Fifteen years ago, on a sizzling summer day, my husband and I set off up the track leading to our new home in rural Soller, Majorca, in great anticipation. We had just waved goodbye to London’s grey skies and were on the verge of beginning our new lives as British expats in Spain.
But from nowhere a small and belligerent pensioner hobbled out in front of our car, brandishing a wooden stick and in fast-paced Mallorquí dialect declared that the track was for residents only. In faltering Spanish I explained that we were moving in to the tranquil enclave and so reluctantly she let us pass.
Although hardly an auspicious start to our rural adventure, in the ensuing months, 90-year-old Margalida and I were to become firm friends. Doggedly I would greet her each day with a smile and a wave until she began to reciprocate.
Next came small talk, swapping gifts of fresh oranges and flowers from our respective gardens and finally coffee, cakes and chats – despite my appalling Spanish – at her home.
When Margalida finally agreed to come to tea, walking laboriously up the rocky track to our old stone finca, and planting kisses on both my cheeks, the word community popped into my head. For surely this was it, a feeling of acceptance and neighbourliness despite our differences?
Fast track to the present day in our cosmopolitan valley where community spirit is the name of the game. In the town square expats and locals alike enjoy the staging of regular fiestas and events as well as the vibrant Saturday market that includes stallholders of various nationalities selling their wares. There is nothing more relaxing than to sit on the terrace of a local café, watching the world go by while catching up on news with Majorcan and expat residents.
Recently British friends visiting the valley expressed surprise at seeing a group of teenagers and elderly people chatting happily together at a table in a bar, a scene that they rarely witnessed in the UK and yet a phenomenon that I now take for granted.
In Soller town, a bijoux bookshop, Calabruixa, run by Ana Verbeeck, has become a hub for locals of all ages and nationalities. On Saturday mornings residents clamour to gain admittance, such is its popularity, and on weekdays huddles of children can be found sitting cross-legged on the mezzanine level, their heads buried in picture books.
Having joined an eco group, my husband and I often swap fruit and vegetables when we have an excess on our land and regularly donate eggs from our hens to nearby neighbours. Generosity is a feature of valley life with Majorcan friends passing by with home produced olive oil and wine, as well as avocados and almonds.
On a whim my builder chum Gabriel popped by recently with a beautiful handcrafted wooden bowl and matching teaspoon. It was full to the brim with fine sea salt that he had gathered from rocks while out in his boat and painstakingly dried and blended with local herbs.
In areas of the island with the highest concentration of British expats, such as Calvia in the southwest, community is also strong. Britons there have spawned associations such as ESRA (English speaking residents association) and branches of Age Concern, the Lions and Rotary club.
Although my wonderful neighbour Margalida sadly passed away some years ago, her legacy lives on. I’m still in touch with her elderly friends in my neck of the woods and have since got to know the cheery mechanic and owners of our nearby grocery and agriculture supply store. Without a doubt having a much better grasp of the Spanish language has opened doors and allowed for a greater understanding and enjoyment of valley life.
And now with a clearer grasp of what community really means in my valley, I too take a keen interest in any unfamiliar vehicles that turn onto our track. After all, as Margalida would say, you never can be too sure.