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.
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.
When I ﬁrst stepped foot on the pink-brick promenades that line the coast here, I immediately understood their love for this place. It’s a little closer to nature than the capital, but it’s still lively and popular, with sunny seaside walkways, busy bay-view restaurants, and distant views of fortresses, churches, and islands. More central and to the west, the walled town of Mdina and the larger city of Rabat that surrounds it are another popular spot with tourists—though the expats don’t seem to have caught on yet. Mdina is quiet and tiny, with under 300 full-time inhabitants, and Rabat is busy and lively, colorful and lived-in, with about 7,000 full-time residents, mostly Maltese.
Despite its year-round warmth, Malta still manages to have distinct seasons. Winter is mild and the days are often sunny. But it’s also decidedly green—with fields of clover and other plant life spreading out, emerald, across the cliffs and between the towns, dotted by bunches of bright white chamomile and other small flowers. In summer, the hot days drive everyone to the water, where Malta is known as a diver’s paradise.
In November, I was in Paris—just the latest in a long line of visits. My first night of that trip, I was invited to an international Thanksgiving celebration. The hostess, an American expat who has been in that city for many years, had made turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy...
For Hani and Roanne, living part-time in Europe was a long-time dream. After talking about it for many years, in 2008—on their third visit to the French Riviera—they took a spontaneous plunge. “We were on vacation and had some extra time on our hands, and we thought ‘Why not start looking at properties?’” says Hani.
For many years, Kathleen Evans and Steve Spada knew they wanted to live and retire abroad. So, they spent their free time researching locations, dreaming about the move, and even looking at real estate abroad. “Even before the internet,” Kathleen says, “we were subscribed to International Living and looking at properties when traveling overseas.” A few years ago, the couple got serious about selling their home in Austin and making a move. Kathleen had had enough of the rush and stress of the workaday life.
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.
It was the middle of January and I was on a beautiful coastal walk with the sun warming my skin and a gentle breeze cooling my face. To my left, fields of bright green clover, patches of fresh thyme and chamomile, and small stone goat sheds made from pinkish-white stones stretched up a hill. To my right, sheer cliffs dropped into the ocean, which stretched into the horizon. Behind me, a small ancient fort stood watch over the coastline. And ahead, a dusty, but well-kept path led over rocky beaches, deserted swimming areas, and clay mudslides, now dried in the sunshine. When I describe this January scene, where do you picture me? In South America, where January is summertime? In Ecuador or Hawaii, with their year-round mild climates?