Unforgettable San Miguel

San Miguel in Mexico is another spot that you could consider as a choice for retirement. San Miguel was given the status of a national monument in 1926 and has attracted about 5,000 expatriates from America and Canada. The total population of the city is about 70,000.

This is an extremely picturesque place with cobbled streets and colonial mansions. Because of its status as a national monument, there’s a restriction on the construction of new buildings here, as this would change the character of the place.

Despite the fact that San Miguel has attracted so many expatriates, the city has successfully retained a strong Mexican identity. San Miguel is slightly more expensive than Lake Chapala, but living here is still relatively inexpensive. For example you could rent a good home, not too far from the downtown area for about $ 500 a month. You could also live a comfortable life here for as little as $ 1,500 per month. You could of course spend much more if you wanted, but that would depend on the kind of lifestyle you choose to follow.

There’s a very active cultural life here and a number of religious festivals are held every year. This is a place that is exalted as an artists’ community. This is also where you will find the world renowned Instituto Allende that has attracted some of the finest artists and craftsmen from around the world.

If you were to consider retiring in a place like this, you would be happiest if you shared an interest in the arts, as this is the driving force of many of the activities and occasions in the town.

San Miguel offers some of the best shopping opportunities in Mexico, as well as a profusion of restaurants for fine dining. In fact, considering that San Miguel is not very large, it is rather surprising to see the wide range of international cuisine that is available here.

San Miguel is one of the most scenic areas of Mexico. But do be careful if you are getting carried away by all that you are finding out. If you were considering a permanent move to Mexico, it would be best for you to spend at least a week in the country. Rent a place for six months and come back when the rental period commences so that you can get used to the ethnic character of the place.

If you don’t, you may be faced with a kind of culture shock, should you decide to shift without testing the water so to speak. Do realize how important this is because it could change your whole experience of life in a place that will naturally be alien to you as an outsider. The more you do to ensure that you can settle in easily, the more you can ensure that the transition will be a smooth one

You will generally find that rental apartments here are furnished so there’s no need for you to transport furniture. Over six months, spend your time exploring the city, getting the feel of the place and connecting with other expatriates whenever you can.

Get into the swing of daily life by riding on the buses, using the local currency and living from day to day without regarding yourself as a tourist. If you are still comfortable, then maybe you can consider shifting permanently.

Once you know what you are letting yourself in for, you’ll be in a fairly strong position to make a final decision. You have to admit that life in this place looks pretty good. Do be prepared to give yourself a little time to settle down. Things are bound to be rather different from what you may be accustomed to back home. But then you know what they say about the pleasures of a home away from home!

Kite surfing

Each year there are more of them. Hardly a beach remains where sunbathers are not treated to the sight of an array of brilliantly coloured kites out at sea. They belong to kite surfers, professionals and amateurs alike, practising their jumps and reaching outrageous heights, while moving across the water with alarming speed.

As the name suggests, kite surfers use a board similar to a wakeboard in size and shape, and a kite which acts as a sail, to pull them across the water. As the kite is manoeuvred left and right, so a kite surfer is able to control his direction and, with time, move into the air to perform tricks and acrobatics.

A fusion of windsurfing, wakeboarding and paragliding, kite surfing has been labelled the most extreme water sport in existence. Invented by the French, and popularised by Robbi Naish in Hawaii, the pace of development of the sport over the past five years has been rapid. This, together with the degree of publicity this adventure sport continues to attract, may account for its burgeoning popularity.

Kitesurfer, Kite Surfing, Kiters, Kitesurfing.
Kitesurfer, Kite Surfing, Kiters, Kitesurfing.

It has been described as less dangerous than skydiving, but more so than windsurfing, and more fun than both. Jonny Biggins, a British kite surfer living in Barcelona, admits that the danger factor is a huge pull. For him it is the most exciting and exhilarating sport there is. However, he also stressed that for those who know what they are doing, it needn’t be too dangerous. There is a kite-surfing code of conduct, and the most important rule is to always watch the kite’s lines.

While part of the attraction is undeniably related to the danger factor involved, kite surfing is not a difficult sport. It can be learned in a week. Once you’ve learnt the basics, all it really takes is practise. While windsurfing can take years to master, within weeks kite surfers can jump and perform aerial tricks.

The basic principles involved are relatively easy to learn; it is the jumping and landing after the jumps that require more finesse. Most courses offer a simple eight-hour training programme for beginners. Marc Argenso, an instructor at Escola Nautica Garbi, in Castelldefels, maintains that this is all the training needed to safely kite surf alone. Students master the necessary techniques after three hours on land learning about the wind and how to control the kite, and five on the water.

While most adventure sports demand strength and a high degree of fitness, kite surfing is less physical than aerobic and relies more heavily on technique than pure muscle. While in windsurfing, the sail can be cumbersome and requires a certain amount of strength to haul it out of the water, in kite surfing the wind does the work.

For this reason, Pedro Rius, the owner of the Front Fred shop in Barcelona and a kite surfer for six years, believes women have the potential to dominate the sport. Women, he maintains, are faster learners and are more adept at concentrating on technique; whereas men tend to rely on sheer strength and are more intent on showing off or being macho.

In terms of location, the beach at Barceloneta is a viable option, though the wind can be gusty and there is an expanse of rock to avoid. Most kite surfers here flock to Castelldefels, as the beach is five thousand metres long and a hundred metres wide, providing lots of space in which to make mistakes. The beach at Bogatell is also popular, as it tends to be emptier than those in Barceloneta. Be careful to always check the wind; an offshore wind can drag a kite surfer out to sea.

Because of the crowded beaches, kite surfing is prohibited in Catalunya from June to September. Nevertheless, on certain fairly remote beaches, a few clandestine kite surfers can be seen throughout the summer. These are the folks who just can’t wait to fly their kites and don’t mind the occasional nudist. For the rest, the September skies beckon.

Useful information:
Equipment (including kite, board, harness and lines):
New 1200 – 1400 euros, Second-hand 800 – 900 euros
(Second-hand equipment should be no more than two years old as the older the kite, the less durable it will be)

Kite Shops in Barcelona:
Front Fred, c/Diputacio 282; Tel 93318 45 81
Ventilador, c/Diputacio 212; Tel 93 323 56 24; www.ventilador.com

Escola Nautica Garbi, www.escolagarbi.com; Tel 609 752 175
8 Hours 250 euros. Price includes use of all equipment, wetsuits and facilities.
Escola Front Fred; Castedelldefels; Tel 651 974 080; 629 718 616
8 Hours 220 euros

Useful Websites:
www.pkra.info, www.secretkiteboarding.com, www.kitesurfing.org

Paradors of Spain – A Noble Retreat

The intense silence was broken only by my own bare feet shuffling across the polished floorboards. With a bleary yawn I pulled back the heavy drapes and sunlight flooded the room. I found myself staring at a massive volcano.
Once the shock had registered, I remembered I was staying at a Parador in the Cañadas del Teide.

Currently celebrating their 75th Anniversary, Paradors are state-run hotels scattered throughout Spain.
I had spent the previous day trekking the volcanic desert that constitutes this National Park, exploring harsh and rocky terrain, admiring huge expanses of sky and weird rock formations.

In the evening a rain shower forced an early end to marvelling at the stars.

Far from disappointed, the hotel took on an even cosier, sheltered warmth. That night, while tucked up in an enormous hotel bed, I pondered the thought that I was spending the night in the middle of what was once a massive volcanic crater. The selling point of this hotel is definitely location, location, location. But a great setting isn’t always what makes staying in a Parador such a special experience.

‘Paradors of Spain’ has a total of 87 hotels. The Parador in Santiago de Compostella is an old hospital that during the 15th century served as a shelter for pilgrims on the way to pay homage to St James. Another is a renaissance palace, while the Parador on the Costa del Sol, has its own golf course.

Set up in the early 1900’s, the idea behind the Paradors was to create a luxury hotel chain that would be present in every pocket of the country. It was the Marquis of Vega-Inclán who was largely responsible for turning the idea into a reality. In 1926 he set up a body called the Royal Tourism Commission, establishing two objectives.

The first was to create hotels aimed at the travelling nobility. The second involved restoring a large number of National Heritage buildings that had fallen to ruin.

At the time, accommodation in Spain largely comprised of low-key lodgings, usually set up as a sideline to the more important business of rearing livestock. Since the concept of comfort was virtually nonexistent, upper-class tourists were reluctant to visit Spain.

The project was met with the immediate approval of Alfonso XIII, then King of Spain. It was he who chose the location for the first Parador. Located in Navarredona de Gredos (Ávila), it was officially opened in 1928, and touted as a beautiful retreat for nobles who loved to hunt.

Since then the company has created dozens of Paradors that include fairytale castles, renaissance palaces and medieval monasteries.

Paradores have become an integral part of the country’s cultural heritage, though thankfully they aren’t just reserved for the upper classes. By the 1960’s Paradors got rid of their ‘hotels for nobles’ label and focused instead on the scenic aspect and the fact that they lent a touch of class to a country that had become synonomous with mass tourism.

The price of a room in a Parador can vary depending on how luxurious it is. Las Cañadas is reasonably priced at e 97.40 a night for a standard double room, while if you wish to stay at the Parador Alarcon in La Mancha, expect to pay up around e140 a night for a double room. Though when you consider that Alarcon is an 8th Century Arab castle, you might decide it’s actually quite a bargain.

The lack of light pollution In Las Cañadas means that (weather permitting) it’s a great place from which to observe the night sky in all its star-filled glory. Guests can make use of the hotel’s two powerful telescopes, which are set up every Friday when the Parador holds its Astrophysics Night. According to hotel director, Jesús Garrido Pozo: “By around four o’clock most of the daytrippers have gone and the guests have the whole park to themselves. There’s an incredible silence at night and you can see millions of stars”.

The restaurant, which is open to the public, serves typical Canarian favourites such as Puchero Canario (Canarian stew), along with a smattering of international dishes.

There’s also a snack bar open during the day. After a long hike in chilly winter weather, a hot chocolate will warm you up for the drive back.