Vejer de la Frontera, Spain

Chelsea and Michael

For many, Europe is the dream destination for an adventure or an escape. But Chelsea and Michael moved to Spain for very different reasons.

It was the death of Chelsea’s Spanish-Australian father, when she was in her early 20s, that focussed her on Spain.

Chelsea explains: ‘My father came from Galicia in the northern part of Spain. My parents separated when I was four and he never taught me the language so I didn’t know anything about his culture, country, family, anything. When I was twenty he was killed in a work accident in Sydney. I was his only child. He had promised me all my life that one day he would take me to Spain—so I decided that I would take him.’

Chelsea took her father’s body back to his homeland.

When she arrived in Galicia, an area in the far north-west of Spain just above Portugal, Chelsea had an epiphany. ‘I saw why I looked the way I did. I saw my blood everywhere. I felt it. I was really overwhelmed. I was freaked out in one sense that I had lost my dad, but on the other hand I got this family. I couldn’t speak Spanish, neither could my extended family there speak English, but we just connected.

‘And that started my obsession with Spain.’

Chelsea went back to Spain four years later and returned every two years. Usually she just went to Galicia and visited the family. Back home in Sydney, she tried to learn Spanish: ‘Learning a language is really hard. I can speak it now—I am quite fluid but I am not fluent.’

Then, when she was 28 and in Europe for a month-long holiday with a girlfriend, they stopped in at Spain and that is when she decided: ‘Right, I want to live in Spain. I am just going to do it.’

In Australia, Chelsea had a great job in media. She met her partner, Michael, a web design whiz, through work. Michael also played a part in the move. He needed international experience to sharpen his design skills so he was keen to take the leap, too. These days, he is freelancing from Spain and his business, which caters mainly to international clients, is strong.

Chelsea and Michael initially moved to Barcelona. ‘It is like the gateway to Europe,’ Chelsea said. ‘You are in Spain but you’re not. For us, it was a softer way to get in and get settled, and there were more work opportunities.’

However, things went a bit pear-shaped for a while, primarily because Michael was offered a dream job in Stockholm and Chelsea hated the place. They were there for three years before Chelsea ‘spat the dummy’. They decided to return to Australia.

Chelsea and Michael had already shipped their possessions back, but en-route they visited southern Spain for a short holiday. A thoughtful friend had offered them his holiday house in Vejer de la Frontera, in the province of Andalucia in south-west Spain, not far from Cadiz, Jerez and Seville. They arrived in July 2012 and had planned to spend two months there.

‘We haven’t left,’ Chelsea said.

Instead, Chelsea and Michael sold their apartment in Newtown in Sydney and bought a wonderful apartment on Vejer’s old city walls.

The town is quite breathtaking. All the buildings are white washed. It sits on a low hilltop with views over the Straits of Gibraltar. It is surrounded by vineyards and orange groves and has several ancient churches and convents. Fighting-bulls are bred in the area and flamenco is celebrated.

There are many restaurants and bars, but they are all nearly impossible to find as you walk through the curving maze of cobblestoned streets. Cars are not encouraged; it is a town for walking. The architecture of many of its houses reflects the period of Moorish rule, which lasted from 711 until the town was captured by Saint Ferdinand of Castile in 1248. It’s full of history.

The area is the heartland of sherry and at its centre is the town of Jerez (which literally translates as ‘sherry’). Chelsea has become heavily involved in the local sherry-producing industry and was paramount in establishing World Sherry Day. Her passion is to promote, what she believes, has been a poorly marketed but high quality wine.

As Chelsea said, ‘Everything about here is all around sherry – flamenco, tapas. Did you know that tapas was created because of sherry? Tapa is a lid. Bread was placed on top of the glass to keep flies out of the sherry. So they started inventing lots of different tapas by placing tasty bits on the bread. It has been lost. There are tapas bars everywhere but they are not serving sherry.’

And the sherry is excellent. We had several glasses as we chatted – and left there glowing. Sherry is cheap. We drank a glass of 12-year-old sherry. The bottle cost only 10 euros.