If you are planning to move to France but fear being isolated and not speaking enough French to make new friends, you’ll probably want to choose an area that is already popular among other English and English-speaking expats.
Statistics released earlier this year by INSEE, France’s national statistics agency, showed that there are some 160,000 British currently residing in France. Perhaps unsurprisingly Paris attracts the most of them, after which the most popular areas are, in descending order, Poitou-Charentes, Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénnées, Brittany, Rhône Alps, Provence and Lower Normandy. Let’s explore just what makes these areas so attractive to the British:
Paris, Ile-de-France (21,000 British residents)
It’s little wonder that Paris, France’s capital city, attracts the largest number of British expats. Most will be working, and with President Macron openly trying to entice ‘talented people in lots of fields’ to relocate to the city after Brexit, the chances are this number will only increase.
Paris is a wonderful city to live in, exuding style, elegance and romance, while boasting some of the world’s best restaurants, trendy bars and clubs, inspirational galleries and museums, and chic fashion and design. On a practical level, neighbourhoods located in the 8th, 16th, 17th arrondissements of western Paris are considered perfect for families, with good schools and an abundance of green spaces, such as the Parc Monceau, the Bois de Boulogne and the Jardin du Ranelagh.
Outside central Paris, several banlieus, or suburbs, are popular among expats. They are Clichy to the north, within easy reach of Montmartre; the up-and-coming Pantin to the north-east; Montreuil in the east, which is popular with families; Saint-Germain-en-Laye, in the north-west, home to a renowned international school; and three areas south-west of the city: the cosmopolitan Issy-les-Moulineaux; the mini-Silicon Valley of Saclay; and the quiet, leafy suburb of Sèvres.
Whilst we do not display many properties for sale in Paris, we do have an excellent network based there, so please contact us with your property requirements for Paris and let us do the donkey work, by making initial enquiries on your behalf.
Poitou-Charentes (16,300 British residents)
Poitou-Charentes is renowned for its year-round warm and sunny climate, its beautiful stretch of coast and excellent transport links. Much of its economy is geared towards tourism and agriculture.
It comprises four departments: Charente in the south being the most popular among British, followed by Charente Maritime to its west. To the north their quieter neighbours Deux-Sèvres and Vienne have fewer expats, but with their rolling pastureland, woodland, hedges and stone walls, are now beginning to attract more.
- La Rochelle, the capital of Charente-Maritime, with a beautiful old port and medieval town
- Ile de Ré, the island accessible by bridge from La Rochelle
- Poitiers, the historical city in Vienne
- Futuroscope, one of France’s most popular theme and leisure parks near Poitiers
- Angouleme in Charente, classified as a French Town of Art and History
- Outdoor activities, such as fishing, in Deux-Sèvres
- The GR36 pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela runs through Parthenay and Niort in Deux-Sèvres
Aquitaine is composed of five departments, which, in order of popularity among the British are: Dordogne, Lot-et-Garonne, Gironde, Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Landes. Over half of those living in the Dordogne reside in rural locations around Périgueux and Bergerac, both of which are served by airports offering low costs flights to the UK. There are international schools in Bordeaux and Pau.
- Bordeaux, now a Unesco World Heritage site, rich in riverside medieval architecture and recently revitalised with a new tramway, walkways, gardens and art installations
- 145,000 hectares of vineyards, with arguably the greatest wine-producing region in the world, producing world-renowned wines such as Pétrus and Mouton-Rothschild
- The lively town of Pau with its elegant Belle Epoque architecture and flower-filled parks, as well as the oldest golf club in the area, created in 1856
- The stylish resort town of Biarritz, known for its excellent surfing and deep sea fishing
- The scenery of Dordogne, reminiscent of the English countryside
- Sarlat, considered one of France’s most beautiful towns
- Monpazier, the 13th bastide town that’s almost unchanged
- 110km of Pyrenées mountains from the Basque country to Pau
- The beautiful cities of Agen, Arcachon, Bayonne and Bergerac
Midi-Pyrénées is the largest region of France and includes the mountainous section of the Pyrenees along the border between France and Spain. Its capital is Toulouse, known as la ville rose, towards the north of the region. It comprises eight departments: Ariège, Aveyron, Haute-Garonne, Gers, Lot, Hautes-Pyrénées, Tarn and Tarn-et-Garonne.
It is a region of sharp contrasts. The area around Toulouse is densely populated, while the rest of the region has one of the lowest population densities in Europe. Perhaps this is the reason so many Brits have chosen to relocate here, enjoying its slow pace and gentle, hilly countryside studded with some 60,000 farms. It is also a wine-producing area, with some 19 AOC wines.
In and around Toulouse, however, there are many international companies working in aerospace, engineering, electronics, telecommunications and computing. Scientific research, technology and the service industry are all important areas of economics.
- Toulouse, considered by many to be one of France’s most beautiful cities, with narrow streets and wide boulevards, cafés, restaurants bars and boutiques. Located between the Canal du Midi (itself a world heritage site), and the river Garonne, the city enjoys a balmy Mediterranean climate, ethnic and cultural diversity and an efficient public transport system
- The historic city of Albi is a UNESCO world heritage site located on the River Tarn, with a unique medieval redbrick fortified cathedral
- Lourdes, the famous Catholic pilgrimage centre, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared to a peasant girl in 1858
- The Pyrenees National Park, a spectacular area of high mountain, including the Cirque de Gavarnie.
- The Cathedral city of Cahors
- Beautiful towns and villages including Rocamadour, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and Figeac
- Rodez, with its 14th century cathedral and old city centre
- Aveyron, which has more villages classified among the ‘most beautiful villages of France’ than any other French department
- The Millau bridge, designed by architect Norman Foster, and the highest road bridge in Europe
- The villages of Monesties, Puycelsi and Castelnau-de-Montmiral, all of which are classified among the ‘most beautiful villages in France’ and located in Tarn
- Conques, a UNESCO world heritage site boasting one of the finest Romanesque churches in France
- The underground caves at Pech Merle, near Cahors, with prehistoric paintings and stalagmites
Brittany has four departments: the Côtes d’Armor in the north, Finistère in the far west, Morbihan in the south, and Ille et Vilaine in the east. Its capital is Rennes, a large industrial and university city, which was found in a 2016 study to be the best city for expats, due to its quality of life, public transport and international air links.
Being so close to the UK, there is a significant British expat community in Brittany. It is generally slightly warmer and drier than the south coast of England, and the south coast has a microclimate which means it can get very hot in summer.
Brittany is geographically diverse, with rugged and rocky north and west coasts, open to the North Atlantic, and a flatter south coast, facing the Bay of Biscay, with many large sandy beaches. Much of inland Brittany is gentle farming country, famous for its milk, butter and early crops.
- The historic medieval centre of Rennes with half-timbered houses and the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre
- Nantes, recently voted the best city to live in by French newspaper L’Express, thanks to its vibrant nightlife and urban renewal. It’s also considered family friendly, with many parks and gardens
- Two thousand kilometres of coast, numerous islands, beaches and ports
- Brest, one of the two most important French naval ports
- St Malo, an imposing walled city on the north coast
- Vannes, the capital of the Morbihan, with an attractive old town centre
- The classic tourist resort of Dinard, located at the mouth of the river Rance and well known for its belle-epoque villas
- Fougères, a medieval fortress city with ramparts and an old town
- Vitré, an historic town with a medieval fortress castle at its centre
- The annual Interceltiques music and culture festival in Lorient
Rhone Alps (13,500)
With Lyon as its capital, this area in the east of France incorporates the Alps. It includes eight departments: Ain, Ardeche, Drome, Isère, Loire (not to be confused with the Loire Valley), Rhone, Savoie and Haute-Savoie. They are very different in character, from the high mountains in the east to the quiet villages of the Ardeche and Drome in the south, and the plains around Lyon and along the Rhone valley to the west.
Lyon is the capital of the region and the third largest city in France. It is an important cultural and historical centre located between the Rhone and the Saône Rivers and the Fourvière and Croix-Rousse hills. It is home to a number of festivals and events such as operas and concerts, and has a long-standing tradition of trompe l’œil art. Lyon is also considered France’s gastronomic capital, being a hub for high quality regional produce and boasting almost 2000 eateries. Lyon also has a great public transport system, international school and terrific shopping. Another bonus is its location, with no fewer than six regional and national parks within a two hours’ drive, and the Alps just an hour away.
- Lyon’s 15th century Cathedral of Romanesque-Gothic style and the city’s Croix-Rousse district are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and the treasury within the cathedral is a listed French National Monument
- Grenoble, the capital city of the Alps, an energetic and academic city, with four universities and scientific, engineering and IT institutes and a large and well-established English speaking expat community
- Lake Geneva, a major international hub and one of the world’s main financial centres, offering a high-end, luxury lifestyle and exclusive shopping
- Annecy, a cultural and historic lakeside alpine town, with museums, exhibitions and a lively old town.
- The Three Valleys (Les Trois Vallées) ski-region, which includes the resorts of Meribel, Courchevel and Val Thorens (with Les Menuires)
- Chamonix, at the base of Mont Blanc, with excellent restaurants (including 3 Michelin starred), as well as bars and nightclubs and a thriving international community
- Bordering Provence, the Drome region is best known for its lavender fields and quiet market towns
In the south-east of France lies Provence, another area with dramatic differences, which includes sleepy landscapes resplendent with olive groves, lavender and vineyards, and a glamorous world-famous coastline boasting more than 300 days of sunshine each year. There are six departments: Alpes de Haute Provence, Hautes Alps, Alpes-Maritimes, Var, Bouches-du-Rhone and Vaucluse.
There are international schools in Aix-en-Provence, Marseilles, Nice and Mougins.
- Marseilles, a melting pot of cultures with museums, chic shopping, exciting nightlife, and a beautiful, scenic port, with a direct Eurostar service to London
- Avignon, and the Palais des Papes, one of Europe’s largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings
- The Luberon, made famous by the books of the late Peter Mayle, with dramatic hilltops, medieval hamlets and ancient villages
- The French Riviera, with 900km of sun-drenched coastline and glamorous seaside resorts, offering a sophisticated lifestyle
- Nice, France’s fifth largest city and the capital of the French Riviera, which enjoys a notable mix of nationalities, with museums, excellent restaurants, a rich cultural heritage, vibrant open air markets and a bustling port
- Cannes, famous for its annual film festival and a major cultural centre of France, offering attractive architecture, chic boutiques, a stylish harbour, beaches and a yachting lifestyle
- Sophia Antipolis, the Silicon Valley of Europe with a thriving international business community
- Mougins and Valbonne, two popular villages with good international schools
Lower Normandy (5000)
Lower Normandy, or Basse Normandie, has three departments: Manche, Calvados and Orne, and in fact lies west of Upper Normandy, bordering Brittany to the south-west and the Loire to the south.
Normandy’s economy is heavily based on agriculture, including livestock, dairy farming and apple orchards, and its cuisine, which includes seafood, dairy produce and apple-based dishes, is considered one of France’s greatest.
- Le Mont St Michel, France’s most visited and photographed landmark outside of Paris
- The Bayeux Tapestry in Bayeux, Calvados
- The Normandy Landing Beaches of Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah
- The glamorous resort towns of Deauville and Trouville
- Three of France’s Most Beautiful Villages: Beuvron-en-Auge in Calvados, Barfleur in Manche and St-Cenerie-le-Gerei
- The Route du Cidre, or cider route in Calvados