It was mid-December in the Mediterranean—a bright, sunny, blue-sky day, brisk and perfect for a light jacket—and I was on a quest for the best cannoli in town.
Stuart and Elizabeth have been living in France since 2008. The Loire Valley, with its lush landscapes and chateau-dotted hills, captured their hearts. Stuart and Elizabeth bought their home in the town of Amboise in 2010. They spent 2011 renovating and improving the space, and then moved in permanently at the end of that year.
It’s the country that brought us Leonardo Da Vinci, mouthwatering cuisine from pizza to pasta, enchanting art and culture, world-class fashion capitals, wine, and the very best of it, and perhaps most importantly the concept of la dolce vita (literally translated as “the sweet life”). It’s where you’ll find history-steeped Rome with its well-kept ancient monuments and food culture…Venice with its air of mystery and its famous masquerade balls…and Florence with its art and culture and vineyard-covered surroundings.
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.
Cycling a beautiful, well-loved path along the Loire River in France’s famous castle-dotted Loire Valley, it was just as stunning as everyone said…full of quiet stretches of river, beautiful stone towns, arched bridges, river birds, happy cycling families, and a surplus of castles. On this particular day, as I was cycling through a small, forested area, it started pouring down rain—and so I stopped to wait out the rain in the next town I reached: the beautiful waterfront city of Beaugency.
Rich in sunshine, vineyards, culture and cobblestones, Umbria in central Italy is where I chose to base myself a couple of winters ago. Umbria borders the tourist's favorite, Tuscany, but it's just as laidback and soaked in that ''wine-with-lunch'' Italian culture. It's the perfect place for long walks down cobbled lanes and through mist-shrouded parks, shopping for stylish Italian clothes, sipping hot cappuccinos while people-watching from cafe windows, and getting to know the diverse, international group of people living and studying in the area.
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.
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.
Picture yourself retired in Italy…spending your mornings with Italian coffee, fresh-baked bread, bright-colored melons, and a spread of soft mozzarella cheeses, tomatoes so red that you can't keep your eyes off them, and dark, rich jams—all locally made, of course.
I stumbled upon the Italian town of Biassa quite by accident while looking for rooms to rent in the famed cinque Terre— five pastel-colored towns built along the cliffs of Liguria—and I knew right away that the town would be perfect. While I love Italy in the summertime, full of laughter, sunshine, and gelato, I also crave peace and quiet, to get away from the crowds and experience something authentic, something all my own.