Live the Good Life in Undiscovered Italy For $1,600 a Month

Sitting at a cliff-side table overlooking the white-washed old town of Polignano a Mare, my husband Bryan and I marvel at how it manages to stay on its rock and not slide into the water below.

The remnants of our delicious, fresh seafood lunch are being cleared away as we catch movement on the opposite cliff and turn our heads back toward town. Two guys are on the high rocks, arms spread open. At a cue, they launch off like eagles and dive into the water far below: a free, spontaneous sideshow to our perfect patio lunch.

We’re in Puglia, the heel of Italy’s “boot.” It’s a place of dazzling sunshine, sophisticated towns, and friendly people with a touch of natural theatrics in their veins. It’s also rather overlooked, which means you can live well here for about $1,600 a month, including rent of as little
as $369.

Puglia is the kind of place that invites superlatives. The best food, the friendliest people, the cleanest beaches, and the most fascinating architecture are common compliments that visitors declare after encountering this sun-kissed region.

Puglia (or Apulia, as English guidebooks write it) is practically a peninsula, with the Adriatic Sea on the east side and the Ionian Sea to the west. All told, there are about 500 miles of coastline, and even the most inland towns are not much more than a 30-minute drive from the sea. Puglia has the best choice of beaches in Italy.

It offers easily accessible stretches of soft golden sand when you feel like sunning, and low reefs and deep water coves if you want to snorkel. Art treasures that will leave you speechless are hidden away in centuries-old churches.

However, it still gets far less attention than more popular parts of Italy like Tuscany, and so prices are correspondingly lower. Here, you can still pick up a comfortable home from as little as $63,000. Thanks to the ongoing campaign to draw tourists here, though, more and more people are coming to Puglia. So now is the time to get in.

With its abundance of vegetables and fish, prepared in many creative ways, Puglia is a foodie paradise. This region of Italy truly embodies the famous “Mediterranean diet” to the fullest. It is Italy’s top olive oil producer, with a third of the country’s oil coming from here. It is also the country’s major bread and fruit basket; the southern sun ripens tons of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, figs, citrus fruits, almonds, and melons. Grapes thrive here, too—about 30% of Italy’s vino comes from Puglia. You’re going to eat and drink well here.

Small towns teem with life and offer visitors down-home hospitality. The sun and the sea seem to infuse the towns with an energy that is radiated by the people; they seem happy, content, proud. They exude hospitality and are generally eager to welcome visitors and help them discover all the place has to offer.

“It is easy to get ‘adopted’ by locals who introduce you to the most authentic places and customs,” says Bill Sansone. Bill and his wife Carol have traveled across Italy in search of hidden gems. But increasingly they lean toward retiring here. They say they’re lured back by the people, the ambience, the cuisine, and the low cost and high quality of life.

“The towns and roads are exceptionally clean and less physically challenging than other areas of Italy,” says Bill. “There is excellent medical care readily available if needed, and it’s easy to drive— not hilly, and with flat, straight roads.” That mostly level landscape also makes Puglia popular with cyclists.

The weather helps, too. It averages around 82 F in summer, and winters are mild, rarely dropping below 50 F, even in January. Winters can be damp, while summers are hot and dry, tempered by sea breezes near the coast.

Expat Lindsay Olsen lives in Molfetta, on the Adriatic coast. She says there are many things that she loves here, but the food and weather tie for first place. Maybe the weather wins out: “I am from Wisconsin, so winter here has been absolute heaven.”

In short, in Puglia there is plenty to please everyone. The region is home to rustic rural living, as well as to cultured cities awash with history and scenic seaside towns.

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