If you dream of living the good life in France – you’re certainly not alone, it’s a popular dream!
Expats in France are numerous and from all around the world. Drawn by the diversity of the landscapes, the food, sunshine, wine – there’s lots to tempt.
Those who love snow and mountains head to the French Alps. Culture vultures flock to cities from north to south – Paris, Lyon, Lille, Nice and more. Fans of the countryside have so much choice everywhere, from the far north to the far south, from east to west. Lovers of the sea can certainly find their ideal spot along the 2130 miles of coastline from tiny fishing villages in the north to the sun-kissed French Riviera.
So when it comes to finding your ideal place to live in France – your first problem is usually, where?
Where to live in France?
If you’re sensible, then unlike me – I bought my very cheap, wreck of a house on a whim while on a day trip to Calais to buy wine – you’ll put some thought into what you want from living in France. Actually, it worked out really well for me, I love my part of France, the 7 Valleys in Pas de Calais, so it’s not always the wrong thing to do, but it’s probably best not to leave it to fate!
Work out what’s important to you:
If you’re after sunshine and long hot summers, then the south statistically beats the north. That said, I live in the north and it’s nowhere near as cold, wet and miserable as lots of people think!
The far south of France gets around 2,800 hours of sunshine per year whilst Pas de Calais in the far north gets around 1600 hours of sunshine (for comparison Cornwall gets 1500 hours per year).
You might be surprised to know that the south of France has almost 25% more rainfall than the north. Cannes has around 830mm rain per year while Calais has 616mm of rain per year.
The warmest places to live in France
If you’re going to need to use public transport – make sure where you’re seeking a property can accommodate your needs. Rural locations in particular don’t always have public transport or a severely limited service. My village for instance has a weekly bus service to local towns. And taxis are hideously expensive.
If you’re intending to run a business, or being online is important to you, make sure you check the internet speed and mobile phone signal. You may be surprised to know that not everywhere has internet, many places have slower than dial-up speed and poor or no mobile phone signal. Though the French Government has plans to upgrade telecoms for the whole of France – it’s a long, slow process.
Access to airports, stations and motorways
This can be really important, especially if you’re going for a second home. You don’t want to spend all day driving for a weekend away. And if you’re wanting people to visit or buying a home to rent out – you need to make sure people can reach you easily.
If you’re from a city, moving to rural France can be quite a shock – I know, I’ve done it. It can take a bit of getting used to but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. I don’t mind driving 10 minutes to the nearest shop and I don’t mind restricting my alcohol intake when we go out for dinner or an aperitif in the town. But I do know of people that couldn’t live without access to shops, bars, restaurants.
If you’ve got kids, you’ll need to consider schools and you’ll probably want to have more facilities for the kids – from sports to cinema etc.
If you like to have company, then moving somewhere isolated might not be for you. I live in a small village and sometimes don’t see anyone for days on end if I don’t go to the shops. I love the space, the tranquillity, the glorious countryside that surrounds me. As an ex-Londoner, I’m used to having everything on my doorstep and people everywhere. This life is very different, it took a bit of getting used to but I wouldn’t change it. But anyone thinking of moving to a ville tranquille – if you like to have people around, it needs to be considered.
Winter & summer visits
How many of us go on holiday, lulled by the sunshine and chilled rosé, look in estate agents windows and fall head over heels in love with a beautiful French home? A lot. But it can be different in the winter. Seaside towns in Brittany, vibrant with life, bathed in sun in the summer, can be very quiet outside peak months. Second homeowners depart, restaurants may close out of season and it can seem isolated. Similarly, if you visit in winter and somewhere is quiet, it might be teeming with crowds of tourists in summer months – and that doesn’t suit everyone.
House prices vary substantially from region to region, departmental, cities, towns and villages. It’s worth considering being close to your ideal if you’ve got a budget to watch. For instance, Dordogne is typically quite expensive but you might consider neighbouring Limousin and if you don’t mind a short drive, get the best of both worlds. Similarly, buying a house near the sea in Charente-Maritime is considerably more expensive than a house in neighbouring Charente.
The cheapest places to live in France
It’s unlikely to come as a surprise that Paris is expensive. The south of France is also expensive though, if you’re prepared to live inland and not on the coast and consider smaller towns and villages and not the tourist favourites, you can find properties that don’t break the bank.
You can look on the Notaires de France website for an idea of house prices. They give a good breakdown by department. For instance Nouvelle Aquitaine as a whole, is classified as moderately priced, but there are several departments within the region and prices differ considerably ( www.immobilier.notaires.fr/en/home-prices).
To renovate or not?
Sometimes a bargain isn’t quite the bargain you thought. I know of a couple who bought an old wreck for £8000 on their credit card when they fell in love with its potential. 21 years later, they are still working on it as they have done everything themselves. Their home is amazing, they have mostly loved doing it. Same for me, we’ve been working on our house for years, it’s pretty much done but we constantly find more to do! It’s cheaper to do it yourself but it takes time. And if you need to pay builders, costs can mount.
Where’s the best place to live in France?
That’s up to you – there’s a huge choice and part of the fun is the journey – working out what you want from your new home, and then finding it. And once you’ve thought about these basics, there’s a ton more to consider – you might want room for a pool, outbuildings, rooms flooded with light. It’s not always possible to have everything you want, but at least knowing what you need and adding what you want gets you close to the dream…
Janine Marsh is the author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream and My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life