Imagine this: Three course meals, wine, and interesting conversation in picturesque Spain with your own room and nightly entertainment for free. Sound too good to be true?
I don’t entirely recall how I stumbled onto Pueblo Ingles. I do know that when I quit my job and set off my European adventure, a free week in Spain sounded ideal. My loved ones disagreed. Citing such factual movies as Hostel and Taken, they nearly convinced me that Pueblo Ingles was some scheme by criminal masterminds to steal my kidneys. Aren’t I glad that I care so little about my personal safety?
What’s the catch?
Absolutely nothing. All they ask is for a week of your time and some conversation. Scratch that, a lot of conversation.
Total immersion is hands-down the best way to learn a language. Unfortunately, traveling doesn’t always provide that immersion. Pueblo Ingles is a program designed to get Spaniards talking English 12+ hours a day. And they need Anglos to provide this. So they offer Anglo travelers one week of food and accommodations for their time and patience in helping Spaniards speak fluent English.
So I need to speak Spanish?
Nope. In fact, the less Spanish you know, the better. There is no speaking Spanish during Pueblo Ingles. My personal Spanish vocabulary is limited to cervaza, el bano, and por favour. I didn’t even need to use this.
Then the resort is crappy?
Not even a little. That’s Coto del Valle. I am assured that the other resorts are just as nice. At least in the case of Coto Del Valle, Pueblo Ingles rents out the entire resort for the 44 participants (22 Spaniards and 22 Anglos).
Then the food must suck?
Three course meals for lunch and dinner with wine and a breakfast buffet. Coto del Valle featured a menu packed full of delicious Andulusian fare. I ate more goat cheese, boar, fig and wine than any woman should. It was the only part my trip where I gained weight.
But I’m not really experiencing Spain!
There is very little free time during Pueblo Ingles. We left the resort one day to go on a hike. But is wandering around the same old museums and churches really “experiencing” a country?
If you want to explore, this is not the program for you. If you want to connect on a personal level with Spanish natives, I can not imagine a better way of experiencing the country. I didn’t know jack about Spain before Pueblo Ingles. After one week, I was fully schooled on the government system, the reign of Franco, the weather patterns of the coast, and a million places to visit that I never would have gotten from Lonely Planet.
Do I get a roommate?
Maybe. The Spaniards get their own rooms because…well, they’re paying. Depending on the resort, you may get a roommate or you may fly solo. Bring a friend and you’re guaranteed not to shack up with a stranger.
As it was explained to me, the hierarchy is determined by whether you’re part of a couple and your age. Couples get a single room. Older, solo travelers are housed in suites with another Anglo. The youngest solo travelers share a room.
I shared a room with a lovely girl from England. Honestly, if you travel in hostels, this isn’t a huge deal. We were in the “attic” with two twin beds and a bathroom. There was plenty of room for both our luggage and since our breaks never synched up, there was plenty of alone time if we needed it. The stairs were a little hairy after a night in the bar but I had no complaints.
What about the kids?
Awesome news, you can get rid of the kids under the guise of cultural awareness at Pueblo Ingles’ teen weeks. A couple people in my week had dropped their kids off for the teen week and joined the adults at Coto Del Valle.
Well, I’ll just pack my shorts and it’s vacation time, right?
Not quite. Notice how the pool is empty? While fun is encouraged, especially in the bar, it’s also a lot of work. You are speaking all day. Even for the most verbal among us, 10+ hours of conversation is a little daunting.
Every day is scheduled for one-on-one conversations, group conversations, phone calls, and presentations. Even meals encourage conversation – each table must have two Spaniards and two Anglos and you can’t have meals with the same people every day. It’s a lot of conversation and even though you’re staying for free, it can seem like a lot of work.
Still, it’s a free week! Where do I sign up?
Here. There’s a form to fill out and summer slots go quickly. Depending on the program, you’re responsible for showing up in Madrid or Barcelona. A bus will take you to the resort and transport you back.
It’s really free?
Alright, I lied. I spent 20 euros at the bar. But other than that, I didn’t spend a dime. It’s an awesome vacation that costs you an airline ticket. I can’t recommend Pueblo Ingles enough and can’t wait for my next vacation.