Calling places havens has become something of a lifestyle cliché. The reality is that more often than not, most places described as such have become overexposed slices of paradise lost; their romantic sense of refuge ironically ruined by what made them attractive in the first place.
On our well-trodden planet there are no true secrets— we do, after all, live in a world that is rapidly shrinking with each passing day, leaving few places that haven’t been “discovered.” But there are some destinations that somehow remain overlooked by the stream of tourists and retirees who pour into already popular retreats, pushing up the cost of everything from meals to real estate. These lower profile gems are just as attractive, with fewer crowds and gentler prices.
I’m always reluctant to write about these places. Few would-be expats have heard of them; fewer still have visited. These are the kind of spots those “in-the-know” tend to keep to themselves, hoping they will forever remain relatively obscure.
Whenever I put fingers to keyboard, the international consultant in me is odds with my travel writer side. On the one hand, I’m eager to share information for readers to take advantage of. On the other, I’m tempted not to reveal certain locales for fear it may spoil their charm.
Anyway, enough rambling. Here are ten alternatives to consider:
Mexico’s Emerald Coast. With long stretches of breathtaking coastline, Spanish colonial towns and close proximity to the U.S., Mexico understandably lures Americans in droves. While no corner of Mexico is undiscovered, Puerto Progreso, the quaint capital of Yucatán state on the Gulf Coast sits oblivious to the throngs that descend elsewhere. Here, you can find beachfront and near-beach homes (most in need of TLC) for under $100,000. Houses in the neighboring town of Telchac can go for as little as $60,000. mayanliving.com.
Saba, Netherlands Antilles. Saba (pronounced SAY-bah) is a Caribbean paradise found, at least after braving the harrowing touchdown on the short runway ending at a sheer cliff. Getting there isn’t easy, but this five-square-mile island is a mecca for divers, snorkelers and the few fortunate enough to call it home. It rewards newcomers with a slow lifestyle and mountain cottages boasting breathtaking ocean views, from under $200,000. sabaislandrealty.com.
Havana, Cuba. Still officially off limits to Americans—though many still sneak in through Mexico and a few even call it home—Havana may have lost its luster since the pre-Castro days but sugar-sand beaches, rock-bottom prices and the prospect of tasting forbidden fruit (and its prized cigars) give it irresistible allure. cuba-condos.com.
Basilicata, Italy. Wedged between the instep and arch of the Italian boot, this overlooked region is one of the least trampled parts of the country. Barely kissing the Tyrrhenian Sea in the west and the Ionian Sea in the east, its mountainous interior has postcard-perfect countryside dotted with medieval villages. Here, centuries-old stone farmhouses awaiting restoration start as low as $50,000 (restoration will set you back another 50k). Casaenotria.com.
Tallinn, Estonia. An intriguing mix of old-world and modern, with cobblestone streets winding past ancient churches and chic recent establishments of every stripe, this pulsing historic city has a vibrant art scene, pulsing nightlife, lively café culture and impressive dining options to spare. Apartments start at $40,000. altervara.ee.
Sark, Channel Islands. Accessible only by boat and completely automobile free, this compact feudal island seems to be plucked from the pages of history book. With the feel of England of 100 years ago, it’s a picturesque virtually tax-free escape where the favored modes of transport are farm tractors, horse-drawn carts and bicycles. Utterly charming but not cheap, houses go for $300,000 and up. sarkestateagents.com.
Southern Transdanubia, Hungary. Mountains and forests punctuate this lush, seldom-traveled region three hours by train from Budapest in the southwestern part of the country. The historic city of Pécs has Roman ruins, Turkish architecture and vast cultural riches. The area’s near-Mediterranean climate and restoration-worthy farmhouses priced from $25,000, make it well worth a look. sunshineestates.net.
The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. Though too small for its full name to fit on most maps of Europe, pint-sized Luxembourg is hilly, landlocked tax haven and offshore banking hub that goes out of its way to stay low-key. Formal and traditional rather than trendy and hip, it’s a place of quiet, unspoiled villages reminiscent of France a quarter-century ago. Housing prices average just under $400,000. immolahure.lu.
Prince Edward Island, Canada. A storybook isle of 140,000 souls and setting for the 1908 novel “Anne of Green Gables,” PEI (for short) is Canada’s smallest province. What it lacks in size it more than makes up for in premier stretches of coast, bucolic charm and affordability. Most houses sell $200,000 or less; many country homes list for less than half that. bradoliver.pe.ca.
El Chaltén, Argentina. Blissfully lost in a river valley of the Argentinean Andes, this tiny but growing expat village of under 400 year-round residents serves as a jumping-off point for trekkers, mountaineers and expeditions into the region’s blue ice sheets and snow-capped peaks. A magnet for adventurous and back-to-nature types, it is surrounded by the Patagonia’s spectacular scenery. elchalten.com.
There, I did it. I just let you in on some of my favorites. Keeping secrets has never been my strong suit, and besides, I have a few dozen others scattered around the globe that I’ll never write about. Well, at least until next time.
Copyright © 2010 by Shannon Roxborough
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shannon Roxborough, an expert on global lifestyles and offshore planning, is author of the special report, The World’s Best-Kept Secret (For Affordable Living, Cheap Real Estate, Low Taxes and the Lifestyle of Your Dreams), and runs the free question-and-answer service AskMrInternational.com.