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'There is no doubt about it, Andalusia is different'

Alex Dunham · 24 May 2013, 11:50

Published: 24 May 2013 11:50 GMT+02:00

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Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium. My background is somewhat scattered to say the least. My primary and secondary education were in Brussels, university in the UK and I spent many more years travelling. I lived in numerous countries, ranging from Southern Ireland to the island of La Reunion - just off the coast of Madagascar. I finally settled down in southern Spain, about fourteen years ago.

While I was working a contract for a Spanish bank, I accidently bumped into an old childhood sweetheart (Eva) - whom I hadn't seen in over ten years. The rest is history. Fourteen years and two children later, we are still together and still in the same village.

How did you end up living in the small village of Rincón de Victoria next to Málaga?

My grandparents were the first foreigners to arrive on this part of the coast. They bought a holiday apartment, not long after the end of the Second World War, in what was then a tiny and remote fishing village - Rincón de la Victoria.

Some of my earliest memories were family holidays to Spain and always to Rincón. My mother came with her parents when she was a child, as did we with my parents. Needless to say, we have seen a lot of changes over the years. I still remember seeing fishermen sleeping under their boats at night and what seemed like the whole village coming out to help pull in the fishing nets every morning.

Rincón is no longer a small fishing village, more of an extension of Malaga itself. Despite its size, it still has a very ‘village’ feel to it. Everyone knows each other, everything is within easy walking distance and there is a real sense of community. People still look after one another. It's a great place to raise a family.

Did you find it easy to start a new life in Spain? 

In a word, yes. I came with work and never had too many difficulties finding work while here. You need to be adaptable and realistic. Salary levels tend to be lower and you don't have the same amount of choice as you do in northern Europe. Particularly in southern Spain.

I came from a very fast paced environment in London straight to Malaga, which was a bit of a shock to the system. I couldn't understand how a visit to your local bank could take an entire morning....something I still haven’t gotten used to!

I didn't speak a word of Spanish when I first arrived and had a very fast crash course in it. I had no choice. Eva didn’t speak a word of English, neither did any of my (large) extended Spanish family and the area I lived in was very Spanish.

We now speak Spanish at home and live in a completely Spanish environment. I work in English. But everything else in my life is in Spanish.

Learning the language did take time and effort, but if you completely immerse yourself in the local lifestyle and customs, it does come!!

What do you do for Spain-Holiday?

I am the marketing and community manager for the UK market. Spain Holiday was founded over twelve years ago and we are based just outside of Malaga. The company has grown a lot over the last five years or so. We are now 15 full time employees with several more working remotely.

What does Spain-Holiday do?

Our company motto has always been "We focus on Spain and only Spain." We know and love the country and that shines through in our work. It is something that has always distinguished us from our competition.

Today Spain-holiday.com is Spain's fastest growing holiday rental portal. We work in ten different languages and cover the whole of the country, with over 7000 properties online.

We were one of the first companies of its kind to double check all homeownership details, thereby giving that extra bit of confidence to our renters. Being a small and dynamic team we are able to respond to people's needs and requirements quickly and efficiently. Our continued growth bears witness to this. The company has grown 20-30 percent per annum since its conception.

What do you and your family like most and least about life in rural Andalusia?

There is no doubt about it, Andalusia is different. Very different to other parts of Spain. We love it. The family values, the pace of life, the outdoor lifestyle, the whole atmosphere is special. Least? I’d have to say the bureaucracy.  

What’s it been like to bring up your kids in Spain?

We have two young boys, both of whom were born in Malaga. Its a great place to bring up children. Families are very close and always get involved. Children are made to feel very special, very wanted in Andalucia, they really are the centre of everyone's attention.

We have a large Andalusian family who all live close-by. Eva has six sisters and two brothers, most of them have young children as well. Our family get-togethers are chaotic to say the least.

What do you do in your spare time? 

As a family we love anything to do with the outdoors. We go camping and hiking almost every weekend. There is no better place for it. Andalucia is a natural paradise.

Over 18 percent of Andalucia's surface area is protected natural park and the diversity is just staggering. From the jungles of the Alcornocales natural park in Cadiz, to the deserts in Almeria, you have everything at your fingertips. Its a side of Andalucia that most people don't see, which is unfortunate, as its the most beautiful side Andalucia has.

When the summers come and they do with a vengeance in the south. We often go to the beaches in and around Cadiz, the Cabo de Gata natural park in Almeria or into the higher mountain ranges of the Sierra Nevada.

Any hikes you’d like to recommend? 

We do a lot of hiking. My list of recommended hikes would be neverending.

Family walks that are highly recommended and ones that we do at least once a year are, the Rio Chillar in Nerja, various routes in and around the Montes de Malaga and for the more adventurous, the hanging bridges of Monachil, or a visit to the beautiful Junta de los Rios near Almuñécar.

The craziest and scariest route I ever walked was just last week! The Caminito del Rey in El Chorro. We filmed the occasion. It is not somewhere I would recommend anyone going to though, its dangerous and the access is officially closed to the public. But it was a rush from beginning to end.

Where do you take friends and family who come to visit? 

It usually depends on who is visiting, not everyone is fond of climbing mountains! We definitely try and stay off the usual tourist tracks though.

Starting with the centre of Malaga, which is one of the most underrated and undiscovered cities in Spain. There are some fantastic places to visit in and around the historical centre. Most of them are relatively unknown outside of local circles. El Pimpi, Bodega Casa Guardia, Quitapenas and going outside of Malaga a bit, El Tintero are all favourites. Miguelito el Cariñoso is a great restaurant and not as popular (yet) as El Tintero.

What tips would you give to an expat family looking to start a new life in Spain?

Do your homework. Spain is a very big and very diverse country. No two places are the same. To really appreciate Spain and its people, you need to integrate and learn the language.

What do you miss about back home?


Alex Dunham (alex.dunham@thelocal.com)

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