Article courtesy of InternationalLiving.com
For many retirees, a small town is attractive for so many reasons. It means friendly neighbors, safe streets, low costs, simple living and a delightfully slow pace.
Fortunately, you can still find that charming small-town vibe in many wonderful places abroad. The editors at International Living have identified seven small towns in Europe noted for their beauty, character, and cost that make ideal locations for your live-abroad retirement lifestyle.
Would-be expats who are attracted to the idea of retiring in Europe can be thrown off by relatively high prices of its most well-known destinations. Big cities such as Paris and Madrid can hit the wallet hard, but alternatives exist for retirees who seek the romance and culture of Europe -- but at an affordable cost.
Spain, Italy, Portugal and France are fantastically rich and vibrant countries, and each one has numerous small towns and villages that would be friendly places for an expat. International Living's correspondents in each country chose a handful of towns not spoiled by over-development or mass tourism, and all of these spots offer picturesque surrounds and good-value living.
"Although small in size compared to other countries in Europe, Portugal packs plenty into its borders," International Living Portugal correspondent Terry Coles says. "From bustling cities like Lisbon in the heart of the country and Porto in the north, to coastal gems in the southern Algarve region like Albufeira, the country has something for everyone.
"But not to be missed are the tiny towns, each with their own flavor that offer something special to both visitors and those seeking to settle into the country," Coles says. "While there are so many lovable small towns worth mentioning in Portugal, I've picked two I'm particularly fond of."
Known by many as "the umbrella city," the town of Agueda is a two-hour drive north of Lisbon in the Aveiro district. While many visitors stop in neighboring Aveiro, the "Venice of Portugal" for its canals and colorful boats, lesser-known Agueda is a special place.
Every summer, the town turns into a kaleidoscopic canopy of color when residents suspend more than 3,000 umbrellas above the streets. It creates a colorful glow and brings a smile to all who pass under them.
Shops and restaurants line the main streets of the village, while nearby larger grocery stores, hospitals and clinics provide all the conveniences and necessary amenities to make this place a fantastic option for expats.
The city center is flat and easy to walk around, and two-bedroom apartments can be found for $600 a month. With so many tourists passing through, many of the residents speak English, yet this is a real Portuguese working town painted with artistic charm.
Vila Real de Santo Antonio
On the eastern tip of southern Portugal's Algarve region sits the border town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio. Nearby, a massive, four-lane bridge spans the Guadiana River, the crossing point into Ayamonte, Spain. Expats who live here have easy access to both countries, offering them the best of both worlds.
Unlike some of the higher-priced towns in the Algarve, it's possible to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Vila Real de Santo Antonio for $788, yet still be within walking distance to the beach, shops and restaurants. The town also offers grocery stores and medical and dental clinics.
So, for those who long to live in the Algarve but want to avoid the tourist crowds, Vila Real de Santo Antonio could make good sense. The tranquil feel of this Portuguese town provides a relatively sleepy pace of life, yet it's close to amenities. Many locals speak English.
"When thinking of a spot to live in France, it's tempting to consider the fabled coastline of the Cote d'Azur or the romantic towns and villages of the southern region of Provence," France correspondent Tuula Rampont says. "Given the region's popularity, expats can expect higher real estate prices, more tourists and hot summer months.
"More and more people, the French included, are looking at different spots around the country where they can enjoy the same fine-living attributes at a lower cost. Some regions, Alsace and Lorraine, are a bit off the beaten track, while other, time-honored favorites are making a comeback on the expat scene."
Beaune, known as the wine capital of the region, owns a rich cultural and architectural heritage. With a well-preserved medieval center -- enclosed by its original ramparts -- Beaune is a postcard-perfect image of a small French town. Gothic spires mix with Renaissance facades, and cozy, vine-covered alleyways add a touch of charm.
More importantly, for those looking to settle in the area, Beaune provides a great compromise between country and city living. It's large enough to have an enviable collection of restaurants and boutiques and small enough to easily move around the town center.
A two-bedroom, one-bathroom, furnished apartment (750 square feet) rents for $978 in the center of Beaune. Village homes of the same size, also in the center of town, can be purchased for $238,400.
Alsace is another area closely tied to the winemaking traditions of France. Part of the Grand Est (Great East), this region in northeastern France includes Alsace, Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine. While many expats are drawn to larger metropolitan areas like cosmopolitan Strasbourg, the undisputed star of this charming land of half-timbered houses and flower-lined canals is the fairytale town of Colmar.
Colmar is visually striking but far from staid. Expats can expect a rich and varied social life, where activities focus around the harvest season, festivals and a vibrant foodie scene. Restaurants, bars and cafes line the pedestrian-only main avenue, which follows the twists and turns of the central canal. Walk over a series of flower-topped bridges to experience Petite Venise (Little Venice), arguably Colmar's most picturesque neighborhood of canal-lined homes and gliding gondolas.
Given Colmar's popularity, real estate prices are a bit higher than in other towns and villages in Alsace. A furnished, two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment (915 square feet) averages around $1,090 a month in the center of town. Two-bedroom, one-bathroom village homes of a slightly smaller size (820 square feet) start at $263,400 to buy.
"Spain's Mediterranean beach resorts and dynamic cities are alluring destinations for most expats," correspondent Marsha Scarbrough says. "However, for those seeking a quieter life immersed in traditional Spanish culture, small pueblos off the beaten path offer tranquil pieces of paradise.
"Spain has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to gorgeous tiny towns."
In the lush countryside of Cantabria, Northern Spain, the exquisite pueblo of Lierganes shines like a jewel nestled in a green valley. Visitors will feel like they have stepped back in time as they wander among well-preserved mansions from the 18th and 19th centuries.
During summer, brilliant flowers spill from balconies and overflow every garden. The crystal-clear Miera River flows through town and under the picturesque "Roman bridge," which was designed in 1587 by master builder Bartolome de la Hermosa. In this village with a population of more than 2,400 people, upscale restaurants and high-end shops are part of the landscape. The popular beach resort of Santander is just a little over 30-minutes away by suburban train, so summer delivers plenty of day-tripping tourists.
You can rent a furnished, two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Lierganes for $522 a month. You can buy a similar apartment but with one bathroom and a terrace for $121,718.
Alhama de Granada
Halfway between Granada and Malaga in Andalusia, perched on the edge of a breathtaking gorge carved by the Alhama River in the Sierra de Tejeda mountains, this village of around 6,000 people offers pleasant mild summers and cold winters.
Founded by the Romans, who built bathhouses to take advantage of the natural hot springs, Alhama later was ruled by the Arabs and finally conquered by the Catholic Kings. Its monumental architecture reflects all of these periods of its history. The surrounding mountains, lake and canyons provide opportunities for hiking, swimming, mountaineering, canyoning, kayaking, hang gliding, paragliding and cycling amid gorgeous scenery. It's perfect for those seeking an outdoor lifestyle infused with medieval charm.
You can rent a furnished country home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, terrace, balcony, fireplace and swimming pool on three acres of private land for $852 a month. For $79,113, you can buy a renovated four-bedroom, two-bathroom, three-level, 1,500-square-foot house with balconies, interior patio and garage in the center of the village.
"One of Tuscany's reigning wine towns and a classic hill town with cobbled streets and ancient ambiance, Montepulciano will charm the socks off anyone,â IL Italy correspondent Valerie Fortney-Schneider says. "It is the quintessential Tuscan vision many have of a medieval center basking above vineyards on its sunny hilltop.
"Renaissance palaces mingle with medieval homes and churches, and there are sweeping panoramas over the sun-swathed countryside. This truly is postcard-worthy Tuscany."
Resting between the Val di Chiana and Val d'Orcia, two of Tuscany's famous rolling valleys, Montepulciano is in southern Tuscany where timeless towns dot every hill and grapevines and olives stripe the land, interspersed with forest land.
The village sits out of the super-pricey Chianti zone, but the splendid city of Siena is just over an hour away.
The pace is slow and focused on the seasons, perfect for those who want a quieter place with a gorgeous atmosphere, friendly townsfolk and just a bit of tourism influx for liveliness. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wine draws visitors and diners from area towns who want to sip and eat in leisure.
This is Tuscany, so don't expect to find bargains, but there are some fairly reasonable options to let you enjoy that classic hill town lifestyle.
In the old town center, expect to pay $245,000 and up to buy a nice apartment. Outside the city, farmhouses in ruins cost upwards of $182,000. Rentals can be found in the old town for $767 for an unfinished two-bedroom apartment, and furnished two-bedrooms apartments run between $886 and $1,063 per month.
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