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Quality of life 2007 - Italy

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Moving up three places

We give 100 points (that is, a perfect score) to Italy in the Culture and Leisure category. This country, in its history, has given us Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli. Pizza, gondolas, and scarlet Ferraris. Opera, ice cream, and Prada handbags. OK, they’ve given us the Mafia, too, but who isn’t tempted by the charms of Italy, Europe’s most intriguing and seductive country?

Italy’s landscapes are as memorable as they are diverse. Historic walled towns, timeless villages crowning little hilltops like tiaras, and fields covered with bright yellow sunflowers.

Gnarled olive groves and lemon, orange, and almond trees…golden beaches and jewel-like Alpine lakes…romantic, mysterious islands…smoldering Mount Etna…the glittering peaks of the snow-covered Alps and the Dolomites. Italy is said to hold more than half the world’s cultural riches within its borders. We don’t doubt it.

What’s the weather like?

We give Italy 85 points in the Climate category. In general, it has one of the best climates in Europe, but conditions vary. In winter, the Italian Alps are likely to be cold, with crisp blue skies and enough snow to keep skiers satisfied. On the other hand, Milan is often fog-bound. In fact winter fog can be a problem throughout central and northern Italy. It’s common for flights to be cancelled due to fog.

For the best winter weather, look to the Italian Riviera, the Amalfi coast, and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. All enjoy a mild winter climate without heavy rainfall. Obviously, the farther south you go during the summertime, the hotter it gets…and the deep south can be warm indeed. In Apulia, the heel of Italy, the sea temperature averages 82˚ F in August.

Italy ranks among the World Health Organization’s top 10 countries for quality health services (by contrast, the U.S. holds 37th place, despite being the biggest spender). However, although medical facilities are considered adequate for emergencies, public hospitals are overcrowded and under-funded.

Of course, you don’t have to use public health facilities. Like many Italians, you can avail of the parallel private medical service that caters for patients covered by private medical insurance. Note, though, that, in some small towns, particularly in the south, you will only be able to access the public health system—private doctors and hospitals congregate where the money is.

Current statistics put the number of doctors in Italy at 322,000, and life expectancy is relatively high: 76 years for men, 83 for women

It needn’t cost the earth

You, like many, may have the impression that Italy is expensive. Have a cup of coffee on St. Mark’s Square in Venice, and your fears will be confirmed. The truth is, though, that, outside of the tourist hot-spots, you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy the good life in this country. In the south, and in rural Lunigiana and Liguria, you can buy liter-jugs of local wine for as little as $4. And, in these areas, a meal in a nice restaurant will cost less than $20 a head

Obviously, how much it costs to live in Italy depends on your lifestyle and whereabouts you choose to settle. Housing costs aside, at current exchange rates, singles need an annual income of $20,000 to $26,000 to enjoy a middle-class lifestyle in northern and central Italy. Couples require an income of between $26,000 and $40,000

It’s impossible to give an average per-square-foot price for Italy, though most provincial properties fall into the $185 to $315 per-square-foot range. As a rule of thumb, you’ll pay far less for apartments in provincial towns than in major population centers.

In Northern Italy, you still can find restored village houses in the idyllic wine-producing region of Piemonte, for example, for less than $70,000. Look to the hills of western Liguria—the stunning Italian Riviera—for ready-to-move-into village properties for less than $85,000. In the Lake Maggiore town of Stresa, a studio apartment in a restored “liberty” period villa could be yours for $78,000…or how about a habitable house with a couple of acres in a tranquil corner of central Italy’s unspoiled Le Marché region for $64,000? Looking for a traditional farmhouse fixer-upper? In the verdant hills of Emilia Romagna, the starting figure is a mere $60,000.

As you can see, there are affordable options all over Italy. Yes, even in Tuscany, if you concentrate on the hilly north of the region instead of the golden triangle between Florence, Pisa, and Siena. Around Lucca and in the Lunigiana, habitable village houses still surface for less than $100,000.

As for the economy, although southern Italy has some economically disadvantaged regions, this is not an impoverished country—it is among the world’s seven most industrialized nations.


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