From Madrid to Malaga: How Covid is driving an exodus from city to coast

The rise in home working over this past year has seen some people deciding to make the move from big cities to the countryside, the coast or smaller cities for the short or long term.

From Madrid to Malaga: How Covid is driving an exodus from city to coast
Photo: AFP/JorbasaFotografie/Flickr

Marietta Sandilands spoke with three people who called Madrid their home but who have recently made the move from the capital to Malaga, about how and why they made the decision.  

Shaheen Samavati, Co-founder of content and translation agency Vera Content, moved this summer while travel consultant and founder of Spain Less Traveled Karen Rosenblum, as well as community builder and founder of She Hit Refresh, Cepee Tabibian, both moved in the autumn.

Shaheen made the move to Malaga in the summer.

How did you make the decision to move?


The decision to move came suddenly; I had no plans to leave, I’d built a life and group of friends that I loved in Madrid. In October I was feeling the weight of many things at once and also caught Covid; the weight of carrying it all with me into the winter felt daunting.  Madrid didn’t feel the same because of the restrictions and my circle of friends was not meeting up like they used to.  I felt like I needed to escape the city for a bit to refresh.  I saw friends leaving the city for the coast and realised, Oh I don’t need to stay here, I can go somewhere new, where I can do things I’d love to do that would be really good for me, like spending time outdoors.


The pandemic was a key factor in my move.  I’d moved into a tiny interior box apartment in Madrid and had obviously never anticipated being locked in there. When the restrictions were relaxed in Madrid in June I got a bike and started cycling around the city which I really enjoyed. But then cases started rising again across Spain and it became clear, this wasn’t over.  The thought of being stuck in a city again with no access to nature and limitations on movement was not good.  I didn’t enjoy Malasaña like I used to; it was too hip, too young – I felt like I’d outgrown the place that seemed fun initially.   Things fell into place quite quickly; I came on an exploratory mission to Malaga saying I would not go back to Madrid without having signed a lease here, and that’s what happened!


Myself and my partner both lived in Malaga previously; I lived here for 2 years and he lived here for 10 years and so we had a group of friends here. We came to Madrid initially for work reasons as our business partner wanted an office in Madrid which made sense as that’s where our market was.  Madrid was always meant to be a stepping stone, probably on the way back to Malaga.  Initially we came to Madrid for 2 months which became 6 months and then a year, at which point we said ok, we are living here and decided we would spend 3-5 years to establish the business. Recently, my partner’s work changed and he was able to work more remotely which was what he wanted, so staying in Madrid wasn’t as necessary.  I also tried to reduce my need to come to the office in Madrid and started working from home more.

Karen is enjoying exploring Malaga and its surroundings by bike. 


Why did you choose Malaga?


My work is remote, and I figured if I am going to hibernate anyway until April it could be somewhere else other than Madrid. The weather in Malaga is great. I’m from Texas and used to mild winters. Winter in Madrid is too long and too cold for me. Here, I’m able to go into the sea in November which is great. Malaga is also less expensive and there are lower numbers of Covid cases here. I also already knew some people living here which definitely helped; I think I might not have moved if I didn’t.

Malaga is an outdoorsy active city; as well as the sea, there are mountains, you have access to nature. The other evening I did an urban hike which was exciting. And I’m also starting beach volleyball too, as well as cycling.  The city feels slower paced and more nurturing. I like the hustle and bustle of city life but with this year, that felt stressful and unpredictable. I don’t feel the same pressure here as I did in Madrid.  Also, even with the restrictions here, it still feels like there is a social vibe, people are still meeting up but in a different and smaller way.



It’s a great city to be in; I thought about moving to Almería initially but it was a bit remote for me so Malaga seemed a better choice. Malaga has the sea, access to nature and also a lower cost of living.  I work in travel and Andalucía is my speciality as well as being the part of Spain I love the most. I’m getting healthier, cycling lots which is amazing.  There’s lots of options for cyclists and also a big natural park within the municipality which is beautiful.  I feel like I’m able to get back to what I love doing here. 

I’m living in a very local neighbourhood where few people speak English.  Although there’s no hipster coffee shops or cool vegan restaurants around the corner, right now I don’t need those things.  Things close on a Sunday, which took a bit of getting used to, but I feel like I’m finally living abroad in Spain: it’s sunny, I’m by the coast and there are blue skies.


As my partner and I had both lived in Malaga previously we had friends here.  There were other strategic factors that influenced our decision: there was the beach, the great weather, the mountains.  You can ski and go to the beach in the same day which is great.  You have access to nature here and it is a medium-sized city, so has the level of metropolitan-ness that I need.  It’s also well connected; there is Malaga airport nearby with low cost flights as well at the AVE (high speed) train station.

Cepee and her companion Chloe are looking forward to a warmer winter.

Do you see this as a temporary or long-term move?

Cepee: It feels temporary, I signed a 6-month lease with the aim to come back to Madrid in the Summer if things are better there and it feels like the city I used to know.  I feel like I’ll be back to Madrid, but I’m also open to seeing what happens. Although I don’t see myself in Malaga long-term, anything can change!

Karen:I always knew I would end up in Andalucía: it was always in the long-term plan; the pandemic sped up my decision making and made me spring into action.  I will come back to Madrid but as a visitor, I can’t see myself living there again.  Madrid was a good initial base when I arrived, and I met great people and tapped into the entrepreneurial network there, but I feel like I enjoyed what Madrid had to offer and now I want something other than big city landlocked living.  In California I lived in a city, but I was close to nature and beaches. Malaga has that too and you can go to the beach and mountains within a few hours.  I feel like it will also benefit my professional life; I have a travel company specialising in bringing people to Spain for 2-3 week excursions. I’m really excited to plan trips for people here and build partnerships with people locally. 

Shaheen: the pandemic has been a good test run for living in Malaga.  Pre-pandemic the plan had been for my partner to move first and then for me to follow when work allowed.  However, when the lockdown happened we decided to move together at the same time in July.  It feels a better place to be than Madrid now; we live in a nicer neighbourhood that we did in Madrid, there’s a lot more nature and less concrete here, as well as less people.

Connect with Madrid based writer Marietta Sandilands on Linked In or 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.