As Charles de Gaulle once said, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” While we can in no way compare the struggle of finding a house in France to the frustrations of leading a country out of World War II, it can be confusing too. For that reason, we’ve put together some places to start your French property search. Whether you’re retiring, looking for a second home or for a complete change of lifestyle, we’ve got you covered. Afterall, France has it all: a truly global capital, sleepy countryside retreats, mountains, sun, sea and surf and luxurious food and drink as a matter of course. If that’s not enough, the financial benefits are clear too. Property prices are often much lower than the UK.
Occupying the area in the south-west of France between the Atlantic Ocean, Spain and the Pyrenees, Gascony is an incredible place for those wanting an escape to the French countryside. On the Spanish border is the enclave of the basque country, with its own unique culture, world class beach resorts like Biarritz and huge traditional festivals, like the Fête de Bayonne, during the summer months. In the winter, the Pyrenees offer skiing opportunities a-plenty. Property prices are low and getting lower across much of the region, so now could be the perfect time to snap up a continental bolthole. Bordeaux is the urban centre of the region, which comes with all sorts of benefits for wine lovers.
Although Bordeaux is in Gascony, it more than deserves an entry of its own. The French call it the Paris of the south because of the cities’ similar architecture. The weather and property prices are better than the capital though, and the people of Bordeaux are a far more relaxed bunch than the famously haughty Parisians. The food scene is excellent and of course, central to the city’s worldwide fame, is the wine. Cave de vins are everywhere and chateaus open to visitors are dotted around the countryside. The centre of the city is one of the largest UNESCO world heritage sites in the world and was recently connected to Paris by a super fast TGV connection, meaning property prices are very much on the up.
With Montepllier at its centre, Languedoc-Roussillon sits on the Mediteranian coast of France, sandwiched between Spain and the French Riviera. It’s something of a hidden gem, but of course much cheaper than the riviera. It offers beaches just as good though and set back from the coast a mountainous landscape with plenty of sleepy towns to retreat to. Catalan is widely spoken here too. Indeed Catalonia and Barcelona are just over the border, so it has a different, more Spanish flavour than many parts of France. The Baleric islands are also easily accessible from here.
Hearing friends who’ve moved abroad bang on about ‘quality of life’ can be exhausting. Nowhere in France is more likely to turn you into a similar bore than Annecy. In the French alps, not far from Geneva and much more expensive Chamonix, it is a stunning place to live in both summer and winter. Nestled between the mountains on the shore of Lake Annecy, the town itself is beyond picturesque, with chocolate box houses and plenty of restaurants and entertainment to choose from. You’ll be surrounded by some of the best skiing and winter sports in the world during winter. In summer, there’s trekking and sailing on the lake. There’s also a great stock of chalets around the town which go for a relative steal.
Our list could be accused of being a bit south-of-France-centric, but let’s face it, who moves to the continent for the same ledden skies you can find in Britain. The Dordogne is the classic escape for ‘le rosbif’ fleeing Britain for sunnier weather, especially retirees. There’s so many English here that many of the locals speak the language, so this is a great place to be if your French is limited. It’s easy to see why so many people love it. The Dordogne river is great for fishing and messing about in boats. The wine is cheap and and the countryside is beautiful too. Low property prices to boot. What’s not to love?
The stuff of fantasy for most property buyers, but Paris had to make it onto our list for obvious reasons. One of the cultural capitals of the world, it retains something of its 1920s heydey still. It’s less dynamic than London, New York and Tokyo, but can be all the better for that. Paris life can be at once frenetic and relaxed in a way that seems impossible in other global cities.
Property values in France have started to fall in recent years, but the market in the capital is still humming and prices are on the rise. They are just as astronomical as London though, so be prepared. Up and coming neighbourhoods like the area around the Canal St-Martin are good to look at if you want to avoid too heavy a toll on your wallet.