World’s top 20 places for the good life (Cy Included)

1 Andalusia, Spain: Moorish architecture, including the Alhambra, sits alongside thousands of churches and pretty fincas. People dance and eat tapas over the strains of flamenco. Away from the tourist traps, this sprawling region of southern Spain offers a life as rich in history, culture and cuisine as anywhere in Europe. The property market has had its woes, but there are a few shoots of recovery. “One area of Andalusia with increasing potential is the northern part of the Almería province, particularly around Vera and Mojácar. Here, there are key infrastructure improvements in the pipeline,” says Sally Veal from the Spain Buying Guide.

2 Gascony, France: Forget over-subscribed Provence. Many lovers of the French way have always had a soft spot for Gascony, in the south-west of the country. You won’t find many symphony orchestras, but lovers of food and drink will be in paradise. It is a relatively unspoilt region, where the local specialities range from foie gras to Armagnac. “Gascony is home to an army of brilliant artisans who fill the local fields and markets with colours, flavours and textures,” says Mark Wilkins of property specialist Champions of Gascony.

3 Bansko, Bulgaria: A lot of British investors got their fingers burnt in this popular Bulgarian skiing resort. Now that prices have settled down, people are rediscovering the charms of a town where one can hike, ski, breathe the fresh air and eat like a king, at a fraction of the cost of French and Swiss resorts. In the summer, it makes a great base for exploring the region, and sampling the (surprisingly good) local wines.

4 Parma, Italy: The name is synonymous with ham and cheese, but Parma, occupied since the Bronze Age, is also rich with history and wonderful architecture. Fewer Britons buy property in Emilia-Romagna than in some other Italian regions, but the ones that do, know their onions – and peppers and aubergines. Move here and you won’t be one of the hordes of Brits elsewhere in the country.

5 Paris, France: “Now that President Hollande has clarified issues such as capital gains tax, overseas buyers are returning to Paris, and are in a stronger position than they were a year ago,” says Nicholas Leach of Athena Advisors. London might take the prize for economic buoyancy, but the French capital wins for overall elegance, style and cafe culture. Owning there will give you time to dodge the tourists and find your own local bistros. Magnifique!

6 Grenada: A home in the Caribbean gives you the chance to go beyond the beach and become more involved in the history and culture of the region. Affectionately known as the Spice Island, Grenada is the world’s largest exporter of nutmeg and mace. It is a fertile spot, with a friendly reputation. There is nowhere better to enjoy Caribbean cuisine, bursting with the flavours of the sea. The island has recently attracted a more cosmopolitan set, although it remains good value compared with more fashionable islands.

7 Tokyo, Japan: The cost of living is expensive, and the pace of life frenetic, but Japanese lifestyle retains a powerful draw on the European imagination. Business-trip sake and karaoke do scant justice to a culture that sprang up almost entirely without Western influence, with this pulsating megalopolis at its heart. The healthiness of the diet, based on staples such as tofu, has long been recognised, but Japan now has more Michelin 3-star restaurants than any other country in the world, too.

8 Courchevel, France: Forget the cold air and exercise. The après-ski at Courchevel has a way of turning into such a gastronomic orgy that it is tempting to skip the slopes altogether. The French resort has long been a favourite of wealthy British visitors, and is the epitome of Alpine chic. Prices, naturally, are higher than the peaks all around, but come with access to a host of Michelin-starred restaurants, amenities and year-round cultural events.

9 Brittany, France: There are no vineyards of note in Brittany, which probably diminishes its appeal to some British buyers, but you won’t get better seafood anywhere in France. Breton crêpes, perhaps with a glass of local cider, are another treat. For those who want a hit of urban glamour to go with their rural idyll, you are much nearer Paris (and London) than you are in the south.

10 Morocco: No visitor to Morocco ever forgets the colours and smells of the markets and bazaars. Spices of every description sit cheek-by-jowl with thrillingly fresh fruit and intricate crafts. The country makes the perfect bolt-hole for the adventurous expat who wants the sights, sounds and year-round sunshine of North Africa.

11 Barbados: The days when you were lucky to get a decent goat curry in Barbados are now a distant memory. The west coast alone now has a string of eateries that would grace any capital city in the world. Daphne’s, The Tides, The Cliff… Every one a gem – and a sporting chance of an A-list celebrity at the next table. Don’t forget Bajan music – the nation gave the world Rihanna – cricket and plenty of watersports.

12 Sweden: Over the past five years, our idea of the good life has become steadily Scandinavian. We envy their schools, their fashion, their furniture and their ability to produce superior TV crime series. The country that gave the world Ikea meatballs also gave it gravlax, smörgåsbords, and some divine herring dishes. Small wonder that more of us are looking across the North Sea.

13 Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Oxfam recently compiled its “Good Enough to Eat” index, comparing the food on offer in 125 countries, and the Netherlands ranked No 1 for “the most plentiful, healthy, nutritious and affordable diet”. Add to this Amsterdam’s stunning canal-based architecture and its wealth of galleries and museums, and you have a city that might not be on many Britons’ radars, but which could be a wonderful European bolthole.

14 Tuscany, Italy: Hardly original, but the classic dolce vita destination has lost none of its charm. All the glories of the Renaissance and ancient Rome within a short drive, against a backdrop of cypress-studded hills. Once they’re cultured out for the day, residents linger over plates of boar salami and long wine-lists. After all, it is the vineyards of “Chiantishire”, almost as much as its medieval buildings, that give the region its distinctive character.

15 Porto, Portugal: Lisbon has the architecture, but those familiar with Portugal always insist that life is best in the north of the country. You don’t have to be a fan of port to relish the drink’s historic home. Pretty Porto is a gourmet delight, serving everything from caldo verde, prince of cabbage soups, to spicy sausage dishes. All can be washed down by the wines of the Douro valley.

16 Dublin, Ireland: After some tough years for Ireland, Dublin is back in business, with property prices in some parts of the city rising 22 per cent in a year. The city of Yeats, Beckett and Joyce is as fine a place to make a home as ever. Down a pint of Guinness, wolf a dozen oysters, take in a poetry reading, down another pint of Guinness. It might be raining outside, but you will be among friends who appreciate the good things in life.

17 Hong Kong: Hong Kong knows how to look after its expat residents – provided you have money to spend. “The city is a well-known paradise for food-lovers, with its many tea houses and open-air food stalls,” says Frederick Ho of Sotheby’s International Realty Hong Kong. If it is Chinese cuisine you are after, you will find nowhere better. Add to this a thriving art market and concerts by world-renowned acts, and you have an international city like no other.

18 Budapest, Hungary: Wes Anderson’s new film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, has revived interest in this city where goulash and Soviet-era concrete are fading memories. Walk the bridge between Buda and Pest, soak in a hot bath, browse the unmatched flea markets, and marvel at the reinvigoration of one of Europe’s great cities. It is now an Aladdin’s cave of cafés, restaurants and tantalising shops, with dozens of hip new nightspots.

19 Bavaria, Germany: Rolling hills, picturesque castles and very large men in lederhosen drinking themselves legless. Visit the Munich Beer Festival, and you are unlikely to be impressed by their discerning palates. But the region actually offers some of the very best food and drink in Germany, as well as the most magnificent scenery. 

20 Cyprus: “Cyprus is still in the doldrums, but the glimmer of good news is Limassol,” says Louise Reynolds of Property Venture. Café society in Cyprus’s biggest city has continued to flourish, despite turbulent economic times. Real culture vultures might wish to look elsewhere, but for sea, sunshine and delicious local cuisine, Cyprus looks an excellent deal for a lifestyle investment.

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