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Regions and Cities for Expats in Spain

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: July 2013

Spain is composed of 17 first-tier political subdivisions, which have several titles but are generally either called regions or autonomous communities (comunidades autonomas). Each of these communities has its own legislative, and, to a greater or lesser degree, distinctive features and its own culture. These regions have been put into larger geographical areas in the description below.

North and north-west Spain contains the six regions of Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias, the Basque Country, La Rioja and Navarre. This area has a comparatively mild climate and is greener and less touristic than other parts of the country. In Galicia, near the north-western tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Galician is spoken. Santiago de Compostela is famous for being a site of Catholic pilgrimage. In the Basque Country, and in some parts of Navarre, Basque is co-official. The Basque people are proud of their distinctive culture. Bilbao and the surrounding area of the Basque Country has held on to some of its industry and recently become a centre of tourism.

Madrid and its region are in the very centre of Spain. As well as being the centre of national government, Madrid is a major centre of commerce: it is the most important financial centre in Southern Europe It is also one of the greenest cities in Europe, having more parks and gardens than most other European cities. This has helped Madrid to be voted one of the most liveable cities in the world.

The vast area surrounding Madrid comprises the regions of Castile & Leon, Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura. These areas are on the Meseta Central, a series of dry plateaux and mountain ranges dominating the middle of Spain. By European standards, this is a very sparsely populated area. Agriculture is important here, and has been augmented by irrigation schemes. There are a few smaller cities such as Salamanca and Valladolid; these are agricultural processing centres. Salamanca is also a centre for tourism as its Old City is one of Spain’s 44 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The regions in the North-East, Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia, together approximate to the historical Kingdom of Aragon. People in this area generally have Catalan as a mother tongue, and are aware of their distinctiveness from other parts of Spain. This area, especially Catalonia, is an important industrial region of Spain. Barcelona is also Spain’s second-largest financial centre, after Madrid. It is also an important centre for tourism, as are the Costas throughout this area.

The South of Spain contains the regions of Andalusia and Murcia, in which there are many fine examples of Moorish architecture, in cities such as Cordova. The coast (divided into Costas) has many fine beaches and, like in the regions up the coast, many tourists and expats.

The Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean are also very popular tourist destinations. As are the Canaries, which, though considered part of metropolitan Spain, lie more than 800 miles south-west of Cadiz, the nearest point on the mainland. The Canaries are around 70 miles west of Morocco’s southernmost border. The economies of both of these regions are heavily dependent on tourism.

Also part of metropolitan Spain are the two tiny enclaves on the coast of Morocco, which consist of the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. These are also mostly tourist areas.



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