We loaded the car and said goodbye to the Irish village we had lived in for 27 years

As we began house-sitting around Spain, we quickly felt the stress of life left behind in Ireland wither away

We are a couple in our mid-50s, from Ireland, who made the move to Spain in September 2022. Our decision to up sticks stemmed from a long-held dream that had been 20 years in the making.

We had wished and hoped to live a dream of a life in the sun, ideally in Portugal, which was our preferred destination. We watched all the TV programmes and longed to muster the courage to join the many brave expats who have gone before us.

We finally did just that in early 2022, when the opportunity presented and the stars aligned for us, we were at a crossroads in our lives both literally and metaphorically. Our son, along with his girlfriend who lived with us, embarked on their own two-year work visa to Canada, I took a career break from my job of 20 years, and our home went up for sale, which may seem extreme but in order to do what we wanted long-term, it needed to go.

Nothing like making major life-changing decisions all at once.

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Our purpose for the next six months was to house-sit. It was a fantastic opportunity to live like a local, get to know an area and meet new people

We loaded up the car and said goodbye to the village we had lived in for 27 years. New beginnings beckoned. The reality of our journey hit us on the ferry from Rosslare. Landing in Bilbao on September 18th, 2022, we headed for a village called Olocau in the province of Valencia. Our purpose for the next six months was to house-sit. It was a fantastic opportunity to live like a local, get to know an area and meet new people.

Many months before we left Ireland, we signed ourselves up to two house-sitting agencies, trustedhousesitters.com and mindmyhouse.com. Very quickly we were contacted by trusting homeowners – primarily in Spain – to take care of their animals and homes, and before we even left Ireland we had four lined up. A new adventure beckoned, one that we were both terrified and excited about.

Our first house-sit in Olocau, surrounded by orange groves, involved caring for three much-loved dogs in addition to the property, which included our very own casita (accommodation) and maintenance of the pool – a novelty for sure and one which never failed to thrill.

Our time in Olocau was short – two weeks – and the subsequent car trouble that developed diverted our minds and hence we didn’t establish any great attraction to the area, although we quickly realised how cheap our shopping was in comparison to Ireland, especially for our bottle of wine from the supermarket and our morning cafe con leche for €1.20.

Waking up to sunshine every morning is a tonic and massive health booster which to this day neither of us take for granted

From there we embarked on to our second house-sit, which was in the province of Alicante for a country property near the town of Dolores, a 10-minute drive south of the city of Elche and east of the beautiful beaches in La Marina, where swimming in the Mediterranean in October was pure heaven.

Once again, the house-sit involved caring for three dogs, two adult cats and six kittens. We had our own casita once again with use of the homeowner’s house and of course the much-used welcoming pool. In the 30-degree heat of mid-October, the pool is a necessity as opposed to luxury.

At this point, it’s fair to say we were lapping it up – life was great, and we both felt the stress of the life left behind in Ireland wither away. Waking up to sunshine every morning is a tonic and massive health booster which to this day neither of us take for granted.

Our third house-sit was for a whole month in Torrevieja, Alicante, with the most beautiful dog, two house cats and up to 14 strays who came for the twice-daily feed. This house-sit introduced us to the world of life in an urbanisation and while this lifestyle suits many, it wasn’t for us.

But it does highlight the benefit of house-sitting. You get to experience an array of homes, areas and environments, and quite often what you might have dismissed at one time may come into consideration this time. But not in Torrevieja. Besides, we were literally eaten alive by mosquitos and there was no need to speak Spanish as the area is full of expats – from Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany and so on.

We left this microclimate of Alicante in mid-November and headed southwest for Gor, a small village an hour east of Granada. It is 2,100m above sea level and boy did we feel it. It was the coldest we’d been since we left Ireland, most probably colder.

Gor is a rural village, with a small population of fewer than 1,000. The people were friendly and somewhat bemused by the presence of two Irish people minding the home of the Canadian lady above the village with four huge dogs, two cats, a fishpond and chickens.

No matter where you go village life is one of intrigue and respectful nosiness – people just want to know your story – but unfortunately the language barrier prevented us from having the conversation with those interested to hear ours. We stayed in Gor for three weeks, followed by a short house-sit in the town of Baza, a mere 30km up the road, where we had responsibility for three dogs, three cats and an indoor fish aquarium.

Caminito del Rey is not for the faint-hearted or those suffering from a fear of heights – as Noel can attest

This area in the province of Granada is starkly beautiful and famous for its cave dwellings, which are profusely dotted in the landscape and villages, providing much needed protection from the high temperatures of summer and the freezing cold winter as they maintain an ambient 20 degrees. Alas, it was not the area for us, while spectacular with its mountain landscape, it was too barren for us from the Emerald Isle.

Our journey continued westwards, a few nights spent in Granada city – a must-see and famous for the much visited Alhambra Palace. Noel summed up Granada as a combination of Paris and Barcelona in one.

We went on to El Chorro in the province of Málaga to walk the Caminito del Rey, the walkway pinned along the steep walls of the narrow gorge in El Chorro. It is not for the faint-hearted or those suffering from a fear of heights – as Noel can attest. Still, it was always on my bucket list and I gladly went alone on this truly breathtaking cliff-hanging walk and lived to tell the tale.

From El Chorro we journeyed to our final house-sit in the province of Cádiz. It began in mid-December and we knew we would spend six weeks there in an apartment with a fantastic roof terrace and one dog. That was a doddle at this stage!

The town of Algodonales appeared like a long-lost friend from behind the hill, nestled in the valley in the Sierra de Libar, within the Sierra de Grazalema. It is Killarney on steroids. Our initial trepidation was soon eased by the absolute beauty of the area, the buzz of the town, with paragliders the main visitors, and also walkers, cyclists and nature enthusiasts.

The locals were as friendly as any we had met previously, and we quickly realised that we may just have found our spot to settle. Of all the places we had spent time up to this point, Algodonales captured our attention, so much so that our original intention of moving to Portugal became less of a dream. We were now in a place where we got to know people, were relaxed and ready to consider settling down.

One of the most crucial things you need to do before you embark on a journey such as ours is to learn the language, and while I had the basics such as asking for “dos copas de vino tinto”, neither of us could converse in Spanish and hence were at a loss in a town where practically nobody speaks English – and why would they.

Our house-sit in Algodonales was extended and we were more than happy to stay. The stars aligned for us once again, Algodonales was tugging at our heart strings, keeping us here to fully integrate and, therefore, we made the decision to enrol in Spanish classes with Rafa, our ever-so-patient teacher.

Friends and family have visited us here and will no doubt return. More are arranging their slot – and how we look forward to their arrival. Ireland, to quote a new friend here, is now a holiday destination and Portugal doesn’t seem to feature at all right now.

So here we are, after almost six months on the road, minding other people’s animals and homes. We are now searching for our new home, a finca with an olive farm, perhaps along with the obligatory pool. We have been given the opportunity to begin life again, a life not only in the sun but in the warm embrace of the people of Algodonales. We really are living the dream.

Maureen Feerick Ryan and her husband Noel Ryan live in Algodonales, Cádiz province, Spain. Maureen is from Ballinasloe, Co Galway, and Noel is from Templemore, Co Tipperary. They lived in Belmont, Co Offaly, for 27 years.

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