Italy is experiencing another renaissance… this time as a destination for snowbirds and expats.
The dollar continues relatively strong against the euro… plus certain corners of Italy can be among Europe’s best bargains. If you are looking for Old World charm at an affordable price, Italy should be at the top of your list.
This is a cradle of Western civilization. I don’t need to remind you about this country’s abundant cultural treasures. Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than anywhere else in the world.
Neither do I need to tell you about the food. The cuisine of this country is world famous, and each region has signature dishes and its own style of cooking.
Dining out is a key part of Italian culture and something you should budget for when spending time here. The daily aperitif, for example, is cherished by every Italian. It is one of the best ways to socialize, catch up with old friends, and meet new people.
We always recommend that you make an effort to learn at least a little of the language of the country where you’re moving. In Italy, this is especially important advice. Milan is probably the only place in this country where you can get by without speaking Italian.
Cost of living varies from place to place. Like most expat destinations, seaside and town center properties are the most expensive. If you are looking to live somewhere peaceful and remote, you can find beautiful old properties at bargain prices.
Italy has a developed health care system that is very affordable for EU citizens. Emergency health care is available to everyone, but for full-time health care, you will need to apply for access to the Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), the national health care system. The cost is about US$400 a year.
Specifically, where should you be thinking about chasing your dream of a new life in Italy?
The wildest and possibly last unspoiled region in Italy is Abruzzo; one-third of it is designated as a national park. The Abruzzo region lies to the east of Rome and has a long Adriatic coastline as well as mountains and the ubiquitous rolling Italian countryside. It is perhaps most famous for its olive oil production but is also one of Italy’s top wine-producing regions.
Abruzzo is one of the least densely populated regions in Italy and has been strangely forgotten about by both Italians and the world at large. It is popular for its hiking, rock climbing, horseback riding in the summer, and skiing in the winter.
During the summer the beaches here will get busy. In general Italians like to holiday in Italy, and many make the short trip from Rome to bask in the summer sun on Abruzzo’s beaches. This tradition dates back to Roman times. Back then it was the favored holiday destination for wealthy Romans, and there are plenty of Roman ruins which remain to this day. The beaches can be spectacular, and many have coveted EU Blue Flag status.
One of the nicest things about Abruzzo is the number of well-preserved medieval villages and hilltop towns. There are sleepy port towns and quiet churches, which add another layer to the landscape.
The air here is amazingly clean. So much so that people who visit and go back to city living notice the pollution like never before. Gran Sasso is Italy’s tallest peak. Animals include bears, eagles, and wolves, although these animals normally live in the mountains and do not tend to come into contact with humans.
Abruzzo is famous for olive farming and is also a top wine producing region. Some of the best food in Italy is to be found in Abruzzo. Its central location means it is influenced directly by the many different cultures which exist in Italy. In Abruzzo, this influence is passed into the food which is a blend of the cuisine from different parts of Italy and its own mountain tradition.
Abruzzo is one of the more affordable regions in Italy to buy property. The average price for a house is just US$75,000 and for an apartment, US$108,984. (Apartments in Abruzzo are slightly more expensive because they are more recently built and tend to be in the best locations). There is a move afoot to boost Abruzzo’s popularity, but at the moment prices are a bargain.
Abruzzo has two main climates: the mountain climate and the lower climate around the shoreline. The coastal areas enjoy 30°C summers with a cooling sea breeze and mild winters. The mountain areas enjoy cold winters with plenty of snow for skiing and milder but pleasant summers.
Best Areas To Live
Citta Sant’Angelo and Vasto.
Thousands of years ago Sicily was part of Greece and one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Today it remains one of the most densely populated areas in Italy with many towns and villages. The ruins from Ancient Greece are plentiful and well preserved here, and you are constantly reminded of Sicily’s fascinating heritage as you travel through.
Sicily was originally part of the Greek and later the Roman Empire. From the 9th to 11th century, the island of Sicily was taken by the Saracens. They had a huge influence on the region and its culture, and the effect is still felt today in its architecture, cuisine, and also the local accent.
Another lasting legacy of that era is the local sweet tooth. Sicilians are so attached to their sweet foods that they eat ice cream in brioche for breakfast. Pistachios grow all over the island and are included in many regional dishes.
Despite the love of sugar, the life expectancy in Sicily is slightly higher than in the rest of Italy. The street food here is also considered to be the best in the country, which for Italy is high praise.
Sicily’s main exports are bottled mineral water followed by wine and olive oil. There is very little industry here and, as a result, not many jobs. Tourism and agriculture account for nearly all the international trade.
Sadly, your chances of starting a business in Sicily are slim, and your chances of finding a well-paying job are essentially zero. The high unemployment here does mean that prices are fairly cheap, and if you have money coming in from a pension, you will find that you can live a very nice life in Sicily.
Like Abruzzo, Sicily is a very affordable place to buy property in Italy. Look for properties on the east side of the island. Although the mafia, who tend to congregate on the west side of Sicily, are generally more of a corporation these days and don’t bother expats, they are still best avoided.
The average high temperature never drops below 15°C. In the summer, the weather is hot but the island benefits form a sea breeze, which keeps things pleasant. Perhaps surprisingly, Sicily is also a skiing destination and one of the few places in the world that you can ski down an active volcano. May to September average at least nine hours of sunshine per day.
Best Areas To Live
Catania and Siracusa.
This is where the Italian language was created. Modern Italian is based on both Tuscan and traditional Latin.
Tuscany was the starting point for the Renaissance.
As you might expect, therefore, this region is rich with World Heritage and other important cultural and historic sites.
What you may not realize is that Tuscany also boasts beautiful beaches that are safe and well maintained. However, many of them charge a fee, which is not to everyone’s taste.
Tuscany’s coast is lined with spectacular rocky cliffs ideal for hiking and long walks. The region’s landscape otherwise is the classic image of rolling Italian fields and forests.
Tuscans value freshness and top quality ingredients over difficult recipes and cooking styles. They’re also known for their wines, including Chianti, which is produced here.
Despite its worldwide popularity, prices in Tuscany can be more affordable than you might imagine. No bargains to be found in Florence, for example, but in the surrounding countryside you can find good property buys if you spend time on the ground.
Tuscany is sheltered from the worst of Italy’s weather, and it rarely snows here.
Tuscany is sheltered from the worst of Italy’s weather, and it rarely snows here. During the summer the temperatures can reach 40°C. Tuscany does not get a vast amount of rain throughout the year.
Best Areas To Live
San Gimignano and Cortona.
Olbia, Sardinia, Italy
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily. Sardinia’s different regions have strong identities and even their own languages, meaning seven languages are spoken on the island… though everyone speaks Italian, too.
Sardinia remains an authentic region, largely untouched by development or tourism. This means unpolluted and unspoiled beaches so pristine they are commonly used in commercials.
Sardinia was named one of the world’s first Blue Zones in recognition of the island’s higher-than-average percentage of the population reaching the age of 100. The traditional greeting here translates as, “May you live to be 100!”
Sardinia is a place to reconnect with nature. The island is home to more than 60 nature reserves and many protected species. These areas make for great hiking and contribute to the natural beauty and tranquility of the countryside here.
June through September is hot in Sardinia. The best time to visit is spring, when temperatures are pleasantly warm and the island is alive with fragrant flowering plants.
Sardinia has hot summers which last from June until the September. Perhaps the best time to visit is during spring, when temperatures are pleasantly warm and the island is alive with fragrant, flowering plants.
Best Areas To Live
Valledoria and Badesi.
The city of Parma gives its name to the region.
The history of this part of Italy predates the Roman, and Parma was possibly originally settled by the Celts. During the Roman Empire, the town of Parma, strategically located on one of Rome’s main roads, became important. More recently, Parma was one of the few Italian towns to resist Mussolini’s fascism.
Famous for Parma ham and Parmesan cheese, food is hugely important here and a source of regional pride. This region has also brought the world a number of stuffed pasta dishes, and Parma was the first Italian city to receive the UNESCO Creative City For Gastronomy award. Around Parma you find food boutiques and even museums dedicated to the local cuisine.
Living in the city center can be expensive. If that’s your preference, consider Cittadella. The surrounding towns, though, are more affordable.
Parma is gaining popularity as a tourist destination but still qualifies as undiscovered. Head out of Parma and into the surrounding countryside, and you quickly return to picturesque rural Italy.
In Parma it gets cold enough to snow during December and January, but spring and autumn are both pleasant. The summers are hot, and you can generally expect five months of excellent weather here.
Best Areas To Live
Cittadella within Parma or in the countryside, Collecchio.
And that wraps up the list of best places to live in Italy. Let us know if you have other favorite Italian favorites that didn’t make the list.