When we dream of island living, pristine beaches, swaying palm trees, and balmy sunsets often come to mind. We conjure up images of exotic destinations like the Caribbean, the South Pacific, or the Maldives. But there’s a secret waiting to be discovered – Europe’s sub-tropical islands. These unsung tropical paradises offer a unique blend of history, ancient architecture, natural beauty, and a relaxed European lifestyle. The best part? You can live on these hidden gems for under $36,000 a year. In this article, we’ll explore these enchanting destinations, uncovering the hidden treasures that make them the perfect retirement havens.
1. Madeira: Portugal's Best Island
Madeira, an autonomous region of Portugal, lies closer to Africa than Lisbon, an island with a rich tapestry of landscapes. From deep valleys, canyons, and winding roads in the south to wind-swept plateaus reaching 7,000 feet in the north, Madeira offers diversity within its 34 by-14-mile expanse.
The climate on Madeira is a delightful subtropical one, with mild summers and winters. You’ll experience spring-like weather with temperatures rarely exceeding 80°F in summer and rarely dipping below 60°F in winter.
Brittan Graves and his wife Terri, originally from Boise, Idaho, decided to move to Madeira almost two years ago. They purchased a three-bedroom penthouse condo in Funchal, the capital of the island, for just $380,000. Their journey was fueled by a romantic desire to retire overseas, and Madeira stole their hearts.
The cost of living on this island pleasantly surprised them. They discovered that dining out more often was affordable, thanks to the island’s high-quality food and ingredients. Local specialties like scabbard fish and grilled sardines became their favorites. Madeira’s healthcare system is robust, with efficient services and English-speaking doctors.
Transportation on the island is convenient, with a hop-on, hop-off bus service providing mobility. Madeira boasts up to 10 daily flights to Lisbon and connections to various European cities, ensuring that expats remain well-connected to the world.
Madeira’s stunning landscapes, featuring dramatic cliffs, picturesque villages, terraced vineyards, and flower-strewn trails, combined with its welcoming expat community, are making it a rising star among Portugal’s expat destinations. The island’s unique charm, affordability, and excellent healthcare make it an attractive option for those seeking an idyllic European island lifestyle.
2. Cyprus: Island of Happiness
In the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus enjoys a strategic location between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. This geographical privilege has shaped its history, creating a melting pot of cultures. While the island has been divided since the 1970s, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus offer unique charms.
Cyprus, particularly its southern part, offers a Mediterranean ambiance reminiscent of Greek islands. Streets lined with oleander, camellia, and bougainvillea, palm-fringed beaches, and charming cafes create a captivating atmosphere.
Richard Powell, a 73-year-old Canadian expat, and his wife Tina made the decision to retire in Cyprus in 2017. The warm climate and the allure of the Mediterranean lifestyle drew them to this island. Richard continued to work remotely as an IT developer, benefiting from high-quality internet access.
They settled in Peyia, a large village in the southwest, chosen for its proximity to Paphos, vibrant expat community, and beautiful beaches. The couple enjoys the outdoors, exploring the island’s hills, valleys, and clear seas. Cyprus offers an active lifestyle, with various social groups and affordable dining options.
Cyprus boasts lower living costs than many North American destinations, allowing expats to live well on around $2,500 to $3,000 per month. While certain imported goods may be more expensive, essentials like healthcare, produce, and restaurant meals are reasonably priced. The island’s healthcare system is efficient, with English-speaking doctors and accessible treatment options.
Cyprus, with its rich history, Mediterranean culture, and abundant sunshine, provides an ideal setting for retirees seeking a relaxed and cost-effective island lifestyle.
3. Tenerife: Spain's Island Paradise
Tenerife, part of the Canary Islands and technically a Spanish territory, is located over a thousand miles closer to Morocco than to Madrid. This diverse archipelago has attracted expats for centuries, known as the “fortunate isles” since the 1st century BC.
Tenerife stands out among the inhabited Canary Islands with its broad range of landscapes. From the stark beauty of Fuerteventura and Lanzarote to the lush, sub-tropical farmlands of Tenerife, this island offers a microclimate to suit every preference.
Rose Bull and her husband Trevor moved to Costa Adeje, on Tenerife’s southwest coast, in 2012. The warm weather and vibrant expat community made it an ideal choice for their retirement. Costa Adeje offers a Mediterranean climate, with temperatures rarely dropping below 60°F even in winter.
Mount Teide, the dormant volcano dominating Tenerife’s skyline, influences the island’s climate and geography. Hiking trails and cable cars provide opportunities to explore this stunning natural wonder.
Outdoor activities abound in Tenerife, from hiking to golfing and swimming in crystal-clear waters. The island’s affordability, including reasonable rental costs and a lower cost of living compared to many North American destinations, makes it an attractive choice for retirees.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the main city, offers modern amenities, healthcare facilities, and a vibrant nightlife. Accessible healthcare, English-speaking doctors, and efficient medical services provide peace of mind for expats.
Tenerife’s sunny weather, diverse landscapes, and active lifestyle options make it a hidden treasure for retirees seeking an outdoor paradise.
4. Malta: The Most Enjoyable
Malta, strategically positioned in the Mediterranean Sea, boasts a rich history shaped by various conquerors throughout the centuries. Today, it is an independent republic comprising three inhabited islands: Malta, Gozo, and Comino.
Malta’s landscape offers a striking contrast, with sheer rock faces in the south and sandy beaches along the northern coast. The Mediterranean climate ensures long, hot summers and mild winters, with average temperatures ranging from 57°F to 88°F.
Former Marines Cheryl Strickland-Lewis and Todd Lewis chose Malta as their retirement destination. Cheryl’s Maltese heritage and the island’s unique cultural traditions were compelling reasons for their move. They appreciate the strong sense of community and the laidback lifestyle in Malta.
The cost of living in Malta varies, with rental prices and utility bills being affordable. The couple spends around $1,200 monthly on rent and $100 to $200 on utilities. Dining out is enjoyable and reasonably priced, with plenty of options.
Malta offers a rich tapestry of activities, from swimming in the Mediterranean to volunteering and trying out local restaurants. The island’s unique history and culture provide endless opportunities for exploration and enjoyment.
While Malta remains relatively undiscovered compared to other Mediterranean destinations, its friendly community, affordable living, and Mediterranean charm make it an ideal choice for retirees.
Living the Dream
These unsung tropical islands of Europe, with their stunning natural beauty, rich histories, welcoming expat communities, and affordable living costs, are the perfect destinations for those seeking an idyllic retirement. Whether you prefer the dramatic landscapes of Madeira, the Mediterranean ambiance of Cyprus, the outdoor paradise of Tenerife, or the cultural richness of Malta, Europe’s hidden tropical paradises have it all – and you can experience them for under $36,000 a year. So, why wait? Start planning your island retirement today and live the dream in these enchanting European destinations.