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:

A Taste of Honey

Por: | 13 de abril de 2016

Firabril El Perello honey Credit Gonzalvo Imatge
Honey: 'nature, health and wellbeing' Photo: Gonzalvo Imatge

‘Honey is like wine,’ says Rafael Muria Martí, president of honey company Mel Muria. ‘You need to let it rest in your mouth for a while and savour the flavours on your tongue – the sweet, the sour, the bitter…’

On the table in front of Rafael sits a smart matt black box containing four small jars of softly glowing honey. This is his company’s luxury ‘artMuria’ collection – artisan honeys derived from rosemary, orange blossom, the mountains and the forest, with a higher pollen content and more maturity than ordinary honey – on sale in a select group of shops across Europe, including London’s famous Harrods.

The artMuria collection
The artMuria collection of luxury honey

Rafael is the fifth generation of his family to work in the honey business. In the early 19th century his great-great grandfather Rafael Muria Queralt began beekeeping in the town of El Perelló. Succeeding generations followed the same path. Other families in the area took up beekeeping too and now El Perelló, a town that sits between the sea and the mountains near the Ebro Delta, is known as ‘lo poble de la mel’ producing, it claims, 60 per cent of the honey in Catalunya.‘This,’ says Rafael, pointing to the box of honeys with their different amber and ochre hues, ‘is better than a present of sweets. This is nature, health and wellbeing.’

El Perelló showcases its honey (along with olive oil and other local products) every year at Firabril, a fair which will be held this year on 16 and 17 April and which is expected to attract around 3,000 visitors and 200 exhibitors. El Perelló’s several big honey producers will compete with others from outside the area in what is boasted to be the oldest honey competition in the country.

Visitors can sample as many different honeys as they can stomach along with an enormous range of other honey-related foods: bunyols amb mel (little fried doughnuts with honey), coc amb mel (honey cake with olive oil and almonds), olimelada (a surprisingly delicious mixture of honey, olive oil, herbs and almonds) and many more. There will also be royal jelly, propolis, beeswax candles and natural cosmetics. And if all that isn’t enough, visitors can enter the draw to win their own weight in honey.

El Perelló’s bees are kept extraordinarily busy. Their year starts in early spring when the blue flowers of the rosemary are among the first blooms on the hills. Then the thyme and lavender need the bees’ attention. As the weather warms, El Perelló’s bigger producers put their hives on lorries and follow the flowers, driving south overnight to Castellón for the orange blossom, or, in the heat of mid-summer, north to the base of the Pyrenees to make the most of the mountain flowers. At the end of the year the bees come back home where the heathers on the hills surrounding the town flower longer into the winter than those in other areas.

Previous generations of the Muria family beekeeping
Beekeeping has a long tradition in El Perelló

While El Perelló’s climate and situation are important contributors to its success, the support of the town hall and the large number of honey producers creating a shared sense of tradition are equally significant. The role of the beekeeper is celebrated as an art. Simón Albiol Llaó, a Perellonenc who started his own independent beekeeping business six years ago, says it’s his passion. ‘Bees are magical,’ he says, ‘everything they do during their short life is marvellous. Beekeeping is addictive.’

El Perelló’s honey companies’ ambitions have really put the town on the map – you can find El Perelló honey not only in Harrods in London, but also in Switzerland, Belgium and even Japan (one of the town’s honey companies, Apícola Rossend Margalef, even has a section of its website in Japanese).

Rafael of Mel Muria typifies this forward-looking approach. His company recently persuaded the town’s bars and restaurants to hold their first ‘Ruta de la tapa amb mel’ where customers were offered a tapa featuring honey along with a drink for a few euros. After some initial reluctance (Rafael complains that some people think that honey is only for desserts or when you’ve got a cold), the chefs got to work and devised a selection of imaginative dishes including a mini pizza with aubergine, goat’s cheese and honey, a ‘xupito’ (shot) of romesco sauce with prawn and honey, and a pastry with bacon and honey-caramelised raisins.

Rafael says that the artMuria collection of honey is a tribute to his family before him, but at the same time he emphasises the future. The sixth generation – Rafael’s nephew – is now working at Mel Muria. ‘We are an innovative company,’ he says. ‘We are always creating something new.’

For the smallest producers too it’s a good business to be in. As Simón comments: ‘My work gives me strength and hope. I love the nature and the fresh mountain air. For me, this is the best job in the world.’

Have Lifepack, will travel

Por: | 12 de abril de 2016

What inspires an invention?  They say necessity is the mother of all invention. For Adrian Solgaard the tipping point for the creation of his new invention, a solar powered back pack, came when his friend was the victim of a crime. We met over Skype for a quick chat....

Vicki McLeod: How did this come to be? You've developed a solar powered, lockable back pack which can fit all of your day to day mobile office and work needs. That's pretty amazing!

Adrian Solgaard: I first had the idea in 2005 when I was 18, I was travelling on a train and I needed to sleep. I was irritated by the idea that I had to wrap my luggage around me to prevent it from being stolen by thieves. But it wasn't until 2015 when I was sitting with a friend having a drink, our bags where on the floor between our chairs and my friend's bag was stolen, that it tipped me over the edge! I started to source and prototype ideas, contacted factories and worked on getting the product exactly right. When I had finished the prototype I started on "Real World Testing" and got a tonne of consumer feedback. Now we're in the middle of our Kickstarter campaign.

VMC: Why a Kickstarter campaign? What is it?

AS: It's a way to get pre-orders for the bag, it's enabled us to gauge the reaction of the general public, and raise funds. It means that we will be in production this year with the bag as we have reached our initial goals.

VMC: Wow, that's so exciting! So when can customers expect to have the bag in their hands?

AS: If you have pledged money on the Kickstarter campaign then you will have the bag in October.

VCM: How is the Kickstarter campaign going?

AS: Really well, we've met our targets, now we are doing what's called "Stretch Goals" which means that we can unlock more options on the bag, by offering more colours for example. You can still order one.

VMC: What's so special about the bag?

AS: We're saying that we´ve reinvented the mobile office.

VMC: Big claim!

AS: Well, it's got a solar power bank which can keep your phone alive via a USB charger, everyone's phones run out of charge just at the crucial moment, but with this bag you won't be stranded. You don't have to worry about your smartphone battery dying, you can have it on charge in the bag. You can get up to 12 charges for an iPhone 6, but it's compatible with any USB charging device.

It's also got an integrated lock which means you can keep the bag locked up and keeps your stuff secure. The separate compartments inside the bag are for your work and life, so you can separate your work life from your underwear, nobody wants to get their socks out at a meeting do they?!

Then when you're out at the beach you can use the Bluetooth speakers to play your music. The lock also has a bottle opener on it, which is helpful when you're having a beer at the beach as well! The bag is weather resistant, and drop resistant (there are internal protective air cells to keep your laptop safe), and super organised. We've also designed it to have four hidden compartments so when you are travelling you can keep your important documents close to you and not worry about them being lost or stolen. The bag's zippers are also lockable. And another feature is the RFID protected pockets which keeps your credit cards and passport safe from identity theft.

VMC: How much can you stuff in there then? I know I have to have at least three bags wherever I go! One for the gym, one for work and a handbag.

AS: Well I can pack two shirts, two pairs of underpants, two pairs of socks, a tie, a belt, shampoo and lotion, toothpaste, deodorant, cologne, a passport, sunglasses, swim shorts, goggles, the solar bank and speakers in the back, and a 15" laptop, charger, mouse, two notebooks, three pens, headphones, my smart phone, glasses case, keys, wallet, loose change, USB charger and cables, loos papers, receipts, business cards and a banana in the front!

VMC: That more or less covers it! What about the kitchen sink? This isn't the first time you've invented something useful is it?

AS: No, I'm also responsible for the Interlock which won four international design awards and has been distributed to twenty eight countries.  That experience has meant that I've been able to get the Lifepack to this stage much more efficiently. There are two other people in the team with me who are crucial as well, Ashley and Chris, so between the three of us we've done well.

VMC: What's your connection to Majorca?

AS: I've lived on the island, right now I am travelling around a lot to get the Lifepack into production, but I hope I will be back soon. A lot of my friends who live in Majorca feature in the product promotional photos and we used Majorca as the location for the shoot.  Majorca's the perfect place for a Lifepack, so many people blend work with life and are on the move, it makes perfect sense.

You can read more about Adrian and his invention at:

To read more articles about Majorca visit

Putting Alternative Politics into Practice

Por: | 05 de abril de 2016

Che Mural  in Marinaleda (flickr)

‘But what’s the alternative?’ This must be one of the most common ripostes to anyone expressing dissatisfaction with the political, economic or social status quo. The retort, sometimes curious, sometimes withering, shifts the discussion away from criticism (which, given the current political landscape, could be performed by an attentive eight-year old) and toward constructive proposals for an alternative model - an altogether far more complex task.  

The fact of the matter is that many people recognise the folly in the way we conduct our lives, caught in what seems like an endless chain of labour and consumption, but very few are able to envisage, let alone adopt, ‘another way’ of living. But several collectives (communes, comunidades, call them what you will) across Spain are proving that there is another way, a feasible, ecologically sustainable, socially-cohesive alternative.  

Before going any further, it is necessary to dispel a few myths and shatter a few stereotypes. The term ‘alternative lifestyle’ typically conjures images of nudists growing their hair, practising polyamorous relations and smoking hashish to find their latent spirituality. While there are undoubtedly communities that function (I use the term loosely) in this manner, to label all comunidades as hippy, happy and hedonistic is to miss the point entirely. Most, if not all, comunidades are political projects – though some may resist this classification. I mean ‘politics’ in its widest possible sense – not the casta of bloated men in suits, shouting empty promises and lining their own pockets – but the real, tangible politics of organising society on a community level.  

These communities take many forms, and their political ideas are far from homogenous. Marinaleda, an Andalusian village of around 3,000 inhabitants, is one such ‘community’ proposing (indeed, living) a socio-economic alternative. Under the leadership of Mayor Sánchez Gordillo, a man who takes inspiration from figures as diverse as Che Guevara, Mahatma Ghandi and Karl Marx, the village has become a kind of ‘communist utopia’. In 1991, the people of the village were granted a 1,200 hectare estate by the regional government after nearly a decade of strikes and occupations. This land was then cultivated according to the central tenet of Gordillo’s philosophy; to create the maximum amount of human labour possible. Efficiency, that pillar of modern Capitalism, became a dirty word, abandoned in the name of collective good and human dignity. Land was managed by cooperativas and decisions taken communally. Crops were chosen not for their yield, nor for the European subsidies they would elicit, but on the basis of jobs they would create. Today, it is clear that Gordillo’s strategy has paid dividends; unemployment in the village is all but non-existent (compared to a 34% regional average) and the sense of community has never been stronger (the village has no police force, and, evidently, no need for one).    

Mayor Gordillo (youtube)

In Catalonia, on the outskirts of the capital, lies another comunidad, pioneering a slightly different approach (and with a slightly shorter history). Can Masdeu was a deserted former hospital falling into ruin until it was occupied by a collective of local and international activists in 2001.They set about creating their own ‘utopia’ – a self-sufficient, ecologically-sustainable project, a ‘creative act of disobedience’ against urban life and its limits. Using non-hierarchical decision-making structures, the squatters oversaw the transformation of the hospital into a vibrant, environmentally-friendly living space. Using old Roman sewers, they created an irrigation system that allowed the cultivation of organic foodstuffs in the former gardens (following a permaculture design). A decade and a half later, the Can Masdeu comunidad is still functioning – flourishing, even complete with an educational action centre (PIC – Punto d’Interacción de Collserola) that hosts workshops and discussions about the politics of autonomy, the necessity of community and the importance of ecological sustainability. 

Mealtime at Can Masdeu (wiki)

Despite the ideological differences evident in the above examples, they share several founding principles that are common to most, if not all comunidades. As the name suggests, they are typically built around a concept of community that often seems lacking in an increasingly atomised and fragmented modern world. Sharing is the key word here; be it labour, time or space, communal needs take precedence over individual concerns. Inter-generational solidarity is strongly encouraged in both cases. Public space is endowed with the importance it deserves, rather than neglected, and left for private enterprise to devour and undermine. Individualism and personal gain are roundly rejected in favour of nurturing a strong community network that provides support for all its members. 

A second key principle is that of respect for the land. In the case of Can Masdeu, this means organic produce cultivated in an ecologically-sustainable fashion. In the case of Marinaleda, this means farming in a sustainable, almost pre-Industrial manner, with a long-term emphasis on creating and maintaining jobs rather than maximising profit. Activist and campesino would no doubt differ in opinion on many subjects, but both would agree that the land is to be maintained and respected, not poisoned, exploited and destroyed.  

A third tenet is a wholesale rejection of globalism, and a corresponding enthusiasm for prioritising local and regional concerns. Most comunidades view globalisation as an overwhelmingly negative force, on both an ecological and social level. For all the economic rationalities and free-trade rhetoric, the globalisation of trade has had, and continues to have, a catastrophic impact on the environment. Buying products that have been shipped or flown halfway round the world because they are cheaper than local alternatives is in no way sustainable. Additionally, focusing on the global market at the expense of the local or regional equivalent has had a devastating effect on small scale agri-businesses, and played a significant role in the decline of ‘community’ by culling independent local producers. The comunidades try to provide an alternative; quality produce, locally grown at an affordable price. 

It should be pointed out that the comunidades are not a uniquely Spanish phenomenon. They are present, in some form or another, in most (if not all) European countries, and throughout Latin America. However, due to political, historical, and geographic reasons, the ‘ideology’ (as outlined above) seems to gain particular traction across the Iberian peninsula. A strong ‘anarchist’ heritage, a widespread sense of indignación toward the ruling elite, high unemployment, and an agreeable climate no doubt play a significant part in their popularity. A second important ‘footnote’ that follows on from the previous statement is that the comunidades are not suddenly becoming popular. They are not a fad or passing phenomenon, and to dismiss them as such would be both disingenuous and factually inaccurate. 

By the same token, to claim the comunidades solve the contemporary socio-political malaise at a stroke is hugely optimistic. They do, however, provide a legitimate critique of a socially-fragmented, environmentally-indifferent, increasingly globalised world. What’s more, their very existence demonstrates that there is another way, another well from which to draw ideas in order to build an alternative future.   


For a detailed account of Marinaleda in English, see Dan Hancox’ account  ‘The Story of Marinaleda, the Communist Village Against the World’. 

El País

EDICIONES EL PAIS, S.L. - Miguel Yuste 40 – 28037 – Madrid [España] | Aviso Legal