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
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.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
After spending a crazy weekend in Paris decades ago, dashing madly from the Louvre to the Arc De Triomphe, with chaotic traffic and irate Parisians, I had no desire to return to France. That was until my husband Michael and I spent a few weeks at an award-winning vineyard in southern France. It was a far different experience than the chaos of Paris.
Every year I get paid to visit Paris. I always find something new about the city to explore. And I have my old favorites…sipping excellent coffee in Cafe Danton on the Boulevard Saint-Germain…browsing through the stacked books in the Shakespeare & Company, once a haunt of writers like Hemingway and Ford Madox Ford…or strolling in […]
We began International Living as a dream. Now it is a reality, not just for us but for thousands of people. I’ve met hundreds of them myself. And never have I met one who regretted it. But let’s back up. When I launched International Living in 1980, I really didn’t know much about living overseas…and barely anything about living at all. I was only 32 years old. What I thought I knew back then came mostly from reading…and from my junior year abroad, which was spent in Paris in 1969.
A cobbled square, an outdoor café, a sky full of stars. Vincent van Gogh’s Café Terrace At Night is laden with the romance of place—I always want to step into the picture and sit at one of the tables…drink a glass or two of wine…join the patrons in idle conversation. Van Gogh painted the picture during his time in Arles—a small city in Provence in the sunny south of France.
And so I nearly always find myself choosing to explore Europe by train, even if it sometimes takes a couple more hours and a few more dollars. I’ve traveled this way for years, both when I lived in the States and visited Europe between jobs, and now that I live here in the Swiss Alps. And I’ve discovered that, even though I love nearly every train ride I’ve taken, a few routes stand a little taller than the rest… they unfold more beautifully and leave attentive passengers more breathless than the average ride through the countryside.
This train ride weaves its way along the coastline of Italy and then France, offering striking views of the ocean, the seaside cliffs and candy-colored towns of the Cinque Terre, tiny harbors, and hillside vineyards and olive groves. Towns seem to tumble down cliffsides into the Ligurian Sea where boats bob at anchor. En route watch out for the chiming towers of Riomaggiore and picture the sleek Genoan war galleys that plied this coast 500 years ago.
Jacques Cousteau once declared the Blue Hole in Belize to be one of the best diving spots in the world—and few would disagree. The Blue Hole, part of the Lighthouse Reef system, is an almost-perfect circular limestone sinkhole that is nearly 1,000 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. This striking ocean feature sits like a giant blue pupil in a sea of turquoise.
The narrow lane spills onto a magnificent square. A group of young musicians fills the twilight with melodies. All around you are stunning buildings dating back centuries. And yet the people relaxing here and walking through these ancient streets are very much 21st century: students with books and laptops in hand. Folks from all over are enjoying evening drinks or dining on café terraces. Talk is of the art expo the town is putting on…an upcoming concert…or the latest news or trends…
In the northwest corner of Spain you ﬁnd a land where the bagpipes, known locally as the gaita, is the preferred instrument, a hallmark of the region’s Celtic heritage. The Galicia province, one of the least-known Celtic nations, is littered with Celtic sites. These include ancient places of worship and stone huts similar to those found in other parts of the Celtic world. Festivals with Celtic origins continue to be celebrated. And the local language, Gallego, even has several words of Celtic origin. Today the region is an autonomous community within modern Spain.
Neither Yvonne nor Michael Bauche qualiﬁed for a pension in Canada. And so the adventurous duo decided to embark on a round-the-world trip that has seen them visit Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Portugal, Italy, France, and the Caribbean. “We cut our expenses in half,” says Yvonne of their new life on the road. “Running two cars, paying for electricity, gas, phone, cell phone, internet, food, and eating out used to cost us almost $4,000 a month. Our average expenditure is now about $2,000, and we live and play very well on that.”
A flower-bedecked cobbled street winding down to the river. A heron lazily flapping towards its nest at sunset. The reflection of yet another fairytale chateau shimmering on the water. Forming a geographical border between northern and southern France, the Loire river transports you on a journey through one of the country’s most fascinating regions.
Europe offers rich culture, history, sophistication and—with today’s strong dollar—affordable living as well. The InternationalLiving.com report points to the five best-value countries for a European retirement today.
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The glittering, cerulean Mediterranean. Not a bad view every morning as you enjoy coffee and croissants from your terrace. Life is good. Sunny days. Freshcaught seafood. Crashing waves your lullaby every night…or for those drowsy, afternoon, after-lunch siestas. And salt-scented breezes keeping things cool.
Whenever anyone asks me to name my favorite part of France, my immediate response is always the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the South of France. Whenever people ask me why, my answer always comes a bit slower. Images of vast blue sky, scrubby foothills with strange flat plateaus, deep red earth, and tidy rows of vineyard […]
When visiting the charming university town of Montpellier, it’s tempting to spend all your time exploring the medieval city center, Ecusson. There’s good reason for that, of course. Ecusson’s winding cobblestone streets offer enchanting attractions—boutiques, artesian workshops, leafy squares—at every turn. But there’s so much more to see in Montpellier than its historic heart.
Not surprisingly, Europe delivers strongly on healthcare; in each of our five picks, you’ll find healthcare professionals and facilities of a world-class standard. But perhaps more surprisingly, the care on offer in these countries won’t leave you counting pennies. Many of these nations benefit from universal coverage and strong public healthcare systems, and even their private healthcare can be accessed for a sliver of the cost in the U.S. Doctors’ visits, for instance, can run well under $100, and other services are similarly reasonable.
In November, I was in Paris—just the latest in a long line of visits. My first night of that trip, I was invited to an international Thanksgiving celebration. The hostess, an American expat who has been in that city for many years, had made turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and had invited her international friends to join her for a celebration of gratitude. The room was full of people from all over the world—Parisians, of course, but also Australians and Venezuelans and Italians and Portuguese. The hum of languages was beautiful and unusual. And the joy of the gathering was universal.
As we move into May, the northern hemisphere continues to warm up, affording you more and more opportunities to get out and explore this weird and wonderful world. The Swiss Alpine town of Le Gruyère is renowned for its cheese, and the town celebrates this heritage with its annual cheese festival. As you’d expect, the world-famous cheese to which the town lends its name will take center stage. Unpasteurized, and still produced in the high Alps using methods honed over centuries, Gruyère cheese is known for its fruity flavor when fresh before developing a more earthy taste as it ages. You can also see traditional Swiss cheese-making techniques for yourself and explore a range of Alpine handicrafts, including exquisite crocheting and lacework. The event takes place on May 3.
Gene and Patricia have been escaping harsh Canadian winters in Cancún for about 15 years now. They are among a large number of couples who have chosen the life of a “half-pat,” preferring to spend four to six months a year in their second, much warmer, home here on the Caribbean, without committing entirely to the life of full-time expats. The Rousseaus usually leave their Canadian home in early January, enjoying about five months in Cancún before returning in late April or May, depending on the Canadian weather.
Imagine the smell of freshly-baked croissants wafting through the air, or the satisfying swallow of wine made from grapes grown just down the road. Perhaps you muse about living on a sun-drenched Mediterranean beach or tucked down a cobbled lane savoring the cosmopolitan delights of a history-rich city… A retirement in Europe is a dream for many folks. And it can easily be a reality. If it’s culture, history, and variety you’re after, Europe has it all, and at a cost much lower than you may think… Over the next few pages we explore the five best low-cost options for enjoying your perfect European retirement.
You know those moments where you see, hear, or smell a quick flash of something, and you’re suddenly reminded of another country or city that you’ve visited…a memory that fills you with an intense longing to return there? One of those moments happened to me the other day here in Paris. It was a beautiful, bright, late winter day—cold but so sunny I could feel the warm breath of spring. I was crossing a bridge, looking at the Seine river swirling below, when I was gripped with a memory of walking across a different bridge, in a different city, feeling the same cheerful anticipation of warmer weather ahead. The city I was drawn back to was Lyon in the Rhone-Alps region of southeastern France; the bridge was the Pont Bonaparte, spanning the Saone River. I had spent three days in Lyon last year in late winter, and my sudden longing to return was so intense that it surprised me.
Even though I live in Paris, I still look through my monthly issues of International Living carefully, keeping an eye out for intriguing spots in the world that make me think—“What if…?” Tempting occasionally…but when it comes down to it, I still prefer the idea of retiring in France to anywhere else. Naturally, this feeling partly comes from the fact that France has been my home for nearly 14 years, so I feel comfortable here. But comfort isn’t what makes me seriously consider spending my golden years here. What does? It comes down to four things: Practicality, beauty, location, and way of life…though not necessarily in that order.
Back in the 1980s, Terresa Murphy arrived in the City of Lights. “I came with my guitar,” she says. “I played for money in the metro to begin with, then in cafes. Then in the ’90s, after much back-and-forth between Paris and the States, I got a job at the city’s International Cinematography Festival through a friend.” But it was food that really drew Terresa’s attention. “I fell in love with French food culture, particularly the artisan approach to both ingredients and cooking. It wasn’t considered artisan at the time,” she says. “It was just the norm.”
Spiraling healthcare and insurance costs are a thing of the past for thousands of North Americans who have found their dream retirement haven abroad. If you’re still mulling your overseas options, then the availability of quality and affordable healthcare is likely a primary concern. Over the next few pages, we explore five countries hand-picked by our expat experts for the exceptionally high quality of their healthcare. All five destinations have become expat hubs, and the North Americans who now call them home—including our correspondents—can attest to the high level of care they’ve received there.