Retiring? Try a move to Ireland, like 75,000 other UK pensioners

... or Spain, where the retired enjoy sun, sand and sea and the state pays
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Thinking of a Spanish retirement? The most spectacular perk available to pensioners in Spain is the state provision of off-peak holidays at minimal cost. One pensioner tells of a two-week holiday in a hotel in Benidorm, including meals and bus transport there and back for about pounds 100. She says it was cheaper than staying at home and plans to take another next year in Mallorca, which will cost pounds 150 because of the flight.

This holiday scheme was dreamed up by the outgoing Socialist government with the twin aim of keeping the country's tourism infrastructure occupied during the winter,and giving a perk to millions of Spaniards who had worked all their lives and in many cases never had a holiday.

Conservatives criticised the scheme as a crude vote-catcher, and it is a fact that the Socialist vote still holds up massively among the elderly. One Spanish friend told me the scheme was invaluable because it had enabled his mother to visit the sea for the first time. It is also open to non- Spanish pensioners, who can't vote.

British and indeed any EU pensioners resident in Spain are entitled to the same state provisions as Spanish pensioners. These include state- funded health care, elderly people's day care centres, bus passes, concessions on the railways and cut-price or free entry to museums.

British pensioners resident in Spain say they consider the health care to be of a high standard. One who had private health coverage was billed some pounds 4,000 after being given emergency treatment in hospital for a heart attack. His insurance covered him only for theatre operations. In the end, the tab was picked up by the Spanish state.

The sun, of course, is free.

Elizabeth Nash