My Spanish story: Swapping the city for a writing life in the campo

Sam Michaels relocated to very rural Spain to pursue a life as a writer. Here she describes how she adapted to a quieter pace of life and a house full of adopted animals.

My Spanish story: Swapping the city for a writing life in the campo
Sam Michaels found the perfect retreat to begin her writing career. Photos: Sam Micheals

I’m a Londoner, born and bred, which makes me very much a town girl at heart. So, imagine my trepidation when my husband suggested a new life in the country – not the rolling green fields of Hampshire. Oh no, he meant in rural Spain, amongst the almond groves, olive trees and grape vines.

After I reluctantly agreed, we jumped on an aeroplane and began our search in Murcia. As far as the hubby was concerned, the more remote, the better. He’d have been quite happy to live off grid, though I wasn’t quite ready for that. I wanted my comforts – reliable hot water and electricity to blow-dry my hair!

We viewed some very old country fincas but eventually agreed on a modern casa in a valley with stunning views that go on forever. My friends and family thought I’d gone mad. They couldn’t imagine me living so far away from the nightlife and bustling café culture of the Costas. We’re only four kilometres from the nearest town, but with no neighbours and no taxi or bus service, it feels like we’re in the back of beyond. We don’t even have a postal service but rent a post box in the estate agents in town.

After settling in, the adventure of discovery soon began! Yes, we have running water rather than having to draw it from a well, but it’s agricultural water. Very cheap but requires filtering and boiling. I soon got used to that. The electricity is supplied via a Spanish chap, we think an ex goat herder, and we’re often plunged into darkness for an hour or two. I’ve even got used to that – when my favourite television program goes off, I talk to my husband instead.

When we lived in the UK, we both had jobs that kept us busy and worked long hours. Now, we found ourselves enjoying the slower pace of life. Late mornings, relaxing in the sun with a glass of vino produced at our local bodega topped off with balmy evenings watching the sun set behind the mountain. Bliss! But there’s only so much of doing nothing that one can do. At first, it felt very much like being on holiday. Our brains hadn’t yet accepted that this new way of life was permanent. One thing we soon learnt – to live isolated, you really have to enjoy each other’s company!

After a couple of tranquil months, the real work began. I took up writing and my husband began small renovation projects. We were both attempting new things and quickly discovered how much we enjoyed it. That’s when our plethora of animals joined us. We took on one rescue dog. An old boy who had been abandoned by his hunter owner.

This led to a further three dogs that needed rehoming and six cats. Yes, ten of them now share our sofas and though we jostle for space in the bed, we’d never be without them. It’s funny when the local farmer passes our garden on the way down to his fields. We’ll hear him, sitting up on his tractor and singing away to our barking dogs. The farmers always give us a wave and a toot and they find it amusing when the cats follow us walking the dogs on their land.

Many people have the view that nothing starts in Spain until 10am. That’s no so on the campo. The farmers are sometimes out at 6am, ploughing the groves before the scorching summer sun is high in the sky. And when it’s grape harvesting time, around September, they’ll work through the night. Unfortunately, along with grapes comes flies! That was a bit of a shock – it’s almost impossible to eat al fresco during the warmer months. But again, we’ve adapted. Ceiling fans on the terrace keep the flies away and we’ve embraced the Spanish idea of eating later in the evening. The flies are asleep and there’s also the advantage of it being cooler. And we get to take full advantage of the amazing night sky. With little light pollution, the stars are breath-taking!

Apart from flies, I’ve seen an array of magnificent wildlife. We used to have several geckos living on our terrace but the cats have chased them off. They’ve even brought home a scorpion – twice! I’ve witnessed wild boar running across the fields, deer, partridges and all sorts of fascinating reptiles. We’ve had hares, foxes, mice and even a frog in the garden. The frog was a bit of a surprise as there’s no water around here for miles. Our garden is huge and came with forty-eight almond trees. It looks so pretty during March when they spring into life with pink and white blossom. Then later in the year, we get to collect the delicious nuts. We could take them to our local co-operative and get a price per kilo but we’re not that industrious and just eat them instead. The shells also burn well in our log stove which is our source of heating. At 650m above sea-level, it can get cold here. We had snow last year!

All in all, I’ve abandoned my city-life outlook and am now truly rooted into rustic living. The peace and quiet is ideal for writing and I feel blessed to be spending my days in such a beautiful and welcoming country.

Sam Michaels' debut novel Trickster, a gritty-gangland thriller that has already garnered rave reviews,, will be published shortly. Pre-order on Amazon and follow her on Facebook at or on Twitter


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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.


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.


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.


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.