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AUTUMN

Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain

September 22nd marks the autumnal equinox and officially heralds in the best season to spend in Spain. The Local tells you why.

Seven reasons why autumn is the very best season in Spain
Autumn leaves in Madrid's Retiro Park. Photo: Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie/Flickr

1. The colours


Faedo de Ciñera. Photo: José Antonio Carretero/Flickr

With so many wooded areas of outstanding natural beauty to be found in Spain you are never too far from those stunning Autumn colours. However, Faedo de Ciñera in León is one of the best places to see nature's display. It was voted the “best cared for wood in Spain” by Bosques Sin Fronteras (Woods without borders) and is home to beech trees that date back over 500 years. 

IN PICS: 15 photos that will get you excited about autumn in Spain

2. The chestnuts


Photo: Elsergientenapuros/Flickr

 

The Hamlet of Pujerra loves chestnuts, so much so it stages its own annual Chestnut Festival (Although in 2020 with coronavirus it won't be taking place in it's usual form). Despite being tiny (home to around 300 people) it boasts Malaga's biggest chestnut cooperative and even a museum dedicated to the humble autumnal treat. 

During the festival you can taste up to 50 dishes made from chestnuts. There is also an exhibition of the clothes and tools used in chestnut picking. 

But wherever you are in Spain look out for the chestnut sellers who appear with their braziers on street corners just as soon as there's a chill in the air. 

3. The wine


Photo: Robert McIntosh/Flickr

You may have missed the wine harvest, which usually takes place in early September, but autumn is a fantastic time to tour some of Spain's vineyards and it's not just limited to the famous regions of Rioja and Ribera. With wine made in so many regions across Spain you should be able to find bodegas near you for a glimpse into the age-old wine-making tradition while the air is permeated with the scent of crushed grapes.

Grape Escape: Discovering the art of winemaking in the vineyards of Rioja 

4. The mushrooms


Photo: Inga Vitola/Flickr

Autumn is wild mushroom season in Spain, so why not grab a basket and spend a fun autumnal day foraging for some tasty fungi but be sure to go out with an expert so you know what to look for…and what to avoid.

Many towns hold mushroom picking and tasting events, like the mycology (study of fungi) fest in Ezcaray, La Rioja, which runs from the end of October to the beginning of November, with workshops on cooking mushrooms and more. There are similar mycology fests in Beceite, Aragon and San Esteban del Valle, Avila.

5. Hearty food


Churros with hot chocolate. Photo: Toni Kaarttinen/Flickr.

 

As soon as the temperature drops, it's nice to cozy up to some warm, Spanish cuisine in the autumn, especially after doing everything possible to avoid hot dishes in the sweltering summer.

Though they can be enjoyed year-round, there is nothing quite like churros con chocolate to warm you up from the inside now the chillier weather is here. 

Spaniards also love to make use of seasonal crops, so it's time to give up the refreshing gazpacho so perfect in the summer months and  instead tuck into crema de calabaza (cream of pumpkin soup), cocido madrileño (stew of Madrid) or caldo gallego (Galician soup) with autumn veggies. 

READ MORE: Ten best cold weather tapas

6. Fewer tourists


Barcelona harbour in Autumn. Photo: Dexter HP/Flickr.

In usual years, autumn is a good time to tour the more popular sites, once the hordes of tourists have left at the end of the summer. But this year Covid-19 dealt a severe blow to Spain's tourist industry and pretty much all but domestic visitors were forced to stay away meaning it was a great summer for those left behind to visit the famous sites without having to wait in line.  

But if you didn't get to roam the almost deserted grounds of the Alhambra or marvel at the spires of the Sagrada Familia without have to brave the lines outside, autumn is an even quieter time to do it.     

And as the days turn colder or on those rainy days when you don't want to be outside, consider paying a visit to one of Spain's world-renowned museums without the headache of too many tourists.

7. The weather


Photo: Juanedc/Flickr

For those of us who struggle to make it through Spain’s sweltering summer, autumn comes as a welcome relief: a sunny, breezy time when people are still enjoying the outside terraces, but in a much more pleasant temperature. The fall in temperatures makes it a great time for exploring. Madrid is too unbearable during the summer, but perfectly lovely in autumn. 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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