Something that seems to be universal among International Living subscribers is that you really don’t want to shovel snow. Ever again.
And we acknowledge that. It’s an understandable aspiration. And while it’s possible to learn to endure months of sub-freezing temperatures every year, it really is a drain on anyone’s physical and mental energy. No wonder, then, that so many of us spend the winter months dreaming of Koh Samui, or Corozal, or Cancún.
But what about those of us who don’t love the heat and humidity of the tropics? Sure, you may not love shoveling snow, but when readers talk to us at conferences, or send emails to us at the magazine, a significant number of you say something along the lines of “I’d love to move abroad, but I’d just miss seasons too much.” Well, the truth is, you don’t have to leave them behind.
Each of the locations in this article comes with four seasons, and, for the potential expat who just can’t stand the thought of leaving behind the exuberant joy of spring, the heady long days of summer, the russet harvest abundance of fall, or the quiet calm of clear, cool winter days, the news is good.
The joy of relocation is largely in the fact that it gives you the chance to reset your life to one which suits you. And, judging by the conversations we have with International Living subscribers at conferences and screenings, a place with a more gentle annual rhythm and the full spectrum of seasonal colors, flavors, and weather conditions is exactly what a lot of you crave. So this month, we’ve searched the globe for a sampling of locations where you can enjoy the full turn of a year’s wheel. They might surprise you.
Springtime in Italy
By Valerie Fortney-Schneider
The lengthening days and unabashed sunshine mean I can sit on my balcony with my morning cappuccino. I still need a jacket at that hour, but the fog that holds to the folds of the hills rises from the river valley, moving like ocean waves slapping at the land while the stronger light burns it off before it advances. It’s like a tidal dance. The hills are a brilliant Ireland-worthy green as the winter wheat matures. The sounds of sheep bells and tractors signal the season—there is work to be done now after the winter lull.
Like most places, spring in Italy is a reawakening. Most of the country still lives according to the seasons, and in my rural region of Basilicata it is especially noted. Now that winter rain is giving way to warmer days, there are construction sounds and farming chores, as sure and seasonal as the flowers that pop up gaily in fields and along the roads. This is the time of scarlet-swiped hills of poppies and lavender-hued hyacinths that here are prized as lampascioni; the bulbs are harvested and eaten fried, roasted with lamb, or cooked in wine and jarred in olive oil.
Daily life in Italy is measured and calm.
It was these simpler and seasonal rhythms of life that drew my husband and me to Basilicata, in Italy’s south. Here, daily life is measured and calm, and the cost of living is, too. Our monthly budget hovers at $2,000; properties can be downright bargains starting from $24,000 for a small home, and entertainment tends to be free (or close to it): a meet-up in the piazza, a food festival or annual event, a stroll along the quiet country lanes to forage.
Foraging in spring is a pattern. Any time of day a drive or a walk brings us upon older gents with baskets or small groups heading off to their secret spots. They don’t like to divulge where they got those cardoncelli mushrooms; when I ask, they will usually respond with an arm wave to indicate, “Oh around, here and there.”
We were luckier with asparagus hunting. A friend took us to a spot near the river and pointed out the tell-tale strands to look for. Even still, they are wily prey to find, hiding in plain sight, so our outings result in small handfuls rather than large bundles like our friends’. Still, it is enough for a spaghetti agli asparagi lunch or a frittata. It’s about getting out and enjoying the sunshine and warmer days while still having a goal. In Italy, it is all about food; even a country stroll.
In addition to asparagus, this is the season of tender artichokes, sunny apricots, and new potatoes, along with strawberries. Oh, the strawberries! They are grown on the Metaponto plain about an hour from us and are juicy and fragrant and fresh. So fresh that we have to eat them immediately or risk losing the basket of them; things here are picked to be eaten at its best, not set aside for later. I prepare shortcakes and a killer strawberry tiramisu, but honestly my favorite thing is to just eat them plain. They don’t even need a dusting of sugar.
Then there are fava beans, tender and ready to eat from the pod, paired traditionally with a bite of fresh pecorino cheese. The cheese, I learned, has a season as well, and fresh milky-tasting pecorino is a springtime treat. So is the fresh ricotta, creamy as a cloud and almost sweet—ready for a cheesecake-type dessert called crostata pasquale. Or for lasagna. Both dishes are traditional Easter treats.
Easter, or Pasqua, is a big deal in the south where elaborate Holy Week processions are a combination of religious devotion and open-air theater. The Via Crucis re-enactments in full regalia are something to behold, and they draw crowds from surrounding regions and from northern Italy. But it is Pasquetta that is just as popular; the day after Easter, also a holiday, and one that takes everyone into the countryside for a picnic.
One of the hallmark foods of Pasquetta is a frittata sandwich, using spring eggs. Here, they like a grating of fresh horseradish root in the frittata for a bit of kick and tuck it between slabs of wood-oven baked bread. With fresh strawberries, slices of local salami, and that pecorino cheese, the picnic is a simple to-go meal to be enjoyed in an olive grove or alpine meadow.
These are the simple traditions that mark the emergence from winter’s sleepiness. It is when bursts of glittering rain catch the light and cast rainbows, when foods change with the season and bring welcome new ingredients at just the right time, and when the townspeople emerge to meet again in the streets for a chat or at the newly arranged piazza tables for a pre-dinner drink with eager anticipation of more social gatherings to come.
Spring in Italy is full of new vigor and old, dependable rhythms.
Summer in Ireland
By Seán Keenan
Down at the bottom-right of Ireland is a cluster of counties around a right-angle of sandy coast. Ireland’s tourism board optimistically calls the region the Sunny South East, but be warned, this isn’t Key West or Venice Beach. The weather is significantly dryer than over on the western Atlantic coast, but that doesn’t mean it’s arid. Anything but.
Summer is a precious time to store up vigor.
But summer in Ireland isn’t about the weather, it’s about the light. Getting on for 20 hours of it per day, if you head up to the north coast. And with that abundance of brightness comes a change in behavior. Ireland moves outdoors, to beaches, piers, rivers, mountains, street terraces, beer gardens, and playing fields. It’s a transformation—a population energized and aware that the summer is a precious time in which to store up vigor and ebullience to see it through the winter months.
That same urgency is obvious in the look of the country itself. Practically anything that can bloom or blossom does so between May and August, meaning that those patchwork fields you flew over on the way in are not simply hedged with green, but are instead bounded by hawthorn in full cream bloom, sprinkled with sprays of indigo foxgloves, deep orange fire lilies, jaunty yellow dandelions, and—the queen of all flowers—the elegant magenta/purple twist that is Fuchsia magellanica.
If you’re not familiar with this plant, I urge you to look it up. A Chinese lantern of waxy pink sepals, wrapped with inner petals and exuberant hanging stamens, it is the quintessence of a gaudy tropical bloom such as frangipani or bromeliad, and yet it thrives with such abundance in south and central Ireland that it’s used as a means of keeping sheep and cows in their fields.
True, the fall in road traffic seen in 2020’s spring months saw the resurgence of some genuinely rare wildflowers—bee orchids were recorded in the town of Middleton, Cork this year in vastly increased numbers—but it is the “common” fuchsia that will always make my head turn in Ireland’s summer months.
Fleeting though it may be, summer in Ireland is not the Gore-Tex wilderness adventure you might imagine. Those are there if you want them. Sea kayaking around the caves, beaches, and harbors of the Inishowen Peninsula at the very northern tip of the country, or catching waves on the gentle sand bottom shores of Inch Bay right down in the south-west, are options for those who like to get into the sea.
Stiff hikes in the mountain ranges that stud the south and west of the country aren’t the type of sheer-wall glacier adventures to test committed alpinists, but they make up for that with swathes of purple heather, glorious views, and the remnants of an ancient past—from prehistoric stone circles and megaliths through 13th-century Norman castles and keeps, to Victorian-era thatched cottages—always adding an element of human interest to a landscape which, although it appears untamed and wild, bears the markings of a place which has been settled for at least 10 millennia.
And for those who choose to explore the interior of this gentle country, the Shannon-Erne Waterway threads a navigable channel right through Ireland’s heartland, in a roughly diagonal line from northeast to southwest. Barring an inevitable bump or two against a lock gate or wharf, it’s a sedate, timeless experience through rolling pastures teeming with birdlife, waterside pubs, lakeside castles, and busy market towns. Cabin cruisers are available to rent, no experience necessary and all training provided. It ranks among the world’s finest journeys and is the quintessence of an Irish summer rolled into a week’s lazy meandering on gentle waters.
Rain? Yes, you will be rained upon during a summer in Ireland. Depending on where you base yourself, it can happen every day during May, June, July, and August. Particularly on that spectacular Atlantic coast, where humid sea air hits 3,000-foot mountains and dumps Skittles-sized drops with what can feel like malicious intent.
For a similar latitude to Saskatchewan, it’s temperate.
But the key is to expect it, and so be pleasantly surprised by days, and even weeks, where the sky is a pale blue flecked with wispy clouds, the temperature stays in the mid-70s F, and light winds create a papery rustle in palm trees along the southern coast (yes, there are palm trees—Livistona australis) where they thrive in the mild temperatures brought by the Gulf Stream current from southern Florida. For a country on a similar latitude to Saskatchewan or the Aleutian Islands, it’s surprisingly temperate. Snow rarely settles for more than three or four days, and rivers never freeze.
Getting full-time residence in Ireland is an expensive process, unless you can prove a link to Irish ancestry and claim a passport that way. It’s not impossible, but unless you’re a confirmed fan of the Emerald Isle’s year-round pleasures, it’s probably better to think of it as a place to spend three months on a tourist visa, while remembering that, because it’s not a part of the Schengen area, you can use your time there to extend a more extensive European trip.
Pick from May, June, July, and August for the best weather and abundant daylight, and you’ll get to enjoy a country which is on its own vacation setting. The Irish are well aware that summer is fleeting, so they pack a lot into the season. Festivals crop up on just about every weekend, from the tongue-in-cheek tomfoolery of leprechaun hunting at the Carlingford Oyster Festival, set in a medieval village at the foot of the haunting Cooley Peninsula (grab a pint of Guinness, six oysters, and just-baked soda bread from O’Hare’s pub for a startlingly good taste sensation) to the Spraoi street theater weekend in Waterford City each August.
Miltown Malbay on the west coast is Ireland’s premier traditional music festival, Puck Fair in Killorglin, County Kerry is unalloyed raucousness with deep folkloric roots. Lisdoonvarna’s matchmaking event, Wexford’s opera festival, Ballinasloe’s horse fair, and scores of other traditional events across the country are priceless experiences, with free entertainment and much merriment on the surface, but with deep, deep roots underpinning much of the revelry.
Or simply forge your own path to the hidden limestone cliffs and coves of the south coast, bedecked with sea pinks and primroses, the sea lapping through stacks and arches, as you create your own memory bank of favorites.
We’ll have more detail on how to spend a summer in Ireland in a longer feature next spring. It’s certainly not the same experience as a vacation on the scorching sands of Playa del Carmen or Koh Phi Phi, but if you’re not an out-and-out sun worshipper, the reward at the end of a genuine Irish rainbow is Ireland itself.
Fall in Uruguay
By David Hammond
During a pause in conversation at a Montevideo sidewalk café, I notice the air. It carries the scent of nearby restaurant kitchens, the trees that line the street, and the Río de la Plata estuary a couple blocks away. But tonight, this usual blend includes something else—a coolness, softly announcing the coming of fall.
Located in the southern temperate zone, Uruguay’s seasons are the opposite of North America’s. January is a summer month. July is a winter month. The average mid-summer high temperature is 82 F, cooling down to 63 F at night. The average mid-winter high temperature is 57 F, cooling down to a nighttime low of 43 F. No extremes, but enough variation to mark the passing year.
Uruguay is known for its stability. It doesn’t get earthquakes. And it’s not in the hurricane zone. Its social climate is noted for tolerance, cooperation, and inclusiveness. According to Mercer, Montevideo (Uruguay’s capital and home to more than 40% of the population) offers the highest quality of life of any city in South America. And Uruguay is where you find Punta del Este, the continent’s most renowned beach resort, where you find fashion shows on the beach, polo tournaments, and yacht racing.
Summer in Uruguay includes New Year’s Day, long beach vacations, and a full 40-day Carnival celebration (the longest in the world). When summer ends, fall unfolds in three parts: March until Tourism Week (Tourism Week is the legal government holiday that coincides with Holy Week); Tourism Week itself, and the period after Tourism Week to the end of May.
In the beach towns, March 1 until Tourism Week is a shoulder season. While the summer parties and special events are over, you still get some pleasant weather. The average daytime high is in the mid-70s F with lows in the low 60s F. It’s a time when you can enjoy the beach without the crowd and pay less for hotels and vacation rentals.
Early March is harvest time for many wine grapes in Uruguay. So it’s a favorite time to visit one (or more) of the many countryside wineries near Montevideo and Punta del Este for a tour and tasting. A highly rated winery just outside Montevideo is Bodega Bouza. Another popular winery, this time outside of Punta del Este, is Bodega Garzón. It’s ranked as the second-best winery in the world by the World’s Best Vineyards, an academy of wine experts and travel correspondents.
When Tourism Week arrives, people often attend church services leading up to Easter, go camping, and attend special events. One special event in Montevideo is Creole Week. It’s a big country fair that comes to the city, complete with a rodeo, country food, crafts, music, and dancing. Another special event this week is the Vuelta del Uruguay. It’s the oldest bicycle stage race in the Americas. Inspired by the Tour de France, the first race commenced in 1939. Most years, it starts and ends in Montevideo.
After Tourism Week, the people you see on the beach are mostly full-time residents out for a walk or surf fishing. On the water, surfers, kite surfers, and stand-up paddleboarders now wear full wetsuits. While summer is a good time to meet new people, fall is about mixing with other full-timers for lunch, merienda, or dinner.
In Uruguay, merienda is typically coffee or tea and something light to eat around 4 or 5 p.m. In Montevideo, neighborhood cafés are traditional for a merienda meetup.
Fall is also a time to attend a ballet, symphony, or other production. One theater with an interesting fall lineup is Teatro Solís, a beautiful neoclassical opera house completed in 1856. Another is the Adela Reta National Auditorium, a modern theater with seating for 2,000.
In Uruguay, the passing of each year includes distinct chapters and landmarks. When fall turns to winter, things in Uruguay will change again. We’ll plan getaways to Uruguay’s hot spring region. And we’ll gear up for Noche de la Nostalgia, a winter-time oldies’ dance party celebrated all over Uruguay. And when spring arrives, it will be different again.
Winter in Hanoi, Vietnam
By Wendy Justice
Hanoi’s personality shines in January even if the sun hides behind grey, overcast skies. Motorbikes carrying impossible loads weave through the crowded streets. Women gossip, attend exercise classes, or practice tai-chi at the crack of dawn. Smartly dressed men wearing sports coats over sweaters drink cups of strong tea while playing Chinese chess. Couples foxtrot and waltz to music blaring from boomboxes.
Dog walkers, balloon hawkers, and the sounds of laughter cascade from every direction. Kids practice for the future, driving plastic motorbikes on the plazas under the watchful eyes of their parents, while lively games of badminton delight teens and tweens. Young people in short, puffy down jackets snuggle on benches overlooking ancient temples and trees as a procession of elders powerwalk and jog along the paths circling lakes and parks.
At night, the sidewalks fill with hungry diners in long scarves and winter clothes huddling over steaming cauldrons of lâu (hotpot) and cháo gao (hot rice porridge). Winter brings people together; life is lived outside, creating a sense of intimacy unique to this season. Winter in Hanoi is sensory overload in the best possible way.
Vietnam’s capital city is one of the few places in Southeast Asia that experiences four distinct seasons. It has a young and energetic population of more than 8 million. The cost of living is amazingly low; a couple could live well for less than $2,000 per month. The quality and availability of healthcare has greatly improved in the past few years, the food is delicious, and the people are genuinely welcoming and friendly.
The weather is perfect for walking or bicycling.
The weather in Hanoi between December and February is similar to what you would find during the same period in San Francisco or New Orleans. It’s humid and overcast but relatively free of precipitation, brisk enough at times to feel downright cold, but it never snows. Sunny days, though few, are glorious. The weather is perfect for walking or bicycling along streets lined with majestic 100-year-old trees, but cool enough so that you’ll want to turn on a heater at night.
The city seems abuzz with even more energy than normal—a pace that reaches ́ a feverish pitch—as the long Têt, or Lunar ́ New Year, holiday approaches. Têt, which is typically in January or February, feels like a combination of New Year’s Eve with aspects of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, all rolled up into one dizzying month-long celebration.
In addition to ushering in the Lunar New Year, it’s also considered every Vietnamese person’s birthday and the first day of spring. Everyone shops for new clothes, cleans their home from top to bottom, and pays off any debts that they have accumulated over the year. They decorate their homes with kumquat trees and fresh flowers and bring home blossom-laden peach tree branches to herald the arrival of spring.
By the last day of the old year, most businesses will have closed and will remain closed for a week or two after Têt. ́On the evening of Têt thousands of revelers head to Hoàn Kiêm Lake—the picturesque lake in the heart of the city—for a celebration and countdown to a midnight fireworks display. It is now officially the start of the week-long holiday.
The next three days are a whirl of activity. It’s a time to visit as many friends and family as possible, give li xi envelopes containing uncirculated “lucky money” to babies, children, and elders, to make time to honor ancestors, and partake in an overabundance of food and wine. If you have Vietnamese friends, you’ll be invited to share in the festivities. Since the first visitor through the door determines the fortune of the family in the coming year, foreigners are seen as being lucky and your attendance will be auspicious.
If you come to Hanoi to experience winter, consider staying through April. There will still be some cool days and chilly evenings, but those blustery, grey days of the cold season are finished until the next winter begins. The weather is nearly perfect during the spring months until the heat of summer takes over sometime in May. Spring is less humid than winter, with mild weather and plenty of sunny days to make up for the greyness of the past few months.