I connected with Mel and Marie just recently, from one webmaster to another, through working on our mutual websites. I found out that the couple had just recently moved to Spain from Britain and set up an adventure travel company that after one only year in business is already doing pretty well.
Many of you know already that Spain is one of my favourite countries, so I absolutely had to find out how these Northern Europeans made the transition into the hot south of Andalucia and how there were adjusting personally, socially and with their new business in this brand new lifestyle. Here is what they had to say:
1. Please tell us a bit about your background. Where are you from, what is your work background?
Mel: I'm from Bedworth, Warwickshire, England. Formerly a coal miner and policeman.
Marie: I'm from Maghera, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and am a nurse.
Prior to moving to Spain, we lived in Nuneaton, Warwickshire. We have 3 children; Stuart (19), Niall (15) and Stephanie (14).
2. How did you come up with the idea of opening an adventure holiday company in Spain?
Marie: For all of his adult life, Mel has been a keen trail runner, cyclist and cross-country skier; the children and myself are also lovers of the great outdoors. As a family we had holidayed all over Europe, including a number of cycling breaks in Spain. Having experienced the local climate, the stunning scenery and the apparently limitless tracks and incredibly quiet roads, moving to Spain to establish our own activity holiday business seemed the perfect choice.
3. How did you select your location? What type of property did you choose and why? Please talk to us about the real estate purchasing process in Spain.
Andalucia is the most beautiful part of Spain. We wanted to avoid the mayhem of the coast, but didn't want to be more than an hour away from Malaga airport, in order to reduce the traveling time for guests. It was then just a question of drawing a line on a map and visiting available properties within that circle.
We did a lot of browsing on the internet, then made appointments with estate agents to view the properties that seemed right. We eventually chose this property because of the stunning views, the excellent road access and because, with only a little work, we were able to convert an outbuilding into a self-contained guest apartment.
The purchasing process was relatively simple for us. We granted power of attorney to a local solicitor, who then handled everything on our behalf. All we had to do was transfer over the money whenever it was required. The only aspect of the process that we would caution people about is the tactics of some of the estate agents. Not all of the properties listed on websites were actually for sale and some of those that were for sale were only available at a much higher price than advertised or were not at all like their descriptions!
4. Did you have to do any renovations to the property you bought? If so, what was it like to deal with Spanish contractors and construction workers?
We had to convert a building with 2 very basic rooms and 2 shed type rooms into the guest accommodation. However, we were able to do a lot of the work ourselves and only employed builders for the more skilled tasks. We have learned that there are good and bad builders amongst the Spanish and the British builders working locally, but only a properly registered firm does work with any sort of guarantee. And that is an important consideration.
5. Please talk to us about Rio-Frio, the adventure holiday company that you founded. When did you start it?
We founded Rio Frio Holidays in the summer of 2004, with the intention of offering activity holidays and holiday accommodation specifically tailored to the requirements of our guests, whether they are individual travellers, families or groups.
6. What does your company offer? How is it different from other adventure holiday operations? What type of people vacation with your company?
We offer holiday accommodation, activity holidays and training camps for families, single travelers, corporate groups and groups of sports people. Mel is the main guide/coordinator for hiking, mountain biking, road cycling and running; other activities, such as canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling and archery and provided by local Spanish companies.
We have had visits from keen cyclists and runners, as well as families wanting a multi-activity break and people who wanted to do nothing more than relax in the garden between visits to Granada, Seville and other sightseeing highlights.
7. What was it like opening a business in Spain? What processes did you have to go through?
Our first step was to hire a good accountant ("Gestoria") who took us through the process of registering with the Spanish authorities as self-employed and helped us with the bureaucracy of registering the business with the local tourist authorities. He also handles our regular tax returns and ensures that we comply with all of the relevant tax and other legislation.
8. Please tell us how the first year has gone for you with your new business. What has been your biggest challenge of operating a business in a new country? What have been your greatest rewards of operating this business?
The first year has been fantastic! We have had nothing but positive feedback from all of our guests and their comments, to their friends and in our online guestbook, have been our best form of advertising.
The biggest challenge has been identifying where to spend our marketing budget. We are constantly receiving calls from sales reps trying to sell us advertising space and it is very difficult to tell which publications are likely to have the greatest impact. We are still learning!
The greatest reward is the thanks of the guests and knowing that we have helped someone to have a great holiday or helped to put them on track to achieving their health or fitness goals.
9. How good was your knowledge of Spanish when you moved there? How has it improved since then?
We barely spoke a word of Spanish between us - and even less Andaluz (the local dialect!) However, after many hours of hard work, we are all well on the way to learning the language now.
10. Please tell us about your interaction with the locals. How much contact do you have with local people? What about the cultural adjustment process, adjusting to Spanish culture, coming from England for yourselves and your children?
The children went straight into the local Spanish secondary school. Unfortunately, the recent influx of British children has left the school struggling to cope.
Outside of school, things are much better. Our Spanish neighbours and friends are terrific; there is a real sense of community in our village and, through Mel's membership of the local cycling club, we have developed a wide network of Spanish friends.
Until you relax and accept that the Spanish – especially the bureaucrats - do not work to deadlines in the same way that the British do, life in Spain can be quite stressful for the average Brit. However, there is little about the way of life that doesn't come out favourably in comparison with British culture.
11. What advice would give you someone who would like to relocate to Spain and start a business there?
Do it! And please feel free to drop us a line if you have any specific questions.
Thanks, Mel and Marie, for sharing with us how you achieved your dream of living in the South of Spain and good luck with your business. It's great to hear that you were able to fit in in your new environment so quickly and have managed such a smooth transition. It's true, sometimes you just gotta do it. . . .
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions(http://www.travelandtransitions.com ). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
Submit your own travel stories in our first travel story contest(http://www.travelandtransitions.com/contests.htm ) and have a chance to win an amazing adventure cruise on the Amazon River.
"Life is a Journey Explore New Horizons".
The interview with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Interviews