I would like to live in Spain for a month or two next September-October in a medium-size city that is interesting, with water (sea or river), and where the main language is Spanish (not Catalan, etc.). I want the place to be interesting, where I can walk and see beautiful architecture, with walks along the water, and with other charming, historical, cultural things to appreciate. I hope to study some Spanish with a tutor or in a class and to make friends, whether Spanish or from other places in Europe or elsewhere. I also want to be able to visit nearby places by train or bus occasionally. I have thought of Malaga, Alicante, Granada, Salamanca and Almeria. But I am having trouble deciding. In essence, I would like a real Spanish experience, to learn Spanish and to make friends. Does anyone have any suggestions or recommendations? Thank you so much!
For beautiful architecture and nice riverside walks, you could also consider Zaragoza, the capital of the Aragon region on the Ebro river. It also has AVE connections to Barcelona and Madrid.
I believe the universities in Salamanca and Granada are large, so the populations of those cities are relatively young. That could be a big benefit from a social standpoint, but if you're looking for a place where you will be forced to use your Spanish outside the classroom on some occasions (often recommended), I'm not sure they're ideal. I know Granada has a large foreign-student population and I believe Salamanca does as well.
I haven't been to Alicante, but it seems to be fairly isolated from the major tourist destinations in Spain, just near some touristy beach towns. It wouldn't be my choice for a long stay.
Almeria is also perhaps a bit less convenient than the other options discussed so far. I suggest Googling for information on bus schedules to be sure you're OK with how long it would take to get to Granada or Malaga (might be OK) as well as beyond them (might be frustratingly time-consuming what with the probable need to allow for connection time).
Some of the mentioned places (including Zaragoza) could be quite hot in September. If you care at all about weather conditions, check the actual, day-by-day historical weather statistics for the places you're interested in. That data is available on timeanddate.com going back at least ten years. I'd look at the most recent five years.
If you want to take advantage of your free time to do local sightseeing on school days, I recommend trying to schedule your classes in the morning. In my experience that makes it easier to accomplish something during your free half day. However, that may be less of an issue in Spain that in France and Italy (where I have taken language lessons), because afternoon classes may start later in Spain.
Thank you so much for the great advice and suggestions. For meeting people, I guess that I should add that I am an adult over 50. So I'm not really looking for the young people's social scene so much. More about meeting interesting people from different walks of life who I can get to know. :-)
Logroño and La Rioja.
Logroño is a big town/small city (150,000 people). As a city, it has many advantages. There are several language schools where you can study Spanish. It is easily walkable. For daily walks the Parque del Ebro and Parque de la Ribera provide many oppurtunities. The food is very good (Calles Laurel and San Juan full of Tapa Bars). The wine is very good (there are even two wineries in the city limits). And it is less expensive than other options.
For the weekends, La Rioja offers many attractions that are easily reach by bus. Of course there is San Millan, the birthplace of Spanish and a Unesco World Heritage site. Laguardia is very close. A weekend in Pamplona, Bilbao or Zaragoza is also an easy possibility.
Finally, for me late September early October is my favorite time in La Rioja. The weather is still good and as the leaves turn the vineyards are quite beautiful.
Thank you so much to everyone for the information and feedback about places like Alicante, Almeria, Logrono and Zaragoza. Does anyone have thoughts about Denia?
Dénia is a smaller provincial town in the Valencian community, off the radar for most international tourists, I have not been personally (just driven by), but you may want check to see the local language prevalence of Valencià over Castellano, considering you want the total Spanish immersion experience. Although I feel some linguistic diversity will give a more authentic and rewarding Spanish experience.
One thought about scheduling: It seems to be standard practice for language schools to charge full fees for weeks when they will be closed for a holiday. If you're there for a full semester, it all comes out in the wash. Not so for a short stint. So check the holiday calendar to see how many days' worth of lessons you'll actually receive.
I've done two weeks in Orvieto and two weeks in Nice. For a small town Orvieto has quite a lot of sightseeing possibilities, but I wouldn't recommend a place that small for more than two weeks, and I found the location problematic for side trips of less than a full day. It was after that experience that I chose Nice, full of sightseeing opportunities and blessed with great transportation to worthwhile destinations all along the Riviera, for my French lessons. I get all twitchy when I imagine spending a month in a small town when there are lots of interesting places beyond day-trip reach. Others might have a different reaction.
I've only passed through Logroño on a bus and have no opinion about the city itself. It does offer some interesting possibilities for side-trips. In addition to those already mentioned you have the Basque city of Vitoria-Gasteiz with its large medieval district and the little town of Estella, both reachable in not much more than an hour. Getting to Miranda de Ebro would take about the same amount of time. Puente la Reina (small town on pilgrimage route) is somewhat farther. With a car non-touristy Olite (impressive castle) would be well within reach, but the public-transportation schedules are not good from the direction of Logroño; you'd probably have to travel by bus via Pamplona. I remember Haro being mentioned on this forum, but I don't remember in what context. It's quite close to Logrono.
The lovely city of Burgos is over 2 hours away by train but would work as a weekend destination.
I like the idea of Granada or Malaga. Logroño would be nice. I loved Northern Spain and if you are based there you could take trips around the area (Bilbao, SS, Burgos, the Pyrenees between Olite and Pamplona is incredible, etc). Valencia could be good, but it is relatively large and urban (which doesnt sound like what you're after).
Salamanaca is a wonderful city, but it more isolated from the rest of Spain. It is close to Portugal and you could visit that country from Salamanca.
I wouldn't want to spend a lot to time in Malaga, not so impressed with Costa del Sol area.
Loved Seville. Also, Madrid (no ocean) is great with nearby cities like Toledo, Segovia and more.
Thank you to everyone for the amazing suggestions. I haven't even heard about some of the places, so I went and looked them up.
I keep leaning towards Malaga because of the sea and open spaces, and because it is close to Seville, Cordoba and Cadiz. Can people tell me the pros and cons of the place for living for a month and learning Spanish? I have been to Cordoba, and I loved it.
Malaga city certainly has the sea, although I'm not sure what you mean by open spaces. Like many Spanish towns it is pretty built up, though there are some city parks and gardens. If you mean Malaga province, then there is a lot of scenic countryside including breathtakingly brilliant mountainous areas. Ronda and El Torcal are parts of Malaga province, for example.
I think Malaga city gets a raw deal on this forum. Partly that's from people confusing the old part of the city with the wider Costa del Sol tourism area along the coast, some of which is, indeed, rather hideous. And partly it's because Malaga loses in comparison with neighbouring cities such as Seville or Granada in terms of "wowness". On the other hand, whilst Sevilla is obviously Spain's best city, it also has parts that are utterly awful (and dangerous). It's just that as tourists we tend never to see them.
Whilst I wouldn't put Malaga ahead of Cordoba or Cadiz for a short-break, I do think its a good option for a longer stay. The transport links are excellent, the city's own sights numerous and varied, and it's a pleasant place to live (I imagine - never lived there), with plenty of restaurants, bars and a "not just tourists" ambience .
If Malaga is calling you, then I'd go for it.
While I discourage people from spending time in Malaga when they've only allocated 2 days (or less) to Seville and one to Granada, I agree that Malaga could be a good spot for a month. I spent several nights there in late April/early May and the ambiance was very pleasant. It does have good transportation links, despite (obviously) not having a central location. Thinking back, I'd say it feels something like Nice, where I spent two happy weeks taking language classes.
However, I think two months might well be too long in Malaga, because the city doesn't seem to have tons of sightseeing possibilities, and one might run out of destinations for half-day trips. If you decide on a two-month trip, perhaps you could consider staying in two different places for a month each?
To be clear, Malaga wouldn't be my personal top choice for a month or two. I'd choose Barcelona or Seville or maybe even Madrid (far from my favorite city for a short visit). But I understand your concern about the prevalence of Catalan in Barcelona and the preference for a coastal city.
I suggest researching historical weather statistics on timeanddate.com before setting your dates. I think Malaga could be quite hot in September, especially early in the month.
I would choose Malaga, a great city, lots to see and do, good transport connections, probably I would go in October not September though....
Thank you so much for the great encouragement on Malaga. It sounds like a great place, with lots to see and enjoy. The fact that it’s well connected is important. Can’t wait to go. Gracias a todos!