Jun 122012


I am always appalled at the cost of an evening out in the UK, even if that evening out is ‘restricted’ to just a few drinks with friends and the odd snack.  By comparison, Spain is amazing value for money.

Indeed, the ability to eat and drink ‘out’ cheaply is one of the reasons why Spain’s overall quality of life is so high.  Certainly, there can be few pleasures to compare with al fresco dining and this is possible throughout most of the year in Mediterranean Spain within a friendly, bustling atmosphere that is nothing if not seductive..

A good example of terrific value for money can be found in my local town of Gandia – which is located on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, some 70 km south of Valencia.  Here there are three tapas routes, in different parts of the town, each of which operates on a different day of the week.

Now, what makes the tapas nights so exceptional is that the cost of a tapa and a drink is only 2 Euros!  This is incredibly cheap particularly when you see the size and nature of the tapas, which bear no relationship to the tiny slice of bread with ham that you get in many places.  In Gandia, the tapas are huge and are close in size and design to the first course that you would be served in a restaurant.  Meanwhile, there can be as many as twelve or fourteen different tapas to choose from in many of the bars!


Indeed, the consensus of myself and friends is that after three tapas it almost impossible to eat anything else.  This means that for something like 6 Euros each we can have a delightful night out, eat the equivalent of a full meal and visit three different bars/restaurants.  One of the latter, last Friday, even had live music (a couple of superb guitarists).

Wonderful – and all amidst a profusion of other people joyfully circulating throughout the town until the early hours of the morning.

Of course, the more conventional way of benefiting from Spain’s astounding value for money is to have a menu del dia.  The latter are available from almost every bar and restaurant across Spain and are set menus, albeit that there are often at least two or three choices for each of the three courses.  The cost of a menu del dia can be as low as seven Euros – and this will include a drink (a glass of wine, beer or soft drink).

Menus del dia in Spain are notable for their wholesome food which is invariably ‘home’ cooked, fresh and in portions that will stand you well as your main meal of the day.  In fact, to some extent, you are mad to go out for dinner at night where a similar meal may be almost twice as expensive.

So, the canny traveller or person living in Spain will dine at lunchtime and enjoy not just good food but a lunch that is relaxed and that fits well within the natural rhythms of Spanish life and siesta.

Incidentally, do you know where and how tapas originated in Spain?

Well, there are a number of theories – but the one I like best and that makes the most sense is that tapas originated in Andalusia.  The idea is that people used to place a thin slice of bread on top of their glass of wine or beer to prevent fruit flies and the like from dropping into their drink.  Over time the slice of bread came with some meat or cheese and gradually became an intrinsic part of the drinking process and evolved into a broad selection of (effectively) canapés.


Tapa, of course, in Spanish means lid or cover, so I suspect that this explanation for the origin of tapas is correct (even if it is not quite as romantic as other versions).

Finally, there is much to be said for living in a country like Spain where eating and drinking ‘out’ is cheap.  It is a sociable thing to do, it is (by definition) relaxing and it enhances daily life considerably.  To some extent it is exactly what living and holidaying in Spain is all about and, perhaps, one of the best reasons for coming here – and something that can be masked by all the endless dreadful economic news!

Nick Snelling – Culture Spain


  2 Responses to “Entertainment in Spain, still astonishingly good value”

  1. UK – certainly in the South – is absolutely absurd when it comes to a night out. I recall about 15 years ago, maybe more, BBC R4 doing a programme about what sort of a night out could be had for £50. London couples were just able to have one round of drinks before taking their seats at the theatre. Oop North £50 went a long way and a very good night out indeed could be had.

    I once took my then girlfriend to the dining room of the Connaught Hotel to celebrate an anniversary. We had the ‘prix fixe’ Sunday lunch. I recall I had steak and kidney pie. With a bottle of wine, coffee and service it came to £148 – in 1989! I remember this figure because I actually gave the maitre £150 and he simply declined to return with the £2 change! I was too all-round mortified to argue.

    The days when one could get a decent quality 3 courses of European cuisine and a bottle of wine for £50 for two are long gone. It’s possible at Pizza Express or Pasta Pasta Pasta but these are hardly fine dining. Your only hope is Asian or Greek/Turkish in their barrios. If you stick to one pint of lager, an Indian can come in at about £25 in Muswell Hill or Hammersmith.

    In London now, at a restaurant of any pretensions to quality – and lots which are all Sunday supplement hype and mediocre cooking – you really can’t budget on less than £35 a head. The killer is drink, of course – the mark-up on a bottle of wine is at least 400%.

    Menu del Dia lunch is the best value in London, too. Two courses for £12-15, three for £18 is common – drink on top. So you’re still talking a minimum of £20 a head. I once paid that in a French boulangerie/bistro on now uber-trendy Marylebone High Street for two sandwiches, a coffee and a fruit-gloop when I took my god-daughter for a snack after school.

    There is a reason for this level of expense – the cost of real estate. The cost of property in UK, especially London, means that to set up a hotel or restaurant involves outlay far in excess of most other European cities and countries. I’ve seen from my experience as a tour guide in UK and Europe that a room in a UK country house hotel usually exceeds the same thing in France, say, by 35%.

    I saw an article in the travel section of one of the Sunday broadsheets which described how a woman flew to Majorca for Sunday lunch once a month. She left UK on Saturday, overnighted at a cheap hostal, went for a swim next morning, had a long lunch and went home on Sunday evening. With judicious flight booking, it cost no more than a Saturday night – drinks+meal+club – back home.

    Bring it on.

  2. The bars in my “barrio” of Valencia, 200m back from the beach! are struggling to stay open, they just don´t have a clue. They are cheaper than the frontline beach, but they are all ugly and don´t cater to what the people want. Anyone with a bit of sense could be cleaning up now!
    I thought it was because of the crisis, because when I first moved here 6 years ago there was a great atmosphere in my “local” it was “the” place to be, but then things started going down hill, the owners lost interest, fewer people were going out etc etc.
    But then the other day I was taken to a village on the outskirts for dinner, I couldn´t believe how busy it was, there was a whole street full of bars and every terrace was full as well as inside. So people do still go out! How can a village have such a great atmosphere and 200m from the beach is struggling…! its all down to the “savvy” of the owners I reckon.
    When my local shut down, everyone dispersed around different bars, but no one was really happy, then ours opened up again, we in drifts and drabs we started to return, but the service was awful, they hadn´t even put a fresh coat of paint or fixed the toilets. So after a short couple of months they left, another took over, same story! W
    We are now waiting on the new owners… who seem to be doing some “reforming” at least, taking their time to open though. Will they put on tapas at 2€ to get us all running back..? lets wait and see.

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