VALLADOLID – Friends in Seville thought Gemma Boys was mad when she told them she wanted to move to Valladolid, an unfashionable city a long way from popular southern Spanish city but that did not stop her.
“I fell for [Valladolid] because it is an authentically Spanish city. I have never liked the Costas. I like people and culture,” said the British language teacher.
“I would never have gone to the Costa del Sol because all I see is a little English ghetto and they are not interested in the culture. They only want to get the weather that fits their lifestyle.”
Ms Boys, who is originally from Preston in Lancashire, is part of a growing wave of Britons who have turned their backs on Spain’s Mediterranean coast and headed to the north of the country, which is more famous for wine, wide plains and suckling pig than the sun and sand of the south.
“For me there is a real identity here. It is small enough that you know people here. I wanted to form a part of the community here, so it was important for me that I worked for local schools,” said Ms Boys, 39, who manages The Country Cottage language academy.
Brexit was another turning point for Ms Boys, who decided to move to Spain a year after the 2016 vote.
“The Brexit vote happened, and I was appalled at what happened. It has been sad. People here do not understand what Brexit was for,” she said.
With house prices rising along the Costas, an increasing number of foreigners are buying up houses or entire abandoned villages in Castile and Leon, Galicia, La Rioja, Navarre and other previously unfashionable regions.
Climate change was blamed for temperatures soaring over 40 Celsius in some parts of southern Spain last summer, making the Mediterranean coast less attractive to northern Europeans who suffer in the heat.
After the pandemic, more foreigners can work from home in villages or towns in the Spanish countryside while earning a foreign salary.
Britons and other foreign nationals are attracted by the “golden mile” of major wineries in Castile and Leon as well as the lush green countryside.
This is Ribera del Duero country, a wine which is increasingly popular in Britain but has yet to challenge the dominance of Rioja.
Among these is Protos, whose winery that looks like three huge wine barrels in the pretty village of Peñafiel, was designed by the late British architect Richard Rogers.
Apart from cheaper homes, WFH and wine, one factor driving Britons and other foreigners is the cost of living crisis: cheaper living outside the Spanish property hotspots like Madrid, Barcelona, the Balearics and Marbella is increasingly important, estate agents say.
Last year foreigners bought 14 per cent of all properties in Spain, a figure not seen since before the financial crisis of 2008, according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics (INE).
Despite Brexit, the British remain the biggest buyers by nationality, purchasing 10.87 per cent of all homes bought by foreigners, according to the INE. They were followed by the Germans (9.23%), French (6.44%), Belgians (4.91%), Italians (4.85%) and Dutch (4.64%).
The Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and the Valencia region, which includes the Costa Blanca, remain the most popular areas with foreign buyers.
However, the wine region of La Rioja accounted for 6.91 per cent of all purchases by foreigners in 2022, with Navarre (6.55%) and Aragon (6.42%) – above Madrid (5.03%), according to figures compiled by Cinco Días, a business newspaper. Castille and Leon accounted for 2.64 per cent of purchases by foreigners.
Colm Mullen, 39, who moved from Ireland to Valladolid 19 years ago, said: “There is much more to Spain than sand and sun like in the south. This region has a wealth of culture. It is the cradle of the Spanish language. This is old Spain.”
Luis Corral, CEO of Foro Consultores Inmobiliarios, a real estate agency, said that Britons and other foreigners were increasingly interested in the interior of Spain.
“Nature, wide open spaces and prices are the attractions. These places are well connected and there is a good style of life,” he told i.