Anna Nicholas is a British expat who has lived on the island of Mallorca with her husband and son for the past 11 years. She is the author of several humorous books based on her own experiences of being an expat on Mallorca, the most recent of which is A Bull on the Beach, to be published in July 2012. You can read out more about her expat life and work on her website: www.anna-nicholas.com.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I’m a Celt of Welsh, Irish and Scottish extraction but for much of my life I’ve lived in the heart of London.
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Soller in the mountainous north west of Mallorca.
Q: How long have you lived here?
A: Coming up for 11 years.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Yes, I moved here with my husband, Alan, and son, Ollie who is now 15.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: Having taken holidays in Mallorca for a few years staying first in the beautiful village of Deia and then renting a house in the Soller Valley, we bought an old dilapidated finca (a stone farmhouse) on a whim. At the time I was running a PR company in Mayfair with my husband and we hopped back and forth to the island to oversee building work. Eventually we decided to make rural Mallorca our home and merged the business. Since then I’ve become a fulltime author and freelance journalist. In fact since moving here I’ve written a series of humorous books based on my own experiences. The first, A Lizard in My Luggage, offers a tongue in cheek view on how I balanced living between London and Mallorca for life and work. The fifth, A Bull on a Beach, is published on 3 July.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Mallorca, how’s the quality of life?
A: I’m biased but for me the Soller Valley is the most beautiful enclave of Mallorca. We live between the town of Soller and its port and whatever time of year the place is teeming with life, fiestas and cultural events. I love the food, the imposing Tramuntana mountain range, the glistening sea, the orchards swollen with citrus fruits and olive trees and above all I love the people: the Sollerics.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: It’s rare for me to miss the UK but if I missed anything it would be Hatchards bookshop, Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly and the theatre. Having said that I’m back regularly and pop by all my favourite haunts so don’t shed a tear for me!
Q: Is Mallorca safe?
A: The other night my neighbour left all his car doors open with the key in the ignition and we forgot to lock our front door. No theft, no visitors. That sums up safety for me-with a dollop of good luck!
Q: How would you rate the public transport on Mallorca? Do you need to own a car, or is the public transport sufficient for getting around? What are the different options?
To be honest public transport isn’t fantastic across Mallorca and you really do need a car. We’re lucky in Soller because we have a fantastic historic train, just celebrating its 100th anniversary which takes you on a magical one hour journey through the mountains to Palma, the island’s capital. We also have an excellent regular bus service to the Capital and local villages of Deia and Valldemossa. However, in the smaller villages service is sporadic if it exists at all. Most bus connections can be made in Palma at the central station and there are a few train routes but there’s no service island -wide. They’re working on it. Taxis are plentiful, if quite expensive.
About living on Mallorca
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live on Mallorca as an expat?
A: Well in Palma there’s plenty of choice: the old town for unrivalled history and beauty and hip places like Santa Catalina for good property prices and a bohemian vibe. Portixol is by the sea and bijoux properties are expensive but enjoy wonderful seascapes. The favoured expat zones on the coast where English is spoken widely are Portals Nous, Bendinat, Santa Ponsa and Puerta Portals. In rural Mallorca the most desirable areas to live for amenities, vistas and atmosphere are probably the Soller Valley, Deia, Andratx and Pollenca in the north. Cheapest property prices are found in the central, agricultural areas of the island.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation on Mallorca?
A: Mallorca has accommodation to suit the budgets of all kinds of visitor. Naturally you get what you pay for. If you stay at the new five star Jumeirah Port Soller, you’re in for a treat and ultra luxury but if you stay in a no-star pension, the bed’s going to creak. As regards living accommodation for new expats, old fincas are most desirable especially with pool and land, although town houses, villas and apartments are popular choices. There’s something for every budget here but Mallorca is certainly not a cheap option. The mainland offers far more affordable property.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: These days Mallorca isn’t much less expensive than the UK although perhaps you get more for your money in the supermarket and wines are good value. Since the euro, prices have shot up although if you do your homework there are still fantastic cafés and restaurants offering cheap menu del dias and excellent local food at good prices.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: We mix mostly with locals and hybrid expats i.e. those of Spanish and English/Scandinavian/American mixed origin.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends on Mallorca?
A: Yes but that was partly because Sari, my sister’s former au pair, was from a nearby village and introduced us to locals and her chums. We also enrolled our son in the local town football club and school and picked up a lot of friends and contacts that way.
About working on Mallorca
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit for Mallorca?
A: I didn’t need one because I work for myself. However, it all depends what you do. I have a doctor friend who had a hard time trying to get registered in the Spanish system whereas other of my friends have had a fairly easy ride getting businesses established. First point of call is a good gestor – accountant.
Q: What’s the economic climate like on Mallorca, is there plenty of work?
A: Spain is not on best form at present economically but probably the Baleares is one of the areas least affected thanks to a booming tourist industry. People are still struggling but there is workaround.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: I think there’s much more of a ‘work to live’ rather than ‘live to work’ culture here. The sun shines, people take their time, and if it’s a nice day, some locals simply shut up shop. The Mallorcans have a handy little expression which is ‘poc a poc’- little by little. In other words don’t get in a sweat, the job will get done in the end.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No, we did it ourselves with the help of local removal firm, Webbs. They have continued to help us with anything we need brought over from the UK. Most expats I know here use Webbs. It’s an institution!
Family and children
Q: Did your family have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: In truth it was fairly effortless. Ollie was coming up to five at the time of the move so he was able to start school with other new children. He makes friends easily, is a natural linguist and loves outdoor sports so settling here was never a problem for him. He also loves animals and wildlife so he adored seeing all the frogs, lizards and cats about our land. Both he and my husband love the al fresco lifestyle and play tennis and swim regularly. Alan is semi-retired and adores gardening so for him it’s as if he’s landed in a veritable Garden of Eden.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are some good international schools in Palma but local private schools are another good option if you want your children to really assimilate the language. The only drawback is that many schools teach in Catalan, and much as it’s a lovely language, it’s more useful to have Castilian in the world today. Ollie went first to an international school until the age of nine then was the only English boy at a local private school where his Spanish improved massively. Last year he chose to return to the UK to complete his studies at a boarding school. It was a wise decision. The breadth of curriculum at such a school is fantastic and much as he loved his local Spanish school, there simply wasn’t the choice of subjects or indeed languages.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare on Mallorca?
A: Superb. We have many private hospitals which are first class and excellent state-run hospitals. Getting an appointment with a local doctor is easy and the service is efficient, thorough and reliable.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: The most important thing before making a move to Mallorca is to ensure that you have seen the area of your dreams out of season. So many Britons fall in love with a holiday resort, buy a home while cocooned in sunshine, only to find that it’s devoid of life and heart during the winter months. Always check that there’s a good doctor’s surgery or medical centre in the vicinity, reasonable transport connections, no planned urbanisations, and that your local village or town has a soul - a place with life where locals get together and commune. I adore Soller’s marketplace and town square. Even on a rainy grey day in the winter I can walk into town and have a warming coffee in the plaça with life all around me and enjoy a friendly chat with José, the owner of Café Paris, my favoured bar.
~ Interviewed June 2012