Heather Ashdown - Altafulla

Heather Ashdown - Altafulla Image

"The advantages include simply living in such a beautiful area with a mild climate year round. You have access to coast and countryside and towns and cities by local transport or car. Reus airport is half an hour away for international flights. We get the beach to ourselves out of season for walks and spend much time outdoors so feel fitter in general. There is definitely more emphasis on time spent as a family. We love the sense of community and the way all of us are encouraged to participate in town events, bringing people of all ages together. There are fiestas and local celebrations of all types all year round and there is such a sense of pride in the town and region in general, it cannot fail to inspire. Children are adored and this has to have a positive effect on their self esteem. We all have more time to do what we enjoy most and stress levels have reduced considerably in addition to the number of colds we have per year." (HA, Sept 2011)

Interview with Heather

What is your name, age and how long have you lived in Tarragona? Which part of Tarragona do you live in ?
My name is Heather Ashdown, I´m 43 and I´ve been living in Altafulla, a small coastal town in the Tarragona region for the last twelve months.

Why did you move there?
I had been coming here on holiday for 30 years so it all felt very familiar. During a recent family holiday my husband and I were offered work and it just seemed to good an opportunity to pass up. We wanted a more family-orientated lifestyle and were ready for a different kind of challenge. Our daughter was just at the right age to start year one of primary school here. After much discussion we decided to rent out our house in the UK and take the plunge!

What is the area like where you live?
We live in the old quarter of the town which is a hub of activity all year round. We have a thriving high street, shops, banks, health centre, dentist, cafes and lots of local services. There is a large supermarket on the main road out of town in addition to a cinema, bowling alley and soft play centre for kids. There are about 5,000 inhabitants and this triples each summer with tourists and second home owners from nearby cities. The beach is long and sandy, sea shallow for a good stretch so safe for little children to paddle. There are a number of green spaces and play areas for children. In addition, the town has a fascinating history, a real sense of community and is well connected by rail and bus to other towns and cities along the Costa Dorada, 10 mins to Tarragona and just over an hour to Barcelona by train.

What nationality are you and your partner?
Both of us are English.

How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have one daughter aged seven called Anabel, born in 2004.

What was your experience of relocating to Tarragona with children (if relevant)?
Prior to the move our main concern was our daughter´s education and whether she would settle. In fact she has adapted brilliantly. We made an initial trip to visit all the schools in the area. We opted for a small local primary, El Roquissar in Altafulla. There were only 15 kids in her year and Anabel received a fair amount of extra support. She has also made friends within the area and feels very much part of the town community. Her school day is all in Catalan which at first was difficult as she spoke only a little Spanish. I was enrolled in Catalan classes too so I could help her with homework and actively participate in school meetings etc. We put in a lot of hours rote learning vocab and reading every night, joined our local library and tried to use fun websites, vocab games and songs as well as the Catalan kids channel to help with the language.. It took about two terms before she could express herself but after 12 months she is amazing. I would recommend getting involved in school life as far as you can, making an effort with other parents, encouraging play dates and accepting as many birthday party invitations as you have the stamina for! It was important to appreciate that school was tiring for Anabel though and not to push too hard. It is important to make family time to do lots of fun things once lessons are over.

Do you work and if so what do you do?
We are both English teachers at the local language school, The Little School. We have different timetables so fortunately we can manage our own childcare. Most of the English speaking community here either teach English or run their own businesses, many have been here for over 20 years. Once here, opportunities often arise from your network of personal contacts.. There are numerous private language schools in nearby Tarragona and a few in neighbouring towns such as Torredembarra and Creixell. Having the CELTA qualification helps to find work in EFL and it is a definite advantage to be able to speak Spanish or Catalan. Work isn´t particularly well paid in comparison with British salaries and you might want to pay voluntary national insurance contributions in the UK in addition to those automtically paid into the Spanish Social Security system.

Did you buy or rent your property? How did you find the process?
We are renting a small house here. I used the internet initially from the UK and signed up with various estate agents, receiving updates of properties in the area withing my price range. It was a very useful way of finding out about the rental market. However it can be tricky to rely on photographs as there is nothing to beat walking around a flat, house or neighbourhood to get a proper feel for the place. As luck would have it, a contact here tipped me off about the availability of a house in an area I was familiar with and we contacted the owner directly. It has been quite straight forward. We have a standard rental contract and paid two months rent in advance as a deposit. Our employer was our referee. This house is furnished and the bills (electricity and water as gas isn´t mains, you buy cyclindesr called bombonas from local supplier) are a lot less than in the UK with the exception of the internet connection which is more expensive. Find out what heating the house-flat has and whether there is an existing phone line. We have a wood burning stove which is pretty common here but bought storage heaters for additional warmth in winter. You may need to pay a community charge for general cleaning of communal areas, shared gardens or pools in addition to rent. Get a contract.

How well integrated would you say you and your family are?
We are becoming steadily more integrated in community life here in our town. It really helps having a child at a local school as you get to know people more easily. It also helps enormously that we work locally and people know us around town. I would highly recommend joining local groups, and langauge classes. We go to weekly Catalan classes and have met some great people there.. It is good to meet others who are just settling in too and to share experiences. It can be isolating when you are new and don´t yet speak the language well. If you have a positive attitude and want to emerse yourself in local life, people seem generally happy to point you in the right direction.

What language do you speak to your children?
We speak mainly English to our daughter at home, although we speak Spanish and Catalan when interacting with others as our neighbours are pretty much all local. We watch Spanish and Catalan TV together, play DVDs in English and read in all three languages.

What is your impression of childcare and education in Tarragona?
It took a while for us to understand how the education system works here. It was fairly straightforward to register our daughter for school but we had to learn how the system worked once she was in it. At first it all seemed a bit chaotic and noisy. Information wasn´t always easy to interpret and communication with individual teachers a bit of a lottery. Sometimes we felt expectations were too high and the individual child wasn´t taken into account. By Easter we understood what was expected of us and what we could expect in return. Kids do get a lot of homework and many kids do after school activities. Our daughter was exhausted just by the end of the school day so we didn´t push anything else. Parents receive termly reports and we also had two parents meetings last academic year. There is a general atmosphere of informality in our school which doesn´t mean things are less professional. Children refer to teacher and head by first names and don’t wear uniforms and there is less emphasis on rules. Families are encouraged to attend a variety of events each year. On a practical level, before autumn term parents are expected to buy all text and exercise books and other materials which can cost more than 200 euros in total. In addition you may pay the school an annual fee for materials and membership of the parents association. This latter group El AMPA provide a welcome and activity area for early drop offs and organise school lunches and monitors in addition to after school clubs and summer holiday clubs. Both of our local primaries are ´green schools´ children are actively encouraged to be environmentally aware. Our students spend time in the school alotment and bring home the produce. The subject range was good and we were satisfied that Anabel was learning. Recent cuts in Education have reduced the controversial six hour day to five. It remains to be seen if this change will have any serious impact.

What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in Tarragona?
The advantages include simply living in such a beautiful area with a mild climate year round. You have access to coast and countryside and towns and cities by local transport or car. Reus airport is half an hour away for international flights. We get the beach to ourselves out of season for walks and spend much time outdoors so feel fitter in general. There is definitely more emphasis on time spent as a family. We love the sense of community and the way all of us are encouraged to participate in town events, bringing people of all ages together. There are fiestas and local celebrations of all types all year round and there is such a sense of pride in the town and region in general, it cannot fail to inspire. Children are adored and this has to have a positive effect on their self esteem. We all have more time to do what we enjoy most and stress levels have reduced considerably in addition to the number of colds we have per year. Disadvantages perhaps chiefly centre on a certain lack of job security, poorer salaries and career prospects s in general. You need to obtain accreditation in Catalan to access work in certain fields naturally. These are things one adapts to and you have to be a bit resourceful. We do live a simpler life here. We feel richer for it.

How welcoming were the locals when you arrived in Tarragona?
Generally speaking everyone here has been very welcoming, from neighbours, work colleagues and fellow parents at our daughter´s school to the shopkeepers and town hall clerks! We found everyone to be very helpful and accepting of us.

Would you say your area is family-friendly and is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
This area is very family orientated and there is excellent provision for children in terms of nurseries, primary and secondary schools, health facilities and after school clubs and sports groups. There is a small local library in the town although more activities and services are provided in nearby Torredembarra library along the coast. During the summer holidays there is a municipal open air swimming pool which holds swimming lessons at various levels which are quite economical. We would like an indoor swimming pool for the winter although there is a good sports centre and stadium here. There is no sixth form college for post 16s education, so local kids bus to Tarragona or Torredembarra. Perhaps there could be a few more parks with green spaces and gardens rather than just sand under the play equipment. A local register of child minders would be useful and some informal toddler groups. A market or opening for second hand children´s clothes, shoes, books, toys and other equipment may take off although the locals are a bit disparaging about the concept of used items! There are many community groups which admit people of all ages such as the Castellers, Bastoners etc.

Are you able to recommend to other MumAbroad members in the area any local services (home delivery, plumbers, dentists, babysitters etc) or any activities, restaurants or shops for children in the area?
Planet Magic. Indoor activity centre with a variety of fun inflatibles and bouncy castle type attractions with soft play area for younger kids. One off visits or available for birthday party hire. Just off the main road from Tarragona to Altafulla near Eroski supermarket.
Altafulla library, currently open Mon to Friday from 4 to 8pm. Free membership, books in Catalan and Spanish for children, local press and PCs for public use with internet access.
Torredembarra library. Meeting venue for a variety of groups in addition to having up to date facilities for the public
Altafulla Dance centre with children´s classes located on the main road Carretera Marqués de Tamarit
Horseriding Centre in Torredembarra with children´s groups competitions, pony club and horseriding centre for all ages, holds regular gymkanas. English spoken.
Swimming classes in summer only at Altafulla municipal pool, contact the Town Hall in June
Also open to the public from June to September with a good café and boules area under pine trees Piscina Municipal, Carrer de l' Alcalde Pijoan, telf : 977652110
Altafulla Town Hall A wealth of information and place to register your arrival in the town. Located in the old quarter in the Placa del Pou , its website is a good port of call
Bastons group, Bastons is a variety of folk dancing with sticks and there are groups of different ages who practice one or two Sundays per month and then perform in local and regional events.
Castellers group Castellers meet and practice regularly, perform in local and regional fiestas and also do other fun things together such as excursions and picnics
Regal y Paper, Excellent stationary, school supplies, card, gift and book shop, will order school books Carrer M. Miquel Amoros, 5 Altafulla – 43893, Telefono - 977 652 267
Port Aventura. Afunfair and aquapark in nearby Salou on the other side of Tarragona and accesible by train from the city, with themes for all ages and special events at Hallowéen, Christmas and during the Summer holidays. New Sesame Street themed section for younger children.
Yoga, dance for children, Altafulla, Alternative health centre, shop and practice rooms, see their programme online Dansa Per A Nens 977651549
Language classes for children, English classes for children from aged 3 onwards and adolscents of all ages from October June with intensive courses, revision and fun activities in July and August. Cambridge accreditation, The Little School
Castellani Dentists Altafulla, children´s dentist available and family treatment schemes. Calle Mossen Miquel Amoros, 12, 43893 Altafulla 977 651 433. Some English spoken.
Health Centre Altafulla, CENTRE ASSISTÈNCIA MÈDICA ALTAFULLA telf. 977 656007
Altafulla Music School Escola de Música, singing and musical instrument instruction. Carrer de Sant Antoni Abad, 11, telf : 977652060
Costa Dorada Restaurant, Altafulla Barrio Marítimo, Carrer Mestral, special children´s menu available and some British dishes available. English spoken.
Parks and Botanical Gardens, Parque Sama open all year round in Tarragona region between Cambrils y Montbrio del Camp with lake and aviary, interesting flora, fauna, follies and pony cart rides., and for ticket sales and opening times.
Cycling Club with children´s group, Penya ciclista infantil
Athletes Group Altafulla, the penya infantil can be contacted via
Football Club, Altafulla has a good football stadium and team.
Sailing Club,, this complex also has tennis courts for hire in addition to sailing, watersports and kayak classes and boat hire.
Table Tennis club:
Cinema, situated to the back of Eroski supermarket along the main road Ctra Nac 340, Km. 1.173 Centro Lúdico Les Bruixes. Altafulla, 43893, Teléfono:
977651422. Films shown in only Catalan or Spanish.
International Cinema Festival of Tarragona, takes place April-May and shows some English films in original language as well as short animations etc.
Bowling Alley, situated alongside the cinema at the Bruixes leisure complex
Fiestas in Tarragona, For the local listing of events in Tarragona including late September´s week long celebration of Santa Tecla see
Go Karts, a well established go kart track can be found off the main road between Altafulla and Torredembarra near the roundabout towards Campings Eulalia and Don Quixote
Water Park, near La Pineda beach Tarragona region
Adult Education Centre Altafulla, Tel 977651671. Carrer de l´onze de septembre Email
El Hort de la Sínia (Parque Agroecológico del Baix Gaià) guided tours available, find out about solar energy, alotment gardening, bee keeping and fruit tree cultivation.
Associació Mediambiental La Sínia
C. de Dalt 45 Altafulla 977 652 212 655 486 115 sinia@siniadelgaia.
Environmental Activities on Conservation beach at Cal Bofill, los Muntanyans. Guided tours available to find out more about projects on this beach conservation area. Patronat Municipal de Turisme de Torredembarra Av. de Montserrat 28, baixos Torredembarra 977 644 580 977 644 294
Walking with children, The Nature Reserve trail at the Tamarit end of Altafulla encompasses the fertile banks of the River Gaia with plaques indicating interesting wildlife and plants to be seen on route and the Eco centre Hort de la Sinia along its path, terminating at the Tamarit end of Altafulla beach. See walking signs on opposite side of main road from Eroski supermarket or follow the trai from the beach. There are other paths to the village of Ferran, Nou de Gaia and Riera de Gaia from the Ronda de Altafulla back of Eroski and from the high point at the back of the Hermitage of San Antonio which also has a picnic area.
Ebro Delta Walking Tours (some suitable for families with children over 5), nature walks through the River Ebro Delta region of Tarragona
Tarragona museums and monuments
Tarragona has several museums including the Archaeological and History museums. There are also many annual events under the heading Tarraco Viva, reenactments of famous historical events in the city which has a fascinating history and many Roman remains.
The Roman Amphitheatre in Tarragona. This fabulous monument is well worth a visit, free entry for under 16s and less than 3 Euros for adults. See

What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to Tarragona with children?
The Tarragona region is made up of many small and large towns as well as the chief city itself. Each has its unique selling points.It is a good idea to visit coastal towns off season to get an idea of where to live, as beachside apartments may not seem as cosy in January. We found it helpful to visit local schools and estate agents in person. Whereever you are in the region, joining a Catalan class is a good idea. Adult Education courses inCatalan or Spanish last 8 months from October to May and are reasonably priced. A crash course prior to arrival helps too. If possible give children a foundation in Catalan or Spanish before you are due to come over as this will help them cope with school and to make friends. I would recommend using local nurseries (llars d´infants) and schools (ceip-escolas primarias)so that you instantly become part of the community while helping your child to integrate at the same time. We found it helpful to stock up on children´s clothes, English language books and next size up shoes and trainers in the UK prior to moving here as these items are more expensive here.

What couldn´t you live without in Tarragona?
A patio or garden. We make the most of our outdoor room for meals and cultivating fresh herbs and salad veg. At night it is wonderful to be able to sit out star gazing, with a chorus of cicadas!

What could you live without in Tarragona?!
Tiger mosquitoes!

Sept 2011

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