Winning losers - Issue 15 - Magazine | Monocle

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01 Genoa

Genoa is a promising candidate for those with designs on an urban refuge in Italy. The city’s centre is pedestrian-friendly and features well-preserved palazzos and windy alleyways akin to Venice, without the crush of pigeon-feeding tourists.

Its neighbourhoods get good marks for retaining a decidedly local flavour in the retail mix, though some could do with a bit of a scrubbing. Other handicaps include a cultural scene without spark or funds and parks in need of pruning.

As with many Italian cities, public transport is a sore point but the recent addition of car sharing and a metro line signal a step in the right direction. Perhaps the most appealing mode of moving around are its funicular railways and the lifts that whisk people up to terraced apartments offering views of the Mediterranean. “I love this sea,” says local Giuseppe Pontremoli, manager of one of the city’s marinas. “In 15 minutes by boat you can be off Portofino taking a dip.”

Indeed, quick access to secluded beaches and a comfortable year-round climate are hard to beat. And with plans to further develop the old port via the addition of a waterfront piazza, it won’t be long before the city’s favourable property prices become a thing of the past.

Five things that make Genoa special:

01 Secluded bathing spots east of the city.
02 A mix of independent shops – Via Garibaldi 12 being first on the list.
03 Delicacies such as farinata and focaccia served without fuss.
04 A well-run car share scheme with Fiat 500s and vans for errands.
05 Proximity of a city airport that boasts its own marina. It’s one of the most centrally located in Europe.

02 Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’s failings are well-documented, from its infuriating inefficiency to its shanty towns and financial crises. A fifth of residents live below the poverty line, average annual income is around €5,000, and, worried by growing crime, the three million residents last year elected centre-right mayor Mauricio Macri. Yet BA grabs the hearts of both locals and visitors. The city is filled with parks and apartments with Parisian proportions. The temperature rarely drops below 8C and breezes off the Rio de la Plata keep it comfortable. The life and work rhythm is Latin to the extreme, with chatty lunches typically lasting two hours and office work rarely getting off the ground before 10.00. It’s hard for the efficiency obsessed, but brilliant for those looking for a relaxed life.

Five things that make Buenos Aires special:

01 From the 150-year-old elegance of Café Tortoni to a humble barrio bar, almost every corner has at least one bar or café that stays open late.
02 Buenos Aires’s large park system includes the Tres de Febrero, which is some 120 acres larger than New York’s Central Park.
03 With a complicated political life and the world’s highest psychoanalyst per capita ratio, Buenos Aires’s residents are eloquent explorers of any conversation topic.
04 More than 200 theatres, over 75 museums and countless galleries.
05 Buenos Aires boasts about 40,000 taxis, and journeys rarely cost more than €4.

03 Istanbul

The erstwhile capital of Byzantium is more than just a repository of Ottoman palaces, glorious churches and elegant mosques. Istanbul also boasts one of the best club scenes in Europe. It is also a city where the rich live in sumptuous homes by the Bosphorus, and the poor in drab shanty towns that ring the city. Old-style kebab shops sit next to Starbucks. Women in mini-skirts sashay alongside girls in chadors. Police can be brutal, especially with ethnic Kurdish migrants, gypsies and transvestites. Limited freedom of expression has also hampered

Turkey’s bid to join the EU and there is tension over the role religion should play in public life. None of this deters the ever-thickening crowd of foreign business people who are snapping up properties, opening factories and offices and hiring the country’s young, hungry workforce. The city is fantastically well connected, straddling Europe and the Middle East and only a short flight away from Africa. The views are spectacular.

Five things that make Istanbul special:

01 The nightlife. Nothing quite beats the Babylon club in Beyoglu, the heart of the city’s alternative music scene. Here, Sufi flautists team up with rapsters and bongo drummers to create a unique blend of world music.
02 Relatively cheap, high-quality accommodation. Les Ottomans hotel, for example, takes you back to the sensuality of the harem with its sumptuous Ottoman-style suites overlooking the water.
03 Telecommunications, city transport and non-stop travel connections to four continents. Live on the lusher Asian side of the Bosphorus, and drive your speedboat to work on the European side.
04 Fantastic markets, late-night shopping and almost 24-hour street food.
05 What really makes Istanbul is the diversity of its population: Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Arabs and Jews.

04 Beirut

Because of the recurring instability, Lebanon hasn’t quite made it on the list of best places to live. Yet to Beirut’s residents, many of whom have lived in Paris, New York or Rio, the city is still the best in the world. The idea of Lebanon being the Switzerland of the Middle East might be a cliché, but it still holds true: you can ski and swim on the same day, the banking system is resilient and the people are perhaps a bit more fun than the Swiss. Add good food, sunny weather all year and the low cost of living, and you might understand why some people just won’t move. As one writer put it, “We have lived on the verge of a catastrophe for the past 100 years.” That means a Marc Jacobs store next to a Hezbollah sit-in protest, and a nightclub where war atrocities were once committed.

Five things that make Beirut special:

01 A Mediterranean dive from the modernist Sporting Club.
02 Bar-hopping in Gemmayzeh.
03 Falafels at Sahyoun.
04 Jogging on the Corniche on a Saturday morning, taking in the city’s multiple faces.
05 The five-minute taxi journey from Hamra to airport.

05 Phnom penh

Smooth tarmac now covers roads that few years ago would have seen off most vehicles. Efficient waste collection has removed the odour of putrefaction and mains water is among the cleanest in the region. The result: Phnom Penh’s many charms have begun to shine. Some colonial buildings have survived and nothing can diminish the majestic confluence of the Mekong, Sap and Bassac rivers at the heart of the city. Poverty is still rampant, but the economy is one of the fastest-growing in the world.

Five things that make Phnom Penh special:

01 The sense that anything is possible, fostered by a dearth of rules and regulations.
02 Sunsets and electrical storms over the Chaktomuk, where the great rivers meet.
03 A burgeoning visual arts scene.
04 Absence of international retailers.
05 The year-round street theatre of weddings and funerals presided over by chanting, saffron-robed monks.

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