Culture takes in far more than the arts, the architecture and the history of places. Sure, Rome is outstanding for antiquities and churches and Paris has the Louvre. But whether it’s watching an afternoon cricket match on an English village green, going naked in a German sauna, or riding a bike through the Dutch tulip fields, Europe has a multitude of fascinating cultural experiences. And when you can combine city thrills with good food, so much the better. For a different take on “culture” as well as delectable taste sensations, add these five cities to your European wish list.
Before settling in David in western Panama in 2009, I lived aboard my sailboat, Carina, for 16 years. My husband and I sailed the western Caribbean and we still have many friends among the cruising community. Although Panama has miles of coastline, it has few marine facilities for small boats. If you’re looking for a safe harbor to dock your boat in Panama, here are the stand-out marinas to visit.
Last month I visited the historic Gangi in Sicily, a 14th-century hamlet voted ‘Most Beautiful Village in Italy” this year. I was there to scout out undervalued real estate—and you can’t get more affordable than what Gangi offers. I’d heard that Gangi was pretty special—besides being home to an incredible real estate opportunity, it’s a hidden gem whose beauty and historic significance has been overlooked by all but the savviest vacationers.
Costa Rica is a great place for retirees for many reasons. Think warm weather year-round, bargain real estate (foreigners have the same property rights as locals), friendly people, the Pura Vida (life is good) vibe, and low-cost but high-quality health care. Plus, it’s easy to qualify for residence as a retiree with the pensionado program. All you need is $1,000 per month per couple from Social Security, disability, or a pension.
Three years ago, my husband Michael and I were both on the corporate treadmill—Michael as a consulting engineer and me running my own business. We were working long hours just to maintain our lifestyles, leaving us overworked and miserable. When a dear friend died, we asked ourselves, “If we had six months to live would we continue doing what we’re doing?” The answer was a resounding no. We had to find the “off” switch for the treadmill.
After eight years as Panama Editor for International Living, you’d think writing about the best places to vacation in Panama would be a cinch. But there are so many great places to vacation in Panama that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few. In fact, I’m constantly adding new favorites to my list.
The couple explored Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, and Nicaragua. As their trips were part of a search for a new home, it made sense to stay awhile and get beneath the surface of a place. Ellen explains, “Extended stays make sense financially, giving us time between trips to recoup the cost of moving about.” But after three years of having no permanent base, they realized that it was actually this roving retirement lifestyle that suited them.
For a second there, I thought he had a crush on me. Then I realized that his entranced gaze was not for me—it was for his guitar and the music he was playing. I was in a fado club deep in the heart of Alfama, Lisbon’s oldest neighborhood. When I was first seated at the small table flanked by two empty chairs, I thought I’d gotten my reservation wrong. Was I only going to get a high-priced dinner? I sat resigned during the first course…a mood that changed to jubilation when the fado musicians walked in, straight to those empty chairs beside me.
This morning, I awoke to bright blue skies, crisp autumn air, and the slow, muted clanking sounds of cows wearing big metal cowbells and moving down the street just outside my window. You see, today I am living in a small town in the Swiss Alps. It’s October, which means the farmers are bringing their cows down from the high altitudes and into the low fields and warm barns for the winter. The air smells faintly of fields and campfires. And aside from the bells, all is quiet.
A relatively small town (about 10,000 people) set on a grid, Corozal is mostly a collection of small shops, restaurants, and simple homes. But this is a bustling burg, with walkways and parks lining the vast, turquoise Corozal Bay. The bay gives it that Caribbean feel. Locals lounge in the shade of the town square, and in the small farmers’ market you’ll find oranges, potatoes, carrots, and succulent mangoes. You can walk away with a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables, plus dry goods and any imported must-haves available at local grocery stores, for under $50.
One of the things my wife, Suzan Haskins, and I have come to value over the years that we’ve lived abroad are well-organized expat communities. We do know some expats who were determined to be pioneers and boldly go where no North Americans had gone before. But for us…and most other expats we know…there are undeniable advantages to having people around you in your chosen expat destination who have already blazed a trail, made the most common mistakes, and learned the ropes.
Have you taken the public ferry that calls into the flower-bedecked lakeside villages around Lake Como? Spent a day shopping for the perfect turquoise leather purse in Milan? Bathed in the thermal pools of Saturnia? Wandered pilgrim paths through the chestnut woods of northern Tuscany? Eaten pumpkin tortellini in Bologna or cuttlefish risotto in Genoa? Lolled under a shady ombrellone on Lido di Metaponto’s golden beach? Enjoyed opera under the stars at Verona? Seen glow-worms lighting the fields at night as you walk back from San Gimignano of the medieval towers?
My husband Will and I have traveled to a number of countries over the years searching for the perfect place to retire—including Mexico, Venezuela, and Costa Rica. Finally one of our trips brought us to the country of Panama…
Call it instinct, call it intuition…whatever it was, from the moment we stepped off the plane, we knew it felt right. We toured several parts of the country in the years that followed as we tried to pin down our retirement plan. The highland town of Boquete was always on the list to visit. There was something about the mountains and the lush vegetation that reminded us of British Columbia and called to us.
Whenever my husband Gary and I need a break from sitting on our terrace watching the iguanas, or doing a myriad of other activities in and around our neighborhood, in Panama, we love to hop in our car and go exploring. That’s not to say we don’t love where we live in Panama’s highlands. We decided a few years back to spend part of the year in the province of Chiriquí, in Panama’s southwest corner—we’re snowbirds, escaping cold winters back home in Canada. We chose Panama as our half-time home because it has the greatest program in the world for retirees, the pensionado.
Ten years ago, I left the U.S. in search of a new adventure with my husband, Al—a decision that led us to the city of David in the province of Chiriquí, Panama. Al and I have spent time in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Honduras since leaving the U.S. but, for many reasons, Panama won out as our retirement destination. Chiriquí Province is beautiful. It’s the country’s farming province, all rolling hills lined with fields where you’ll find pineapples, papaya, rice, coffee plantations, and orange groves.
“We spent about five years researching good retirement destinations before actually moving to Panama,” says Bill Hamilton who moved with his wife Mieke to the country’s capital city. “I’m the type of person to look up every single thing…crime rates, politics, cost of living, real estate, health care…and Panama City kept popping up in my research as the best option across the board.” Though in their 60s and already retired from previous careers, the Hamiltons made the decision to move in order to take a stab at running the Balboa Inn, a nine-room B&B in Panama City.
Back home, you are energetic and enjoy a life full of activities, friends and diversity. You want it to stay that way and you have your priorities. Nature makes you happy. After a lifetime living in cold weather, you’d like to throw away your winter coats. Health care and safety are major concerns. Starting a business entices you, but isn’t it too late? You love your delicious coffee and going to great restaurants with your friends. You seek volunteer opportunities to help people and give your life more purpose.
“We were frustrated with extremely long, cold winters, high Canadian taxes, and we were weary of the rat race.” So says Denise Patrick, who—along with her husband Neil—moved to the beach community of Coronado—just 90 minutes from Panama City. The couple first fell in love with Coronado when they spent a vacation there in November 2010—so much so, in fact, that they decided on the flight home to sell their house and belongings.
The classic vision of Costa Rica that you find on postcards and tourism board posters is of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The white sand beaches…blue ocean…and the wildlife-filled rain forest as a backdrop.
Unlike the more popular beach towns in Belize, Punta Gorda—in the Toledo District—is seldom crawling with tourists. And you’ll find few expats in Punta Gorda, compared to towns like Corozal, San Pedro, Placencia or San Ignacio. Upon visiting earlier this year, I learned that a growing number of expats are visiting and trying out the region to see if it’s a fit for them.
As a 14-year-old schoolgirl, I didn’t know life would turn me into a travel writer and a wine enthusiast. So I didn’t appreciate Bad Dürkheim as much as I should have. When you’re treated to a meal inside the world’s largest wine barrel, you should at least remember what you ate and drank.
We were sitting in a rustic beach bar in the small town of Puerto Morelos on Mexican’s Mayan Riviera sampling what the bartender promised was the best margarita in town. The temperature was about 85 F and the ever-present sea breeze was wafting in from the Caribbean. Shore birds were circling overhead in a cloudless blue sky.
For years, Richard and Amy Griffin ran successful businesses in the southeastern United States. Amy’s focus was interior design, while Richard was a food distributor for restaurants, hotels, and country clubs. Things were going well until the economic downturn hit in 2008. “Charlotte is a banking community and all my customers were pretty much bankers, so they pulled the plug immediately, because they had no clue what was going to happen,” says Amy.
It wasn’t the practical reasons, like lower cost of living, great—and cheap—medical care, and friendly people, that convinced Dave Scott to move to San Ramón, a town on the western edge of Costa Rica’s Central Valley region. Though the country has all those advantages and more, and while those were factors in the decision, it was something else that drew him. “It was like an invisible string around my neck pulling me here,” says Dave. “It’s more of a heart thing than a head thing. It’s hard to explain. It was just the feeling I had.”
Check any list of the world’s best retirement destinations, including International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index, and you’ll find Costa Rica near the top. And it’s not a new trend; this little Central American country sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama has attracted North American expats for more than 30 years due to many diverse factors. Here are four reasons why many retirees think it’s a great place to live. One of the biggest attractions of Costa Rica is the weather. For those seeking relief from frigid winters, the warm temperatures year-round are quite welcome.
Owning a French vineyard is the ultimate dream for many expats—and it’s easy to see why. From Burgundy to Bordeaux, France’s vineyards lie in some of the most beautiful areas of the country and have produced extraordinary wines coveted throughout the world. To live in such an idyllic setting, drinking wine from your own grapes and playing some small role in wine’s ancient story, is a concept that’s both thrilling and gratifying.
With more than a million expats estimated to live there, Mexico is far and away the most popular destination for North Americans looking to move abroad. But—with so many places to choose from—where in Mexico should you move? It’s a very large country, after all. Much depends, of course, on what you’re looking for.
To live the big city life for less and enjoy a world-class retirement look no farther than the San Francisco neighborhood of Panama City. I chose to live in San Francisco because of its walkability, its amenities, and just how close it is to the kind of action that makes for a great city life…and from gourmet delis to evenings at the opera, I enjoyed every minute.
This year, Panama holds the number one spot in International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index. Being a retiree in Panama myself, I agree that it’s a great place to retire. The word for retirees in Spanish is “jubilados.” I’ve always loved that, because to me it sounds like “jubilant” and shouldn’t we all be jubilantly happy in our old age? In Panama, jubilados are treated with respect and receive special benefits due to their elder status.
Café con leche is the typical Spanish coffee. Now you could head to the American-style shop a few blocks from my apartment for a $7 plain coffee. However, I prefer the local café where you can sit outside on the cobblestone patio and sip leisurely while people watching.
It’s 1 a.m. and I’m sound asleep in bed when I hear a big boom. I’m startled awake, so I jump up, grab my robe, and run onto our giant balcony that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Directly in front of me the moon is shining bright and sparkling off the water.
I’ve always loved to explore the areas in which I live. Whether I was bushwhacking through wild Alaskan terrain or driving down dusty country roads in Minnesota farm country, I relished the thrill of seeing what’s around the next bend. It could be a fantastic little family-owned apple orchard or a mama moose with newborn twins.
Travelers flock to Ecuador each year to enjoy the country’s diverse regions, exotic wildlife, and of course the famed Galapagos Islands. Some visitors become so enthralled with Ecuador that their vacation becomes a permanent stay. But whether you’re a passer through or a smitten expat, don’t miss out on Ecuador’s vast cultural options.
Certain images are fixed in my mind of the French town of Montpellier. When I think of it, I remember cobblestone streets filled with students and a cheerful energy. I remember riding a sleek tramway entirely painted with bright, intertwined flowers. And I remember eating one of the most extraordinary meals of my life there at the charming Lozèrois restaurant, Cellier & Morel.
The bright Andean sun is bursting through the cloud cover and slowly breathing fresh life into this bustling mountainous region. The waitress smiles pleasantly as she pours me sticky, black Peruvian coffee. I pause for a second and savor the aroma before taking a big gulp and wash down the pastry that I’ve just eaten. I’m in Cusco, Peru, the historic and spiritual heart of the Inca Empire and a designated World Heritage Site.
Vikki Gold from Colorado is delighted with her move to Costa Rica. “I love it here. I’m at peace. There’s beautiful scenery, a great climate, and so much wildlife. It’s our little paradise,” she says. She came here just over a year ago after she and her daughter, Hollee, bought and renovated a boutique hotel in the jungle.
Salud! Ching, Ching! These three words are so simple, yet they hold so much meaning. Friendship, happiness, and a lifetime of health—that’s what we toast to as we raise our sparkling Catalan cava to the blue sky. A refreshing glass of sparkling wine is just what the doctor ordered to celebrate this sunny day with friends in Sitges.
In 2005, I left my job in the cruise industry and decided to try my luck in Panama. I had a wonderful group of international friends—some from the Americas, and others from as far off as Australia. And I told them all to come visit me in Panama sometime. To my surprise, many of us actually did keep in touch and visit each other. I remember a girl from Venezuela asking me how come there were so many U.S. products on the shelves here.
Spain is one of my favorite countries. It’s both a fascinating destination to visit and a great place to live (and I’ve done both). So when people ask me what’s so great about Spain, I can list a lot of advantages off the top of my head. But to get you started, here are my top five reasons why Spain is a great place to live:
When my husband, Al, and I left the U.S. nearly 10 years ago I had no idea I would make my home in Panama. We set sail from southwest Florida to navigate the Caribbean Sea and study the Maya culture in person. With our boat secure at a marina in Isla Mujeres, we explored eastern Mexico for six months, then sailed to Belize and on to Guatemala. In the Rio Dulce we found a community of boaters that embraced us, and a marina to call home for the next three years.