La Dolce Vita Means “The Sweet Life...” and Life Gets no Sweeter Than in Sunny Italy
Italy has a staggering amount to offer travelers...and residents. Romantic cities. Timeless hill towns. Snowy mountains, idyllic islands, and a rivetingly beautiful coastline. Plus, outside the major cities, homes start at a mere $50,000—or less.
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- Population: 61,482,297
- Capital City: Rome
- Climate: Predominantly Mediterranean; Alpine in far north; hot, dry in south
- Time Zone: GMT+1
- Language: Italian
- Country Code: 39
- Location: Southern Europe, a peninsula extending into the central Mediterranean Sea
With its glorious sun-drenched beaches, abundant historical sites, quaint mountain villages and cosmopolitan cities, Italy has a huge variety of lifestyles to offer retirees. But many aspiring expats are unaware of how stunningly affordable this country can be; if you know where to look, you can rent here for under $450, while a filling meal (with wine) will set you back just $13. And it’s not just in Italy where you can find affordable European living. In this month’s cover story, we explore five low-cost countries in Europe where you can enjoy the retirement of your dreams. All of these destinations boast a great climate, terrific healthcare, a wealth of cultural treasures for you to explore and costs low enough to live a comfortable life for less. In some of these places, you can live for under $2,000 a month all told.
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.
Here’s a novel idea: What if parents, guidance counselors, and college career advisors had focused less on what you wanted to be when you grew up and spent more time helping you decide how you wanted to feel when you grow up? I call it the Life First – Work Second approach to career planning. It’s why I begin every business idea generation session with the same simple question: What do you want your life to look like?
There’s a statue in Rome whose history is of feuding artists.
The fountain—called The Fountain of Four Rivers—is located in the famous Piazza Navona. When it was commissioned by the pope in 1651, the story goes that the project was first given to an artist named Borromini and then stolen away by his arch nemesis, a man named Bernini.
The fountain features four god-like statues that represent the four great known rivers of that time—the Nile, the Ganges, the Danube, and the Rio de la Plata. And all four of the statues seem to be turning away from the baroque Sant’Agnese church across the street…a church designed by that rival artist, Borromini.
They say the gorgeous fountain’s design is a result of the bitter rivalry. Of course, a little research shows that this is actually a myth.
There aren’t many places that can hold a candle to the romance of Italian life. Each time I go back to Italy, there’s somewhere new to fall in love with. But my most recent visit rekindled an old love—the region of Puglia, in the country’s deep south. I first came to Puglia in the early 1980s, before anybody outside of Italy, bar a lucky few, had even heard of it. With much lower costs than northern and central Italy, prices in Puglia will astound you. I found bars with coffee for 50 cents…pizzerias where you can sit down and tuck into a full-size pizza for $5. And if you thought that a fabulous fish dinner with wine for $20 was the stuff of imagination, think again.
It was a lovely fall day as we strolled through Radda in Chianti, a beautiful walled medieval town in Tuscany. Seeing an ATM across the road, I decided to top up my supply of euros. Now, millions of people every day who are living or traveling abroad use a debit card from their native country to withdraw cash. But my card is truly international.
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.
What’s the first place you think of when Italy is mentioned? Chances are it’s not Apulia (Puglia, in Italian), the region that forms the heel of the Italian boot. But after visiting the region last year, I want to sing its praises from the rooftops of so many places. Ostuni…Gallipoli…Martina Franca. As for lovely Lecce, with its baroque buildings of creamy golden stone and gloriously flamboyant carvings, I didn’t want to leave. Singing from the rooftops of Apulia’s fairytale trulli homes would be physically difficult—these beehive-shaped rural houses are topped by peculiar conical domes—but you get what I mean.
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.”
I still remember the day that my plane first touched down in Italy nine years ago. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement, and everything—even the simple train ride into the city—was beautiful to me. And I had the fleeting thought that perhaps I should have studied Italian instead of Spanish for the last few years. But I quickly learned that Spanish was even more widely understood than English here—both because many of the Italians I met spoke Spanish very well and because many of the words in Spanish are similar to, or even the same, as the Italian word for the same thing.
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…
When I think about my winter in Italy, I think of cobblestone alleyways sparkling with rain, mist-shrouded cathedrals in the “hill country,” days spent with tourist attractions almost all to myself, and a pleasant chill in the air—cool, but not too cold. I based myself, during my five winter weeks in Italy, in the mid-sized university town of Perugia, which is the capital of Umbria, Tuscany’s lesser known but just-as-lovely neighbor. It’s a place of rolling hills, world-famous wines, and postcard-perfect mountain towns. Because Umbria is nestled in between Tuscany (where you will, of course, find pretty, popular Florence, as well as a sunflower-dotted countryside that has inspired writers, artists, and tourists alike) and Lazio (the region that houses historic, grandiose Rome), it was the perfect place to do a little exploring.
As North Americans, we have a few myths about Italy. We think of Italian men as Casanovas: handsome, suave, and maybe a little dangerous. We think that every Italian woman is sexy, self-assured, and passionate. We imagine that all Italians are loud, passionate people with hot tempers and strong opinions… And we believe that all Italian food tastes amazing. So when we arrive for that first time in Italy and stumble into a random osteria in Rome or a little café in Florence, we expect the best of the best. We expect to be transported in ecstasy through a taste experience unlike any we’ve had before.
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.
A view, good-value real estate, low cost of living, friendly locals…they’re all important as you search for a new community to settle in abroad. But if you have a green thumb, you may have some special requirements for your dream home. You’ll need good soil and the right light. Maybe you want multiple growing seasons, which is possible in some tropical areas.
Italy is home to the Cittaslow movement which combines “Slow Food” with the art of leisurely good living. As delectable dining is one of the great joys of Italy, make time to discover at least one or two of the network’s 70 small towns. Most Cittaslow communities come with historic treasures, but the big attraction is their strong sense of identity and spirit of place. To be accredited, they must have less than 50,000 inhabitants. With an emphasis on regional recipes, traditional agricultural practices and seasonal local produce, it’s an authentic taste of Italy guaranteed to make your tastebuds zing. Here are four inland and coastal gems to whet your appetite.
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.
I’ve made a lot of money from e-book publishing…which I think would come as a surprise to my college English professor who gave me an ‘F’ in her course. But you don’t have to be a writer to make money in this marketplace. I’ve published almost 50 books written by others. Some were books I took from the public domain, which means I didn’t pay for them, and some were written by ghostwriters I hired for little more than the cost of a great night out.
Before moving to Italy, Georgette Jupe had what many would consider a glamorous life: She was living in star-studded Los Angeles, working in public relations, and rubbing elbows with the B-list celebrities that her firm represented. She had a good, steady, lucrative job. And who doesn’t want to live in sunny, coveted southern California? To the untrained eye, Georgette had it all. But secretly, she was missing Italy— where she’d spent one beautiful year studying abroad in pretty Florence back in her college days.
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.
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?
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.
My next trip is Las Vegas. No complaints—I’m one of those sinners who enjoys Sin City. The trip is for an International Living conference where I’ll speak on Italy and its sweet life. I’m not wearing my travel-writing hat for this conference, but I’ve visited Italy so many times—at least 20—I’ve gained a great insight into places unknown to the tourist hordes.
Like so many from the U.S., when I daydream about traveling through Europe, I always imagine myself on a train: speeding quietly through the countryside, over the mountain passes, past charming, ancient towns, or along the shores of a massive glacial lake. Other forms of transportation—with their two-hour pre-flight check-ins, their bumpy, uncomfortable buses, and their too-close-for-comfort seating arrangements—always feel like a hassle.
The aroma of freshly-brewed cappuccino is an essential ingredient of the Italian morning. While this morning delicacy can be enjoyed anywhere in Italy, a quiet café in a small Umbrian town provides an opportunity to truly savor la dolce vita—the sweet life. Tucked away in the southwest corner of Umbria and exuding the same Italian charm of nearby Tuscan towns, Orvieto is a wonderful alternative to its more famous and sometimes overly pretentious neighbors.
Every day in my travel research I come across the terms “hidden gem,” “off the beaten path,” “unspoiled, authentic, undiscovered…” The Dordogne region of France is the only place I have been to date where it is actually true. Castles sit like crown jewels along the river banks. My family and I often found ourselves beating our own path through the oak forests toward the river bank.
Optimism and purpose, a low stress level, a natural diet and an active lifestyle…experts say those factors are three times as important as your genetic makeup when it comes to enjoying a long and healthy life. Luckily, it’s easy to embrace those elements when you’re living in a place where they come naturally. And they do in our top picks for the world’s healthiest places to live.
Pundits are divided on whether Spain’s property market will see further price falls. A huge overhang of unsold homes remains, but for the first time in seven years, sales in Málaga province showed an increase in 2013. Spain will always be a popular retirement destination for northern Europeans, and the number of U.S. citizens registered as living in Spain has increased, too.
In the summertime, socialites, celebrities, and tourists like to drop anchor in Portofino, Italy, to enjoy the picturesque coast of the Italian Riviera. One summer night, several years ago, I dropped half a month’s salary to stay at a posh resort, overlooking the harbor there…but ultimately got reimbursed for it. At home, I had a job working for a museum that didn’t pay well.
If you dream of life among rolling hills dotted with stone farmhouses and patchwork views of cultivated fields, sunflowers, olives groves, and grapevines, Le Marche is the place. There are no large cities; the biggest is Ancona, the regional capital, with about 100,000 people. Towns here are on a human scale, often small enough to get around on foot, by bike, or scooter. Most are large enough to have shops, restaurants, cultural attractions, and services, yet remain small enough to be personal and engaging.
Le Marche is a land of rolling hills topped with traditional stone farmhouses, honey-colored villages seemingly untouched since the Middle Ages, and farm-to-fork cuisine served up in rustic trattorias, where a meal will cost you as little as $7.
As I walk across the sunny piazza I think how easy it is to feel at home in Ascoli Piceno. I’m still blurry-eyed when I arrive at the coffee bar, but without my having to say a word, a frothy cappuccino is placed before me, followed by a cornetto filled with a dab of sweet almond paste. The barista, Giuliano, smiles broadly and then chats about the happenings in the neighborhood.
I’m sitting at a pastel green table on one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas watching people parading to and fro for an evening stroll. Children scamper away from their parents, a group of elderly gents stand in the middle talking politics, and young couples, coiffed and stylish, stroll about greeting friends and meeting for drinks. The waiter arranges a glass of chilled wine and a plate of nibbles in front of me and I sigh contentedly.
Liz Carlson has raced sailboats in Italy, explored the Greek Islands by scooter…floated in the Dead Sea…ridden donkeys in Jordan…road tripped around Iceland…and slept in 15th-century Tuscan farmhouses. And that’s all in the past year alone.
In late March of this year, I was sitting at the dining table at a friend’s house in Glasgow, Scotland, where I was visiting for a couple of weeks after leaving Costa Rica and enjoying a short four-day stop-over in London.
Atlantic beach towns that take you back in time…a foodie’s paradise in Southeast Asia where dim sum stalls beckon…an arts-rich bohemian haven in South America full of cafés and concerts… All over the planet you’ll find hidden gems like these—spots that rarely, if ever, earn even a passing mention in the popular press. It’s not surprising. Almost no publications bother to keep outposts abroad anymore. The quality and scope of international news coverage—and our understanding of and empathy for the world—has suffered for it.
Make your way to the Italian city of Siena for Il Palio on July 2 and witness 10 bareback riders charge through the streets as part of an ancient religious tradition. The Corteo Storico pageant precedes the race and celebrations go on long after the winner has passed the post.
What’s not to love about cultural riches and cobbled charms? Throughout most of Europe, the property market remains in the doldrums, which means you can find bargains. From the Atlantic to the Mediterranean…from Ireland to Greece, there’s a tempting array of move-into properties that will leave you change from €100,000 ($137,000).
With so much to see in Italy, many travelers overlook the country’s beautiful gardens and lose out on a special experience as a result. For these are no ordinary, peaceful patches of green; they are often reflections of artistic expression with exotic designs and formal layouts. The best-known gardens are the elegant, noble estates of Villa d’Este near Rome, the Royal Palace of Caserta close to Naples, and the Boboli Gardens in Florence, but there are other—secret—gardens to explore…
It’s called the “Old World” for a reason, and despite two world wars and decades of development, history is evident in the architecture of Europe. You can stroll cobbled streets where lords and ladies once rushed to galas, climb castle steps in the footsteps of armored knights, and explore villages preserved for 500 years or more.