Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:


The Catalans are not, by their nature, greedy people. And yet unloose a load of them on a calçotada and all kinds of belt stretching, waste expanding gluttony is guaranteed. 

And it’s not just the greed that makes the calçotada so amusingly depraved either; the filth is a major part of the fun too, as hands, arms, faces and even hair get blackened from the freshly grilled calçots, making a mockery of the small lemon hand wipes and finicky plastic gloves available.

Not for nothing, then, is the  calçotada the king of all Catalan food fiestas. And should you be in Catalonia sometime in-between December and late April I thoroughly recommend you try one.

And yet the whole thing hardly sounds promising. Calçots - as, quite honestly, few people who live south of Tarragona will be able to tell you - are essentially long green onions, who look a lot like leeks and taste a bit spring onion-y. 

Their origin is disputed. The way Catalans go on about them you might assume calçots to be first developed in Roman times by Julius Caesar himself then kept alive by a succession of Catalan gods that stretches to Pep Guardiola, Artur Mas and Ferran Adriá in the present day. 

Instead, the most popular explanation is that they were developed by a peasant farmer from Valls called Xat de Banaiges, who planted the sprouts of garden onions, covering them with earth so the longer stems remain edible (a process known in Catalan as calçar).

But a calçotada isn’t about the calçots anyway. Or not really. Because there’s so much more to it than onions.

There’s the sauce, for a start, the salvitxada, a romesco-esque mix of garlic, tomato, almonds, hazelnuts, ñora (a kind of small, spicy pepper), toasted bread, olive oil and salt, which is so delicious I always struggle not to finish off a good half a pot with my bread in the (disgracefully short) interval before the calçots arrive. 

It’s the kind of thing I would probably eat every day, if I could, but is only ever made to accompany calçots. And I’ve never had a bad one, either, having eaten calçots from Valls to Querol, Sant Sadurni to Sitges.

The ritual of the calçotada, too, is something special. First comes the glass of cava, bread, tomato and garlic and the oh-too-tempting sauce. Polite conversation is advisable at this point as A) it will keep you off the salvitxada for a few vital minutes and B) it will be the last time you look and sound even vaguely respectable for the next few hours.

Then come the calçots themselves, served on terra cora tiles, sometimes wrapped in newspaper. You half expect the titular vegetable to be accompanied by a fanfare of brass or at least a stirring speech until you realise the restaurant has probably served several thousand calçots that day alone. (There are restaurants in Valls, calçots’ spiritual home that seat several hundred at a go during calçot season.)

On to the calçots, then. As you might imagine, there is a knack to eating them, which involves holding the stem with one hand, then peeling off the burned outer layers with the other to reveal delicious virgin vegetable. This is then dipped into the sauce, often doubled in two, to add precious salvitxada-gathering surface area.

Then repeat. And again. And again. 

And so on, really, until you feel like you genuinely can eat no more. Restaurants will, generally, bring you as many calçots as you can handle and any establishment that doesn’t should be viewed with suspicion. I’ve managed about 20+ at a sitting but a real pro should look at at least 35.

Eventually, you give up and, with some relief, pull the blackened plastic gloves from your hands, wondering how so much muck managed to penetrate beneath the plastic exterior. A trip to the bathroom is now advised, where even running water and plentiful supply of soap will be insufficient to get the streaky calçot chars off your once fragrant hands.

This, however, is where the fun really starts, especially for patrons enjoying their first calçotada. Because, as you sit at the table contemplating how incredibly full you are and how you REALLY couldn’t eat any more even if they paid you, the waiter brings in the main course.

Yes, the main course. Didn’t you know? The calçots were only the starter. The main dish is no light relief either: instead it consists of suspiciously sturdy sausage and lamb, with potatoes and lashings of alioli. Just what you wanted after all those vegetables. 

It is at this point, being vegetarian, that I usually start to feel a little pleased with myself. I’ve outsmarted the calçotada conundrum, I think, by skipping the giant meat course. I can sit back, contemplate my belly and get on with digesting the notoriously indigestible calçots while the rest of the party suffers the meat sweats in silence.

Generally my dreaming is then interrupted by a helpful waiter bringing me an alternative main course - some grilled artichokes or escalivada - that someone else has ordered on my behalf. 

I don’t really want it. But I can feel the look of challenge in the waiter’s eye. How can I back down now, me with my meagre 20 calçots and two servings of salvitxada to my name? Norfolk Scottish pride is at stake. And so, reluctantly at first, then warming up like a giant krill-gathering whale, I tuck into my main dish, subduing the warning signs coming from my belly in plentiful red wine.

(It was at about this point, incidentally, during my first Valls calçotada that some of my fellow diners asked about whether my girlfriend was pregnant yet. Coincidence? I can only assume so. But it certainly made me attack my artichokes with a renews, psuedo-manly vigour.)

Eventually, the main course is over and everyone around the table is looking pretty sheepish. That, then, surely must be it? (Please God may that be it.)

But no: there is more to come in the shape of dessert, typically a crema catalana, that quixotic mixture of cream and sugar which normally looks so appealing and more-ish in its nice small dish but today has taken on Everest-esque, Iron Man proportions.

You don’t want it. But you take one nonetheless through sheer pride and force of habit. You’ve got this far, damn it, and you’re not backing down now. I usually then spend the next five minutes trying to palm my crema catalana off on anyone else on the table before giving in and eating two sickly mouthfuls. Then I sit back, exhausted.

Suddenly, a photographer approaches. Through a haze of food you wonder why. You’ve probably never looked worse, full to bursting with food and semi comatose, the burned remains of a lonely calçot smeared across your forehead. But this photographer - did you hear right? - wants to put your picture on a bowl for you to take home.

No way. Except someone in your party has just agreed, on the grounds that it would make a lovely gift for an elderly relative. And so your grandmother will from now on eat her morning cereal off a picture of you looking queasy, slightly drunk and pretty much ready for bed. It’s how she’d like to remember you, after all.

(Quite why photographers only ever seem to do this at calçotadas, I don’t know. Maybe the overstuffed look is in. And yet I’ve never seen it happen anywhere else).

Finally, you ask the waiter for a bill, figuring that such indulgence must have come at a significant cost to your wallet, if only to match that to your gut.

But no. It is €35 a head. And the natty bib you’ve been wearing in an attempt to save your best shirt comes free, to remind you forever more of the price point where you gave up on your once svelte figure.

Bed is now the only place for you. And quickly too because calçots, for all their deliciousness, are highly indigestible and a long, uncomfortable night lies ahead. 

But no matter: as you lie awake that night contemplating your gurgling belly and a stomach that just won’t go down, you can be confident that you have conquered the calçotada. You are, for a day, Catalan to the core. And the fact that that core is demanding Alka-Seltzer is nothing to be ashamed of.

Spanish regions top European Union unemployment tables

Por: | 23 de abril de 2014

Seven of the ten EU regions with the highest unemployment are Spanish, including the top four.

Get all the data used in this article here.

More fantastic economic news: seven of the ten EU regions with highest unemployment during 2013 were in Spain, including all of the top four, according to data from Eurostat.

Such depressing figures clearly show the depth of the employment problem facing Spain, and that any talk of a recovery means little to the millions of people still looking for work. The numbers make for pretty glum reading all around, including youth unemployment.

What’s more, the cost of labour in Spain hasn’t decreased, meaning it isn’t any cheaper to employ people or to export Spanish goods.

Here is a breakdown of the ten EU regions with the highest unemployment:

Of the ten regions with the lowest unemployment, not one is in Spain, and all are in northern Europe or Scandinavia.

Spain features only slightly less strongly in the 15-24 bracket, with youth unemployment continuing to be a huge issue:


Spain and Greece provide the bulk of the regions affected by high unemployment, which is unsurprising. France features but only through its overseas territories, Montenique and Reunion Island.  

Germany, Sweden, Austria and Finland feature frequently in the best-performing tables.

When it comes to long-term unemployment the figures Spain does not feature in the top 10. This is not always a good sign however, as it can mean that people have simply given up looking for work or have moved overseas looking for work as many young Spaniards are doing.

Spain’s unemployment in Context

Compared to the EU as a whole, Spain is lagging well below the employment average. While 10.8% of Europe’s active workforce is unemployed, the figure is a whopping 26.4% for Spain.

 Here is a simple map showing how different comunidades contribute to Spain’s total. Click on the the community you want more information for.


While Spain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has shown modest growth it is nowhere near enough to stimulate relief in the labour market. It is generally held that sustainable annual growth of 2% is required for an economy to be creating jobs.

Spain’s problem is often viewed as a lack of competitiveness. Spanish labour costs increased when it joined the Euro and when the crisis hit the shared currency meant it was impossible to make the Euro weaker.

Weakening a currency is a good trick in times of crisis: it means that more of your goods and services will be exported even if the buying power of the currency is weakened. With a shared currency this is not an option, so instead making the products and providing the services must be made cheaper, and according to some that means cutting labour costs.

Politicians call this labour market flexibility. It means making it easy to hire and fire people through looser contracts.

Making people work for less or cutting jobs is only one approach which is roundly rejected in some quarters. Paul Krugman, who has his blog translated in this paper, is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and columnist for the New York Times.

Krugman posted about Spain’ devaluation back in 2012, and also wrote a “wonkish”, complicated post which you can read here, in which he explains the alternative: some bond-buying by the ECB and therefore inflation in the rich countries steadying the ship.

If it’s more expensive to buy olive oil in Germany, then the price a German would pay a Spaniard to import it would be relatively less.

Yup, that scenario won’t happen.

However as data from Eurostat showed last month Spain hasn’t yet managed to cut hourly labour costs anyway, which are higher now than they were in 2008:

As the graoph shows, Greece and Portugal have made cuts in their costs per hour in an attempt to improve competitiveness. In comparison, Spain's costs have remained stable and, despite falling from a 2011 peak, have begun to rise again. 

Instead, despite enforced flexibility in the public sector, there are fewer people working, more pain and no end in sight.


Semana Santa Sevilla
A procession files past Las Setas in Seville. Picture: James Bryce

As I write, scores of Spaniards are preparing to heave crosses, Virgin Marys and Jesuses through the streets, or watch as others do so. And Seville’s Semana Santa (Holy Week) parades are perhaps the most extravagant of all. A total of 62 processions – some containing up to 3,000 penitents – will take to the streets between today and Easter Sunday. Unless, of course, it rains.

The preparations, as always, have been thorough. Anybody wandering through the old town from January onwards may have noticed white-clad costaleros (carriers) packed tightly under heavy wooden floats loaded up with weights. Because it certainly takes practice to be able to carry a 2,000kg flower- and candle-laden paso (float) through narrow streets for up to 14 hours. Others may have seen the same men in bars enjoying well-deserved cañas (beers) after rehearsals, or perhaps heard trumpets and drums playing that evocative – and somewhat repetitive – music somewhere in the distance.

The question is, will this year's hermandades (brotherhoods) make it safely back to their chapels without squabbling? This was certainly not the case in 2013. The controversy of the Panaderos brotherhood, which become a trending topic on Twitter and even made the national press, began on the afternoon of Holy Wednesday. An 80% chance of downpours was forecast, prompting several processions to cut short their trajectories. Two others were called off completely. "It's been cancelled," said the owner of the hotel where my dad was staying in Barrio Santa Cruz. The hotelier, who had been anticipating watching the San Bernado procession pass his home at about 9.30pm, was visibly extremely disappointed he was going to miss out. But then, when you’re talking about airing wooden statues that are up to 500 years old, one cannot take any risks with the weather.

And the rain was to have even bigger repercussions that night. The more the clouds formed, the less the brotherhoods kept to their itineraries. At 10:30pm, when the Panaderos had been out for under an hour, the heavens opened. They decided to cut their losses and immediately head back to San Andrés chapel. Unfortunately the route they chose to take, via Calle Campana, cut right in front of the on-schedule La Lanzada procession. The La Lanzana members had no choice but to stand getting soaked for close to an hour while all 1,200 Panaderos passed by.

The fallout to this decision was substantial, with accusations and insults flying in all directions. The Panaderos were criticised for not doing anything to speed up – instead continuing to sway to the rhythm of the slow, mournful brass music. The audience was shamed for shouting, whistling and even booing the Panaderos (see video below). Some said they heard insults being exchanged between Nazarenos (the ones who wear tall, cone-shaped hoods). On the internet, devotees took to Twitter and YouTube to air their grievances, with heated exchanges still flowing months after the event. Some called for sanctions to be taken against the Panaderos.

Video: Heated moments during Semana Santa 2013: The crowd's reaction

“This is a disgrace. The Panaderos could have easily have waited until the La Lanzada had passed,” said Alejandro, from Cordoba, on YouTube. Meanwhile a member of the Panaderos brotherhood, Joaquin Mañes, had tweeted late on Holy Wednesday: "I would like to apologise to La Lanzada...I hope there will be some resignations tomorrow. Shameful."

Indeed, this degree of altercation, described by one local paper as “reminiscent of conflicts between brotherhoods at the beginning of last century,” is perhaps surprising for a festival where followers are performing penances in what one would hope would be a respectful and orderly religious event.

For some, the rivalry will have come as no surprise. "Semana Santa has nothing to do with religion," said Rafael, my Sevillano conversation exchange partner, as we sat in a cafe in late March, 2014. He added: "It's just a competition to see who can have the biggest paso and the most brothers following it.”

Rafael is not a fan of Semana Santa, dismissing it as a money-making exercise and pooh-poohing the entire concept on the basis that worshipping idols breaches the third commandment. While some would stress that Semana Santa penitents are not technically worshipping the effigies, the monetary gains associated with Semana Santa cannot be ignored.

Switching to English in case he offended any eavesdroppers, Rafael told me what is needed to join a brotherhood in Seville. Surprisingly, it is not necessary to be a member of the church whose effigies are to be carried, or to even attend it regularly. Instead you must join an association attached to that church. A monthly fee is required, and eventually brothers are told they have been selected to be part of the procession. "If they miss one payment, they’re put right at the end of the list again," said Rafael. Waiting lists for the most prestigious brotherhoods can be years long. Similarly, where Rafael lives in Dos Hermanas (on the outskirts of Seville) there are two brotherhoods, with only one shop selling the correct Nazareno uniforms. This means a pretty penny is made from their sale each year. All in all, being a brother is an expensive business.

For some Spaniards, however, Semana Santa is worth every cent. Jose Ruiz, a brother interviewed for a local paper I worked at in Ronda, Malaga province, said: “It’s a tradition for my family as we’re all members of the church. I grew up watching the parades and have always liked the imagery. When you see and feel something special like that, it makes you want to be a part of it.” Like Seville, Ronda is renowned for its traditional approach to Semana Santa.

For others though, Semana Santa is simply a reason to get out of Seville for a week – not only because you can rent your flat out for four times what it'd usually fetch, but also because any hope of leading a normal life – or, in some cases, getting to your own front door – needs to be put on hold until it’s all over for another year.

Semana Santa Sevilla 2
Nazarenos. Picture: Samuel Sánchez


Picture: Billy Ehrenberg 


Additional reporting by Nassos Stylianou (@nassos_)

Spain has the highest number of empty houses in Europe: 3.4million of them at a time when many are facing evictions for defaulting on their mortgages. House prices in Spain are also at an all-time low, according to Instituto Nacional de Estadística (INE) numbers for December 2013.

What is more with prices so low, record numbers of foreigners have been flocking to buy houses, with numbers tripling since 2009.

These things in themselves are not news; we’ve know this for a while and it’s been well publicised in the press both in Spain and abroad.

What is an interesting exercise is to look at where these empty homes are and how much house prices have dropped in those regions.

We don’t have the data for where exactly expats are buying the most houses, but we can make an educated guess that it will be on the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava.  

So first lets look at where the empty houses are. I’ve plotted them on a map, with the bigger red bubbles corresponding to larger amounts of empty homes:


Click on the bubbles to get the stats for each region.

The first thing we notice is that the largest numbers of empty houses are in the Valencian Community and in Andalucía. This figure holds true, even when we look at the percentages:

18.5% of houses in Andalucía are empty - almost a whopping one in five. Valencia isn’t far behind on 14.7%. These are big numbers.

Surprisingly, Cataluña is third with 13% - despite being one of the few regions to have seen a drop in the total number of vacant homes.

As you may have suspected it seems that a large number of houses were built in theses areas because they are popular for second homes, both for Spanish nationals and ex-pats.

So where are the cheapest houses? Or rather, where have the biggest drops occurred?

The INE published the figures, and as you can see from this graph they’ve been dropping steadily since 2007 in some communities, with all areas having experienced large declines.

You can use the drop-down menu in the top-right of the graph to choose which regions you want to include or exclude. Click on the names of the regions in the legend to select the line for that Autonomous Community.

What is interesting is that, despite having the highest number of empty houses (both by volume and %), houses in Andalucía and Valencia have held their prices far better than other regions.

Andalucian properties are going at 73% of their 2007 value and the Comunidad Valenciana is seeing houses sell for 68% of 2007 prices; the third and eighth highest on the list, respectively.

Not so Cataluña. Prices have dropped to 55% of their 2007 level for the Catalans, despite that overall reduction in the number of empty properties.

Why might this be? One possible conclusion is that the number of foreign buyers snapping up cheap properties could well be preventing more pain in Valencia and Andalucía, where the areas around Benidorm and Malaga/Marbella remain favourites for ex pats.

Let’s have a quick look at who it is buying the most properties. Click on the tabs at the top to change between numbers and percentages. 



By far the biggest buyers are the Brits - which will surprise few - but the figure fails to take into account is that 12.85% of all new house purchases in the fourth quarter were by non-Spaniards. El País has a more in-depth article here.

How long that support will last is anyone’s guess, but the number of foreign buyers is higher even than before the crisis, perhaps showing how any recovery from the crisis is leaving Spain behind.

How long it will last is anyone’s guess.


Nassos Stylianou is a freelance data journalist working in London. You can read his blog The Data Party here.


Festivals of Spain: More tea than bull

Por: | 01 de abril de 2014

“Do you want to know a secret?” grins Jorge Martín, mayor of Algo, a village hidden in the mountains behind Málaga’s Costa del Sol. “If we have a problem, we can work it out.” He is talking about one of Spain’s wonderful festivals, but one of the few with British connections. On this occasion, it’s an annual tribute to The Beatles, which includes music, fashion, and the obligation of using their song lyrics in conversation. As a festival influenced by British culture, it’s not alone. Two other locations have also chosen to extol different aspects of our lifestyle.

Our much-loved British fish and chips are the basis for the festival in Salyvinagre, a small village near the port of Santander. The weekend celebration originated in the 1950s, when ships from the UK docked in the city. Many English seamen preferred to head to the little village to escape the hustle and bustle, and inevitably they told tales of the cuisine from their homeland. The villagers, always eager to welcome visitors, tried to create the dish for them, albeit with varying degrees of success and confusion. At first, as a seamen’s diary confirms, it was hit and miss. “Sometimes fish with no batter, sometimes batter with no fish, but the biggest problem was mushy peas. The villagers asked why they had to mush all the peas together. To be honest, we didn’t have an answer, so in the end we told them it was because it was easier to keep them on the plate.”


Festival ingredients: Fish, chips, mushy peas and tea.                             Photo Flickr (CC): Kevin Hutchinson

Nowadays, participants wear appropriate costumes, with some villagers dressing as fish and others as chips. During the Saturday end-of-festival party, they all run around the village plaza chaotically, until music starts and each fish undertakes a choreographed routine with a chip. The intention is to make calm out of chaos and to emphasize the harmony of the dish. Matches have been made here. “I was a chip and I met my future wife because she was a fish. I immediately knew I had the most wonderful piece of cod in the village,” says Juan Porshon, a keen festival attendee.

Whilst fish and chips are waltzing near Santander, the British love of tea and theatre is celebrated at another village, Escenamiedo, in the north of Extremadura. Originated by the De Quetelisson family after a visit to the UK in the 1970s, their eldest son, Gladwen, now oversees the events. “My late parents were besotted with the British way of life, but especially tea and acting, so they decided to start an annual festival to celebrate both,” he explains. “We call it Tea-atre, and the idea is that all of the productions have a tea theme. It takes a lot of imagination to adapt a script in a suitable way. For example, last year we did Teatanic, about the sinking of the great ocean liner, but from the perspective of all passengers drinking tea. We decided that, under those circumstances, there would have been considerably less panic. We’ve also tried a stage version of the movie From Here To Eternitea and, of course, E M Forster’s A Room With A Brew.”

Popularity has meant the festival has been extended to incorporate other initiatives. “A sculpture competition was introduced in 2011. The works have to be made from dried tea leaves and each sculpture must include the word ‘tea’ in its title, in the same way as the theatrical productions. Winning entries for the last three years have been an aeroplane called ‘Prioritea Boarding’, a strange taxidermy-style creation named ‘Reflections on Immortalitea’, and 2013’s controversial ‘Nuditea’,” concludes Gladwen. For the closing party, or par-tea, the village plaza is cordoned off, with sugar cubes taking the place of tickets. One lump will get you a normal seat, whereas two permit you to enter the VIP area.

Back in Algo, meanwhile, Jorge Martín is musing on the plans for this summer. “I feel fine,” he smiles. “If things get difficult, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.” I ask if he’s expecting a good attendance. “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” he laughs, “It’s not unusual.” He thinks for a second, and then adds, “Sorry, that’s Tom Jones!” I tell him not to worry, and that we’ll just let it be. He has to leave the interview a little early as a delivery lorry arrives with a consignment of Beatles-style wigs. The mop-top additions are obligatory for the final day of the three-day event, although many festival-goers wear them throughout.

The British flavour makes all three of these events an unusual diversion, far removed from the normal delights of bulls, tomatoes or olives. However, the timing of the celebrations can change from year to year, so it’s highly recommended to check the date of all information carefully.

El País

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