Have you ever dreamed about leaving everything behind, upping sticks and embarking on a whole new life abroad? Well, ex-Elle journalist, author and co-founder of gorgeous jewellery label Circa Ibiza, Grace Saunders did just that, moving from London with her husband Michael and three children to a 300-year old finca in Ibiza. Life on the island is slower, simpler and sunnier than it was in London, but is it all just beaches and bbqs in the sunshine or is there a downside to life in paradise? Grace tells us all…
Everyone dreams about upping sticks and moving to a beautiful island, what made you actually go and do it?
As part of an extended family project we have been restoring and returning to a wildly remote 300-year old finca in the depths of the northern pine forest for 20 years. It’s always been the place I would retreat to finish a book or recover from a hectic season as a magazine writer. My children have grown up catching lizards in the garden and snoozing in the hammocks for siestas. Rural Ibiza and the Balearic culture swims in our veins.
Three years ago we changed our life dramatically in London, becoming a tee-total family and overhauling diet, fitness and well-being. As individuals Mike and I sought yoga and nature and a simpler way of living as we began to feel the lethargy of decades living at a relentless two working parent urban family pace. As my children raced towards teenagehood the call of rural Mediterranean life seemed to beacon with more intensity. After a lot of soul searching one balmy evening in late autumn 2012 we hatched a plan to experience living here for a full year with Mike loosely commuting to his businesses on BA direct flights to London. The next day we’d discussed it with the children, seen the school, negotiated a year contact at the finca and the excitement and feeling of liberation was electric. That was over two years ago now and we are still here!
Is this home forever or more for the foreseeable future?
The finca will belong to our family forever we hope and the move is something we take year on year. We will quite possibly return to London to see the children through teenage years and GCSEs only to return again to live here at a later date.
What do you love about living in Ibiza?
Ibiza has such diverse sides to it and the experience of a family living in a modern villa in the west will be a huge contrast to the life we lead in a remote basic finca in the north of the island. For us the life here is very specifically about living in this traditional Ibizenco way. We have a well for water, we had no TV for the first year, we installed internet, but we have no phone mast for a landline or mobile signal and we have electricity but no central heating. The whole living and working environment is paired down and stripped back.
We all have different loves about Ibiza but some of its huge gifts are the all-year round wonderful weather (winter is cool but often the skies are bright blue and the air crisp and clean) the abundance of nature and wildlife, the endless sandy beaches, (especially out of season when they can be blissfully deserted) the Mediterranean family-led culture, the possibilities for yoga, meditation and creative activities to balance with work and family life. The sense of community amongst friends and neighbours, the communal spirit and outdoor eating. There is just the most wonderful creative and upbeat energy on this island that draws you in and entices you to stay.
What are the challenges?
We have many rural challenges – power cuts, water shortages, internet efficiency, a leaky farmhouse roof etc. The language was a barrier at first, but the children are excellent now and Mike and I get by, but are learning more all the time. Driving is extensive with three children and the wonderful sporting activities that they all do each night. We spend hours in a car but the plus side is that it’s traffic free. Life is very quiet in winter and this can feel limited at times. There’s also the change of city culture – theatre, art galleries, cinema, exhibitions are all things we lap up when we return to London. Food shopping is expensive and you have to be resourceful to find all the ingredients you need. Great for seasonal shopping and eating but time consuming as working parents
How has your day-to-day life changed since you moved?
The pace is slower and while we have to drive everywhere there are no traffic or parking issues. When Mike isn’t in London we both work from the finca so we connect and interact on a day to day basis so much more. We also cook more, garden, involve ourselves in the hands on task of running a remote farmhouse. We enjoy and are part of nature and our natural environment with almost everything we do. The motions of the day and evening are bound by the togetherness of the whole family. Life felt far more scattered and fragmented in our city life. We make time for yoga meditation, a run or a nature walk almost everyday and weekends you can largely plan communal outdoor activities as the weather allows this luxury.
Do you miss anything about your ‘old’ life?
City culture and extended family being close by.
Did you have lots of friends in Ibiza before you moved there?
Quite a few but we have a whole broad community of friends now both local and international.
In terms of moving your family over, were your children keen to move or were they worried about missing friends?
Bella, who is 13, has found it hardest because a transition as you approach teenage-hood is tricky. It’s true that there is much natural wonder living in a remote finca, but it also takes way much of the freedom and mobility children of that age would be experiencing in a city. They missed and to a certain degree still miss old friends, the regularity of seeing grandparents and cousins, and the diversity of city pleasures. My daughter occasionally longs for an Oyster card and non-stop internet to access Instagram, but for the moment she seems content walking the puppy, Bugsy, on a Saturday morning and seeing friends for beach days and sleepovers most weekends.
The children all experienced homesickness and challenges mainly in the first year. It was a huge adjustment but they are all very philosophical about what they’ve gained and what they’re learning by overcoming those obstacles and they all have vibrant friendships and hobbies on the island now. Gabriel, who is 11, has signed to the local football team, which trains four times a week at a very high standard, ditto Raphael (7) with tennis. They all dive and swim regularly and enjoy the freedom of an outdoor life.
All three children attend an international school which is 20 minutes drive from the finca. Sports training out of school is almost every evening and takes place in Spanish. They all have Spanish lessons twice a week.
How did you go about setting up Circa Ibiza?
Mike has been in the jewellery business for 30 years and I’ve worked in the fashion/style industry for almost 20, so it felt like a natural progression to fuse our expertise and work together on this creative innovative island. For bespoke clients we were asked to source restore and often remodel beautiful antique lockets and charms and wonderful unique classic pieces from the past. Word got around and a buzz began to form. Within a few months we had set up a small workshop and design studio in the finca and formed a small company, Circa Ibiza. We sourced two wonderful Art Deco cabinets for two of our favourite boutiques. La Paloma and Galleria l’elefante who began to stock our pieces and more recently launched a website for our growing international client base.
We now take it turns to go on buying trips in the UK and further afield to Northern Europe and both enjoy lending our different eye and style to sourcing pieces that are unique and full of character and have potential to be combined or restored into something very special. Our combinations of a vintage locket hung with a bead and charm have become something of a trademark for Circa Ibiza, many clients loving the way it weaves a story for the wearer. For example we recently made up a combination for a novelist with a passion for 20s style. Her partner chose a deco locket, we sourced a period solid gold opening book charm and an original flapper girl pearl taken from a string of them. Another bespoke order came from a group of women seeking a special gift for a friend’s 40th, in the end we sourced and restored a wonderful 1940s gold heart locket with tiny ruby and pearl bead detail. We engraved it with her initials and inside they placed a tiny 70s anchor charm.
While maintaining other working commitments both here and in the Uk Circa Ibiza is the most wonderful compliment to our family journey here in Ibiza. It also unites Mike and I in a creative capacity, which is a novel new passion to share as a couple.
What advice do you have for someone thinking of making a big life change and moving abroad?
Go for several long holidays first. Visit schools, explore the job market, seek and ask families who have done the same what there experience and tips are, explore the rental possibility ( there are surprisingly few long term lets in Ibiza).
If at all possible with life and work commitments rent out your UK home and rent aboard with a view to a year/two year experience. This is the safest way to try it out without the risk of struggling to get back on the UK property market if desired.
Has there ever been a time when you’ve doubted your decision?
Not for a second. Life is about experiences.
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Images: Barbara Ungaro