A Northern Italy Lakeside Retirement Paradise

Get into a discussion with a group of baby boomers about the ideal place to retire, and northern Italy may rank high. Americans Jan and Dave Lee found their retirement paradise in the town of Verbania, Italy, which sits next to a lake near Italy’s border with Switzerland. Here is Jan’s account of life there.

As the day begins and the sun turns the snow-capped peaks of the Alps to gold, my husband Dave and I take a leisurely stroll. With our little dog Magic, we walk along the lakefront to our favorite cafe, where for $4 we enjoy steaming cappuccinos and fresh buttery croissants.

Many of our days start like this …

About a year ago, we sold our home and began a new chapter in our lives in northern Italy. We rented an elegant two-bedroom apartment one block from our favorite lake, Maggiore, for just under $1,000 per month.

Verbania, Italy.

Verbania, Italy.

Verbania, Italy, where we live, is home to about 31,000 people.

It sits on the western shore at the southern end of the long lake, which snakes up into Switzerland.

An esplanade skirts the lakefront, with cafes and bars galore. A large, tree-studded park hosts concerts in the summer and there’s a sandy beach for swimming and sun bathing. All the amenities you could ask for are here, including a major hospital, doctors, dentists, and pharmacies.

We find life here affordable and the health care system is good. When I do my weekly shopping for groceries I never spend more than $100. Health care is free for European citizens, which covers my husband, as he is a British citizen.

Since I am originally from the West Coast of the U.S., I don’t qualify. However, I can purchase a voluntary Italian health card for one year for about $500, a fraction of what insurance would cost in the U.S. This card gives me the same free access to doctors and hospitals that my husband has. The quality of care is excellent, with Italy being ranked number two, behind France, by the World Health Organization in health care standards.

We live comfortably here and regularly go to concerts, the ballet, and exhibitions. The finest art in the world is on our doorstep, and the history and architecture of this country would take several lifetimes to enjoy. Inexpensive, high-speed trains have taken us to Verona, Florence, and Turin… Next year we’ll explore Rome.

The climate is mild year-round with the exception of July and August, which can be in the high 80s F or low 90s F. There are beautiful gardens where you’ll find rare and exotic plants. One of the most renowned is Villa Taranto, only a 10-minute walk from our front door. This garden was the dream of a Scottish sea captain who imported trees and plants from around the world and built his villa there. A spectacular water garden is the centerpiece, with masses of color and views to the Alps.

Verbania, Italy.

Verbania, Italy.

Close by, on the island of Isola Bella, is another wonderful garden—a multi-level, manicured garden with a history that spans several centuries. Here white peacocks strut around displaying their amazing plumage.

If you tire of gardens, you can ride cable cars to craggy mountaintops or take ferries to historical islands with elegant baroque palaces. Last month we took a day-trip to Switzerland on the Centovalli Railway through deep gorges and lush green valleys. The ticket cost slightly less than $100 each, including a three-hour ferry ride back to Verbania from Locarno.

Small, picturesque villages are plentiful on the lakeshore. One of my favorites is Cannobio, which takes only 15 minutes by bus from where we live and is very close to the Swiss border. There is a lovely cafe-lined waterfront promenade and a stunning 15th-century cathedral. Ferries run frequently from here to the Swiss artist colony of Arona and to the larger town of Locarno, in Switzerland, which holds an international film festival each August.

We eagerly await each day here and all the discoveries it will bring … not governed by clocks, deadlines, or spent in traffic.

InternationalLivingCatch up on all the great places to explore at InternationalLiving.com.



  1. Oh wow. I’m going to show this to my husband. He speaks French and Spanish (along with Franglish), so he’ll have no problem learning Italian. And, since Verbania is next to Switzerland, I’m sure that more than a few people know the Ligua Franca.

    My husband is not keen on leaving the states because he’s never lived anywhere else… and it freaks him out. However, I lived in Switzerland for my last year of high school – well, it was finishing school and I didn’t speak a word of French – so I didn’t learn much. However, I learned to love Europe.

    I wonder if it’s more difficult to move permanently to Italy if neither spouse is from the EU…. anyone know? Do you need to prove your net worth or verify that you have a certain income? What about purchasing a small house or apartment… yeah the taxes would be a deal killer right?

    I know that Switzerland is out of this world for cost-of-living. But, you say that Verbania is reasonable… do you mean compared to Switzerland or do you mean reasonable…? And, I’m guessing that you don’t need a car.

    If you or anyone reading this knows the answer to any of these questions, please leave a message here. Yes, I have a lot of questions here, but you can tell me anything you know.

  2. You lucky things you. We visited Verbania last year as part of a road trip around the lakes and loved it and have since often talked about renting a place there for a few months and your article has brought those thoughts right back again.

    Enjoy Italy, such a great country.

    Brian Luckhurst

  3. Thanks for sharing the info, I couldn’t agree more! I live in Italy too, in Rome, and it’s simply wonderful for all the reasons mentioned above…I ended up writing about Italy (in The Phoenix Heritage, a trilogy set in Sicily)and even my latest novel about a retiree-turned-artist, A Hook in the Sky, is partly set in Italy: here’s a retiree who has restored for himself a farmhouse in the Umbrian countryside near Lake Trasimeno, another wonderful Italian lake where there are many retired expats – all enjoying life (though the protagonist of my novel runs into serious trouble…but then it’s fiction, it would be no fun if I hadn’t heaped problems on him!)

    I highly recommend retirement in Italy, all sorts of place across the whole peninsula, from Lake Maggiore to Sicily!

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