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
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.
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 […]
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.
As I savor coffee on a honeysuckle-scented terrace, it strikes me that Lanjarón doesn’t look at all weird. South of Granada, on the edge of Spain’s Sierra Nevada mountains, this beguiling little spa town overlooks the ruins of an old Moorish castle. Its spring-fed fountains are tiled with snippets of Federico García Lorca’s poetry. Its whitewashed houses have saintly wall shrines and balconies hung with geraniums. Its long main street is a sun-splashed jumble of florists, tapas bars, and old-fashioned stores stocked with locally produced hams and honey.
Imagine waking up in the morning and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee before heading out your back door to get breakfast. You gather eggs from your hens. Tomatoes, peppers, and herbs, all from your kitchen garden, as well as homemade goat cheese, are added for an excellent omelet. The fresh-squeezed orange juice comes from your trees. Life in the cities and suburbs of the U.S. can mean being far removed from the origins of the food we eat. If you dream of getting back to the land, you’ll find hobby farms with fertile soil, ideal growing conditions, and great locations throughout the world.
Today real estate shoppers in Spain will find good-value properties at bargain prices in three scenic mountain towns—Mijas, Ojén and Torrox—located 30 minutes from the popular resort town of Marbella. With more than 2,800 hours of sunshine a year, this region attracts travellers and expats looking to escape a harsh winter back home and save money at the same time. “A couple can live well for about $2,400 a month, including $600 in rent,” reports InternationalLiving.com editor Nazareen Heazle.
In 2010, after several years of dreaming, planning, and preparing, Betsy and Warren Talbot sold their home, packed a couple of bags, and left the U.S. on a one-way ticket with the intention of traveling the world full-time for five years. Little did they know that their five-year travel dream would become an indefinite adventure, with a sustainable location-independent income, and a lifestyle full of more freedom and better health than they could have ever imagined. Since hitting the road on that crisp October day, they have picnicked in Provence, fallen in love all over again in romantic Florence, snuck away from the crowds to write and recharge at a 300-yearold farmhouse in Portugal, hiked the 335-mile Lycian Way in Turkey, camped overnight on the ice of Antarctica, learned Spanish in Mexico, and recently bought a house in a small countryside town in the Andalucía region of Spain.
A populace that appreciates art, a local government that supports artistic endeavors, and a network of galleries to show your work…these are key ingredients for artists choosing a place to live. Surroundings that inspire creativity, whether through architecture, natural beauty, or indigenous influences, are also important. Finally, affordable accommodation and studio space are vital as well. A place where you can live well on a little income and concentrate on your work. Fortunately, even as artists get priced out of metropolises like New York City and Paris, other cities have stepped in. These havens can be found around the world. And even if you’re not a painter or sculptor, these cities are great for those who love and appreciate art…not to mention perfect places to sample new styles and snap up unusual pieces at bargain prices.
It’s no secret that Spain’s property market has been at rock-bottom the last few years, but it’s slowly starting to pick up here in Mijas. Buyers, mostly from Western Europe, are making their way back to southern Spain. They are buying with a view to retiring to the area. (Mijas already has a very international community…I met an Irish woman who runs a chocolate shop and a relocation consultant who’s originally from England.) That’s good news if you like the idea of living here. There’s a good choice of rentals at affordable prices. And, despite the return of the European snowbirds, there are still plenty of great-value properties for sale.
I love Valencia, Spain’s third-largest city. Many folks overlook its charms in favor of Madrid, Barcelona, and the Moorish cities of the south. But if I were to choose one location for full- or part-time living in Spain, I think my heart would be set on Valencia. For around $2,000 a month, including rent of a chic, centrally located apartment, I could embrace the arts, stroll the beaches, eat out often (and well), and I would be perfectly placed to explore the rest of Europe, too. Let me explain…
It’s a day for dreaming of Andalucia. So I’m letting Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain take me on a musical journey back to Granada—back to the lament of flamenco guitars, orange trees, and jasmine-scented patios with pattering fountains. On my last visit to Spain, I added a Granada side trip. Sheer indulgence as I’d been before, but it’s a city made for indulgence. De Falla’s old garden, just above the Realejo neighborhood, is laden with roses. Gardens have a long history in Spain. For the Moors, a garden symbolized an inner paradise and a reflection of heaven.
Cosmopolitan cities, glorious sunshine, delicious cuisine, and low costs—as a retirement or second-home destination, Spain is hard to beat. The southern province of Andalucia, particularly the area around the Costa del Sol is the epitome of good-value, romantic Spanish living. It has everything: long sandy beaches perfect for strolling on…romantic, white-washed hill towns cling to the Andalusian hillsides…a sunny climate where snow and even rain are a rarity…and a cost of living so affordable you’ll find it hard to believe you’re in a European country.
It’s a sun-drenched morning as I stand at a lookout point above the town of Mijas. Below me, the gleaming white buildings, with their roofs of rust-red tile, tumble down the mountainside. The pine-covered hills of the Sierra de Mijas mountain range reach up into the clear sky to my right. On my left, I can see the Costa del Sol—the Sun Coast—with the glittering Mediterranean Sea stretching to the horizon. It’s a comfortable 66 F here in Mijas, which is located in southernmost Spain. With more than 2,800 hours of sunshine a year around these parts, it’s the perfect place to escape a harsh winter back home.
At a sidewalk café in the Plaça de Sant Jaume, patrons chat over their cafés con leche or sit reading the paper, their dogs lying patiently at their feet. Trees shade this corner of the city from the summer sun, turning the café and its little square into oases of cool, civilized tranquility. Yet mere steps away is the busy Plaça de la Verge, with its government buildings, spouting fountain, and camera-toting tourists from a dozen countries. I’ve walked to Sant Jaume along the narrow streets of the ciutat vella, the old city. At practically every corner, it seems, is a plaza, a medieval building, or a row of elegant, neo-classical facades. This is one of Europe’s largest and best-preserved historic centers; it can take days to explore it all. And after you’ve done that, there are still the many modern neighborhoods to see, with their shops, museums, concert halls, parks, and chic apartment buildings.
InternationalLiving.com’s just-released Annual Global Retirement Index profiles the best destinations for good-value living around the world today. Using input from a large team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, the Index combines real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. “The world’s top retirement havens for 2015 may dot the landscape from Asia to Latin America to Europe, but they share certain assets,” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “They’re safe, offer good value, and are places you can settle with relative ease.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
Located on Spain’s popular Costa del Sol, Málaga is clean and bright, with a pedestrian-only city center and a revamped harbor. The city is brimming with museums, great dining, and plenty of shopping to suit all tastes and budgets. The best of “old” Málaga is well preserved. The city, with its miles of seashore, is cheerful and vibrant, oozing trademark Andalusian charm. Year-round the sun shines and winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January). Sea breezes blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hotter summer days. “Málaga remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. Here you can enjoy big-city life with laidback charm,” says InternationalLiving.com editor Glynna Prentice.
Stomping my feet as hard as I could, I twirled around in a frenzy, flailing my arms and yelling before coming to a standstill next to the dark haired woman in front of me. “Bien.” She clapped her hands once and then left the room. I smiled as the guitar player and other students picked up water bottles and wiped down their foreheads with small towels. I was in Seville, Spain, and having the time of my life learning to dance flamenco.
At 2,800 years old, Málaga is one of the oldest cities in the world. Founded by the Phoenicians in about 770 BCE, it’s been inhabited by half-a-dozen major civilizations since then. As a result, it offers plenty for the history buff. Just past the Roman amphitheater is the Alcazaba, the medieval Moorish quarter. And you can take a bus up to the Gibralfaro, the Moorish-era fortress sitting above the city that offers one of the best views around.
Happily, the best of the “old” Málaga remains, as well. The sun still shines, there are miles of seaside, winter temperatures are balmy (days average 63 F in January), and sea breezes still blow off the Mediterranean, cooling the hot summer days. And Málaga is still cheerful and vibrant, oozing its trademark Andalusian charm. Best of all, it remains a very Spanish city, even in the prime tourist areas. So if you enjoy big-city life with laidback charm and a side of seashore, give Málaga a whirl. You can even get by in English.
We typically see Path of Progress opportunities in places that are on the up…we usually discover distressed opportunities by finding high-quality inventory somewhere that’s broadly in crisis. It’s rare that we see the convergence of both these trends—but today that’s the opportunity we have along a stretch of Spain’s Costa del Sol. San Pedro is a pleasant sleepy Spanish town of leafy squares and pedestrian streets. Marbella is 12 minutes away (by car…25 minutes by public bus).
As an antiques enthusiast, I like to ask dealers with different areas of expertise what’s hot and what’s not. A Spanish buff told me recently that Spanish Civil War memorabilia, once considered inappropriate and politically embarrassing, has now become collectible. Spain doesn’t have a great tradition of preserving reminders from its recent past. The Civil War was a complex and tragic period in the country’s history that divided families and set brother against brother.
Twenty years ago, when I first visited Málaga, it was the ugly stepsister of Spain’s Costa del Sol: a little scruffy and down-at-heels (though with gloriously sunny weather and a seaside location). So it was pure pleasure to return last summer and find it transformed into a Cinderella: one of Spain’s most livable—and affordable—cities for coastal living. Today’s Málaga is clean and bright, with a pedestrian-only city center and a revamped harbor area that is a joy to stroll. The city is brimming with museums, great dining, and plenty of shopping to suit all tastes and budgets.