Living Abroad in France
Prime Living Locations
© Terry Link, from Living Abroad in France , 1st Edition.
Used by permission of Avalon Travel. All rights reserved.
The following page discusses the characteristics and appeal of the different regions in France. By no means are these the only desirable regions, but they are places where a number of expatriates have decided to live. In fact, they cover about half of France and include the regions where more than two-thirds of the French population lives. Living in a major metropolitan area anywhere in the world isn't for everyone. Business people may be attracted to towns and regions offering either greater employment opportunities or financial incentives to those who wish to engage in commerce in France. Retirees might find a mountain village, a coastal cottage, or a little farm more appealing. You can live in a small village of 1,000 people and still enjoy good public transportation, find doctors and nurses who actually make house calls, greet merchants who call you by name, and dine on fresh produce and seafood—all without losing access to big-city benefits.
Paris and the Île de France
First, of course, is Paris, the cosmopolitan capital and the metropolis surrounding it. In many ways, this is both the head and heart of France—its intellectual, cultural, social, economic and political center. There is no other great city like it and few that equal it. For those seeking the cultural France—art, nightlife, high fashion, great food—Paris is the place to be. All of its arrondissements, the administrative areas into which large French cities are divided, offer potential homes—although as in any city, some areas are much more expensive than others. In Paris and the surrounding suburbs, a number of international bilingual schools for pupils below the university level offer parents numerous educational opportunities for younger children.
Prospective Parisian residents should be aware that along with the cultural richness and intellectual stimulation of the region come the drawbacks of a densely packed urban area. In recent years, transit strikes have repeatedly left hundreds of thousands stranded. Controls on both speed and the number of vehicles on the road can be inconvenient. Traffic is terrible, and the resulting air pollution can be a problem. Experts estimate that this pollution is responsible for more than 4,800 deaths annually in the country. Asthmatics should certainly take this into account. But Paris and the Île-de-France do host the greatest number of Americans, mixed among the 12 million French and scores of other nationalities.
The Midi and Languedoc
Bordeaux and the Midi region is a rich, rebellious land that produces enough wine to fill its famous canal connecting the two seas. The western Pyrénées and into the lowlands are Basque Country, where French gives way to a more ancient language—one so different from any other that legend among devout Catholics of region claims that it took the devil seven years to learn his first Basque word. The rural northern area drained by the Dordogne River has been much favored by the English and Americans in recent decades, while the great university city of Toulouse, surrounded by rolling plains with fields of grain, sunflowers, and corn reminiscent of the American Midwest, has become a high-tech aerospace center. Sparsely populated Languedoc, along the Mediterranean, remains largely agricultural, dotted with small farming villages. Besides the hot summers, this area provides easy access to the ski slopes and other winter sport areas of the Pyrénées.
Provence and the Côte D'Azur
In the famed South of France, sandwiched between the Rhône River running east to Italy, is Provence: A land divided between the chic, densely populated coastline from Marseille to Nice and the dry, mountainous interior. This was not the cradle of Mediterranean civilization, but certainly the site of its adolescence. The Côte d'Azur is chic and expensive, while the interior is less costly; but both areas have an international population, having been a vacation favorite with Europeans and British for nearly two centuries. Aix-en-Provence, not far from Marseille and Avignon, is a great center for American and other foreign university students, while the Luberon Mountains provide picturesque villages full of stone houses. You'll probably find more Americans in Provence than anywhere else in France outside of Paris. Les Alpes Maritime (the Maritime Alps), though not as high as their northern cousins, provide winter skiing and summer boating on rivers such as the Durance.
Normandy and Brittany
West of the Île-de-France and Paris are Normandie (Normandy) and the English Channel, both more sheltered from the Atlantic storms that can lash the more westerly coast of Bretagne (Brittany). The Seine and numerous smaller rivers wind through this rolling countryside, which is heavily farmed but has pleasant wooded areas as well. Modern transportation—fast and frequent trains and good roads—have brought Paris within reach, much in the way that Long Island connects to New York or Napa to San Francisco. The Eurostar train through the Chunnel has only served to emphasize the proximity of the region to the U.K. It remains a favorite weekend getaway for the English, as well as for Parisians, with expensive resorts on the coast and bucolic hideaways further inland. Its central geographic location within the European Union has made Normandy a great distribution hub as well.
Burgundy and the Rhône Valley
The Rhône Valley and Bourgogne (Burgundy) constitute, like the Midi, a great wine-producing region. The southern part of this area below Lyon was historically part of Rome's Provence and remains allied in architecture and lifestyle today. Away from the Rhône river, as well as along its banks, are pleasant villages and market towns. Farming—not only grapes, but also fruit and olives—is the big industry here outside of the only large city in the region, Lyon. The Alps, to the east, and their summer and winter recreation areas are within easy reach of much of the Rhône Valley. In Burgundy, it is much the same—grapes and fruit. Picturesque little villages are only a few hours from Paris, and excellent summer recreation can be found in the regional park of Morvan. The slopes of the Jura Mountains to the east make a day of skiing or other snow sports possible.