Barcelona: Built on Beauty

Fall 2001 CSANews Issue 40  |  Posted date : Apr 01, 2007.Back to list

Spain is legendary throughout history for its beautiful and passionate Flamenco dancers, matadors, Latin lovers and its incredible countryside, which inspires much the same passion.

Miles of spectacular coastline, bountiful vineyards, the Pyrenees mountains, awe-inspiring architecture and an ingrained sense of tradition, value and pride have made Spain one of the most popular locations in the world for tourism, commerce and of course retirement.

Barcelona is the second largest Spanish city, with a population of 2.8 million people, and is a hub of history and activity dating back to the 3rd century.

The city?s culture is fashioned from its multi-layered history of coming under the control of various groups including the Visigoths and the Moors before being captured by Charlemagne, King of the Franks, in the 9th century. Under his rule the city became the self-governing county of Catalonia, or Barcelona.

The Catalan influence is now most prominent and the source of the city?s and surrounding region?s unique traditions and culture.

This is especially evident when the city comes alive with traditional and religious festivals such as La Merce Festival. Held around September 24, the day of the city?s Patron Saint, the correfoc, or fire-breathing dragons, come from all over Catalonia to descend upon the city.

Another famous festival event are the castells, in which teams of successively smaller members stand on one another to create towers as high as nine people tall. Participants create a solid base of strong individuals over which others clamber to create a living pyramid.

Catalan and Spanish are the predominant languages in the city, although English is not widely spoken outside of the tourist districts.

The favourable climate provides abundant opportunities for outdoor activities such as boating, diving, sailing, golfing on one of the world-class courses in the surrounding region or trekking about the countryside in search of ancient ruins and historical sites.

Barcelona?s architecture is spectacular, with its famous spires of Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Familia, a huge and elaborate cathedral that dominates the city skyline.

The cathedral, a masterpiece of Catalan architect Antonio Gaudí y Cornet, was never completed.

Other prominent landmarks include the Church of San Pablo del Campo (914ad), the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and a monument to Christopher Columbus.

Barcelona is a devout Catholic city, with 90 percent of residents claiming to practice the faith. Throughout the region this influence is apparent, with several churches, holidays and festivals devoted to worship.

The city itself offers a wealth of hidden treasures and opportunities for urban exploration. Barcelona is a wonderful city to become lost in inviting but winding and narrow streets.

Driving can be quite hectic because of this, but the city has an efficient and convenient public transportation network, with a joint system of buses and subways that operate from early morning to late night.

Taxis are ever-present and easy to find with their distinguishable black and yellow color. Bicycles and motorized scooters are another popular method of getting around. The relatively flat bike trails through major thoroughfares make travel rather easy.

The Els Encants Vells flea market is open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, and many other markets selling everything from fine foods, jewelry, clothing to antiquities are available throughout the week.

Shopping can be enjoyed at many of the small specialty shops or through the large department store El Corte Ingles, which has four locations in the city and provides all needed household items and a supermarket.

A two-bedroom apartment in the city will range from 75,000 to 100,000 pesetas per month. Do not be surprised if you are required to pay a real estate agent as much as one month?s rent in commission.

Eligibility requirements for foreigners to buy property in Spain are quite favourable due to the country?s retirement-friendly residency visa, which welcomes foreign nationals to buy a residence in the country.

Barcelona is a big city with a cosmopolitan pace and endless activities, yet its traditions and cultural values permit one to slow down and appreciate fine food, fine company and a measured pursuit of a fine life.

Barcelona is a must see for all architectural buffs. Let's face it, anyone who is anyone knows what Gaudi architecture is all about. I am proud to be of that elite group that has gazed at his quirky and colorful designs and thought, "Exactly what kind of drugs was this man taking?"

The city reaped tremendous benefits from hosting the Olympics in 1992, revamping the waterfront with shops, restaurants, a huge marina and beach area that beautifully complement the vast historical areas of the city.

I wouldn't retire in Barcelona, but I would retire within an hour or two of the city. There are a great variety of lifestyle choices within that perimeter.

North will take you along the beautiful Costa Brava, which is lined with touristy towns brimming with visitors from around the world, particularly in July and August. The towns carry the typical touristy fair along with funky open cafés from which one can enjoy a unique combination of mountain and seaside vistas.

There are good variety of housing options, from cliff-hanging villas and stately homes sporting heart-stopping views of jagged rock faces and the Mediterranean to more affordable condos a few blocks off the beach in places such as Tossa del Mar.

One private community I visited was the very prestigious village of sagarò. Perched on a hill with a view of the ocean and the town of San Feliu de Guixols, its own church and hotel for guest overflow, it is one of the first truly planned gated communities.

Seguaro was built in the 1920s and unabashedly designed to keep the wealthy residents comfortably secluded and segregated from encroaching tourist riffraff. The community is truly beautiful.

My personal preference, however, is to purchase a lovely home in a country setting in the Pyrenees. Homes can be newly constructed and cleverly designed to retain the architectural history of the region.

Another option is to purchase one of the lovely older homes well maintained by past generations. For those with more time and energy, another option is to go on the hunt for a home that may require some TLC.

Regardless, one of my favourite Spanish towns in the region is Campradon. Less than a two-hour drive from Barcelona, it looks more Swiss Alpine in nature, perhaps because of its popularity as a ski town in mid-winter.

The town has been relatively protected from typical architectural blunders from the 50s to the 70s. Recently, well-planned and more affordable residential developments are being built within walking distance to the cheerful and active downtown area.

Location: Located in northeastern Spain on the Mediterranean Sea coast.

Population: 2.8 million

Language: Spanish and Catalan

Climate: Mediterranean climate. January low, 45°f; July high 98°f, rainy season falls during winter and autumn months.

Currency: Peseta

Airport: El Prat De Llobregat, 10 miles from the city.

Seaports: Port de Barcelona is establishing itself as one of the Mediterraneanís chief ports. It is an important cargo port and second largest Mediterranean cruise ship center.

Driving: Right-hand side. Excellent motorways, dual carriageways, and paved and stone streets within the city. Many motorways have tolls.

Health care: Spain has a public health system providing free or low cost health care to those contributing to Spanish social security (plus families and retirees). If you do not qualify for the public health care then it is essential to have private health care insurance. Health care in Barcelona is modern, reliable with high standard facilities.

Housing: a two-bedroom apartment can range from US$500-$700 per month. You may need to pay a real estate agent up to one-month rent commission.

Karen Schellinck is the President and CEO of Places to Retire Inc. and Publisher of Exotic Places to Retire Inc. and Places to Retire in Canada.