By Kathleen Peddicord
No contest. Be you a holiday-goer or a retiree, if you’re looking for a romantic destination and you enjoy the distractions of city life, Paris should be at the top of your list.
Trying to make a case for why Paris is romantic seems silly—like trying to explain why an ocean view from your bedroom window might be a nice thing to have. Picnics in the Luxembourg Gardens, long walks along the banks of the Seine, and afternoons lost among the cobblestones of the Latin Quarter…these are among the most romantic pastimes this world has to offer. In addition, the retiree in Paris has access to the world’s best museums, galleries, cafes, restaurants, shopping, food, and wine. Life doesn't get better than this.
Mendoza is wine country, and where vines grow, the living generally qualifies as romantic. Argentines enjoy great food, good vino, and interesting conversation, and here, in the interior of this country, these things are the priorities of life. A friend, Michael, who retired to the Mendoza region of Argentina recently, gushes in his reports of his new life. “My garden is bursting at the seams,” he writes, “though I don’t look after it. My gardener does. Honestly, it’s a feast for the eyes, and the luscious grapes that hang from the vines around me are going to produce wine with my name on it.”
This region is a great choice for the active retiree who isn’t ready to sit back rocking on his front porch. There’s skiing, hiking, climbing, bird-watching, white-water rafting, kayaking, kite-surfing, and great golfing. Come evening, you could tango the night away at one of Mendoza’s many entertainment venues or relax at the spas of Pismanta.
The European undertones in Medellin are strong, from the way the women dress to the way people greet you in passing on the street. This is South America, not Central America, and the differences between the two regions can be striking. Medellin is a green city, with trees, plants, and small gardens everywhere. It’s architecturally consistent and pleasing. Most every building is constructed of red brick and topped with red clay roof tiles. The overall effect is delightful.
Medellin is a literary and an artistic center with an annual poetry festival, an international jazz festival, an international tango festival, an annual book fair, and, back in 1971, Colombia’s answer to Woodstock, the Festival de Ancon.
Medellin was named 2013’s “world’s most innovative city” and is finally beginning to shed its bad-boy image from Escobar days and to become appreciated for the romantic locale that it is. With its good wines, great coffee, outdoor cafes, and open-air music venues, Medellin is an easy place to get swept away.
The cobalt blue of the Adriatic Sea off Istria’s coast is almost otherworldly. This is a sailor’s paradise, and all up and down this coast you see flotillas of white yachts offshore from ancient towns hidden behind thick walls. This is a fairy-tale land of fortresses and bell towers that so attracted and impressed the Romans that they invested in some of their best building here, including a large and largely intact coliseum at Pula where lions and Christians once entertained. Later, this region was ruled by the Venetians, who also left an architectural legacy. In Istria, both nature and man have worked together over many centuries to create something very special, almost magical. In fact, the ancient Romans named it Tierra Magica.
The hinterland is a beguiling patchwork of meadows, vineyards, and olive groves, plus carefully tended gardens where trees hang heavy with ripening cherries, figs, and walnuts. This fertile land also grows wild asparagus and truffles, for which it is becoming famous. High in the hills, behind more medieval walls, are yet more toy-town settlements of fountains, chestnut trees, and frescoed churches. Frankly, I defy you not to fall in love with Istria.
The Abruzzo—it’s hard to think of a lovelier corner of Italy. The beaches are golden, and the sea rolls out like a giant bolt of turquoise silk. Eagles swoop down from craggy eyries, wild peonies and gentians color the alpine meadows.
Stitching together seascapes with lush mountain valleys, this region is one of Italy's secret treasures, and you'll love it. No over-crowding, no heavy industry. Hiding away down its curvy roads are castles, vineyards, and villages made of stone and memory. Life in the Abruzzo hasn't changed that much over the years, and it's like wandering into a gentler, kinder yesterday.
Old ladies in pinafores bring their chairs outside and sit in gossipy groups, stringing onions into plaits. Instead of playing computer games, young boys are outside playing soccer. Families shop at open-air markets, not hypermarkets—and, if they don't produce their own wine, they buy it from local vineyards.
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
The caldera created by a massive volcanic explosion, one of the strongest explosions in earth's history, formed the basin for what is today arguably the most picturesque lake in the world: Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. Aldous Huxley famously described this lake as, “really, too much of a good thing.” It’s beautiful by day, stunning at sunrise and sunset, and offers a near-perfect, refreshing climate.
A community has developed on the shores of this lovely lake, providing an irresistible opportunity for the retiree looking for peace, quiet, and abundant outdoors adventures on his doorstep.
Christchurch, New Zealand
New Zealand is one of the world’s premier outdoor playgrounds, clean and green, with top-notch skiing, hiking, surfing, and fishing. The country is sometimes called the Ireland of the South; the landscapes are similar, as are the people. New Zealand’s climate, though, is better.
Thanks to its showcase botanic gardens, public parks, and nature reserves to community vegetable plots, school planting projects, and well-kept private grounds, Christchurch deserves its moniker “City Within A Garden.” All the green space provides a lovely backdrop for the city’s many festivals and public entertainment offerings and tempts residents to get out and about, enjoying all that this one-of-a-kind minor metropolis has to offer.
Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a former Inca capital that retains its Andean-indigenous influence. With its wealth of colonial homes with interior courtyards, thick adobe walls, and iron-railed terraces looking down on to the street, punctuated regularly by plazas and squares, this is a city made for walking. Folks come from the world over to enjoy these 250 square blocks of history, to study in Cuenca’s world-class language schools, and to experience a rare glimpse of unadulterated life in an Andean colonial city.
Cuenca’s Spanish colonial environment is one of the most genuine in Latin America. Locals wear traditional dress, and colorful indigenous markets dot the city. Afterhours in Cuenca, you’ve got music, theater, dance clubs, shows, and a professional symphony orchestra that is free to all. Perhaps best is the never-ending stream of local festivals, each with its fireworks, parades, food, and drink, every one a chance to join thousands of people on the streets having a great time.
Horse-drawn carriages wait by the plaza, and shoeshine vendors circulate with their little black wooden boxes. Mayan ladies bearing jade necklaces and fabric shawls of vivid colors wander through the park. The benches around the central fountain are fully occupied by young couples in love. The fountain continually splashes water from the breasts of the four young women carved in stone, with four smaller outlying fountains adding to the delightful picture.
This is downtown Antigua. Originally, the square was barren and treeless, the official site of hangings, floggings, and other punishments meted out by the Spanish conquerors and their church brethren for whatever transgression was deemed worthy of the lash. Today the park is tree-filled and alive with the singing of birds and the clip-clop of the horses making their way around the cobblestoned streets.
There are moments in this city of pastel stucco exteriors, clay-tiled roofs, and cobblestones, when the light is just right, that are reminiscent of Santorini. Purple and red bougainvillea branches overhang walls on every street. Markets overflow with bright Mayan weavings.
Antigua has a small-town feel, where everyone knows everyone else and exchanges a “buenos dias” in passing. The pace of life is slow. Take a deep breath and savor the day.
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Fields and pastures, trees and jungle, rivers and livestock. Here and there a small house of concrete block or timber, in the distance the outline of the Maya Mountains. This is the region of Belize known as Cayo. You reach Cayo via one of this country’s three highways, the one headed west.
The land in Cayo is fertile. Farmers grow corn and sugarcane, watermelons and citrus. You see Mennonites driving horse-drawn carts and children walking home from school. Everyone going about his or her business, not much bothered by government shutdowns or the mounting deficit. Here, in this land of escape, where life is simple, those things don’t seem to matter or even to register. Life here revolves around the land and values independence above all else.
To be truly independent in today’s world, you need to be energy-independent. That’s a big part of what Cayo offers—a chance to take yourself off the grid. This doesn’t have to mean living a backward or burdened existence. Thanks to 21st-century technology, the self-sufficient life, including in Cayo, can also be comfortable, even fully appointed. This is a place for like-minded folks to be “independent together,” with some of Mother Nature’s finest work as the backdrop.
Kathleen Peddicord has covered the live and invest overseas beat for nearly 30 years and is considered the world’s foremost authority on overseas retirement. She has traveled to more than 50 countries, invested in real estate in 21, established businesses in 7, renovated historic properties in 6, and educated her children in 4. More info at www.LiveAndInvestOverseas.com .