There is nothing more romantic and idyllic than a Brit’s first experience of the South of France.
From the verdant gorges and iconic lavender fields of Provence to the mountainous Pyrenees, Bayonne, Lourdes across to Perpignan; the Riviera of St Tropez and Cannes across to historic mansions of Aquitaine.
Southern France is packed with medieval towns, rural hideaways and bustling cities all bursting with individual character, Gallic charm and nestled in the most breath-taking scenery.
And, as the UK ponders the implications of a post-Brexit way of life, more and more people are considering the move across La Manche before free passage across the EU is (potentially) gone for good. Whilst the impact in real terms of the vote to leave has yet to be realised, there is a common consensus that making the move sooner would be better than later.
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A British Expat Guide to the South of France
France is an obvious choice for many who choose to quit the British borders and embark on expat life.
The fact that many of us know a little of the language, have travelled to France already and its proximity to home make it an easy place to start a new life.
There are around 170,000 Brits living in France with most congregating in the same few areas:
|Area||Approx. No of Brits|
|Ile-de-France (North – includes Paris)||21,000|
|Aquitaine (Le-Midi, South West)||16,100|
|Midi-Pyrénées (Le-Midi, South West)||15,800|
|Rhône-Alpes (Le-Midi, South West)||13,100|
|Provence (Le-Midi, South West)||12,000|
The rest of the population is spread across smaller pockets throughout the country including small numbers on the island of Corsica (200), Champagne (400) and Lorraine (850).
These smaller populations tend not to have large British expat communities but instead have attracted Brits who want to immerse themselves with the local way of life. A small proportion find tiny communities of other European expats and quickly establish a diverse and mixed network.
France is huge. Over twice the size of the UK with a smaller population the country has an amazing diversity of landscapes from which to choose a home. In this guide, we’ve focused on the South of France or, more specifically the regions known as Le Midi.
Covering an expansive area from the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast, the borders of Spain and the Pyrenees to the south and Italy to the West, Le Midi incorporates the regions of Aquitaine, Corsica, Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrénées, the southern portion of Poitou-Charentes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and parts of the Rhône-Alpes.
Each area is very different and entertains a different way of life amongst varying climates and landscapes. The one thing they all share is that the whole Le Midi region is a popular tourist destination across Europe with an almost endless supply of things to do. Whether it’s Germans, Brits or Scandinavians seeking the warmer summer climes or Italians, Spanish or Greeks in search of mountain climbs, Le Midi has plenty to offer.
Let’s consider some of your options for where to move in the South of France.
The region known as the Perigord Noir, south east of Dordogne is perhaps the most popular spot in the Aquitaine area. There are many pockets of expats living in small communities around the heart of the city of Sarlat-le-Caneda and Bergerac.
This medieval market town is a busy tourist hotspot and is popular with locals and tourists alike. The surrounding towns run regular markets which provide daily shopping opportunities outside of the larger supermarket chains.
Towns like Souillac have their own attractions for expats such as the Country Club and Golf Course that is home to dozens of Brits and Northern European expats. The area is rich with gorges, dark mountains with ominous cliffs upon which gorgeous chateaus stand prominent. The picturesque village of Dommes, set high on such a precipice offers the most exquisite views across the Dordogne or Le Roque Gageac, set on the river itself where a church clings precariously to the rock face. The whole region has hidden gems of such divine beauty that living in amongst them is considered by most as a rare privilege.
This region offers the most diverse scenery of any other in Southern France and contains vineyards, beaches and mountains.
The area isn’t as popular with tourists as other parts of the country and as such expats who have settled in the region tend to feel proprietorial over the undiscovered aspects of the small villages and towns. Prices are very reasonable for property and you can get much more for your money than in similar spots.
With a similar climate to Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon has an unspoilt and authentic charm, particularly the area surrounding Narbonne. A resort that is close to the French and offering traditional wide promenades, superbly preserved architecture from underground Roman warehouse to gothic cathedrals.
Slightly to the west of central France, Poitou-Charentes is popular with Brits looking to renovate property, purchase gîtes and maybe run a B&B business.
With so many tourists, it is little wonder that many such ventures do well. The average cost of buying a house in the region is a little under the national average and there are plenty of projects on the market as well as a range of modern and traditional homes. Be warned that modern apartments are more expensive than the archetypal rural French home.
The city of Poitiers is one of the most popular cities in the region and attracts a number of expats due to the mild and temperate seasons. Smaller towns such as Chef Boutonne, Cognac and Jarnac are popular as well as Confolens which has drawn a large community of Brits owing to the rural idyll offered here in Southern France.
Featuring a romantic coastline that appears beset with jewels under the 300+ days of sunshine the area receives each year, there is nowhere more iconic of the coveted relaxed lifestyle of France than in Provence.
Verdant with olive groves and vineyards and awash with the purple haze of lavender fields the lifestyle here is certainly an enviable one.
However, since the great exodus following the publication of Peter Mayles, ‘A Year in Provence’, house prices have risen and bargains are thinner on the ground. A dream destination for many, the area has much to offer expats of all ages and walks of life. Along the coast is perhaps the most liveable area and cities such as Fréjus and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue can provide better opportunities.
However, if you are looking for a more rural setting then there are some stunning villages with a more country feel that are yet to peak price-wise. Try St. Etienne du Grès and Fontvieille.
With 900km of sun-drenched coastline and glamorous seaside resorts, the French Riviera is one of the most popular destinations in the world.
Sales are up 90% compared with last year, partly due to significant price drops. “House prices inland are now 20% less than in 2008, so more people are buying in the smaller villages away from the fast-paced life of the coastline,” says Tim Swannie, Director of Home Hunts.
Mougins and Valbonne are the most coveted. “Both are very popular for families who want to put their children in the international schools,” says Tim. “But buyers can get more for their money in villages such as Biot, Opio, Roquefort les Pins and Châteauneuf de Grasse. All of these are within 5-15 minutes drive of one another. However, as with all properties, prices vary depending on position, views, condition, style and grounds.”
Needless to say, there is no shortage of breathtaking views in this part of the world!
Cost of Living in the South of France
There are plenty of regional variations across Le Midi which can make a great deal of difference in the cost of living in the Southern France.
Choosing a popular tourist location such as Cannes will invariably be much more expensive than in rural Provence.
Likewise, prices in cities such as Toulouse, Montpelier and Marseille will also be higher. The general comparison we’ve given below should give you an idea of some of the general costs; however, as these prices are based on urban areas you can certainly expect lower costs in surrounding towns and villages.
|3-Course Meal for 2||£42.21||£25.32||£50.65||£33.77||£55.00|
|Bottle of Imported Beer||£3.38||£3.38||£3.80||£4.22||£4.00|
|1kg Chicken Breasts||£8.58||£5.60||£11.39||£7.60||£6.68|
|Packet of Premium Cigarettes||£5.99||£5.91||£5.91||£5.91||£9.50|
|Basic Monthly Utilities (1-Bed)||£109.45||£68.20||£117.66||£117.84||£150.75|
|Pair of Jeans (Levi’s)||£64.72||£57.68||£59.09||£78.09||£63.31|
|Rent Monthly (1-Bed)||£497||£444||£615||£475||£1675|
|Price per sq. m to Buy Property||£2,592||£2,384||£4586||£2,979||£15,195|
If you can afford the luxury, then Southern France can certainly afford the lifestyle that dreams are made of.
It’s no coincidence that the world’s most valuable house is located here!
Here’s a quick tour around some popular areas, such as Nice, Aix-en-Provence, Montpellier and Marseille; courtesy of Diana Elizabeth.
Settling in the South of France
As with moving anywhere new, and particularly when moving abroad, it is essential that you quickly establish networks, not only social ones but important logistical ones.
Finding the local expat community is the best place to start and does not mean you have to establish a strong and permanent connection with them.
Indeed, many expats resist using Brit communities when first settling in as they feel it would be cheating the whole migration experience.
That’s understandable and is commonly respected by other Brits abroad. However, they are a useful place to seek help and advice on simple matters such as finding an electrician, figuring out the complicated legal or banking systems or even just to help you find the local rubbish tip.
You should also make the effort to get out into the local community and attempt the language, try out new groups and social gatherings as well as learn to shop like a local.
One of the best ways to settle in France is to spend time living like a local so be sure to ask people you meet where they go to shop for clothes, furniture and food. It’s time to stop looking for a Waitrose and a John Lewis and embrace markets, roadside stalls yet still venturing to big cities to find an Ikea!
Whatever brings you to Le Midi to settle, enjoy taking the time to get to know your new home and its community; there truly is nowhere quite like the South of France.
Are you a British expat living in Southern France? Planning a move there?
We’d love to hear your recommendations and experiences (past and present) of what it’s like to live in this part of the world.
Drop us a comment below.