The self-proclaimed home of "Cows, colleges and contentment" is also the best place in America to retire, according to a new Money magazine ranking that bestowed the crown on Northfield.

"This little town 45 minutes south of Minneapolis packs a surprising punch: It's home to two colleges [St. Olaf and Carleton], an active retiree community, beautiful countryside and the mix of affordability and economic growth that characterizes much of the Twin Cities region," according to the magazine.

Dana Graham, Northfield's mayor and a financial adviser, said he already knew that his town was a retirement magnet. "There isn't a week that goes by that people don't talk to me about retiring in Northfield," said the 59-year-old Graham, a Northfield resident for 22 years.

"If I was going to retire [now], I would retire in Northfield, absolutely," he said Monday. "It's just a special place … as long as you accept what the winters are and embrace it."

And don't mind high taxes, Money conceded, noting that the state's marginal income tax rate tops out at 9.85 percent.

But the community's warmth and cultural assets are ample compensation, according to the magazine.

Carleton and St. Olaf provide access to continuing-ed classes, lecturers and travel programs. St. Olaf offers an array of entertainment, including two bands, two orchestras, dance, theater and eight choral groups, including the renowned St. Olaf Choir. The Northfield Senior Center has more than 1,500 members and a range of classes, workshops and trips.

The magazine also notes Northfield's 33 city parks, the Mayo Clinic's world-class medical care less than an hour's drive away and downtown's rip-roarin' "Defeat of Jesse James Days" held the weekend after Labor Day.

Listed by the magazine as runners-up to Northfield were Bellingham, Wash., and Manchester, N.H.

In August, Northfield was ranked No. 2 on the yearly "Top Ten Small Towns" list by Livability.com, which ranks small and midsize communities for quality of life.

Money explained that it used as a starting point a study conducted by the National Institute on Retirement Security, which ranked the 50 states on factors essential to retirees. The study focused on housing prices, taxes on pension income, job opportunities for older workers, potential retiree income, Medicare reimbursements and generosity of Medicaid.

"Yes, that means focusing on some cold spots," the magazine explained, "but it seems safe to bet that, for many retirees, financial security still trumps weather."

Money also gave nods to the top low-cost retirement communities (Bella Vista, Ark.; Sioux Falls; and Morgantown, W.Va.) and the best place for retirees to pursue an encore career (Iowa City, Iowa; Bozeman, Mont.; and Casper, Wyo.).

To read Money's report on all three listings, visit http://tinyurl.com/pqeaqky.