Picture a sun-drenched, white-washed house with a shady courtyard, perched on a cliff-top site in Spain. With the deep blue sea beyond, and an olive grove nearby, it’s the stuff of which fantasies are made.
Beaches…mountains…fabulous cities…colorful festivals, and, of course, sunshine almost everyplace. It’s not surprising that Spain is the most popular country for Europeans seeking a home overseas. Now North Americans, too, are starting to see the allure of Spain for laidback yet cultured European life.
Western Europe’s second-largest country (just slightly smaller than France), Spain offers fantastic variety in terrain, culture, and lifestyle. To start with, Spain has nearly 3,100 miles of coastline, and much of it is beach. In Northwest Spain, the hills are green, the climate is humid and mild (much like Oregon), and the coast is the chilly but dramatic Bay of Biscay. Spain’s eastern coast and part of the south border the warm waters of the Mediterranean, while the far-western reaches down south look out on the Atlantic. All the coastal areas have relatively temperate climates…cooler in the north, hotter in the south, but generally with only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit between average highs and average lows year-round.
Looking for culture? Spain has a rich, millennial history. The Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs all settled here and left ample remains, language, and customs. Walk in the steps of sultans at Granada’s Alhambra, take the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, or gaze on Segovia’s mighty Roman aqueduct, over 2,000 years old… You’ll find plenty of cities in Spain, large and small, which merit exploration.
And, thanks to rapid public transportation, it’s easy to get around Spain. High-speed and suburban train lines connect many cities, and bus routes crisscross the country. You can get from Madrid to destinations on the southern coast in three to four hours, to Valencia in two, and up to Barcelona in about three. In addition to the large airports in Madrid and Barcelona, smaller airports around the country—served by discount airlines as well as the major carriers—connect Spain with the rest of Europe.
This is First-World Europe, after all. You’ll find modern services, efficient transport, and excellent medical care. You’ll also find a lively, outgoing lifestyle and some of the best food and wine around. In Spain, life is meant to be enjoyed, and hanging out is an art. And, even better, it all comes at an affordable price: Spain has one of the lowest costs of living in Europe. So if you’ve ever dreamed of a romantic, affordable European lifestyle, take a look at Spain.
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- Population: 47,370,542
- Capital City: Madrid
- Climate: Temperate; clear, hot summers in interior, more moderate and cloudy along coast; cloudy, cold winters in interior, partly cloudy and cool along coast
- Time Zone: UTC+1
- Language: Spanish
- Country Code: 34
In 2004 Karen McCann, now 63, and her husband Rich, 71, embarked on a year-long adventure in southern Spain. The newly retired couple had always loved the idea of living overseas, so they decided to try it for a year, making a home for themselves in sunny Seville.
“We got here, and it was like, ‘Oh my God, we really like this,’” says Karen. “It’s so much like California—the weather, the Spanish speakers, the palm trees. We were comfortable with the whole atmosphere.
Now that January is bringing lots of cold, snowy weather, some friends in the U.S. are saying that one of their goals for 2016 is to get away to someplace warm…soon. My suggestion: Head to southern Spain, to sunny Jerez de la Frontera. It’s warm, colorful, exciting, and—thanks to the current low euro—very affordable.
Rich in history, culture, and romance, Europe has long had a strong appeal for North American retirees. But many people who would love to retire to the Old World fret that it’s beyond their budget. And while Europe on the whole is more expensive than Latin America or Asia, that’s not to say that there aren’t countries here where a more affordable retirement can be found—without sacrificing the Old-World romance you crave.
Retiring abroad is easier and more affordable than ever before. These days it really is possible to spend your days relaxing beneath palm fronds on a Caribbean beach, enjoying farm-fresh produce in a mountain haven with year-round spring weather, or wandering the storied streets of a historic and cultured European city…or all of the above. But with so many choices available, finding the right one can seem daunting.
As an American expat, I like having a home in Berlin…but I also like being able to leave it when the desire strikes. Cold weather is not my friend. I’d prefer to spend my winters someplace warm, so I escape the chill Germany experiences from November through March. Since my work lets me be almost anywhere I want—as long as there’s a good internet connection—this is when I head south.
“Would you like to…take my fiancé?” My student looked at me for approval and despite my best efforts, a giggle escaped. I apologized and explained what “would you like to take my fiancé” means…versus, “would you like to meet my fiancé.” He laughed at his mistake.
ying at the heart of sunny Andalucía, Seville is one of southern Spain’s most beautiful cities. Waves of conquerors, from the Romans to the Moors, have left their stamp on its spectacular architecture. Thousands of tapas bars line the streets, and the warm Spanish sun nurtures parks full of palm trees.
A warm, clear blue-green sea lapping long, sandy beaches… Families eating and laughing together over slow, relaxed dinners with lashings of good food and even better wine… If you’ve ever watched a movie set in the Mediterranean, you might believe the region is solely a playground for the rich—the romping ground of Hollywood starlets like Brigitte Bardot. Scratch the surface and you’ll discover that is definitely not the case—an adventure in the Mediterranean could be yours for less than you might think.
Towering sand dunes, an expansive, golden-sand beach that goes on for miles, kite-surfers battling the strong, but warm, Atlantic wind…although Spain’s tourist hub of Marbella is just 63 miles to the east, here at Punta Paloma it feels a world away. It’s a sunny Saturday in early September as I stroll along this beautiful beach, looking for a spot to lay down my beach towel. But I’m not pushing my way through thronging crowds of sun worshippers to claim my little piece of sand.
Coming from Los Angeles, a bustling city that moves at breakneck speed, to a cave house in a village with less than 1,500 people in Spain’s southeastern region of Andalusia was quite a shock. I traded in being kept awake at night by police helicopters shining spotlights arbitrarily into my windows and the smoggy skyline of downtown L.A., for a much slower pace of life and clear views of the peaceful Sagra mountain range that surrounds my new hometown of Galera.
The Golden Age of Europe’s royal houses may be long over, but the Old world beach resorts where the continent’s aristocracy summered still cling to a fin de siècle grandeur… In these spots, you can enjoy urban luxuries as fine as the enticing, sandy beaches. Biarritz, on the southwest French coast, has attracted European royalty and jet-setters ever since Napoleon III and his Spanish-born empress, Eugénie, built a palace there in 1854.
For affordable European living, it’s hard to beat Spain these days. It’s always been one of my favorite countries—a place I return to over and over, thanks to its enjoyable, laidback lifestyle; the great food; warm, sunny weather; beautiful beaches; and rich culture. Whether I’m looking to sit at a seaside cafe enjoying a meal and a drink, stroll a historic city by night, or relish a world-class museum, Spain delivers.
An argument with a girlfriend was how I ended up in Spain. Having set sail on a cruise ship from Genoa, Italy, and following a tour of the Canary Islands, we were on our way home, and docked in Spain’s southern port city of Malaga. In a moment of stubbornness, and after being told there was no other berth for me to move in to, I packed up all my worldly belongings and walked off the boat. My Spanish life had begun…and it was probably the best decision of my life.
The short stretch of coast you find south of Barcelona is called the Costa del Garraf. Here you’ll find a string of three small towns that offer upscale amenities, relaxed living, easy access to Barcelona, and great-value real estate…
The Romans’ influence stretches down the millennia into architecture, literature, theater, warfare, politics… They are a pillar upon which Western civilization is built. At its height, the Roman Empire held sway over much of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. Its borders expanded over the centuries as the Romans took new lands… or shrunk in the face of barbarian hordes that invaded as the empire declined.
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.
Trailing in the footsteps of tragic poets is one of my favorite pastimes. So after reading the words of a letter sent by Spain’s best-known poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, I had to visit Lanjaron. Lorca and a host of writers, musicians, and intellectuals spent the summers of the 1920s in this Andalusian spa town.
It’s past midnight on yet another balmy evening and Barry Ogden and Karen Taylor are strolling home along the beach after a spontaneous gathering of friends at a café. When they first moved to Altea, Spain, last March, they were usually home in the early evening but they’ve now adapted to the Spanish way of life…often staying out late unintentionally.
For millions of folks, golf satisfies something in the soul: hitting that one pure shot…breathing fresh air…and walking an immaculate course…the fast friendships forged on the fairway (and in the clubhouse bar). The game we know today has its origins in Scotland in the 15th century. popularized by British royalty, it soon spread throughout Europe and beyond.
Sunshine…that’s what I went to Spain seeking this spring: sunshine, warmth, and a reprieve from the chill of winter. And where better to escape to than the sunniest option on mainland Europe…Spain. So I spent April (and a tiny bit of May) in the mid-sized Spanish city of Toledo—an ancient walled city on a hill, half surrounded by a river, and just 30 minutes from Madrid.
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.
Sitting down to write at the brightly-colored Mexican tile table on my patio, I let my eyes rest on the back garden… giant ferns…red geraniums in glazed green urns…and a stone fountain where goldfish swim and lilies bloom. The front garden is just as luxurious, with sweet-smelling jasmine climbing the wall and a central fountain providing night music.
Playing with language should be enjoyable. After all, it’s a hobby not a chore. And that’s exactly how I approach teaching Spanish. You can dabble in it or get serious about it but you should always be enjoying yourself. For instance, I paint pictures in my spare time, but I don’t want to go to art school and become a renowned artist. I just want to dabble with my paints for the pleasure of it.
I live on a Spanish island where the pace is relaxed and life is blissfully simple. In summer, I wake up early before the heat of the day sets in and head to the coast for my daily swim followed by a coffee at a beach bar. In winter I switch things around, taking long walks in the afternoons, and working once the light fades.
Climbing ever higher up the Poqueira Gorge, three of the loveliest Alpujarran villages are Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileira. They’re designated as a Site of Historical and Artistic Heritage, so for those day-tripping from Granada city, the trio make a good Alpujarran taster. Although they’re tourist-oriented, there’s nothing tacky about delights such as freshly-baked almond pastries, weaving studios, and jams made from mountain raspberries.
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.
Sherry production, horse-breeding, and flamenco…those are the three things Jerez de la Frontera does best. But after recently spending a month in this authentically Andalusian city, I think it should also be known for its low cost of living. Just a 10-minute drive inland from Spain’s southern Atlantic coast, Jerez has plenty of authentic Spanish charm combined with a comfortable, First World lifestyle. The historic center, with its cobbled streets, medieval monuments, and 18th-century buildings is compact and packed with plenty of cafes, bars, and stores. This was where I rented an apartment, so almost everyplace I wanted to visit—monuments, museums, and sherry bodegas—was within a 10- to 15-minute walk of my building. And that building was an 18th-century palace, with marble floors and a peaceful central courtyard. I paid just $800 a month for my furnished, one-bedroom apartment.
I’ve always been fascinated by Spain, with its unhurried pace…warm people…and colorful history. So a year ago I spent several months traveling from the medieval villages of Girona in the northeast, down to the windswept beaches and emerging surf towns of the southwest.
Cost of living in Spain is low, even in the cities. Leaving aside rent or mortgage payments—and depending on your lifestyle—a couple could easily live on $18,000 to $22,000 per year and still eat out regularly. Once you know where to go, a meal for two with wine or beer can cost as little as $22. For the best value, choose the lunchtime menú del día (the menu of the day). In most places, the menú del día usually costs between $10 and $18 and normally includes a beverage (which can be beer or wine).
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.
It’s 10 a.m. in the morning and I’m strolling a nearly-deserted beach. A few people walk their dogs along the boardwalk, or paseo marítimo, while joggers pass them at a steady, even pace. I’m wearing only a light sweater over my sleeveless top, and within an hour I’ll shed it, as temperatures rise to a pleasant mid-70s F. By afternoon, sunbathers will dot this long beach, a few hardy souls even swimming the still-chilly waters of the Guadalquivir River. More will enjoy al fresco meals at the many water-side restaurants, their faces tilting toward the sun as they enjoy freshly-caught seafood and the region’s crisp white wines.
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.
It’s Wednesday, so it must be Zumba today, followed by lunch or drinks with a friend, and then salsa classes. This is a taster of my new, highly affordable, fun, stress-free retirement in the seaside town of Altea, Spain. A stark contrast to the money-driven and stressful life I led back in the U.S.
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.
For years I dreamed of leaving the stressful rat race of working life behind and ﬁnding my own Eden where I could retire in peace. And in 2014 I ﬁnally did just that. I discovered a highly affordable, fun, and stress- free retirement in the seaside Spanish town of Altea. When I told people I was going to abandon my career as a forensic psychologist in California and leave the San Luis Obispo area to move to Spain, I got one of two reactions: They either thought I was nuts or they were envious.
Spain’s best beaches are hidden amongst pristine nature preserves, ancient pine forests, and historic cities that span civilizations. They have been discovered only by a small number of surfers, locals, and hippies. Now, thanks to a special distressed situation, you can buy in this undiscovered Spain for as little as one-third of what it used to cost.
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.
Mexico’s Riviera Maya runs south of Cancun to Tulúm. The sand is white…and the water, turquoise. In the jungle, you’ll find Maya ruins. Offshore, the world’s second-longest coral reef is home to brightly colored fish. The biosphere at Sian Ka’an is a great place to hike, kayak, and study nature. The coral reef offshore attracts divers and snorkelers. Golf, hiking, spelunking in ancient caves…it’s all here. Tulúm is, and will stay, boutique. The Sian Ka’an biosphere means that much of the land is protected. Development will be low rise and low density—that’s if and where it’s permitted. Yet, amazingly, you’re just a 90-minute drive to the airport and two hours in the air to the U.S.
I live an idyllic life on a Spanish island, named Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa. Here, the temperatures are between 70 F and 85 F all year round, with 350 days of sun. I am surrounded by beautiful, white-sand beaches and I get to surf the waves every day. This is the ideal base for me. And in just four hours I can be back in Central Europe, where I do a lot of my “work.” As a travel videographer being on the road is just like being a tourist with a list of attractions to visit, the only difference being that I am getting paid for it. In fact, I can get paid up to $4,000 or more per trip by making short videos for tourist boards, hotels, tour companies, spas, and anyone looking to promote a tourist attraction on a website.
In the early and mid-2000s, Europe’s real estate markets embarked on a massive tear. People re-financed, often to buy a vacation home or make a speculative investment in Europe’s sunnier locales. Values rose and rose…until everything stopped. The market imploded and real estate owners found themselves deeply under water. By 2009, with a few exceptions, Europe’s real estate markets had halted. Transactions simply stopped. The gulf between sellers’ expectations and what buyers were willing to pay was so great that there was nowhere for them to meet. Now markets are moving again. And in four countries in particular—Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain—I see opportunity today. An added plus is the current strength of the U.S. dollar. At time of writing, your U.S. dollar buys you 24% more euros than it did in March 2014. Now, I’m not a currency guy, and I’m certainly not making a call on future euro-dollar exchange rates, but it makes European opportunities all the more attractive right now.