Mike and Hope Tyler had vacationed at a condo in Delaware's crowded resort town of Rehoboth Beach for years. But when Mike decided to retire and they visited friends in nearby Lewes, the Tylers were smitten. Perched where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic, Lewes (pronounced Loo-iss) is a quiet Dutch seaport with pristine beaches, elegant Victorian homes and a nearby state park. The Tylers bid on an ornate Queen Anne-style fixer-upper and, after finishing the restoration, opened a bed-and-breakfast, the Wild Swan Inn, in 1993. "We selected Lewes because it had small-town charm," says Mike, 57. "When we saw the house, it was so unique, so special, we knew it would be a good place to live."
With a population of 2,300 (up to 6,000 in the summer) and a history as a whaling community, Lewes feels a lot farther from the hustle and bustle of Washington, Baltimore, Md., and Philadelphia than the approximately two-hour drive it is from each. Biking in the inviting flatlands of the Delaware countryside; bird-watching at Cape Henlopen State Park, a 4,000-acre sandy peninsula; and touring the 18th and 19th century homes are popular diversions. Ecotourism is a growing attraction as well, with whale and dolphin study boats departing Lewes regularly in warm-weather months.
The town centerpiece is the Zwaanendael Museum, a model of a Dutch city hall with ornamental gables and carved stonework. Inside are maritime history exhibits with information and artifacts relating to the 1631 Dutch settlement of Lewes and the 1812 British bombardment of the port.
A Lifelong Learning academy two miles from downtown and affiliated with the University of Delaware offers unlimited classes for $90 a semester to anyone over 50. Courses are as varied as English country-dance, the presidency and genealogy on the computer.
It may seem as if you'd never want to, but getting out of town for day trips is easy. Several times a day, a ferry makes the 70-minute trip from Lewes to quaint Cape May, N.J., which is just 40 miles from Atlantic City.
BEST AMENITIES: Beaches, a 4,000-acre state park, Zwaanendael Museum of maritime artifacts, Southern Delaware Academy of Lifelong Learning
NEAREST MAJOR MEDICAL CENTER: Beebe Medical Center, a 138-bed hospital, including a cardiac center and an Alzheimer's clinic
BEST PLACE TO STAY: The Wild Swan Inn, a restored Queen Anne-style bed-and-breakfast with a pool and an outstanding breakfast
The Arts Teem in Natchitoches
David Graham and his wife Carolyn considered plenty of attractive Southern towns for their retirement before finally settling on this picturesque bayou community on the Cane River. Many of the places they visited had the mild climate and low cost of living the Grahams sought, but Natchitoches, La., "had everything we wanted," says David, 68. "We have all the pleasures of small-town life--friendly neighbors, no traffic--and all the conveniences larger cities have to offer."
Natchitoches, an hour southeast of Shreveport, is the state's oldest European settlement and a haven of Cajun history and culture. It was in nearby Melrose that author Kate Chopin lived and gathered material for her colorful collection, Bayou Folk, and numerous other short stories in 1894. Today the Melrose Plantation Arts and Crafts Festival, an annual June event benefiting Chopin's home and library, draws artists from across the nation and several thousand visitors to the Natchitoches area.
The city is host to many other popular festivals each year, starting with a Mardi Gras observance in early spring and including a Creole Heritage Festival, jazz and folk festivals and a Festival of Lights in December. The area's cultural offerings are enhanced by Northwestern State University, which has 9,000 students and supports an acclaimed symphony, ballet, dinner theater and music recitals.
When they're not taking in the vibrant local arts and culture scene, Natchitoches residents may be hiking in 129,000-acre Kisatchie National Forest, boating or fishing on the Cane River or sampling the meat pie, chicken andouille gumbo and Cane River cream cake at Lasyone's Meat Pie Kitchen on Second Street.
Like everyone else in Louisiana, folks in Natchitoches benefit from the state's appealing tax structure, which exempts the first $75,000 of home value. Another attraction is the region's semitropical climate--January temperatures rarely dip below 50[degrees]F, and summer days hover in the 80s.
Visitors may want to launch their exploration of the area from the Log Cabin on the Cane, a graceful bed-and-breakfast overlooking the river. --R.W. Reported by Jyl Benson/New Orleans
BEST AMENITIES: Melrose Plantation Arts and Crafts Festival, Kisatchie National Forest and Northwestern State University
NEAREST MAJOR MEDICAL CENTER: 265-bed St. Frances Cabrini Hospital, with a full cancer center, 50 minutes away in Alexandria