We choose to live in France for a variety of reasons. Many of us will have visited for holidays, enticed by France’s variety of scenery, its coastlines and mountains, its beautiful villages and elegant cities. But France is a huge and geographically varied place, and for those who are dreaming of moving there, which part of France will be right for you?
Below is a list of suggestions, based on a range of criteria you may have:
You intend to commute to and from the UK
If you’re going to commute back and forth for a while, being close to ferry services and the Chunnel makes sense, in which case the northern coast, and its departments of Brittany, Normandy and Nord might be ideal for you.
Brittany is famed for its beaches, its walled medieval citadelles, Celtic and Breton influences and its beautiful and varied countryside. On top of that, the city of Rennes was recently named by The Local newspaper as the best city to live in for expats.
Normandy enjoys gentle countryside and is famed for its cheese, apples and cider. Add to that the Mont de St Michel, France’s most visited landmark outside Paris, the landing beaches, and the glamorous resort towns of Deauville and Trouville, as well as three of France’s recognised ‘most beautiful villages’, and there’s much to offer here.
Le Nord, or North, tends to be more overlooked, as holiday-makers drive through from Calais or Boulogne to destinations further south, but it boasts pretty countryside, stone-built farms and villages, fine examples of French Gothic architecture, and of course the Champagne-producing area of Reims.
You want your children to go to an international school
While most British and American schools are in and around Paris, if you’d like to look further, other international or bilingual schools can be found throughout the country, in Aix-en-Provence, Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseilles, Mougins, Nice, Pau, Rennes and Strasbourg.
You want to set up a tourist or gite business
France is still rated as the most popular destination for tourists throughout the world, so if you’re thinking of setting up in the hotel or gite business, it’s worth choosing a location near to the most popular tourist destinations. Here are some suggestions:
- Annecy: in the Rhone Alps on Lake Annecy, and divided by small canals and streams. Its most popular attraction is the Palais de l’Isle that sits in the middle of a canal
- Avignon: its Palais des Papes is one of Europe’s largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings
- Bordeaux: for lovers of fine wines and culture and situated in Aquitaine which is famed for its pristine beaches, gourmet cuisine and picturesque villages.
- Carcassonne: the stunning historic fortified city located in the Languedoc-Roussillon
- Cognac: Surrounded by vineyards producing arguably the world’s best brandy and situated in Poitou-Charentes in western France, one of the sunniest regions in the country.
- Brittany: for its rugged coastal scenery, quaint fishing villages, the port of Saint-Malo, the picture-postcard Quimper, and city of Nantes
- Chartres: famed for its Gothic Notre Dame cathedral
- The Cote d’Azur: from St-Tropez to Menton, including the towns of Nice, Cannes, Antibes and Monaco
- Dorgogne: with its picturesque villages, chateau-studded countryside, fine wines and rich food, this department is so popular with the British it’s fondly known as Dordogneshire
- Lourdes: The most famous Catholic pilgrimage centre in France, where the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant girl in 1858 and situated in the Midi-Pyrenees, an area popular with skiers in winter, and outdoor enthusiasts in summer.
- Mont St Michel: the tidal island just off the coast of Normandy with its spectacular Benedictine Abbey and winding medieval streets
- Provence: olive groves, rolling hills, purple lavender fields and little villages, beloved by artists including Cézanne, Matisse, Chagall, and Picasso
You long for the great outdoors, and all kinds of sporting activities
France has ten national parks and a further 49 regional natural parks (parc naturel regional), created to protect their scenery and heritage. Many of these areas incorporate towns and villages, offering homes set close to a variety of outdoors activities, such as hiking, cycling, canoeing, kayaking or rock climbing. Some of the most popular parks are:
- Causses de Quercy: located in the Lot, with limestone cliffs, canyons and the rivers Lot and Célé making it a great base for watersports, climbing and caving. Notable villages here are Rocamadour and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, while the towns of Cahors and Figeac are within easy reach
- Gorges de Verdun: Europe’s biggest canyon located in Provence, and a huge tourist destination, offering hiking, climbing and white-water activities, and boasting no fewer than 45 pretty villages in the area to choose from
- Grands Causses: in the west of Aveyron, with stunning gorges, lakes and rock formations, and caving, canoeing and paragliding all on offer
- Les Calanques de Marseille: set between Marseille and Cassis, offering islands, limestone cliffs and pine forests, and numerous hiking trails
- Loire Anjou Touraine: located between the Loire and the Vienne rivers with many water-based activities, such as canoeing. It also enjoys a variety of flora and fauna and is a migratory corridor for fish and birds. The villages of Saumur, Chinon and Azay-le-Rideau are within the park, and it’s easily accessible from the towns of Angers and Tours
- The Luberon Park: the perfect base in Provence for hiking, cycling and climbing, but it’s also popular with wine-lovers, boasting three AOC wines. Beautiful villages worth looking at are Gordes, Ménerbes and Oppède-le-Vieux
- Le Parc National du Mercantour: next to the Italian border in Provence, boasting mountains, valleys, lakes, archaeological treasures, and rare animal and bird species. It also incorporates the popular ski resorts of Isola 2000 and Auron, and many delightful mountain towns and villages, all within easy reach of Nice and the coast
You want the arts and culture of the city, without the urban stress
While Paris is widely considered the most beautiful city in the world, with fantastic restaurants, stunning museums and galleries, and chic shopping, living in such a large city is not to everyone’s taste. But don’t worry, if you want city life on a smaller scale, France has many other terrific cities to choose from, each with its own distinct identity. Here’s a selection:
- Bordeaux: often referred to as ‘Little Paris’ for its classic architecture, and recently revitalised with a tramway, walkways, gardens and art installations. The city boasts a mild climate and a great selection of cultural activities and places of interest, not to mention all that wine…
- Grenoble: the capital of Isère is surrounded by mountains and a great hub for winter sports. An important European scientific centre, it’s also enjoyed for its hours of sunshine and busy nightlife
- Lyon: famed for its incredible culinary tradition, Lyon also boasts a great public transport system, numerous theatres and museums, 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
- Marseilles: France’s third largest city enjoys a beautiful Mediterranean climate, a high concentration of cultural events and attractions, and of course, stunning sea views
- Montpellier: popular due to its long hours of sunshine, good air quality and proximity to six regional and national parks, all within a two hours’ drive
- Nantes: recently voted the best city to live in by French newspaper L’Express, thanks to its edgy and vibrant nightlife, and the urban renewal which has led to former warehouses being converted into cafés and artist studios. It’s also considered family friendly, with many parks and gardens
- Nice: the capital of the French Riviera is renowned for its stunning coastal location, beautiful architecture and high proportion of arts and cultural activities
- Rennes: a 2016 study by The Local newspaper found Rennes to be the best city for expats to live in, due to its quality of life, public transport and international air links, its nightlife, culture, open green spaces and hours of sunshine
- Toulouse: ‘la ville rose’ is considered by many as one of France’s most beautiful cities, enjoying a balmy Mediterranean climate, ethnic and cultural diversity, an efficient public transport system, high proportion of green spaces per inhabitant and good air quality
You’re a total foodie, and you want the finest of French foods, the best markets and gourmet cuisine
Paris, clearly, is a foodie-haven, with around 90 Michelin-starred restaurants and countless bistros and cafes, as well as a great many food halls and markets selling both French and international produce – from cheese and charcuteries to Lebanese, Moroccan and West African specialities.
Lyon is considered France’s gastronomic capital, being a hub for high quality regional produce, available at the prestigious Les Halles de Lyon indoor market and at numerous outdoor markets throughout the city. With almost 2000 eateries, Lyon boasts one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France. Around fifteen of them are Michelin-starred restaurants, but more accessible are its ‘bouchons‘, or family-run bistros, which are unique to Lyon and serve home-made, traditional dishes.
Nice, Marseilles and Strasbourg all have several Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from, but an up and coming foodie hotspot is Bordeaux. It’s now home to six Michelin-starred restaurants, and even Gordon Ramsey has moved in, opening Le Pressoir d’Argent on the first floor of Le Grand Hôtel.
For seafood-lovers Normandy is a must, and for decadent dining, look no further than Toulouse, and its quintessential southern French cuisine of goose, duck and wild game, foie gras, cassoulet and Toulouse sausage.
You long to be in a picture-perfect, idyllic village surrounded by stunning scenery
Try one of France’s designated ‘most beautiful villages’, named as such by the association Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Of the 150 listed villages, ten each are in the Dordogne and Aveyron, seven in the Vaucluse, and six in the Lot.
Alternatively, you could take a look at the Villes et Villages Fleuris, and the winners of this annual competition that encourages the enhancement of public spaces with greenery and flowers. Current holders of the prestigious Fleur d’Or trophy are:
- Aix les Bains in the Savoir
- Boussieres sur Sambre in the Nord
- Itterswiller in Bas-Rhin
- Lyons la Foret in Eure
- Saint Cyr sur Loire in Indre et Loire
You’re a total sun-worshipper, and you want beaches, fine sand and maximum hours of sunshine per year
Even in the middle of winter, it’s possible to enjoy sunshine in France. Here is a selection of the sunniest spots in France worth considering:
- Marseille, along with its neighbour Toulon, enjoy long, hot summers, mild winters and plenty of sunshine – on average, 2850 hours per year and around 170 days of strong sunshine
- Corsica’s capital Ajaccio, located on the west coast, has on average, 2726 hours of sunshine per year, while Bastia in the north boasts 340 days of sunshine per year
- Nice boasts the longest hours of sunshine in the French Riviera, enjoying around 2724 hours of sunshine per year and almost 150 days of strong sunshine
- Montpellier, the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, enjoys 2668 hours of sunshine per year and almost 150 days of strong sunshine
- Carcassonne in the Aude enjoys some 2,119 hours of sunshine a year
- On the Atlantic coast, La Rochelle enjoys 2,106 hours of sunshine a year while further south, the glamorous resort town of Biarritz basks in some 1,887 hours a year
You want to be around other English-speaking expats
Currently, the most popular areas for British expats to buy and live in are:
- Pays de la Loire
- Périgord Noir in Aquitaine
Read our article on the Biggest Expat Communities in France
And finally…You want to be as far away from other English-speaking expats as possible!
According to INSEE, France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the department with the fewest British residents is Ardennes, in north-eastern France on the Belgian border. Next comes Meuse, in Alsace et Lorraine, the city of Belfort, located between Strasbourg and Lyon, and Haute-Marne, in the Nord. As all these areas are in the north-east of France, the lack of Brits is probably down to the cool, rainy climate.
More surprisingly, two other areas that are popular with tourists but less favoured by British home-owners are Burgundy, and its departments of Yonne, Nievre, Côte d’Or and Saône-et-Loire, and Corsica, despite its glorious climate, stunning scenery and beaches.