn away faster than the harder rocks surrounding them, the result is shell-shaped, pocket-sized bays, often surrounded by precipitous cliffs that are fringed by wild flora like Spanish firs, junipers, and oak trees.

Their secluded nature can make them a little harder to reach, but all the more rewarding when found, and contrasts markedly with the long, sandy expanse that comes to most people’s minds when they think of a Spanish beach.

Here are some of Sonneil’s favourite calas on the Costa Blanca.

La Granadella, Jávea

La Granadella is a stunning horseshoe-shaped shingle beach near Jávea. Surrounded by pine forests and overlooked by a castle that offers spectacular views over the bay, its popularity with locals means it can get quite busy in summer. But that doesn’t detract from its beauty, or the quality of the snorkelling on offer, allowing you to explore the seagrass beds just off the shore.

Cala la Mosca, Orihuela

With white sand and turquoise waters this is an ideal place to enjoy a cool swim and escape from the masses thronging the other beaches of the Vega Baja. The cala can only be accessed by foot or by bike, making it a bit of a trek to get to, but well worth the effort.

Calas del Cabo de Santa Pola

The coves that punctuate the Cape of Santa Pola are located in a special protection area of great scenic and environmental value. These include the natural coves of l’Aljub,

Cuartel, and those next to Bancal de la Arena, near which you can find an important marine research centre called CIMAR. There clear and aquamarine waters are perfect for diving.

Calas del Cabo de las Huertas, Alicante

Cabo de las Huertas, located between Playa de San Juan and Playa de la Albufereta, is made up of four coves – La Calita, Cala de la Palmera, Cala de Cantalar and Cala de los Judíos. All of which combine shingle and sand and attract visitors looking to escape the bustle of Alicante’s larger beaches with their peace and tranquility.

Cala del Penyal, Calp

This small cove with transparent waters is located in the shade of the impressive rock of Peñón de Ifach and is excellent for scuba diving and fishing thanks to its location and interesting seabed. It also offers wonderful opportunities for nautical excursions and hiking.

Relocating with my pet, what’s the paperwork?

Relocating with my pet, what’s the paperwork?

Moving to a foreign country with your pet requires proper planning. If you want to travel to Spain, regardless of the duration of your trip, it is best to check in advance the laws and regulations regarding the importation of pets. Legally, only dogs, cats and ferrets are considered household pets in Spain. Other specific regulations apply to the importation of birds and other animals. Rare or endangered species are prohibited from entering the country as pets.

You can get more information about the legal requirements surrounding the importation of pets to Spain from Ministry of Agriculture, Fish and Food.

First of all, your pet, be it a dog, a cat or a ferret, must be at least 15 weeks old. They must be vaccinated against rabies and have a blood test to check that the vaccine has been effective.The Spanish government does not authorise the entry of animals under 12 weeks because prior to this they won’t yet have received their rabies vaccination.

A maximum of five pets per person can travel to Spain, otherwise the rules for trade in animals will apply. The exceptions to this rule are in cases of competitions, exhibitions, training or sporting events.

To travel to Spain, your pet must also:

  • Have a European passport for the movement of pets indicating its owner and clearly identifying the animal along with a description of its markings.
  • Be vaccinated against rabies with a vaccine valid at the time of travel. The date on which the vaccine was administered must be included in the passport. Keep in mind that your pet is not authorised to travel within 21 days after the rabies vaccination. Given that the minimum age to vaccinate animals will be 12 weeks, dogs, cats and ferrets must be at least 15 weeks old before they can travel to Spain.
  • Be microchip or tattooed (if this was done before 07/03/2011) and as long as it remains clearly legible.

Your pet will have to undergo a blood test to determine the effectiveness of the rabies vaccine at least 30 days after the date of vaccination and no less than three months before the date of travel. The test must be done by an authorised veterinarian and in an approved laboratory.

The following describes the step-by-step process for obtaining each of the three documents you will need – the vaccination certificate, a veterinary health certificate and a sanitary export permit:

To begin, the pet must be reviewed by a licensed veterinarian and the corresponding certification issued by the appropriate professional association. The aim of the consultation is to assess the general health status of the pet, apply the rabies vaccine and deworm the animal. The veterinarian must issue a certificate of vaccination (against rabies and other illnesses) and an international health certificate for dogs and cats.

Certificate of vaccination

This document for dogs and cats, issued by the veterinarian, contains the following information.

  • The owner’s information (name and address).
  • Data on vaccination against rabies (place and date of application, type of vaccine, name of laboratory and commercial brand of vaccine, as well as the of veterinarian)
  • Specification of the duration of immunity; otherwise, it will be considered valid for one year.
  • Identification number of the animal (tattoo, medal or electronic chip).
  • Country of origin of the animal and countries in which the animal has resided in the last 2 years.
  • Results of the serological test applied to the animal (blood sample), including the laboratory data where it was practiced.
  • Results of the clinical examination performed by the veterinarian.

International health certificate

A valid health certificate issued by an authorised veterinarian. The health certificate should not only mention the basic information about your pet, such as its name, breed, age, colour, etc., but also your name, address and telephone number. Keep in mind that the documents must be presented upon arrival in Spain and therefore must be accompanied by a Spanish translation.

Sanitary export permit

This is a very important document, because without it, the animal will not get permission to board an airplane, even if you have already purchased its ticket. It must be presented at the port of departure (airport) before the customs authorities. This document is usually issued by the highest authority of agriculture and farming in the country of departure, which is usually the government department of agriculture.

Microchip

Finally, it is also required that your pet be implanted with a microchip containing information identifying the animal and the owner. The microchip must comply with ISO standards 11784 and 11785, which allow, among other advantages, that the information can be decoded by any reader. In case the microchip does not comply with these standards, the owner must provide a reader that allows the microchip to be read at the port of entry in Spain.

Requirements for traveling by plane with pets

It is advisable to review the airlines requirements before booking your flights, as each has its own rules and standards for the transport of pets. Most, however, have the following minimum requirements:

  • All animals must travel in transport cages, which must be leak-proof and well ventilated. No part of the animal can be left outside the cage.
  • Small pets (generally of the weight and size, including the cage, equivalent to what is considered as hand luggage) can travel with the passenger, staying in their cage under the seat in front of you.
  • Pets of a size and weight greater than the equivalent of hand luggage can travel in the luggage compartment.
  • Only dogs or cats are allowed to be transported as hand luggage or as luggage. Other types of animals, including insects and reptiles, can travel as cargo.
  • Pets must register with the airline in advance of the trip.

When the animal meets all the requirements listed, the airline proceeds to grant the owner a boarding pass, with which the animal obtains its right to travel.

In the event that you are travelling with a guide dog or assistance dog, the animal may board with you at no additional charge and may travel in the cabin with you in the place indicated by the crew.

Transporting other animals to Spain

If you plan to import other animals (such as companion birds from non-European countries), you must comply with the specific regulations established by the Spanish authorities. Your bird must have a veterinary health certificate and an official declaration from the owner, translated into Spanish. Depending on your country of origin, you may have to get vaccinated against bird flu to avoid being quarantined.

A note on rules regarding the ownership of ‘dangerous animals’ in Spain

There are eight breeds of dogs that are considered ‘dangerous animals’ under Spanish law. These include: Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, Dogo Argentinos, Fila Brasileiros, Tosa Inus, and Akita Inus. Crosses of these breeds are also considered dangerous.

Therefore, to be able to have one of these dogs as a pet, you must meet a series of requirements, such as “being of legal age or not having been convicted of crimes of murder, injury, torture, crimes against public health, association with an armed gang or drug trafficking, as well as not being deprived by judicial resolution of the right to the possession of potentially dangerous animals.”

In addition, the owner of a dog considered potentially dangerous must have third-party liability insurance. Whenever you take a dog considered potentially dangerous out on the street, it must be kept in a non-extendable strap that does not exceed two meters and you must carry the permit that proves that you are allowed to have that pet.

Pet Insurance

When travelling with a pet it is a good idea to take out insurance.

Pet insurance can cover much of the expense of unexpected vet bills in case of an injury or illness, so the things you need to consider when choosing pet insurance should include questions such as:

  • Does the policy cover all chronic, congenital and hereditary conditions?
  • Is there a time limit on treatment per condition?
  • Is there a price limit on treatment per condition?
  • Are there flexible coverage options to fit your budget and needs exactly?
  • How well established is the company? How is it rated?

If you’re looking into taking out a pet insurance policy after moving to Spain, you can either go direct to providers or use a price comparison website.

Finally, a note on travelling with pets in Spain

If you want to travel with animals within Spain, the national rail company, Renfe, allows pets to travel on medium and long distance trains so long as they weigh less than 10kg and are kept in their carrier. On short distance services and metros, you can travel without any additional cost, but dogs must be on with a leash and muzzled.

Five ways to improve your Spanish skills

Five ways to improve your Spanish skills

Buying a home in Spain is more than just a financial investment. This is especially true if it’s your intention to move to Spain full-time, in which case it’s a complete change of lifestyle, and one that will only be enhanced, and made a lot easier, by the being able to speak the language. Thankfully, with the advent of the internet, learning Spanish is no longer just a matter of sitting in a classroom and being ‘taught’ the language by a teacher. While the traditional methods are still important, nowadays, they only form part of a more varied and stimulating learning experience. Below are Sonneil’s tips for the five best ways to improve your Spanish skills.

Apps

Apps have revolutionised our world in ways we never could have imagined before they became as ubiquitous as they are today. This is as true when it comes to learning a new language as it is in any other aspect of our lives. This being the case, here are some of Sonneil’s favourite apps for learning Spanish.

Duolingo

This is an excellent language learning app because its game-like format with satisfying bleeps every time you get an answer right, coupled with the feeling of rapid progress, is perfectly calculated to hit the reward centre of your brain and keep you coming back for more.

You start with simple vocabulary and progressively move to more complex sentences, all the while developing your reading, writing, listening and communication skills. The idea is to improve your language skills in just 5 minutes of training per day. This application is extremely popular because it is very effective!

Memrise

Developed by a group of scientists specialising in the study of memory, Memrise ensures that every new word, once learned, will never be forgotten. A nice feature of this app is that it allows you create your own learning paths (courses) and add the words you need to know. You will be amazed, how quickly you will make develop your vocabulary. Another advantage of Memrise is its offline mode that allows you to continue to train even when you have no internet connection.

Google translate

Don’t forget the much-maligned Google translate – some of its results can be hilariously wrong, but there’s no denying that over the years it has improved exponentially. In its app form, it has a nifty feature which allows you to highlight text on any website and automatically translate it for you. This allows you to quickly check the meaning of a word you might be stuck on and move on quickly, without disrupting the flow of your reading by having to reach for a dictionary. You can even take a photo of an entire page of text and Google will translate the whole thing for you.

Change the language on your devices

This piece of advice doesn’t relate to an app as such, but to all our digital consumption in general. Given that our phones, laptops and other devices are such an integral part of our lives, consuming a large part of our visual attention, it’s surprising how often people overlook the language learning possibility that this presents.

Many of the operations we perform on our devices are done almost by muscle memory – we are constantly hitting the ‘send’, ‘reply’ or ‘post’ button without so much as a second thought, so changing the language shouldn’t cause much confusion, but will definitely help to embed these commonly used words in your memory. Of course there will be times when you are performing some less common task on your computer, so you might have to take out a dictionary or use a translator to get you through it, but this will only serve to reinforce what you have learned.

Television

The arrival of high-quality online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime have been a blessing for people trying to learn a foreign language. The ability to turn on subtitles from a host of foreign languages transforms a leisure activity like watching a tv show or movie into a learning opportunity. For those further along the language-learning path, you can watch Spanish-language content with English subtitles; and for the really advanced, Spanish-language content with Spanish subtitles. A bonus of doing the latter is that by watching movies and shows produced in Spanish-speaking countries you get the added value of an insight into those cultures and societies.  

Now, if you really want to turbocharge your language learning experience with Netflix, there is a new Google Chrome extension called Language learning with Netflix (LLN) which lets you watch shows with two sets of subtitles on at the same time – one in English and one in your target language. It comes with added features to turn your binge watching into a more active learning experience; for example, if you hover over a word it produces a pop-up dictionary, and clicking the word lets you hear it. You can also slow down the dialogue or automatically pause playback at the end of every subtitle, so you can learn line by line. There’s even a catalogue of recommendations for movies and shows that are good to study.

Another wonder of the internet is the access it gives you to many of the world’s tv channels, enabling you to watch live tv from just about anywhere in the world. In Spain there are more than 20 public channels, many of which stream at least some of their shows online. Here are some of the best to choose from:

RTVE: Radiotelevisión Española is Spain’s national broadcaster. It hosts several channels on its platform, each dedicated to a different theme: kids, sports, politics and music. Much of its news content and some of daily scheduled programming is freely available on the world wide web.

Mitele: This is a Mediaset online platform where you can find lots of talk shows, reality shows and much more. You can watch channels like Telecinco, Cuatro, FDF, Boing, Energy and Divinity.

Atresplayer: Like Mitele, Atresplayer is a privately-owned network of channels known for its dramas and political debates. Included in its package are popular channels like Antena 3, laSexta, and other minor channels like Atreseries, Neox, Nova and Mega.

For beginners to the language, much of what is broadcast on Spanish tv maybe too fast and advanced to comprehend, so it might be best to start off watching kids tv, which after all, is how young Spaniards learn their own language. With its simple vocabulary and repetitive nature, kids tv is perfectly suited to a beginner’s audience.

Podcasts

Podcasts really are the ideal format for language learning on the go, and further evidence of how modern forms of communication have revolutionised the experience. Here are some of Sonneil’s favourite for learning Spanish.

Coffee Break Spanish

This popular series of podcasts are, as the name suggests, perfect for enjoying during a break at work or whenever else you might find yourself with 20-30 minutes to spare during the day. Produced by Radio Lingua it features Spanish lessons led by experienced teachers. They have been going since 2008, so there is an enormous back catalogue of material to listen to where they walk you through all the elements of the Spanish language through teaching, dialogues, and interesting stories. The Podcast slowly works its way up and gets more and more advanced over time.

SpanishPod 101

SpanishPod101 offers free Spanish audio lessons every week ranging from beginner to advanced levels. The weekly lessons are available free for a certain amount of time before they are archived in the library, which can only be accessed by subscription. Besides access to the library archive, paying members also get access to other materials to accompany the podcasts. Each episode features a dialogue in Spanish, followed by a discussion in English of the main grammar points and new vocabulary. Whether you use the free or paid version, these podcasts are great for listening to interesting conversations from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world. Most of their lessons are quite short, ranging from a few minutes long to about 15 minutes or so.

News in slow Spanish

If you want to keep up to speed with the latest current affairs but you can’t quite keep up with the pace at which it is delivered on Spanish tv or radio, this podcast is an ideal stepping stone. It gives you news bulletins read at a much slower and more intelligible speed, making it perfect for students of Spanish. There are podcasts at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels and you can choose between listening to Iberian or Latin American Spanish. Basic access is free; however, paid subscribers get access to premium content such as episode transcripts and bonus grammar lessons that are not included in the free version.

Read

With all this talk of modern approaches to language learning, it mustn’t be forgotten that old-fashioned methods like picking up a book or newspaper remain indispensable to the process. So here are the most important newspapers (printed and online) in Spain:

El País, El Mundo and ABC: These three constitute the newspapers of record in Spain covering the latest national and international news. They more or less occupy the centre-ground in terms of their editorial outlook.

Público: This is another widely read daily to the left-of-centre politically with a focus on social issues.

Eldiario.es: Politics and economics are the main themes here.

La Razón: A business daily with a focus on economic matters.

Conversation exchange

When it comes down to it, the point of learning a language is to speak it. And while this is the most daunting part, the fear of saying something stupid or being hopelessly unintelligible can only be overcome by getting out there and practising the language in conversation, preferably with native speakers. Now when you first move to Spain you may know very few people, or you may very easily find yourself stuck in an expat bubble. But don’t let these things hold you back. If needs be, there is always the option of language exchange – or intercambio de idiomas – as it’s called in Spain. There are a number of options for how to do a language exchange, depending on your circumstances and what suits you best.

Group exchanges

In this type of exchange, you meet in a bar or cafe to practice your Spanish in a group. Sometimes activities such as darts tournaments or film sessions are organised. This is ideal for extroverted people, who seek to make new friends and have fun learning. To get the most out of them, it is better that you have at least a medium level of Spanish, as group conversations in bars with background noise can be harder to follow. If the group chat isn’t your thing then find someone willing to meet one to one. There are many websites dedicated to language exchange, so it won’t take long to find people to meet up with, either as a group or in a one-to-one setting.   

Language exchanges by chat

If you live in a remote area or you are more interested in practicing your written communication skills, you can avail of language exchanges via webchat. There are many free websites where you can get in touch with people from all over the world without having to leave home. You also have the option of using Skype to talk.

Conclusion

When you learn a language, getting started and talking with locals can seem completely terrifying. We are afraid of ridicule, of people laughing at our grammatical mistakes, or being frustrated by our limited vocabulary. But if you really want to improve, you have to say goodbye to these fears. And in the end, most people will be impressed – and even grateful – to see you make the effort to communicate in their language. It’s inevitable that you will make mistakes, but don’t let your fear stop you from interacting with the locals – It is, in the end, the only way to improve.

Moving to spain with kids

Moving to spain with kids

Making the move to Spain is a dream come true for many people. However, it comes with its logistical challenges. This is especially true for families, for whom the extra consideration of schooling and activities for their children must be taken into account. This being the case, Sonneil has composed the following guide to help navigate the tricky terrain of settling down in Spain with a family.

Once you’ve made the move to Spain with kids, it’s important to try integrate into the community as quickly as possible. As anybody who has ever moved to another city – or even just another neighbourhood – will know, the process of integration that follows is usually driven less by the parents and more by the children.

Starting a new school, with all the socialisation and extra-curricular activities that go with it, is the most guaranteed way of integrating the entire family into the new environs.

The exact same applies for families making the move further afield. And while a move to Spain might be more daunting overall than moving within the UK, parents will be relieved to know that despite some differences in culture and, of course, language, the Spanish education system is broadly similar to that of the UK.

Spanish education system

Early Childhood Education

Pre-school in Spain is divided broadly into two stages, based on the child’s age: nursery schools (guarderias) cater for children from around three months up to three years old, while kindergarten or infant schools (escuela infantil) are for children from three until six. The first cycle of pre-school is not provided for by the state, hence parents have to pay out of their own pocket.

This will cost in the region of 300 euros a month.

The good news is that after that the option exists to avail of Spanish state public schooling which is free for the rest of your child’s school-going years, although private school options are also available. Though pre-school is not compulsory, it’s common: The OECD reports that Spain has nearly full enrolment in early childhood education, with 95% of 3-year-olds and 97% for 4-year-olds enrolled.

It is worth noting that the availability of pre-school in Spain is not always widespread; it depends on the area, particularly for state schools, as well as the demand. Often it can be quite difficult to find a place for your child.

Day-care centres

Placing your infant in a nursery not only ensures a safe environ for them if you need to go out to work, it will also provide a deep immersion in Spanish culture and language from the earliest age.

It is not uncommon to see babies as young as four months at guarderias. Because of the country’s sizeable expat community, there are English language nursery schools in Spain in some areas, particularly in the major cities or the Costas and Islands.

Nurseries generally offer low-cost childcare, rather than formal education.

There are also private, fee-based nurseries and these generally cater for children aged two to six. Sometimes these are attached to primary schools, in which case children can just transition into their formal education.

There is a reasonable amount of flexibility in terms of hours of attendance and parents can choose mornings, afternoons, full days or just a few days per week. Schools sometimes also provide transport between home and schools.

The first step is to evaluate the type of nursery to choose. There are public and private nurseries. However, choice is often limited by availability, meaning that if all the local state-funded day care centres are full, there will be no option but to go private.

In the case of public nurseries, the prices that have to be paid depend on the parents’ financial circumstances, meaning many families pay considerably less that the 300 euros-a-month maximum rate.

Pre-school

Unlike with nurseries, pre-school, which begins at age three, is provided free of charge by the state. During this cycle, children are introduced to the subjects that they go on to study in primary school. As such, pre-school teachers must hold a master’s degree with a specialisation in Early Childhood Education or an equivalent degree.

In terms of educational outcome, no rigid targets are set in pre-school with the focus generally being on project-based learning.

Most pre-schools offer an adaptation period at the start of term and it is not uncommon for school to last only 30 minutes on the first day. It then slowly builds up to the full day which, in most, but not all regions, is from 9am until 2pm. Be sure to check the timetables of the schools where you are considering moving to.

Both nurseries and pre-schools in Spain must comply with a series of hygiene, health, safety and accessibility conditions that are required in order to obtain an operating licence. In the case of pre-schools, their facilities must meet a series of requirements including an independent entrance from outside, an area of ​​two square meters for each student per class, an accessible toilet, an exclusive playground with a minimum area of between 60 and 75 square meters, and adequate space for the preparation of food and toilets for the staff separated from those of the students.

Pre-school is highly recommended, particularly if your children are going to continue with a state education. After one or two years they will be integrated into the local community and will have learnt Spanish in preparation for primary school.

Primary school

Primary education in Spain is compulsory and free. In general, the students will join the first year of primary education at age six and leave at age 12.

You can get a list of the state schools in your Spanish town from the Town Hall or Local Education Centre.

You can register your child with a state school once you and your family are registered as residents at the local town hall. The local authorities will require the following documents:

  • Proof of residence (rental contract or property deeds)
  • Passport or residence card
  • Child’s birth certificate
  • Proof of the child’s vaccinations and a medical certificate of health (in some areas)

Although the performance of schools in Spain is not publicised, each area has a central office where you can ask which schools in your area are performing the best.

Try to organise your move to Spain before the next school year begins, so they can begin at the start of the semester. In fact, most schools in Spain confirm students’ attendance for the following school year by March.

If you are moving to Spain after your children have started junior school they might need additional Spanish lessons and, depending on their age, may be put into a class with children a year younger, to enable them to catch up.

Primary schools in Spain teach the Spanish language (Castilian) maths; science and social science as well as foreign languages, arts education and physical education. In autonomous regions with their own languages – like Catalonia/Valencia (Catalan) or the Basque region (Basque) classes will also be taught in those languages.

In these areas students must study the Co-official Language and Literature, however, depending on the age at which your child begins their schooling in Spain, they may be able to seek an exemption from sitting tests in the local language.

As for the schedules, these can vary from school to school. However, usually they start around 8:30/9 am and end around 5 pm, with a two-hour break between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm.

Secondary school

Educación Secundaria Obligatoria (ESO) is free and compulsory education that consists of four academic courses usually taught between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. As is the case in the UK, children then have the option to leave school entirely.

Those who choose to remain on in education now enter the Baccalaureate stage that goes from 16 to 18 years old and prepares young people to access university or vocational training at a higher level.

It is taught in the same institutes as the ESO and consists of three different modalities (sciences, arts and humanities and social sciences) that are chosen according to what the student wants to study in the future.

There are three types of secondary school in Spain: public, private and Concertado schools.

Public Schools

As is the case with primary schools, state-funded secondary schools are financed and managed by the government with the help of local administrations in each area. Most of these centres teach all levels of education – pre-school, primary, and secondary – although some centres delegate the higher cycles in public institutes.

They have limited places and in order to access them you have to meet a series of requirements established by the Central Administration (proximity to housing etc). Therefore, parents can submit an application to the school of their choice, but acceptance will depend on whether their circumstances meet the established criteria.

Concertado Schools

These are private schools that are subsidised to a great extent by the Central Administration. They have freedom of management but must meet certain conditions established by the government such as a limit on the number of students per class, dates, admissions, etc.

You can expect to pay in the region of 100 – 200 euros a month for a place in a concertado school and the common perception is that the education received in them is better than in public schools.

Private Schools

As in the case with private primary schools, these are financed exclusively by the parents of the students. They have complete freedom of management and some freedom of curriculum. In private schools, you have the option of either Spanish speaking schools or bilingual schools which have an emphasis on English.

Prices for private schools differ between schools, but you should find the fees lower than those of British private schools.

International schools

In Spain International schools generally have smaller class sizes and will work to the English curriculum, helping your child settle back into their studies. Students also learn Spanish as a foreign language. You may find an international school more appropriate for your older children.

As international schools are usually based in large towns, you may need to consider the costs and convenience of travel to and from the school.

Family Time

If you have moved from the UK to work for a Spanish company, one of the most notable differences will be the high number of paid bank holidays there are compared to back home.

Indeed, while UK companies generally offer 28 days paid leave – six more than in Spain, when you include bank holidays the total number of paid vacation days in Spain jumps to 36 – which is eight more than the UK.

This is due to the plethora of religious, regional and national observances in Spain. The national holidays are New Year (January 1), Fest of the Epiphany (Jan 6) Good Friday (March or April) May Day (May 1), Feast of the Assumption (August 15), Spanish National Day (October 12), All Saints (November 1), Constitution Day (December 6) and Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8) Christmas (December 25).

On top of these you can expect another four days off thanks to regional holidays, depending on where you live. On occasions when a public holiday falls on either a Tuesday or Thursday, the common practice in Spain is take the Monday or Friday off, thereby creating a four-day weekend.

All of this means more time for families to spend together, providing a wonderful opportunity to explore the local area or region.

Which are the most important formalities you need to take care of when moving to a new house in Spain?

Which are the most important formalities you need to take care of when moving to a new house in Spain?

Some people find moving to a new house an incredibly stressful experience. Not only do you have to sort out all your personal belongings and pack up your life in boxes, but there’s a ton of red tape and paperwork to do, such as changing bills into your name, setting up direct debits and arranging electricity supply agreements.

What’s the best way to organise a move?

First of all, schedule a date and time for the move. You will need to do this before you can arrange things with the removal company. It’s also a good idea to avoid rush hour if you are carrying heavy loads.

Hire a removal company that not only offers good services, but also guarantees you will receive your precious objects undamaged. What’s more, the company should advise you about transport and how to package each object according to its fragility and size.

Once everything is packed up, you have to decide whether to take it to your new home, put it in storage, or just donate it, as Merca2 also suggests in its article. It is important to know the order in which objects should be packed, in other words, the things you use most frequently should be the last you pack, so that the move causes as little interference as possible with your daily life.

Lastly, before you move, you should start sorting out the red tape. Start by setting up direct debits for your bills and find out about the tariff you want to sign up for in your new home to avoid any unwanted surprises.

What about electricity, gas and water supplies? 

You should preferably organise utilities and set up direct debits before you move into your new home. This type of arrangement usually takes between 15 and 20 business days to take effect. That’s why it’s important to find out whether or not there is a supply at the property and, if you are moving into a rental property, change the bills into your own name.

If you need to put the bills into your name, you will be asked for a number of documents, particularly the identity document of the current supply holder and that of the new occupant.

If there is no existing service at the property, you will need to contact the distributor and complete additional formalities as well as several documents. It is important to find out which distributor is responsible for the electricity service in your area.

You will need the following documents to sign up for an electricity supply:

  • Current, valid passport or national identity document.
  • CUPS [Universal Supply Point Code] number. If you do not have this, it must be requested from the company.
  • Your postal code.
  • Bank account for paying the bills.
  • Electricity bulletin. 

A safe move

Security during a move is essential to your peace of mind. That’s why it’s important to take out the insurance offered by the company to cover any loss or damage to your belongings.

Some of this advice also appears in this article in Diario Digital de Asturias.

Five places on the Costa Blanca with guaranteed sun all year round

Five places on the Costa Blanca with guaranteed sun all year round

When it comes to weighing up the benefits of buying a property on the Costa Blanca, what better recommendation could one hope for than a nod from the World Health Organisation, which has several times named the region as one of the best places in the world to live thanks to its perfect climate.

What it all comes down to, of course, is the weather – with around 320 days of sunshine a year and temperatures generally ranging between 16 and 28 degrees celsius, there are few places that can compete with the Costa Blanca for those who want to buy a second a second home in the sun.

Below are five extraordinary locations where you can expect to find good weather all year round on the Costa Blanca.

Alicante

Alicante, the capital of the province, is situated along the Levantine coast, in the bay formed between Cabo de las Huertas and Santa Pola. With around 3,000 hours of sunshine and 97 cloud-free days a year, it boasts of an exceptional climate, with mild winters, hot summers and very little rain. The average annual temperature is usually a pleasant 20°C, which makes it an ideal place to buy a second home.

The first thing that catches the eye when arriving in the city is the imposing sight presented by Santa Bárbara Castle, perched on the highest point of Mount Benacantil, overlooking the entire Bay.

The stand out feature in the city itself is the promenade, Explanada de España. Composed of six and half million, red, black and cream tiles set in a wave-like pattern that runs for 500 metres between two rows of palm trees, it has become Alicante’s most emblematic image. Running parallel to the seafront it is the busiest area of ​​the city, with ice cream shops open almost all year and concerts in summer, it connects Canalejas Park at one end with Postiguet Beach at the other.

With its privileged climate it is no surprise that the people of Alicante enjoy their beaches all year round; besides Postiguet beach there are other fantastic beaches such as San Juan beach, with 3km of white sand, or Albufereta beach which is filled with tourists and locals during the summer season.

Out in the bay, facing the city of Alicante, we find the charming Tabarca island. Located 22 km from the coast, it’s the largest and only inhabited island in the Valencian region. You can enjoy a beautiful walk around this picturesque island and bathe in its crystal-clear waters.

Alicante has become especially popular among retired expats as a location for buying second home on the Costa Blanca, with foreigners now making up around 23 percent over the over 65s population.

Altea

Altea is one of the most beautiful corners of the Levantine coast. Located on a hill, its cobblestone streets descend gently towards the sea, dotted with towers and lookouts from which splendid panoramic views can be taken in.

Its location could not be more charming: south of the Rock of Ifach – a 332 metre outcrop rising from the sea that’s every bit as impressive as the Rock of Gibraltar – and north of Alfaz del Pi in the incomparable setting of the Sierra Helada Nature Park. It’s here we find this town of cobbled streets, dotted with white houses.

Its pure Mediterranean atmosphere and its spring-like climate during most of the year, have made it an extremely popular location for expats to buy a second home. Its charm has attracted numerous artists and writers such as Rafael Alberti or Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, who have made it their base. As such, Altea is a town infused with a bohemian aesthetic.

The Old Town (“El Fornet”), with its cobbled streets and white houses, adorned with black wrought-iron window bars and colourful geraniums is one of the most beautiful areas of the city. Apart from the viewpoints, there are numerous art galleries, bars and restaurants, which still preserve the traditional Mediterranean atmosphere. The Church of Our Lady of Consuelo can also be found in the old town, which with its two large domes, is undoubtedly the most prominent and visited monument in the municipality.

On the seashore is the fishing port. Here the morning tranquillity of fishermen tending their chores contrasts with lively atmosphere at sunset. The nearby beach of La Olla is full of small boats and the occasional beach bar. Facing l’Olla there is a small island that can be easily be reached by kayak.

Other beaches include Cap Negret, which is surrounded by volcanic rocks.

Due to the high standard of living and quality developments, Altea attracts some of the most discerning second home owners anywhere on the Costa Blanca.

Javea

According to The World Health Organisation, Javea is one of the healthiest places in the world to live. It is protected from harsh winds in winter, and it enjoys a unique microclimate that is regarded as one of the world’s healthiest. Average temperatures are 15°C during December and January, rising to an average of 30ºC in August, so a property in Javea isn’t going to run up any heating bills. It also has more recorded hours of sunlight than any other place in Spain, which is great for vitamin D levels and keeping you cheerful!

Its 25 kilometres of coastline boast some of the greatest variety of beaches and coves in the entire province of Alicante, making it ideal for a range of water sports. Its most outstanding beaches are the Playa El Arenal and Playa La Grava, both blue flag winners thanks to their quality. Arenal Beach is the most popular due to its soft sand and shallow waters. La Grava is a pebble beach, located between the mouth of the Gorgos River and the port, which is popular among families with children. Montañar beach, with its sandstone rock and beautiful sea beds full of aquatic flora and fauna is popular for diving and snorkelling.

Among the many coves found along the Javea coastline is that of La Granadella, located between steep cliffs, it has several times been named as best cove in Spain.

Javea is generally one of the more upmarket resorts on the Costa Blanca, a status reflected in the cost of living. A second property on the outskirts of the town, particularly in the developments around the Cabo de la Nao such as Portichol and Balcón del Mar, will come at a premium price.

Denia

Denia is a historical and cultural city that has remained free of mass tourism and has grown organically while preserving all its authenticity. Its spectacular beauty, its lively and cheerful atmosphere and the cordial and hospitable nature of its people are just some of reasons Denia has been attracting artists and intellectuals since the beginning of the 20th century.

Its location in a bay sheltered by an impressive mountain massif, the “Montgó”, from where on clear days you can see the silhouette of Ibiza, gives it a privileged climate with about 300 days of sunshine per year.

In the centre of the bay is the Port with its charming Mediterranean air, adorned with palm trees. Despite its importance as a port to Mallorca and Ibiza, which is only 3.5 hours away by boat, it has not lost the charm of a traditional fishing port.

Due to the wind that sweeps across the area from the sea, Denia is also a paradise for those who enjoy water sports.

Built on a cliff and overlooking the port since Roman times, the castle of Denia is the symbol of the city. An attractive must for those who spend their holidays in the area.

The castle is the main tourist attraction and often hosts cultural events and theatrical guided tours. At the top you can enjoy an incredible view of the old town, the coast and the Montgó massif, the highest mountain in the area.

Around the castle the whole old town extends with its narrow and picturesque Moorish streets, while in the lower city, modernist architecture dominates.

Once in the harbour area, you can visit the Baix la Mar neighbourhood, the old coastal district. Located just below the castle, this neighbourhood is made up of narrow streets and traditional fishermen’s houses, with picturesque facades of pastel colours. In the area closest to the port there are many bars and restaurants where you can sample the excellent fresh fish.

The beaches of Denia are, for many, the main attraction of the region. The city has a coastline of almost 15 km, divided into two different sections: Las Rotas, characterised by rocky coves and Las Marinas, with its long and comfortable sandy beaches.

Both offer a plethora of activities: you can dive or snorkel to discover the magnificent seabed of Las Rotas, or practice water sports in the area of ​​Las Marinas, such as windsurfing, kite surfing, rowing on foot and kayaking.

The landscape around Denia is dominated by the imposing figure of Montgó, a mountain 800 meters high located a short distance from the coast. It forms part of a Nature Park that houses 650 different species of flora and is rich in fauna – eagles, peregrine falcons, owls, foxes, wild boars, to name some of the most emblematic. The park has numerous trails that are worth exploring by bicycle or on foot.

Denia is also closest mainland city to the Balearic Islands: less than 100 km from Ibiza.

There are up to three daily trips to the Islands during the high season and it takes between two to five hours to reach Ibiza, depending on the type of ferry. Those seeking out a holiday home or second property in an area still immersed in a traditional Spanish lifestyle need look no further than Denia.

Torrevieja

Located to the south of the province of Alicante we find Torrevieja, a destination made unique by the famous salt lakes of the Laguna de la Mata and Torrevieja Nature Park.

Torrevieja also boasts of 20 kilometres of Mediterranean coast where you can enjoy great beaches with calm waters and endless walks. Its longest beach has 2.3 kilometres of fine sand and is known as the Playa de la Mata. It is in the vicinity of the Laguna de la Mata Nature Park and near the Water Mill Park, the latter formed by the sand dunes that lie behind the beach.

But if you are looking for the tranquillity of a near-deserted beach, Torrevieja offers an abundance of coves, such as Cala Ferri, with crystal clear waters, surrounded by palm trees and small dunes.

The most outstanding feature of the area however are the pink and green lagoons that make up 52 percent of the local landscape.

The lagoons form a protected nature park visited by all sorts of wildlife including Flamingos, but they also welcome people from all over Europe who come for the natural mud baths, which are said to be very good for the skin, joints and general wellbeing.

Thanks to the health-giving benefits of these two lagoons, the WHO has named Torrevieja as one of the healthiest places in the world to live. It’s no surprise then that Torrevieja has one of the highest populations of expats in Spain, with thousands of UK nationals making it their number one choice to buy a second property.

With its superb climate and positive health factors, what’s stopping you from buying that second home on the Costa Blanca?

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