There’s Something About France that Few People Know...
France, with its reputation for glamour and the finer things in life, leads many people to cross the country off their retirement destination list, assuming that they could never afford to live there. But that’s a mistake.
Whether you dream of a city pied-a-terre...or a rambling farmhouse among the sunflowers...or a village house wrapped in wisteria-hung memories of long ago, France is far more affordable than you might think. In fact, there are many parts of the country where habitable homes in storybook settings cost less than $160,000.
There’s a region in the sunny south, for example, that offers a wonderful warm climate year-round...delightful medieval villages brimming with sun-baked old stone houses....white-sand beaches and winding mountain trails...large cities and tiny hamlets...and that’s virtually a stone’s throw from the Spanish border. The region is called Languedoc-Rousillon, and—for now—prices are still reasonable...
If you prefer a cooler climate and a more pastoral setting, look to charming Normandy. Just two hours from Paris, this region is filled with half-timbered houses, often set on acres of emerald fields that seem straight out of a fairytale. There’s also a fascinating history, flavorful rustic cuisine (think apples, poultry and creamy, fresh dairy), romantic windswept beaches and exquisite coastal towns... It’s the perfect place for a vacation retreat or a tranquil year-round home.
For mountain-lovers, the Rhône-Alpes region of France may be like a dream come true. Here you’ll find clear blue lakes and country landscapes that offer riveting views of the sharp peaks of the Alps, and a number of towns, from Grenoble to Lyon, that are as lovely as they are lively and affordable.
And all this is just for starters. There are scores of other reasonably priced “hidden corners” of France that most foreigners know nothing about.
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- Population: 65,951,611
- Capital City: Paris
- Climate: Generally cool winters and mild summers, but mild winters and hot summers along the Mediterranean
- Language: French
- Coastline: 4,668 km
- Country Code: +33
Although less in the public eye than its swanky neighbor, Provence, the Languedoc has just as much to crow about. Nestled between the Pyrenees and Cevennes mountain ranges and the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, the Languedoc is a wonder to behold. The region offers some of the most diverse and intense landscapes you’ll see in France, ranging from violet-blue lavender fields to dramatic rocky gorges and waterfalls, to flat marshlands dotted with pink flamingoes.
Stuart and Elizabeth have been living in France since 2008. The Loire Valley, with its lush landscapes and chateau-dotted hills, captured their hearts. Stuart and Elizabeth bought their home in the town of Amboise in 2010. They spent 2011 renovating and improving the space, and then moved in permanently at the end of that year.
There I was, sipping a lovely white wine from grapes grown within 100 yards of where I stood at a community wine festival. You might think I’d gone off the beaten track to some remote corner of France where timeless traditions still hold sway… but I was in fact, right bang in the middle of one of Paris’ popular tourist areas—the bohemian quarter of Montmartre.
In the Loire Valley, the so-called “Valley of the Kings,” every day ends with a glass of affordable, delicious local wine. The mornings and afternoons are rich—full of leisurely cycle rides along the beautiful and famous Loire River, past verdant vineyards, visiting sprawling chateaux with their ancient towers and lush gardens, and strolling through historic, well-kept towns. The weather is mild and pleasant. And the cost of living is decidedly affordable.
A few years back, I was working a full-time, regular 9-to-5 teaching job. My bosses were inflexible, I was stressed, and I couldn’t stand the work. When you’re a teacher, you can’t just take time off to travel. I’m also not a morning person, and waking up at 6 a.m. every day was tough. I was following the rules…and I don’t like following rules. Writing was always my passion, but I had no idea how I would go about actually earning a living writing. Writers don’t earn livings, everyone knows that. Right?
As we drink our coffee, looking out over the red-tile rooftops from our window, my husband Neal and I decide to venture out into our city. We live in Toulouse, known as La Ville Rose (the Pink City), which is a charming city in the southwest of France on the banks of the River Garonne.
Open any cupboard in any home and you’ll find tableware of all shapes and sizes. Shelves groan with ornaments of cats, clowns, and cottages; many homes today have something made of china. But what the owners of these fine artifacts don’t know is that antique china, delft, and porcelain have become highly collectible over the last few years…so much so that those dusty dishes on your shelf may be worth a lot more than what you paid for them many years ago. So collectible has antique china become that a rare, 500-year-old cup decorated with a hen and cockerel sold in 2014 for $36.3 million to a Shanghai-based billionaire; he shocked his counter bidders by drinking tea from it right there in the auction room.
France is a land that seduces quietly. One minute you’re a tourist, gazing up at the craggy peaks of the Alps, or wandering through a picture-perfect medieval village, or biting into a warm, flaky pain au chocolat in a Parisian café. And the next moment, you realize that you’re in love. And you never want to leave. It’s no surprise that France inspires such love. With its stirring architecture and landscapes, diverse climates, incomparable foods and wines, and mellow lifestyle, the country offers a personal gift to everyone.
Picture a jumble of honey-colored stone houses with russet lichen-covered roofs nestled together in a valley, thick with lush green trees. Rising above the village, a medieval château of pale stone stands protectively, its slate-grey turrets piercing the sky. At the foot of the village, a river slides by with deceptive slowness. This is the kind of sublime scene you’ll find in the Dordogne, again and again.
I work in Paris, France with plenty of free time to explore this amazing city with my kids, because of my career. As a copywriter, I work about five hours a day, three or four days per week, and I can think of no better place to live. “Hey look Mama! It’s the Eiffel Tower!”
“Hey look Mama! It’s the Eiffel Tower!”
When I first moved to Paris in 2005, I took a year off to decide what I wanted to do next. I had retired from my catering business in New York and didn’t want to spend my life behind a hot stove working 60-plus hours a week anymore. That was the beginning of the blog boom and I thought—just for fun—I would start a blog about my adventures in Paris. I had no former writing or photography experience but gave it a whirl anyway.
Intense blue lagoons. Swaying palm trees loaded with coconuts. Thatched-roofed bungalows. Near-cloudless skies. And you…walking along a white sand beach with your sandals in hand, reveling in the beauty of this place that you can now call home.
Was there some mistake? I had just arrived at the train station in Beziers, a large medieval town set upon a towering ridge in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of the South of France. And I was feeling a little confused.
I’d heard a lot of contrasting information about Beziers. Some people insisted that it was a dispirited, neglected town whose saving grace was its medieval core. Yet I knew that it was home to a number of expats who raved about its charms. So, which was it?
For Lisa Anselmo, 50, keeping one foot in two very different worlds is one thing that makes her feel complete. Lisa has been splitting her time between Paris and New York City ever since she impulsively bought a small apartment in Paris three years ago following the death of her beloved mother.
Would you become healthier if you lived in France? Maybe.
France is one of the healthiest nations on earth, if average life expectancy is any indication. According to the most recent data from the World Health Organization (2013), France comes in at #9, with an average age life expectancy of 81.6 years. This puts the country well ahead the United States, which ranked #34, with a life expectancy of 79.
Planning an extended stay in Paris and worried about meeting other Anglophones? I have one word for you… Don’t. In Paris, we expats are practically tripping over each other, there are so many of us. By some estimates there are more than 200,000 American expats in Paris. Add to this tens of thousands of English, Irish and Australian expats—not to mention countless other expats who happen to speak English—and you’ve got yourself a very robust Anglophone community.
Cycling a beautiful, well-loved path along the Loire River in France’s famous castle-dotted Loire Valley, it was just as stunning as everyone said…full of quiet stretches of river, beautiful stone towns, arched bridges, river birds, happy cycling families, and a surplus of castles. On this particular day, as I was cycling through a small, forested area, it started pouring down rain—and so I stopped to wait out the rain in the next town I reached: the beautiful waterfront city of Beaugency.
Travel videographer Tom Reissmann makes a very comfortable living—pulling in about $80,000 a year—making short videos while traveling the world and living wherever he pleases. And, after following Tom for a week in Paris with a group of fellow beginners, I found out how easy it is to learn to create professional-looking videos you can sell in less than a week.
France has no shortage of elegant beach towns, but none transports you to a more graceful time and place than the island of Île de Ré. Floating in an ocean of clear blue-green water on France’s southwestern coast, this little-known island is a world of scrubby pine trees and golden shores.
Retiring abroad is easier and more affordable than ever before. These days it really is possible to spend your days relaxing beneath palm fronds on a Caribbean beach, enjoying farm-fresh produce in a mountain haven with year-round spring weather, or wandering the storied streets of a historic and cultured European city…or all of the above. But with so many choices available, finding the right one can seem daunting.
Of the handful of canal towns that fancy themselves the “Venice of France,” the port town of Sète, in the Languedoc region on France’s Mediterranean coast, comes closest to deserving that title. Its blue-green canals are stunning, wide, and elegant. And, as in Venice, they are an integral part of daily life. But, swap Venice’s sleek gondolas for Sète’s workaday fishing boats. And instead of multi-million-dollar edifices lining the canals, expect to see rows of lovely, pastel-hued, 19th-century buildings with rusting, wrought-iron balconies and flaking façades.
A warm, clear blue-green sea lapping long, sandy beaches… Families eating and laughing together over slow, relaxed dinners with lashings of good food and even better wine… If you’ve ever watched a movie set in the Mediterranean, you might believe the region is solely a playground for the rich—the romping ground of Hollywood starlets like Brigitte Bardot. Scratch the surface and you’ll discover that is definitely not the case—an adventure in the Mediterranean could be yours for less than you might think.
“What I love the most about Paris is every day brings an opportunity to see and do something new. It stimulates the brain. Every street you haven’t traveled down before leaves you room for discovery and learning,” says Texas native Leah Walker.
Living in Paris is wonderful, but it’s not the cheapest place on earth. This came home to me recently when, after having a simple cup of coffee in a café, I got socked with a €6 bill. Almost 7 dollars, for a not-so-big cup of coffee. Argh. Not all of Paris is so exorbitant, of course.
If you wanted to visit all of France’s most fascinating cities, one right after another, it would take you a couple of months to do so. But if you wanted to explore France’s most intriguing rural villages and towns, you’d need a couple of years—at least. France has thousands of rural towns and villages. While I can’t say that every single one will blow you away with charm, it seems that the country hosts an exceptionally high number of rural beauties.
On December 8, 1852, the people of the French city of Lyon lit candles in their windows to celebrate the raising of a statue of the Virgin Mary on the city’s Fourvière Hill. Now, more than 160 years later, this tradition has grown into the annual Festival of Lights, which sees the streets of Lyon lit up by more than 70 artistic light displays from December 5 to December 8. Millions of visitors arrive during the festival to take in these ornate, creative works, as the windows, fountains, and trees of Lyon light up with every color imaginable.
For city lovers like me, Montpellier’s draw is its historic center, Écusson. Dating from the 10th century, Écusson is full of wonderful flagstone streets lined with timeworn, sand-colored stone buildings. Boutiques and shops, from upscale to funky, abound. Tree-lined squares, with their inevitable spate of cafés, reveal themselves at every turn. A pedestrian-only zone, it’s the sort of place you can never tire of exploring.
The Golden Age of Europe’s royal houses may be long over, but the Old world beach resorts where the continent’s aristocracy summered still cling to a fin de siècle grandeur… In these spots, you can enjoy urban luxuries as fine as the enticing, sandy beaches. Biarritz, on the southwest French coast, has attracted European royalty and jet-setters ever since Napoleon III and his Spanish-born empress, Eugénie, built a palace there in 1854.
When I set out to find a property in Nice, the idea was to have a vacation home…consider a possible future retirement there…and use it to expand my property rentals business from Paris to the French Riviera. Nice was my city of choice for a few reasons. This is the hub of the Riviera. It’s a real city with a lot of life, a real heart and great inner-city transportation so you don’t need a car.
I love shopping with my daughter, Allison. I always come away with something terrific, at half the price I’d pay at a department store. So, when she graduated from university, I invited her to join me for a week in Paris. Since I discovered how much you can earn from travel photographs, I’ve turned it […]
You wake in the morning and throw open the shutters to see a pure blue sky. Just as it was yesterday. And the day before. You return to your bed, content to gaze at the fluttering of the plane-tree leaves and terracotta rooftops outside your bedroom window, as you contemplate the delicious possibilities the day holds for you.
From the cool allure of the Avenue Matignon boutiques to the glittering elegance of the Opera house, Paris is a city that makes you crave the best of everything. It’s a city that thrives on its glamorous reputation…and is known for its high prices. But I’m going to let you in on a little secret: […]
The year is 1925, the place Paris, and a six-month exhibition is about to begin. The Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes changed the world of art, design, and interiors forever. Later known simply as Art Deco, the iconic movement that grew from this exhibition is now celebrating its 90th year.
The Romans’ influence stretches down the millennia into architecture, literature, theater, warfare, politics… They are a pillar upon which Western civilization is built. At its height, the Roman Empire held sway over much of Europe, the Near East, and North Africa. Its borders expanded over the centuries as the Romans took new lands… or shrunk in the face of barbarian hordes that invaded as the empire declined.
“You live in France? Oh, you’re so lucky. I wish I could live in France.” Ever since I moved to Paris over 14 years ago, I’ve heard variations of these three phrases hundreds of times. Often the phrases are said lightly and I know the speaker has no strong desire or intention to move to France; it’s simply another way of saying that they really like France.
Six years ago, I first visited Blaye, a small city less than an hour northeast of the French city of Bordeaux. I made friends, visited a dozen more times, and eventually decided this was a place I’d like to live. Choosing to live here was easy. It’s affordable, safe, has access to an excellent international airport, and good healthcare. And then there’s the amazing quality and reasonable prices of fresh food and good wines.
“ What I love the most about Paris is every day brings an opportunity to see and do something new. It stimulates the brain. Every street you haven’t traveled down before leaves you room for discovery and learning,” says Texas native Leah Walker. Leah funds her life through freelance writing, blogging, and running social media promotions for hotels, restaurants, tour companies, and destinations—as well as beauty and fashion businesses—on her website.
I’m at Fontevraud Abbey in France’s Loire Valley, gazing at the face of a man who left this world over 800 years ago. Fontevraud was the final resting place of Richard the Lionheart—or at least most of him. Arguably the most famous of England’s Plantagenet rulers, the crusader king died in 1199. If his reclining effigy is a true likeness, he was a handsome brute.
Tripping over a tiger is a first for me. Thankfully, it didn’t seem perturbed. If you’ve been in Paris and done the same, I know where you were—up the stairs at Deyrolle. On Rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement, this store—if store is quite the word—is extraordinary. In business since 1831, Deyrolle is a cabinet of curiosities on the grand and gothic scale. Bats hang from the ceiling. Exotic beasts stare at you from every nook and cranny. An ape perches nonchalantly on a desk.
Imagine a land like something from a fairy tale. Magnificent châteaux have spiky black turrets resembling witches’ hats. Immaculate Renaissance gardens prove that horticulture is indeed an art form. Riverbank towns with timber-framed houses, ancient arched bridges, and openair markets dot the landscape. Vineyards give way to wheat fields studded with scarlet poppies and scarecrows that are far too prettily dressed to be outside scaring crows.