College Towns Around the World for Retirement

Cuenca, Ecuador, is blessed with a great climate and a nice trout fishing stream that runs through the college town.
Cuenca, Ecuador, is blessed with a great climate and a nice trout fishing stream that runs through the college town. Max Hartshorne photo.

7 College Towns to Retire to for Under $31,000 a year

University towns are culturally vibrant communities, attractive not only to students but to retirees as well.

By Jennifer Stevens

Coimbra Portugal: A great university town and center of culture in the center of Portugal. Max Hartshorne photo.
Coimbra Portugal: A great university town and center of culture in the center of Portugal. Max Hartshorne photo.

“All over the world, university towns offer vibrant communities where there are lots to do—lectures, concerts, theater, film fests, and more,” says International Living’s Executive Editor.

“Because there’s an influx of students, these are towns where it’s typically possible to find affordable housing and good-value restaurants. And the mix of ages helps create a vibrant community.

Thess seven college towns around the globe are worth your attention if living comfortably in a culturally rich environment for under $31,000 a year sounds appealing. And they’re just as compelling for a part-time getaway, too.”

Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra is Portugal’s version of Oxford. The Mondego River runs through this bustling city—once the capital of Portugal—in the Beira Litoral province in the center of the country.

Students clad in black cloaks are a regular sight on the steep cobbled lanes running up to the grand University of Coimbra, which dominates the riverfront city.

Originally established in Lisbon in 1290, it eventually moved in 1537 to its present location, perched high above the city on the site of a former palace. The oldest university in Portugal, it is also one of the oldest universities in continuous operation in the world.

The Joanine library in Coimbra, Portugal. Paul Shoul photo.
The Joanine library in Coimbra, Portugal. Paul Shoul photo.

The University of Coimbra’s is an 18th-century Baroque delight. The three-story structure’s external walls, almost seven feet thick, contribute to a constant room temperature of about 70 F and help protect the volumes of books that reside there.

Also contributing to the effort is a colony of miniature bats living inside the walls. They emerge at night, dining on potential book-destroying insects.

Afterward, explore the nearby Machado de Castro Museum. Housed in the former Bishop’s Palace built in the Middle Ages, the museum sits atop the ancient forum of Aeminium, Coimbra’s Roman name. Art above ruins below makes for a remarkable experience.

Here, a couple could live well on a budget of $2,200 a month, or $26,400 a year.

Granada, Spain: The Alhambra is Just the Beginning in this History-filled City

With the thousand-year-old historic Alhambra still looking over and guarding the city, Granada, Spain, has for centuries been a crossroads of culture and a center for study, exchange, and appreciation of different peoples.

Granada is a mid-sized university town, an hour from the Costa del Sol, so the young people make it vibrant, with learning by day and tapas and flamenco dancing at night.

The nearly 500-year-old University of Granada plays a major role in the city’s atmosphere. The university has one of the biggest international student exchange programs in Europe, continuing Granada’s legacy of taking the best of many cultures and creating something, new, better, and wholly Granadan.

The university has a main campus but also has buildings around town. There is a spirit here of learning and exploration of both the greater world and about one’s self, so a common conversation is about what classes people, young and old, are taking, whether Spanish language, art history, cooking, or even flamenco dancing.

Taking a cue from the city’s emphasis on cultural fusion, the expat community is a thorough mix of peoples from all over who regularly gather with each other and locals, united in a common goal of intermixing cultures rather than standing apart. There are constant meetups, from hiking to biking, to Spanish language development over wine and tapas.

On a budget of $2,505 a month—$30,060 a year—a couple could enjoy tennis regularly and take numerous day trips around the countryside.

The Alhambra from the Mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain. This is one of the seven college towns that are great places to retire on the cheap.
The Alhambra from the Mirador San Nicolas, Granada, Spain. This is one of the seven college towns that are great places to retire on the cheap.

Cuenca, Ecuador: 8000 Americans Already Live There

Expats have flocked to Cuenca, Ecuador in recent years for its great weather, low cost of living, and excellent healthcare. But most people aren’t aware until they arrive that it boasts five universities—along with many Spanish language schools attracting study abroad students from all over the world.

Hat Maker in Cuenca, Ecuador.
Hat Maker in Cuenca, Ecuador.

Great university towns are known as cultural hubs and artistic centers with a fun, vibrant atmosphere, and Cuenca is no exception.

As Ecuador’s third-largest city and the economic center of the southern Sierra, Cuenca has long been known for its culture, art, and a rich philosophical tradition.

The city is famous for its colorful festivals, distinct cuisine, and breathtaking scenery. Because of its history and state of preservation, Cuenca is one of Ecuador’s UNESCO World Heritage Trust sites.

The university town packs a lot of appeal—temperate climate, antiquity and cultural amenities—for a modest monthly budget that allows retirees to enjoy it all. All told, a couple could live a good life in Cuenca on $1,680 a month, or $20,160 a year.

Bordeaux, France: The Shining Limestone and World's Best Wines

Located just a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, in a picturesque part of France, Bordeaux is well known for its high standard of living, beautiful surroundings, and friendly citizens.

As a university town, Bordeaux has a lot to offer and residents are accustomed to greeting foreigners into their hometown.

Downtown Bordeaux France has been spruced up with the limestone of old buildings restored to their shiny glory. Max Hartshorne photo.
Downtown Bordeaux France has been spruced up with the limestone of old buildings restored to their shiny glory. Max Hartshorne photo.

The University of Bordeaux is composed of several institutions. The most notable is the College of Science and Technology and the Institute of Vine and Wine Science, both offering prolific exchange programs.

A significant contingent of foreign students and expats has built a strong multinational community here. Bordeaux is quite lively, with a highly attractive nightlife and cultural scene. The liveliest areas can be found around the city center and the riverbank.

On a budget of $1,732 a month, or $20,784 a year, a couple can enjoy a sophisticated retirement this ancient city.

Bologna, Italy

The famous statue of Neptune in the center of Bologna, a great college town of Italy. Catherine Roberts photos.
The famous statue of Neptune in the center of Bologna, a great college town of Italy. Catherine Roberts photos.

In recent years, Bologna, the lively historic capital of northern Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, has welcomed a record number of visitors and has become firmly fixed on the map as an expat destination. It boasts the oldest university in the world, top-class culinary tradition, and a vibrant, liberal-minded character.

“Bologna enthralled me from the moment I walked under some of its 25 miles of porticoes,” says IL contributor, Debra Kolkka. “These covered verandahs—some have huge wooden pillars and ceilings, and others are more elaborate, with arched ceilings and decorated pillars—came about centuries ago, when students began to flock to Bologna’s university.

“My tour guide pointed out the oldest café in the city, the best place to buy prosciutto, and took me to the anatomy room in the university, where a couple of centuries ago it became fashionable for residents to watch the dissection of bodies.

The anatomy room is made from wood, with a marble-topped table in the center that was used for dissections. There are wooden sculptures around the room, including the first plastic surgeon holding a nose and a model of a man with his skin removed.”

The Emilia-Romagna region of Italy stands out for its quality of life and beautiful cities. It is one of the wealthiest regions in the country and is widely considered to have a great lifestyle, excellent transportation connections, and a rich array of cultural pursuits.

But it doesn’t come with a hefty price tag. A couple can live well here on a monthly budget of $1,190 per month—$14,280 a year.

Arequipa, Peru

Located in the southern part of Peru, Arequipa is the country’s second largest city. It’s a bustling metropolis with a large and vibrant Spanish colonial quarter at its heart.

Hiking in Peru.

Arequipa has long been a center of learning in Peru, with many of the country’s most famous intellectual, political and religious figures hailing from the Andean city. The constant influx of aspiring academics helps keep this Old World city feeling young and lively.

The pedestrian-friendly city is considered the best place in the country to purchase traditionally woven Alpaca textiles at bargain prices. Artisans produce fine leather goods, custom made guitars, filigree jewelry, and an array of other high-quality products.

Arequipa’s colonial-era buildings are particularly striking, in that they are made from sillar—a pearly white volcanic rock. They have earned this place the nickname La Ciudad Blanca (The White City). Such is its beauty, overlooked by the majestic, seasonally snow-capped El Misti volcano, that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2000.

A monthly budget for a couple in Arequipa would run at $1,585, or $19,020 a year.

Merida, Mexico

Near the northern coast of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, about 22 miles south of the Gulf of Mexico, lies the regal colonial city of Mérida. This beautiful, vibrant city offers culture, sports, modern infrastructure, world-class affordable medical care, and handy access to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s easy to understand why Mérida has long been a favorite of expats.

“Mérida is known for its fine high schools, technical schools, colleges,” says Suzan Haskins, IL Editor. “During the day, you’ll often find students in the plazas, some diligently tapping away on laptop keyboards.

“Mérida is at the heart of what once was a vast Maya empire and the Maya influence is everywhere, from food to architecture to attitude. This is a place where no one gets too riled up over anything—a passiveness that may have as much to do with the climate as it does with any genetic predisposition.

“This college town boasts a low cost of living, practically non-existent property taxes, excellent medical care, and warm people. These are the reasons my husband and I moved here.”

A couple could live well on a budget of $1,434 to $1,740 a month in Mérida—$17,208 to $20,880 a year.

Jennifer Stevens
Jennifer Stevens

More information on the seven college towns can be foundhere: 7 Best College Towns For Retirement

Jennifer Stevens is the editor of International Living Magazine.

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