In Search Of A Retirement Spot: Merida? El Valle? Basque?

In Search Of The World’s Best Quality Of Life

After seven years in Spain, Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper and her husband decided it was time to try living somewhere else.

How to choose a new country?

They’d take off for an extended scouting mission, they decided, with their two young children in tow.

“We agreed we’d spend a year or so trying different places on for size,” Lucy explained today for the Overseas Retirement Circle members on the line for our monthly members-only Teleconference.

“We wanted to do this before our children, then 6 and 10, got too old to appreciate the adventure (or the time with us!).

“We focused first on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, at Merida. We’d done a lot of research and thought we’d really love this part of this country. We rented a house in Progreso, the beach town outside Merida, for a month.

“We knew within the first 24 hours, however, that this place was not for us. It was too hot, too flat, too arid…

“We stuck out our month here but couldn’t wait to move on.

“Next we tried El Valle, Panama. This place we loved. Cooler climate, rolling hills, and much greener. This area outside Panama City is so lush. The trouble was that there’s no international-standard school in this region of Panama. So, while we really enjoyed our time here, we knew we’d have to move on.

“While in El Valle, other expats we met recommended we take a look at Costa Rica. This country, in the mountains outside San Jose, could offer just what we were looking for, they thought—lush landscapes, cool climate, and, critical for us, good international schooling options.

“Again, we rented a house for a month. On paper, as those we’d been speaking with had explained, this was a perfect fit. But we didn’t feel comfortable…or safe.

“All the expats we met had invested in gates and grills and glass-encrusted walls around their properties. Home break-ins are very common, we found out.

“We didn’t feel good about raising our children here, and even our easygoing children found the attention they got a little unnerving.

“Then we had a family emergency in the United States. It was good timing, as the six weeks we spent in the States gave us a chance to regroup. We decided we wouldn’t return to Costa Rica…and we came to a more fundamental decision, as well…

“What we really wanted, we realized, was Europe. We’d been so happy in Spain all those years. Central America just wasn’t working for us.

“More research led us to France, where we’ve been happily installed now for two years.

“France simply offers the best quality of life of any country I know.

“We’re in the Bearn, next-door to the Basque region in the southwest of this country. The lifestyle here is very relaxed, and the community has been very welcoming. We feel completely at home and very safe. The crime rate is exceedingly low. We have no sense of insecurity…

“Plus, this part of the world is historic, cultured, and beautiful. As I’m talking to you right now I’m watching out my window as the sun is setting on the Pyrenees…”

Lucy went on during our conversation with Overseas Retirement Circle members this morning to discuss options for educating children in this part of the world…the comparative costs of living on the coast versus inland…excursions to the Basque region (the featured destination for this month’s issue of the Overseas Retirement Letter… and big old farmhouse renovation projects currently on offer…

If you’re an Overseas Retirement Circle member but were unable to be on the call with us today, don’t worry. The recording of the conversation has been posted to your website.

Kathleen Peddicord