Best places in France to live?

Ok it doesn't sound like a particularly sensible question in the middle of November with a recession setting in (again) but our website statistics show that lots of people are asking that exact question.

Perhaps it is winter setting in that reminds people that they quite like the sunshine? Perhaps the recent TV programmes about expat life in the Dordogne have reminded people that actually expats in France don't have it so bad? Or perhaps the 'grass still looks greener' in France than in the UK...

Whatever the reason, it is apparent that lots of readers are interested in knowing the best places to live in France.

Unfortunately its a tricky question to answer without knowing what someone is looking for: sunshine, the presence of other expats, the absence of other expats, remote rural life or action packed city life, an active local community and a town where the spoken French sounds at least a little bit like the French we learned at school?

Of course all these options exist in France - but not usually all in the same place. If you don't mind driving 20 kilometres to take the children to school or buy milk and you don't care much about the weather or your neighbours your choices are almost unlimited.

Despite all these obstacles here are a few not very helpful and extremely stereotyped suggestions:

- If you want to be self sufficient and generate your own electricity while living in the sunshine head for the Aude department of Languedoc-Roussillon. I don't remember ever going there without being blown off my feet on a hilltop or standing in a sandstorm on the beach. Houses that would have otherwise have great views need to plant 10 metre high hedges around them to stop the cocktails being blown in the pool.

- If you want remote tranquility or perhaps want to play the drums at 3 am every morning head for the centre of the Massif Central and ask for somewhere rural. You'll only get three days of sunshine a year so you won't be wasting money on suncream either. You should get a discount on your volvic water though.

- If you like getting stuck in a traffic jam for an hour on your way to a small pebble beach with standing room only we can recommend just the place on the Riviera. In fact any number of places. Ideally you will live a little way inland so you need to drive slowly for another hour along the narrowest mountain road you ever saw to get home again afterwards, followed by irate locals who want to pass you at high speed on a hairpin bend.

- If you like gazing across vast fields of beautiful yellow sunflowers you can't go wrong in Poitou-Charentes. Unfortunately sunflowers only flower for about two weeks of the year and the rest of the time you will be looking across fields of earth, but I'm sure you'll think it's worth it.

- If you like picturesque villages, pretty coastal scenery and a good choice of beaches you should head for Brittany. Unfortunately it will often be cold and raining when you are on the beach and your umbrella might get more use than your sun hat but nowhere is perfect.

- If you like having foie gras and confit de canard in every restaurant you go to come and join us in Dordogne and the south-west of France. However if you like something unrecognisable but very unhealthy looking at every meal you will need to move to Alsace. Just don't ask what it is you are eating or you won't want it.

So by a process of elimination I suggest either the Jura department in the north or Correze department in the south if you don't care about beaches, and Deauville in Normandy in the north or Biarritz in the south if you do. If anyone has any more useful advice please let us know!

PS only joking Lot-et-Garonne is still the best place to live in France!



  1. Dominique November 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    this paper propels you directly to the 16th group!

  2. Boris November 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm

    ah good, 16 looks better than 17!

  3. Lesley November 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Our bit is always the best, I loved the maps of France and areas marked by Dominique’s link.

  4. Boris November 12, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Lesley, if it’s true that wherever you live is the best place does that mean people planning to move to France can pretty much live anywhere and it won’t make any difference to their overall success or happiness?
    If so that should make the decision a lot easier for people – just stick a pin in a map and see where fortune takes you. I’m not even sure that’s such a bad idea, certainly would ensure the move was an adventure.

  5. Johnny Norfolk November 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Steady on you could end up in Troo.

  6. Boris November 12, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    I don’t know what Troo is like but I hope its better than their website.

  7. Lesley November 12, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    I mean that our bit is best! If we started looking elsewhere we could have to live out of a packing case. Our holidays now in France are little insights to other parts of the country and we are pleased with our choice. The pin idea may work but if returning the the UK you might end up in Immingham.

  8. Boris November 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Of course the best answer is to win the lottery and buy lots of houses – somewhere in the hills behind Monaco for the winter, perhaps somewhere in Normandy for the spring, a place in the Limousin to escape the tourists during the summer and maybe somewhere in the Dordogne during the autumn. Not forgetting a ski apartment in the Alps and a little place in Paris for when you need some city living. I reckon three million euros should just about cover it – although I always fancied a villa on Cap d’Antibes as well, and I seem to recall they are about 5 million each.
    Perhaps next year…

  9. Cathy Winsor November 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Loved that link from Dominique. We all have our own take..I think our bit is best! (Haute Pyrenees)

  10. Lesley November 13, 2011 at 11:28 am

    The Dream: It’s why we buy/invest/waste €4 most weeks on the off chance of enough to give away a million each to all the relatives and friends and then start on a few properties, in our opinion, in nice parts of the world. We would also pay for and get the mains drainage in our village sorted at last. Trouble is the most we have ever won was €9.40 and that over a year ago.

  11. Boris November 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    I haven’t bought a lottery ticket for many years so I’m not optimistic about winning.

  12. Raphael Mour November 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    Cathy, les Haute Pyrénées is a fantastic place, and because it is not as accessible from Paris as the Alps, it is, well, not like the Alps, which is always a plus !
    Whereabouts do you live ?

    I don’t know if some of you have visited the Loire vallée around Saumur but it is also a wonderful place.
    The Gironde département also.

    Actually, the South-West is the best area of France.
    OF course I’m being completely objective here, the fact that this is where I was born has no influence of my judgement. ;)

  13. fly in the web November 13, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Loire Valley every time…wonderful light.
    And just occasionally the phenomenon of multiple suns in the sky…

  14. Johnny Norfolk November 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    When we considerd retireing to France it would have been The Loire Valley. We have found it the most interesting part of France. The people were so helpful.We nearly moved to a village near Amboise.

  15. Cathy Winsor November 14, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Raphael, we are near Thermes-Magnoac,on the edge of Haute Pyrenees, so we are deep in rural France with the friendliest of neighbours, but just over an hour to the mountains for walking and skiing, an hour to Toulouse airport to collect and deposit vistors, near the Gers for visiting castles churches and monasteries..I could go on and on but I don’t want to make everyone jealous.

  16. Boris November 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    It’s no secret Cathy, everyone who knows the south-west knows its the best part of France (although I’ll concede that the Loire Valley is very picturesque as well)!

  17. Raphael Mour November 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    I think we can extend the choice to the whole of the West half of France, from Normandy to Anjou, Loire, Bretagne, Poitou, Limousin and the old Gascogne/Guyene to the Pyrénées and Pays Basque.
    The East and South East are full of Parisians and jet set people and have probably lost some of their authenticity.
    In the South West we are still considered as useless peasants covered in mud so we are still reasonably left alone.

  18. Raphael Mour November 14, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I have a house in Arreau in the Vallée d’Aure, maybe you know it ?
    If you don’t, it’s really worth going, really lovely valley and villages and people !

  19. Raphael Mour November 14, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Forgot to say that it feels great to hear nice things about my region !
    I am deeply attached to my beloved Gascogne and it makes me really happy to know that people coming from abroad feel as I feel about it.

  20. Boris November 14, 2011 at 8:27 pm

    That makes it easy then – people from the UK wondering where to live can just get the ferry across to Cherbourg and keep driving south through the western half of France until the sun comes out, and then buy a house. Probably around La Rochelle?

  21. Raphael Mour November 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    I would personally push towards Gironde at least, then le Gers, around Condom ideally.

  22. Mick November 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I am on the verge of closing the deal on buying our house in Normandy,and feeling a little nervious.
    If anyone has any tips,like a few say do get a English solicitor,and others say dont waste your money,is it all honest and stright forward.
    ,or are there pitfalls
    Would be nice to hear from anyone

  23. Boris November 21, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Hi Mick, I don’t remember hearing about anyone around here using an English solicitor to buy a house in France – sounds like a good way to waste money to me.
    I know some Brits are concerned about the level of building surveys carried out in France which are usually less thorough than a full UK survey (and often just a builder taking a look around for major problems) so I can see a case for finding a UK surveyor based in France (although I don’t think I would bother personally, I might if there was something that was worrying me).
    Notaires seem to do a decent job of the actual transaction process from what I’ve seen and in the two puchases we’ve ben involved in and as far as I know problems are pretty unusual.

  24. Raphael Mour November 21, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Notaire practices are one of the most regulated in France, so there is very little room for “interpretation” in how they should do their job. The only thing I would think of is, if you know people in France who could recommend someone they know, then go for it. Not being a total stranger to them can speed up the process a little.

  25. Mick November 21, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks,Boris and Raphael it was the reply I was hopeing to hear so one less thing to worry about.
    Perhaps I ought to mention at the moment I can’nt speak or read French,so makes signing a bit dodgy
    The agent I am buying through is English but speaks good French,but I dont quite understand who’s side she is on.

  26. Boris November 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    I see, well I wouldn’t sign anything in a lnguage I didn’t understand without getting a translation done or being absolutely sure I could trust the agent – there are sometimes restrictions on property use etc that you would need to know about before signing.

  27. Chaumierelesiris December 2, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Deauville and area around is looking better all the time…not overcrowded, plenty of lovely beaches, and year-round flights from London City airport.

  28. Baudelaire February 15, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    I recall wasting a £1,000 on a feckless English lawyer who spent all of her time arguing the finer points of french law with the notary via email and billing me for the pleasure. Never once picked up the ‘phone. I had to let her go sadly There is a conspiracy to scare the living daylights out of all prospective English homebuyers in France so the go running to an English lawyer.

    One of the loveliest places in France is the Tarn …..but don’t tell everyone!

  29. Charlotte February 7, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Hi all, we are looking at property in the south west for our family – my husband actually flys out of Toulouse tomorrow back Australia (via the UK). For some reason we have been really keen – from afar – on the Pyrenees Atlantiques, but Rick has fallen in love with a farm house near Maubourguet … and he has learnt that ‘on the other side of the highway’ ie further west, the rainfall increases dramatically … which to us Aussies might be a bit hard to take (we havent had a drop of rain for 8 weeks – if you want to send some to us now that would be wonderful). Any comments?? Thanks, Charlotte