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Welcome to sunny Adra, Spain's best-kept secret

With over 360 days of sun a year and staggeringly cheap living costs, expat Mary Lewis thinks Adra could easily be the world's best place to live.

I have lived in Adra, Spain’s best-kept secret, in semi-retirement for the past 11 years, and I know it is the best place on earth to be. Now that both me and my husband are fully retired, and have the family home in the UK up for sale, we hope to live here more permanently. And it's not only because we have the best climate in Europe (over 360 days a year of sun, and winter temperatures standing around 18C).

We chose Adra after 10 years searching along Spain's southern Costas. We almost bought property in the ever-popular Nerja, but didn’t as we were looking for the "real Spain" – a place where we could live among working Spanish people, but also have a house with fantastic sea views and within walking distance of the beach. With our strict budget, in Nerja we would have been restricted to buying a property miles from the sea, and with Germans or Brits as neighbours.

Adra town and its surrounding tiny villages accommodate no such ghettos. The few Brits and other northern Europeans who live here are scattered evenly amongst the natives like silver balls strewn across a trifle and are viewed in the same way; an obvious but benign adornment to the local scene. Locals view these foreigners with gentle curiosity and affection; after all, they come with pensions and/or skills.

It's true to say most émigrés here have private incomes, but those who need to work can, if they are qualified and, more importantly, flexible. We know expats who teach English, buy and sell at car boot sales (rastrillos in Spanish), run computer businesses from home, offer DIY services and caretaker services to absent property owners, and work in the greenhouses picking tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, red peppers or melons. Those who speak Spanish use their language skills to help their countrymen to negotiate the nitty gritty of managing one’s life in a foreign country: banking, town hall registrations, car tax etc.

One of the beauties of life here is that the cost of living is so low – among the lowest in Spain, in fact. Without the need for either heating or cooling most of the year, electricity costs are low. We pay for our three-bedroomed village house only €450 a year, and we often have visitors in the house who demand hot showers and have the ceiling fans on full blast all day long. Our water bill is only €250 a year and our annual council tax bill, including rubbish collection, is €500 euros. Beat that anywhere else in Europe if you can.

Many expat couples with children have chosen Adra because of its calm and healthy environment . Young children play happily on the street without fear of molestation, they attend well-organised schools and integrate alarmingly quickly . Allowing a child to grown up being a bilingual citizen in this age of globalisation has to be a generous gift. To be able to do this, many of these couples juggle a life here with working back in the UK. One mother I know works back home for four weeks then comes back to Spain for two, while the father attends to the 12 and 14 year-olds and does odd jobs to supplement the family income. Another couple live here with two toddlers; the husband works on oil rigs all over the world, two weeks on and one week off, while the wife spends her free time perfecting her Spanish .

Those Brits who have ventured here and really made it their permanent home are a special breed: first and foremost, they are self-reliant and independent and not focused on forced entertainment like the tourists get in Benidorm. Secondly, they accept the local customs and do not try to change the Spanish overnight. The Spaniards here are perhaps the most traditional of all the Spanish, and are proud to say Spanish things are the best; their food, their ferrias, their family life. So it's best not to point out their shortcomings, like unpunctuality and an over-reliance on bureaucracy. But of course if you do, again they will still treat you with good humour and good will.

In the time we have lived here we have never had a cross word with a neighbour in our village. We are a community of 200 people, all Spanish apart from two other British couples, some French property owners who only come here in the summer, two or three German couples and a Belgian single man. My husband has earned himself a good reputation as a handyman; he repairs the odd piece of machinery like electric blenders and does the occasional spot of welding, and in return we get bags of fish and masses of fruit and vegetables.

I have taught English and busied myself with Spanish to English translation work, but luckily I didn’t come here to work, I came for peace after a lifetime of being a teacher, housewife and mother to three boys. Now I am a writer struggling with her first novel and can think of no better place to write. The town goes back to Phonecian times and is still a busy market town and fishing port. You won’t find a buzz here like in some places in Spain, but what you will find is a reassuring hubbub of activity, plenty of space to park, no queues in the banks or supermarkets: in other words, no hassle.

You can’t even see our village from the motorway, and yet we are only two minutes from access to it, and better still only 50km from Almeria airport and 160km from Malaga. We use the charter airline companies like Ryanair and Monarch and find that we can get here cheaper than going by train from our home town in the Midlands to London.

Like everywhere in Spain, we are going through a recession. We have watched our property's value go up from the £60,000 it cost when we bought it in 2000 to £200,000 in 2007, then down again to around the £150,000 mark. It could still be going down, as more and more properties are forced onto the market, but we don’t mind. We have loved our foray into Spain and hope to stay for a bit longer.

Yes, we think we are certainly living in Spain’s best kept secret. I'd say don't tell anyone – but I could never keep a secret!

All text (c) Mary Mae Lewis

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