OPINION: ‘Mallorca is paradise – if you can stand it’

Anna Nicholas relocated from England to Mallorca and her writing career took off. Here, she explains why the island is an inspirational paradise.

OPINION: 'Mallorca is paradise - if you can stand it'
The author at work in Mallorca. Photo: Anna Nicholas

In 1929 when poet, Robert Graves, mooted the idea of relocating from England to Mallorca, his American writer friend, Gertrude Stein, famously opined, “It’s paradise – if you can stand it.” Those words continue to resonate with me as I contemplate my 20 years living on the golden isle.

And what exactly did Stein mean by that? Simply that for writers, life in Mallorca can be hugely distracting. So magical is the scenery, the relaxed way of life, glorious weather and wonderful array of things to do, that there’s seemingly little time left to actually get down to the job in hand.

Back in 2001, swapping central London for rural Soller in the rugged northwest of Mallorca was a thrilling proposition for my Scottish husband, Alan, young son Ollie and me. True, we had rather recklessly chosen to purchase a dilapidatedfinca, a country house with an absence of roof, bathrooms, water and electricity supply but, what the heck, it was going to be an adventure.

I was still running my public relations company while juggling work as a freelance journalist back in Mayfair but all that was soon to change. British expats often speak of the honeymoon period, that glowing window of opportunity when everything in a new destination looks, smells and seems wholly different from life back home.

For us it was a little different. We arrived to find the finca still in an unfinished state with piles of rubble littering the grounds and cheery Mallorcan builders chomping chorizo bocadillos around the half-finished pool. Meanwhile I was commuting back and forth to London each week on the recently introduced easyjet service from Palma to London.

Our four-year-old son, Oliver was the family member least affected by the move in the early days. In fact he took to life in our golden valley like a pato to agua. Within a few weeks he had joined the town’s football and tennis teams, was enjoying play dates, making Mallorcan chums in the plaça and delighting in the sunshine and our extensive gardens brimming with oranges and lemons.

Meanwhile we were struggling with the Mallorquí dialect, Spanish lessons, reserved neighbours, and frantically trying to juggle Oliver’s needs with those of the builders, work and, in my case, regular commutes to London.

However, unlike some newly arrived expats relocating to a new country, we were lucky to have a Mallorcan family on side. Some years previously, my sister had hired an au pair from nearby village Fornalutx, and Sari had become a close friend.

She was already back in Mallorca at the time of our move, and within months, helped us take charge of our lives. She introduced us to locals and involved us in every fiesta so that we soon became part of the community.

All the same, there were every day frustrations such as the mañana attitude of workmen. In time we became blasé, expressing delight whenever a builder or electrician pitched up within a few hours of the appointed time.  When our curtain maker turned up six months late with our completed order, I was ecstatic, having totally forgotten that I’d ever recruited her for the task.

Soon our house began to resemble a real home, Alan created a wonderful garden of vegetables, fruit trees and beautiful Mediterranean plants, and I became more confident in the Spanish language. Happily I merged my communications agency with another company back in London, which left me free to explore the island, and to concentrate on journalism and writing books.

Photo: Anna Nicholas

In fact it was on one of those regular easyJet flights that I had the idea of writing about commuting between two countries, and my first book, A Lizard in my Luggage was born. Six books in the series later, life in Soller is blissful though busy. We have many Mallorcan and international friends, and get involved in a host of local activities as well as tending to a menagerie of 40 hens, two ducks, many cats and other wild beasties (such as tortoises and hedgehogs).

As a writer whose main subject matter is Mallorca, I have the enviable – and indulgent – task of visiting every nook and cranny of the island and meeting the most inspiring people.

The joy of Mallorca is that it enjoys many microclimates and different types of terrain – mountains, an agricultural heartland and sweeping seascapes and craggy coastal zones. Wherever you look, there is something of beauty and wherever you travel island wide, a new adventure beckons.

Back home in Soller I write in my basement lair that looks onto verdant orchards teeming with lemons and orange trees and beyond that, the Tramuntana mountains, a UNESCO Heritage Site. 

Following on from my existing travel series, The Devil’s Horn, my first gentle crime novel set in Mallorca, has just been published. It is the first in a new series starring fun and eccentric Mallorcan sleuth Isabel and her pet ferret, Furo.

Gertrude Stein was right. There are countless distractions here on the golden isle, but any author worth his or her salt, could not fail to be inspired by the wonders to behold. Mallorca is a veritable Garden of Eden and a writer’s paradise. And yes, I think I can stand it.

The Devil’s Horn by Anna Nicholas, published by Burro Books Ltd  is available at all good book stores and via Amazon and Kindle. Follow Anna Nicholas on Twitter, Instagram or at her website


READ ALSO: 'We came for peace and quiet but discovered fiestas are an essential part of Spanish village life'

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Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.