11 best places to live in France (and why?)
If you're moving to France, you need to pick the right place. Work may force you to live in a particular place - if you're in aerospace, for instance, you'll end up in Toulouse - but if you're free to choose your hometown, some will suit you better than others.
Of course, Paris is by far the most expensive city to live in France - that goes for daily groceries as well as property prices - but it's also the most culturally interesting and vibrant city in France. You could go to a different theatre or concert hall every week, if you wanted. There are jobs in Paris in the finance sector and in major corporations' head offices, as well as in the service sector and in education and media. As one of the diverse cities in world Paris has to offer something to everybody.
Many property purchasers decide to stay in the centre of Paris, but families may decide to head for the outer arrondissements - for instance La Villette and Les Buttes Chaumont in the north, 'bobo' (slightly arty) neighbourhoods with plenty of green space, or Trocadero and Monceau in the west. Good and inexpensive transport links also mean you could move further out to towns like Sèvres, Versailles, or Saint-Germain-en-Laye - the latter very popular with expats since it has a major lycée international.
Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France with a fine dining tradition that goes back centuries; it's also a major business city with thriving companies in banking (second only to Paris), pharmaceuticals, software, and biotechnology, and has three universities. Recent investment in infrastructure has made it a great place to use public transport; Lyon had its Velo'v rental bikes two years before Paris got the Velib!
The Confluence area is like a modernist architectural experiment, with trendy cubic buildings mixing cultural centres, residences and high-class shopping in a sustainable eco-district. While the Presqu'Ile, with the Opera House and art museum, remains highly attractive, bohemians will probably prefer to head out to Croix-Rousse, formerly the silk-weavers' area of town, with its old houses and meandering streets, while bargains can be found in Guillotière, still close to the centre but with a big student population.
Toulouse is completely different - a fast growing metropolis with a thriving engineering and aerospace sector and a huge student population (there are several prestigious engineering colleges as well as the university). It's the fourth largest city in France, with a lovely old city built in pink brick and nicknamed 'la ville rose', and has major cultural attractions and lively nightlife. It's well connected, too, with a good airport, and recently improved train connections to France. It's a great city to live and work, and if you want to relax, the hiking trails of the Pyrenees are just a 90 minutes drive away.
Find home in the biggest French cities
Marseille, with a population of 850,000 plus, is France's second largest city in France, but the cost of living here is 30% lower than in Paris or Lyon. Reputed as a rather gritty, down-to-earth city, it's recently had a cultural renaissance with new galleries and museums, but hasn't lost its authenticity.
You might think of fishermen and bouillabaisse when you think of Marseille, but the city is also home to the largest university in France, a big science and tech sector including the ITER energy research project, and a number of major enterprises, including Pernod-Ricard, which is central to the life of Marseille in more than one way! One small downside is that while the population is quite diverse, the expat community here isn't very cohesive.
Cannes is the second largest Riviera town after Nice, and like Antibes it's a frequent residential choice for people working at Sophia-Antipolis. With the film festival and trade shows MIPIM, MIPCOM and MIPTV, it has a huge tourist sector and it's very cosmopolitan. The centre is very busy till the early hours, making the suburbs a better choice for families.
Antibes is very popular with execs working at the Sophia-Antipolis tech campus, as well as with sunseekers. It has a large foreign population and several international schools. There's a compact and lovely old town, with great food markets, and a marina at Port Vauban, and during the summer there's a great nightlife. The downside is that while it's packed in summer, it can be pretty dead in winter compared to some of the larger cities on the coast. Although some of us will appreciate this quiet winter break!
Finally, for those who want a more authentic experience of small town France on the Riviera, Villefranche-sur-Mer has a lot to offer. This little seaside town has never become a suburb of Nice, even though it's only a quick train ride into the big city, and though it gets overrun with tourists in the peak summer months, it has retained its local markets and its old-time feel. The old town, with its narrow streets and brightly ochre-painted houses, is particularly charming, guarded on one side by the Cap de Nice, and on the other by Cap Ferrat with its super-luxury, crazily expensive villas. It's a great place for anyone with a job in Nice, on one side, or Monaco, on the other - a place to come home to and relax.
Dream properties on the French coast
Bordeaux is the centre of the wine trade, but it's also home to a number of major companies and the capital of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. A sophisticated and diverse city, it offers a great lifestyle for expat families and it's lively year-round. However, the property market has got very heated in recent years so buying the right home could become more expensive, if you want to buy, don’t be too long!
Aix-en-Provence is the town for culture vultures, with its July classical music festival. It's classy, but not sedate, and the nightlife is surprisingly quiet for a city of 143,000 population. There's a large expat community and a good-sized student body, so rental property is always in demand, and the town is well placed for heading out into the Provençal countryside. Aix is surrounded by a complex road network, so many buyers prefer to ignore the suburbs and instead look to buy out in the Luberon or other rural areas around Aix.
The Dordogne region is very popular with British, Dutch and Belgian expats, and has many inexpensive rural properties, including some for refurbishment. Bergerac itself is a pretty market town, with a population of just over 26,000 and an airport giving access to Ireland and the UK, and it's just about within commuting distance of Bordeaux. However it can be very difficult to find a job in this area, particularly if you don't speak French. On the other hand, if you're retiring, looking for a holiday home, or happy to telecommute or run a “gite”, this can be a great place to move, with a really supportive expat community.
Lastly, we had to add what is surely the best place in France to live. Benayes, with 224 inhabitants, has more Limousin cows than people, and you can buy two houses there and get change out of EUR 50,000. There are fresh strawberries, and chestnut plantations, and really crunchy Golden apples, and there's even high-speed internet access; but unless you work on one of the local farms, or commute into one of the larger towns, there aren't a lot of jobs.