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, vineyard-covered countryside, and a rivetingly beautiful coastline. Plus, outside the major cities, homes start at a mere $50,000—or less.
Expats in Italy say they love not only the art, culture, impressive architecture, world-renowned food, and easy access to the rest of Europe, but also the slower pace of life and the culture that prioritizes family and friends over work and to-do lists.
This is the very definition of the sweet life. It’s about surrounding yourself with people you love, taking the time to enjoy even the simplest things—a delicate zucchini blossom, a well-made cup of coffee, the feeling of sand between your toes—and prioritizing the important things in life.
A Slower, Simpler Italian Way of Life
Retirees report that this cultural attitude means the pace of life is slower in Italy, especially outside the main cities. They talk about long coffee breaks with Italian friends and passeggiata (strolls) through the town in the evening. One couple says that they no longer have alarm clocks in their home. Another couple adds that happiness just seems more important to the Italians.
A Surprisingly Affordable Lifestyle
These same expats report that their simpler lives in Italy come with a lower price tag than they would have expected.
In lesser-known, beautiful countryside Le Marche, one couple says their expenses are 80% cheaper than their previous life in New York. In sunny southern Calabria, another expat says a cup of coffee costs just 90 cents, a multi-course meal runs about $34 per person, and health insurance for the entire year is covered by about $230. And in Umbria—Tuscany’s pretty neighbor—one of our correspondents spent less than $2,000 in living expenses per month.
The Italian Visas That Make a Move to Italy Possible
Life in Italy sounds pretty nice…so the next question most people have is: can I do it? Is it legally and logistically possible to make the move?
And the answer is yes.
Italy offers a variety of visas for non-Italians who would like to live in the country. The one most retirees apply for is the elective residence visa, which is designed for retirees and other people who do not need to take a job in Italy. For this, you’ll need proof of financial means, a rental agreement or deed in Italy, and proof of medical insurance that covers you there. They key to this visa is proving that you don’t need to work.
And if you have Italian ancestry, you may be in even better shape. If you have a parent, grandparent, or even great-grandparent born in Italy, you may be eligible for dual citizenship.
In other words, if you’re been dreaming about a move to Italy, your dream just might be more possible than you ever imagined.
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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
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.
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.
Spring is here, and in the markets plump porcini mushrooms, chestnuts, and long, elegant brown pears are giving way to figs and basil and zucchini flowers.
Arlene Gibbs was working on a movie in production when she realized she needed a life change. When the production company she worked for closed shortly afterwards she decided it was time to leave Hollywood. “Everything in L.A. was about ‘The Business’,” she said. “Everyone I interacted with at work…at the cafes…even at the gym…was involved in the movie industry.”
You’ve just weighed anchor on another night of bliss, lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of your sailboat in the calm sea. Before you is a small cove lined by craggy cliffs. Clear blue waters end at a white-sand beach. You’ve had it all to yourself for the last week. It was supposed to be just an overnight stop. But it was so beautiful, you decided to stick around. After a quick dip, you’re enjoying a cup of coffee and a light breakfast on deck as you contemplate which island paradise you’ll go to next.
If you don’t hold a second passport yet, what’s stopping you? When you hold a second passport, a world of opportunities opens up to help you protect your finances, safeguard your privacy, and to grow your financial nest egg free from high taxes.
Whether it’s for a summer or a lifetime, Italy isn’t only for the wealthy. I first got hooked on la dolce vita when I was young and had very little cash to spare. But as I was in love with the vagabond lifestyle, relative impoverishment was no barrier to doing my own version of a Grand Tour.
Recently, I attended a conference in a college which was introduced by a seasoned media veteran. He acknowledged the advances in technology by describing the whiz-kid students in the audience as “natives of the digital world” while he described his own generation as “digital tourists.”
You have visions of rolling hills dotted with stone farmhouses, sunny piazzas and la dolce vita. A new life in Italy is alluring. That’s why I moved here eight years ago. But before you can start enjoying those sidewalk cafés and open-air markets, there are a few bureaucratic hurdles you’ll need to jump to live legally in Italy.
In the popular imagination, it’s the great capitals of Europe that get the most attention. Tourists flock to Paris, Rome, Madrid, and London for the big-city flair, museums, and monuments. It’s the thing to do. And granted, you should seize any opportunity to stroll the Champs-Élysées on a beautiful spring evening or explore London’s international cuisine and regal parks.