There’s Something About France that Few People Know...
France, with its reputation for glamour and the finer things in life, leads many people to cross the country off their retirement destination list, assuming that they could never afford to live there. But that’s a mistake.
Whether you dream of a city pied-a-terre...or a rambling farmhouse among the sunflowers...or a village house wrapped in wisteria-hung memories of long ago, France is far more affordable than you might think. In fact, there are many parts of the country where habitable homes in storybook settings cost less than $160,000.
There’s a region in the sunny south, for example, that offers a wonderful warm climate year-round...delightful medieval villages brimming with sun-baked old stone houses....white-sand beaches and winding mountain trails...large cities and tiny hamlets...and that’s virtually a stone’s throw from the Spanish border. The region is called Languedoc-Rousillon, and—for now—prices are still reasonable...
If you prefer a cooler climate and a more pastoral setting, look to charming Normandy. Just two hours from Paris, this region is filled with half-timbered houses, often set on acres of emerald fields that seem straight out of a fairytale. There’s also a fascinating history, flavorful rustic cuisine (think apples, poultry and creamy, fresh dairy), romantic windswept beaches and exquisite coastal towns... It’s the perfect place for a vacation retreat or a tranquil year-round home.
For mountain-lovers, the Rhône-Alpes region of France may be like a dream come true. Here you’ll find clear blue lakes and country landscapes that offer riveting views of the sharp peaks of the Alps, and a number of towns, from Grenoble to Lyon, that are as lovely as they are lively and affordable.
And all this is just for starters. There are scores of other reasonably priced “hidden corners” of France that most foreigners know nothing about.
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- Population: 65,951,611
- Capital City: Paris
- Climate: Generally cool winters and mild summers, but mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean
- Language: French
- Coastline: 4,668 km
- Country Code: +33
I’m at Fontevraud Abbey in France’s Loire Valley, gazing at the face of a man who left this world over 800 years ago. Fontevraud was the final resting place of Richard the Lionheart—or at least most of him. Arguably the most famous of England’s Plantagenet rulers, the crusader king died in 1199. If his reclining effigy is a true likeness, he was a handsome brute.
Tripping over a tiger is a first for me. Thankfully, it didn’t seem perturbed. If you’ve been in Paris and done the same, I know where you were—up the stairs at Deyrolle. On Rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement, this store—if store is quite the word—is extraordinary. In business since 1831, Deyrolle is a cabinet of curiosities on the grand and gothic scale. Bats hang from the ceiling. Exotic beasts stare at you from every nook and cranny. An ape perches nonchalantly on a desk.
Imagine a land like something from a fairy tale. Magnificent châteaux have spiky black turrets resembling witches’ hats. Immaculate Renaissance gardens prove that horticulture is indeed an art form. Riverbank towns with timber-framed houses, ancient arched bridges, and openair markets dot the landscape. Vineyards give way to wheat fields studded with scarlet poppies and scarecrows that are far too prettily dressed to be outside scaring crows.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
After spending a crazy weekend in Paris decades ago, dashing madly from the Louvre to the Arc De Triomphe, with chaotic traffic and irate Parisians, I had no desire to return to France. That was until my husband Michael and I spent a few weeks at an award-winning vineyard in southern France. It was a far different experience than the chaos of Paris.
Every year I get paid to visit Paris. I always find something new about the city to explore. And I have my old favorites…sipping excellent coffee in Cafe Danton on the Boulevard Saint-Germain…browsing through the stacked books in the Shakespeare & Company, once a haunt of writers like Hemingway and Ford Madox Ford…or strolling in […]
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
A cobbled square, an outdoor café, a sky full of stars. Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace At Night is laden with the romance of place—I always want to step into the picture and sit at one of the tables…drink a glass or two of wine…join the patrons in idle conversation. Van Gogh painted the picture during his time in Arles—a small city in Provence in the sunny south of France.
And so I nearly always find myself choosing to explore Europe by train, even if it sometimes takes a couple more hours and a few more dollars. I’ve traveled this way for years, both when I lived in the States and visited Europe between jobs, and now that I live here in the Swiss Alps. And I’ve discovered that, even though I love nearly every train ride I’ve taken, a few routes stand a little taller than the rest… they unfold more beautifully and leave attentive passengers more breathless than the average ride through the countryside.
This train ride weaves its way along the coastline of Italy and then France, offering striking views of the ocean, the seaside cliffs and candy-colored towns of the Cinque Terre, tiny harbors, and hillside vineyards and olive groves. Towns seem to tumble down cliffsides into the Ligurian Sea where boats bob at anchor. En route watch out for the chiming towers of Riomaggiore and picture the sleek Genoan war galleys that plied this coast 500 years ago.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
The narrow lane spills onto a magnificent square. A group of young musicians fills the twilight with melodies. All around you are stunning buildings dating back centuries. And yet the people relaxing here and walking through these ancient streets are very much 21st century: students with books and laptops in hand. Folks from all over are enjoying evening drinks or dining on café terraces. Talk is of the art expo the town is putting on…an upcoming concert…or the latest news or trends…
In the northwest corner of Spain you ﬁnd a land where the bagpipes, known locally as the gaita, is the preferred instrument, a hallmark of the region’s Celtic heritage. The Galicia province, one of the least-known Celtic nations, is littered with Celtic sites. These include ancient places of worship and stone huts similar to those found in other parts of the Celtic world. Festivals with Celtic origins continue to be celebrated. And the local language, Gallego, even has several words of Celtic origin. Today the region is an autonomous community within modern Spain.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
A flower-bedecked cobbled street winding down to the river. A heron lazily flapping towards its nest at sunset. The reflection of yet another fairytale chateau shimmering on the water. Forming a geographical border between northern and southern France, the Loire river transports you on a journey through one of the country’s most fascinating regions.
Europe offers rich culture, history, sophistication and—with today’s strong dollar—affordable living as well. The InternationalLiving.com report points to the five best-value countries for a European retirement today.
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The glittering, cerulean Mediterranean. Not a bad view every morning as you enjoy coffee and croissants from your terrace. Life is good. Sunny days. Freshcaught seafood. Crashing waves your lullaby every night…or for those drowsy, afternoon, after-lunch siestas. And salt-scented breezes keeping things cool.
Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite part of France, my immediate response is always the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France. Whenever people ask me why, my answer always comes a bit slower. Images of vast blue sky, scrubby foothills with strange flat plateaus, deep red earth, and tidy rows of vineyard […]
When visiting the charming university town of Montpellier, it’s tempting to spend all your time exploring the medieval city center, Ecusson. There’s good reason for that, of course. Ecusson’s winding cobblestone streets offer enchanting attractions—boutiques, artesian workshops, leafy squares—at every turn. But there’s so much more to see in Montpellier than its historic heart.
Not surprisingly, Europe delivers strongly on healthcare; in each of our five picks, you’ll find healthcare professionals and facilities of a world-class standard. But perhaps more surprisingly, the care on offer in these countries won’t leave you counting pennies. Many of these nations benefit from universal coverage and strong public healthcare systems, and even their private healthcare can be accessed for a sliver of the cost in the U.S. Doctors’ visits, for instance, can run well under $100, and other services are similarly reasonable.
In November, I was in Paris—just the latest in a long line of visits. My first night of that trip, I was invited to an international Thanksgiving celebration. The hostess, an American expat who has been in that city for many years, had made turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and had invited her international friends to join her for a celebration of gratitude. The room was full of people from all over the world—Parisians, of course, but also Australians and Venezuelans and Italians and Portuguese. The hum of languages was beautiful and unusual. And the joy of the gathering was universal.
As we move into May, the northern hemisphere continues to warm up, affording you more and more opportunities to get out and explore this weird and wonderful world. The Swiss Alpine town of Le Gruyère is renowned for its cheese, and the town celebrates this heritage with its annual cheese festival. As you’d expect, the world-famous cheese to which the town lends its name will take center stage. Unpasteurized, and still produced in the high Alps using methods honed over centuries, Gruyère cheese is known for its fruity flavor when fresh before developing a more earthy taste as it ages. You can also see traditional Swiss cheese-making techniques for yourself and explore a range of Alpine handicrafts, including exquisite crocheting and lacework. The event takes place on May 3.
Gene and Patricia have been escaping harsh Canadian winters in Cancún for about 15 years now. They are among a large number of couples who have chosen the life of a “half-pat,” preferring to spend four to six months a year in their second, much warmer, home here on the Caribbean, without committing entirely to the life of full-time expats. The Rousseaus usually leave their Canadian home in early January, enjoying about five months in Cancún before returning in late April or May, depending on the Canadian weather.
Imagine the smell of freshly-baked croissants wafting through the air, or the satisfying swallow of wine made from grapes grown just down the road. Perhaps you muse about living on a sun-drenched Mediterranean beach or tucked down a cobbled lane savoring the cosmopolitan delights of a history-rich city… A retirement in Europe is a dream for many folks. And it can easily be a reality. If it’s culture, history, and variety you’re after, Europe has it all, and at a cost much lower than you may think… Over the next few pages we explore the five best low-cost options for enjoying your perfect European retirement.
You know those moments where you see, hear, or smell a quick flash of something, and you’re suddenly reminded of another country or city that you’ve visited…a memory that fills you with an intense longing to return there? One of those moments happened to me the other day here in Paris. It was a beautiful, bright, late winter day—cold but so sunny I could feel the warm breath of spring. I was crossing a bridge, looking at the Seine river swirling below, when I was gripped with a memory of walking across a different bridge, in a different city, feeling the same cheerful anticipation of warmer weather ahead. The city I was drawn back to was Lyon in the Rhone-Alps region of southeastern France; the bridge was the Pont Bonaparte, spanning the Saone River. I had spent three days in Lyon last year in late winter, and my sudden longing to return was so intense that it surprised me.
Even though I live in Paris, I still look through my monthly issues of International Living carefully, keeping an eye out for intriguing spots in the world that make me think—“What if…?” Tempting occasionally…but when it comes down to it, I still prefer the idea of retiring in France to anywhere else. Naturally, this feeling partly comes from the fact that France has been my home for nearly 14 years, so I feel comfortable here. But comfort isn’t what makes me seriously consider spending my golden years here. What does? It comes down to four things: Practicality, beauty, location, and way of life…though not necessarily in that order.
Back in the 1980s, Terresa Murphy arrived in the City of Lights. “I came with my guitar,” she says. “I played for money in the metro to begin with, then in cafes. Then in the ’90s, after much back-and-forth between Paris and the States, I got a job at the city’s International Cinematography Festival through a friend.” But it was food that really drew Terresa’s attention. “I fell in love with French food culture, particularly the artisan approach to both ingredients and cooking. It wasn’t considered artisan at the time,” she says. “It was just the norm.”
Spiraling healthcare and insurance costs are a thing of the past for thousands of North Americans who have found their dream retirement haven abroad. If you’re still mulling your overseas options, then the availability of quality and affordable healthcare is likely a primary concern. Over the next few pages, we explore five countries hand-picked by our expat experts for the exceptionally high quality of their healthcare. All five destinations have become expat hubs, and the North Americans who now call them home—including our correspondents—can attest to the high level of care they’ve received there.
For as long as they could remember, Doug and Diane Jones’ retirement dream had been a small organic farm in the Oregon wilderness… So it came as a surprise when, nearing retirement, they realized that they were tired of working sun-up to sundown on the farm and a new and unexpected retirement dream—of living in sunny, rural, authentic southern Italy—had taken its place. “We worked most of our lives because we didn’t come from money and we had to work for it. We always spent our vacations visiting family—you know, the guilt-trip thing. We never took trips abroad. We were too poor in both vacation time and money.”
Paris has always attracted artists. It’s also justly famous for its food and markets. While it was her artist’s heart that brought Los Angeles-native Terresa Murphy to the City of Light, it was food that unlocked the funds to living there full-time. Back in the 1980’s, Terresa says, “I came with my guitar; I played for money in the metro to begin with, then in cafés. Then in the ‘90’s, after much back-and-forth between Paris and the States, I got a job at the city’s International Cinematography Festival through a friend.” But it was food that really drew Terresa’s attention. “I fell in love with French food culture, particularly the artisan approach to both ingredients and cooking. It wasn’t considered artisan at the time,” she says. “It was just the norm.”
Panama, Ecuador, Belize and France offer the best retiree benefits in the world, according to International Living’s just-released annual Global Retirement Index 2015. In a bid to entice expats, these countries have assembled attractive benefits packages, which offer huge savings for foreign retirees on everything from travel to utility bills to medication. Topping the “Retiree Benefits and Discounts” category in the Index is Panama, which offers the best incentives for retirees in the world.
It’s no surprise that many people considering a move to France are eager to know more about France’s universal health care program. The World Health Organization has recognized France as having the best overall health care system in the world. Health care costs are low, the quality of care is high, and nobody can be rejected for a pre-existing medical condition. What’s not to like? Expats usually gain eligibility for insurance benefits from the national health care system (known as Couverture Maladie Universelle or “CMU”) in either of two ways. First, you can become eligible by paying into the French social security system.
Recently, I was sitting on a French beach. The sunshine was warm on my back and bathing suit-clad locals and tourists splashed happily in the surf in front of me. A gentle sea breeze blew over the water, as couples strolled the promenade behind me with their small dogs and young children. It felt just like the middle of summer. The funny thing? It was actually November. In fact, that day, Biarritz—the French beach town where I was staying—was officially the warmest city in Europe. It beat even southern Spain and always-temperate Malta to claim the title. And everyone was celebrating the early winter sunshine with a dip in the Bay of Biscay.
Vietnam has plenty to offer expats, including some of the best beaches in Asia, an extremely warm and friendly population, low costs, wonderful weather, and cultural and natural splendor unsurpassed anywhere else in the region. From its colorful and energetic cities to its lush, tropical rainforests teeming with exotic plant and animal life, Vietnam has become a magnet for tourists and an exciting destination for adventurous expats. In this month’s cover story we guide you through some of the country’s most appealing destinations, reveal how incredibly affordable it is, and provide a quick guide to retiring here part-time…
Paris receives about 30 million visitors a year, regularly placing it among the top three most visited cities in the world and creating an opportunity for the expat entrepreneur. One business model that has low start-up costs, low operating costs, and a potentially simple structure is the tour business. Yes, there are thousands of tour businesses in Paris. But if you develop a creative, dynamic tour that builds upon a personal passion that intersects with the desires of just a fraction of the millions who visit Paris every year, you can find great success despite the competition. For some visitors, Paris is the most beautiful city on earth, and they’re yearning to see its most stunning vistas and picturesque neighborhoods. For others, it is a culinary mecca, and they’re looking to immerse themselves in the food culture. For still others, it is the capital of haute couture, and they long to explore the footsteps of Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, and Dior.
The original Riviera (from the Italian word for “seashore”) sprang up in southern France and the bordering region of Italy. Upper-crust Brits, northern Europeans, and—later—well-heeled Americans flocked here for the beach resorts, casinos, and parties. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald had a villa here in the Jazz Age, although it’s said he was a horrible party guest. The term riviera has been adopted by regions all over the world, in places where the sun, surf, and vacation vibe live on. And when we hit the new-school rivieras in the developing world, expect to get a real bang for your real estate buck.
This summer, I got an email from a stranger offering me a free stay in a gorgeous French countryside cottage. I was welcome anytime, the kind and excited woman told me, and so was my world-traveling dog, Luna. Her cottage, which was spacious and beautifully appointed, was in the Loire Valley—a part of France known for its castles and sweeping landscapes. A well-traveled friend of mine told me it was the perfect place for leisurely bike rides and warm croissants. Similarly, a month or so later, a restaurant in Italy reached out. They would love to have me come for dinner and they wanted to know if I was planning a trip to Bolzano—the intriguing Italian-German part of northern Italy—anytime soon. A few weeks after that, another restaurant, this time in my favorite European capital—Paris—sent me a fancy invitation to a VIP tasting event.
Imagine sleeping to the gentle bob of the tide or of a river current, then waking up to cast off the moor lines and set out for adventure. Or, more often, to stay at anchor, enjoying the lull of the water while having a fixed address and access to onshore services. That’s the life that houseboat living offers.
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.
Last year I traveled to nine countries. I stayed in Costa Rica for six months and Mediterranean Malta for three months. This year, I am once again dividing my time between Costa Rica and the Mediterranean…as well as visiting seven other countries. Right now, I’m in London, taking a break from the tropics and the glorious island life. My days are filled with visiting attractions like Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the London Eye…while stopping off at quaint English pubs for lunch and perhaps a beer or two. By night, I’m enjoying the buzz around Piccadilly Circus.