Robert Winchester outside the club's premises in Nerja. / J. RHODES

A love affair with Spain that started nearly 60 years ago

Clubs. Robert Winchester has recently been elected president of the Nerja International Club which he hopes to "restore to its former glory"

JENNIE RHODES

Robert Winchester is the new president of the Nerja International Club (Club Internacional de Nerja). He says he's "very passionate" about the club, of which he's been a member pretty much since he and his wife Helen first discovered Nerja 16 years ago.

Robert, 75, was born in the east end of London in 1946 and after leaving school at the age of 15, he completed a six year apprenticeship with British Rail.

  • i : Facebook: Club Internacional De Nerja

  • Further information about the Nerja International Club : Facebook: Club Internacional De Nerja

The experience served him well when in 1972 he started his first company, still in the east end, buying land and property and then opening a kitchen studio.

By the time Robert started his first company, he had already discovered Spain. Drawn by the images of those early years of tourism on the Costas in the 1960s, Robert's first visit to the country was in 1964 when he visited Tossa del Mar in Catalonia. "Coming from the east end of London, when you sat on a terrace watching the sun coming up while eating croissants, you thought you were on a different planet," recalls Robert.

He was hooked, and the following year he found himself sitting on terraces in Sitges. "That's when the love affair with Spain started," he admits. Robert went on to buy a property near to Figueres, which he still owns.

Travel has always been important to Robert, who has made several trips to the USA, as well as travelling extensively around Europe and north Africa. His son and two grandchildren live in Australia and as such he has visited the country no fewer than nine times. Robert also has a daughter in the UK.

Following the death of his first wife, with whom he had his two children, Robert remarried and has been with Helen for 33 years. It was with her that Robert discovered Nerja. The couple first visited the town when they came to Cómpeta for a wedding and fell in love with it there and then. They started coming more regularly and the "visits got longer" each time they came.

They divide their time between Nerja and their UK home near Canterbury in Kent, with occasional visits to the house near Figueres.

Before Brexit, Robert and Helen would come to Spain for five months at a time. However, now limited to the post-Brexit 90-day rule, the couple have had to rethink their trips to Spain and of course, the reduced mobility caused by the pandemic has put more constraints on their lifestyle.

Painting

Robert says that he loves everything about Spain and in particular "the people, the culture and the language." He adds, "Spain has a certain smell, I think it must be the fresh air compared with London."

"I always tell people that my heart is in Spain but my head is in England," Robert explains. His biggest regret, he says, is "not learning the language." However, he does point out that he would have had to learn Spanish and Catalan.

One thing that Robert has always done, both in Spain and England, is paint. He uses oils and his sense of humour comes out in his art, many of which are of people.

He has some pieces hanging up at the International Club's premises in Calle San Juan in Nerja. Any sales he makes, Robert says he will donate the money to the club.

He has, for many years, been donating the profits of paintings he sells to the William Harvey hospital in Kent, which is where his two grandchildren were born.

He's even written a children's book, Lilian's Secret Garden, which he also illustrated himself. It is available on Amazon and 50 per cent of the price also gets donated to the hospital. Robert says he's got another book in the pipeline, but it's a "question of getting round to it."

Clearly a charitable person, Robert also reveals that he did a parachute jump four years ago, near to the house in Figueres, which was also to raise money for the hospital. Having done it once, he does confess that he "wouldn't do it again."

As far as the club is concerned, Robert hopes that as the situation allows, it will be "restored to its former glory," having closed in September last year after a series of problems.

On Tuesday 11 January, members and nonmembers were invited to a complimentary glass of Cava and to hear about forthcoming events.

As well as being open on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings (11am to 2pm) Robert is hoping to get back to a regular programme of talks, tours and trips, which were always popular before Covid.

When he is back in the UK, the club's president says he is confident that he can count on the vice president and other members of the committee to keep things going.