There is no doubt that one of the main reasons for deciding to retire to, or just to move to, Spain is for the climate, which many people have experienced on their summer holidays. July and August are hot throughout the Spanish peninsula, and many people imagine this is the case all year-round.
In fact, there is a wide range of climatic conditions in Spain, from the mountains in the north to the dry, arid south and surprisingly, winters can be cold everywhere. Do not imagine that you won't need some form of heating during the winter months – and you may also find you need air conditioning for the hottest days.
The coolest regions are in the north, close to the Pyrenees, and where there are excellent ski resorts. The north-west of Spain, the Basque country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia in particular, receive heavy rainfall and are therefore very green compared to regions south of the Cantabrian mountains. Short, violent thunderstorms are also common here.
Once you venture inland, the climate is totally different, with extremely hot summers and very cold winters – sometimes with temperatures below freezing. Seville can reach the mid-40s in the height of summer, and Madrid's high altitude can cause unpredictable weather, veering from very hot in the summer to very cold in the winter.
The Mediterranean coast on the east side of the country enjoys better weather than the Atlantic side. To the north, the Costa Brava and Costa Dorada experience mainly mild weather, with rainfall most common in the autumn and spring. The summers can be humid, and it has been known to snow in the winter, but this will usually disappears quickly. Generally the climate here is moderate, although thunderstorms are frequent.
Further south on the Mediterranean coast are the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol, which are warmer all year-round than their northern neighbours, and can be very hot and dry in the summer. In recent years though, this part of Spain has experienced heavy rainfall and some flooding, which may be due to general world climatic change.
The Balearic Islands have their own micro climate, and the north of Mallorca, for example, receives more rainfall than the south of the island.
Spain has the most sunshine in Europe and, according to the World Health Organisation, the Mediterranean Costa Blanca has one of the healthiest climates anywhere. However, Spain also has violent dry winds – cold or hot – including the terral in southern Spain, the tramontana in Catalonia, Minorca (Balearics) and the Pyrenees, and the solano in Cadiz. These can last for several days and can cause damage to buildings and trees.
When you first arrive in Spain, your instinct will be to rush out and lie in the warm sunshine by the pool or on the beach. Be aware that, even in early spring, the sun is hot and can cause all sorts of health problems if you have not adapted slowly to the climate. Spend time outside every day, but be well covered to begin with and, as your body begins to feel comfortable, that's when you should consider wearing shorts instead of trousers and t-shirts instead of long sleeved tops.
After a month or so, you will be able to spend time outside with your swimming gear, but it is really not a good idea to lie out on a sunbed for hours on end. You will find that you get a pleasant tan just by walking around, gardening, cycling or even sitting under a parasol, which is much healthier than actual sunbathing.
Even in southern Spain, you will need heating in the winter. Many of the newer properties have reversible heating and air conditioning units. These are practical but tend to dry out the air, so it can be wise to place bowls of water discreetly around the house to add a little moisture to the air you are breathing. This will also protect your wooden furniture from drying out and splitting. Fireplaces are cosy, and you can buy firewood locally – a large cartload will cost in the region of €100. Apartments and houses in towns usually have gas central heating or electric radiators, whilst those in the country will use diesel or gas.
It is vital in summer to keep yourself well hydrated and drink lots of water, rather than alcoholic, carbonated and caffeinated drinks. It's worth noting that tap water in Spain is safe to drink, but often has an unpleasant aftertaste. Bottled water is cheap over here and is an essential for every household, so save yourself some money and buy it in bulk.
Thunderstorms can result in power cuts, so make sure you have a torch in a place you can reach it, even in the dark, and plenty of candles and matches.
Local authorities may impose water restrictions in the summer and you will need to adapt to these in order to live comfortably –this is where buying bottled water in bulk comes in handy.
Spain has on average 300 days of sunshine a year, but there are also strong winds, heavy rain, thunderstorms and drought. Just take things slowly during your first weeks in your new home and environment, and allow your body and mind to get used to a climate very different from the UK.