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Retire To Rural France

Why These Six Unsung Regions Of France Are Worth Your Attention Right Now

“Mainland France,” Euro-Correspondent Lucy Culpepper explains in her new “Live and Invest in France” manual, “referred to as ‘metropolitan France,’ and the Island of Corsica together include 22 administrative regions, which are further sub-divided into 96 départements.

“Each region has its own flavor and culture, and some are much more interesting to the would-be expat or retiree than others…thanks to property prices, climate, culture, proximity to Paris, good transport connections, or maybe all of the above.

“Specifically, here are six unsung regions of this country that you may not have considered…but should:

#1 France Focus: Aquitaine

–Population 3.15 million, area 15,949 square miles

Situated in southwestern France on the Atlantic coast, this is the fifth most visited region of France. It is hugely varied geographically, with mountains (the Pyrenees), plains, and coast, and home to wines of Bordeaux, Madiran, and Jurançon.

Specifically, in the Aquitaine, we recommend that you look at the Basque region and the Bearn (where my family and I have chosen to base ourselves).

#2 France Focus: Burgundy (Bourgogne)

–Population 1.63 million; area 12,193.9 square miles

With its easy access to Paris (just one hour on the TGV train), Burgundy is one of our top hot-spots in this country, both as a place to base yourself and as a place to invest for rental yield.

Situated next to the Champagne region and the Région Parisienne, Burgundy is rich in history and boasts many striking towns and cities, including Dijon, Vézelay (a UNESCO-listed medieval village), and Decize (an island set in the middle of the River Loire).

Burgundy is famed for its wine, food (a Gastronomic Fair is staged in Dijon every year), and architecture (both Gothic and Renaissance). Until the late 18th century, Burgundy was not part of France; it was a self-governed Dukedom and long-time ally of English kings.

The region has a continental climate with mild to cold winters (and occasional snow) and hot summers. Autumn is particularly beautiful here, with crisp blue skies contrasting against the striking colors of the turning leaves. The slopes of the vineyards are called Côte d’Or for a reason. They are often sundrenched, as this region sees 1,830 hours of sunshine per year!

Wine is one of the pillars of Burgundy life, with some of the most famous wines in the world coming from its vineyards. Grapes were first introduced by the Romans, and production was mastered by the local monks.

#3 France Focus: Franche-Comté

–Population 1.16 million; area 6,255.6 square miles

This region lies on the eastern side of France, bordering Switzerland. It is greatly influenced by its Alpine neighbor and shares similar architecture, food, and culture. This is an area of France that is much ignored by foreign home-buyers, which is odd as its landscape and climate make it perfect for both winter and summer living. It has good train connections with the center and the south of France, Switzerland, and Germany. Its proximity to Switzerland means that you could live here while working there. (France can be a much more affordable place to live than Switzerland.)

Property deals in this part of France can be good. For example, a renovated four-bedroom stone farmhouse with workshop, garden, barn, and garage was listed recently for 149,000 euro (about US$200,000).

#4 France Focus: Languedoc-Roussillon

–Population 2.8 million; area 10,569.9 square miles

The region capital of Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier, is the fastest-growing city in France, with a population of 245,000. It is the home to France’s oldest university and has recently been voted one of the best places to live in this country…if you like cities.

This is the “other” south of France, very Mediterranean and influenced by its proximity to Spain. It is hot and dry in the summer, wet in the winter, and cool and clear in the spring and fall and enjoys many days of sunshine each year.

This is a region of warm colors, sleepy villages, mountains, gorges with cascading rivers, endless vineyards, olive trees, colorful markets, the Canal du Midi, and the gentle waters of the Mediterranean coastline. It is also the land of the Cathars and boasts incredible historic sites, including Carcassonne.

#5 France Focus: Limousin–

Population 727,000; area 6,541.3 square miles

Limousin is the second least-populated region of France, after Corsica. It is a rural region with little in the way of job opportunities. Just slightly west of center of the country, Limousin is also beautiful, with a unique landscape of woodlands, green pasture, and deep valleys. This is a quiet, romantic part of France that appeals to lovers of nature and wildlife and not to culture enthusiasts craving theaters, museums, and night life. Because of this, property prices are lower than many other regions.

This is where I would live (at least part of the year) if I didn’t have children to raise who need a bit more excitement and stimulation.

Property prices can be mouth-watering. Recently listed for the equivalent of about US$185,000 was a partly restored character house built in 1832 with a mill and a former blacksmith’s workshop, a 4,000-square-meter pond, and gardens. The top price category on the website of one of the main real estate agencies for this region is “More than €200,000.” In many other regions of the country, property prices start at that level!

#6 France Focus: Poitou-Charentes

–Population 1.73 million; area 9,964.9 square miles

Poitou-Charentes forms the central part of France’s Atlantic coastal plain. It’s quite flat except inland, where it becomes more undulating as the land rises toward the Massif Central. In the south are extensive vineyards, where grapes for Cognac and the aperitif Pineau des Charentes are grown.

This is another region that deserves more attention than it receives, thanks largely to its appealing climate, which is one of the mildest in France. The coastal area here is the second-sunniest in France, after the Mediterranean coastline.

If you are interested in restoring an old property or in buying a refurbished rural property, the three inland departments of this region, Charentes, Vienne, and Deux-Sevres, are definitely worth your attention. The renovation opportunities are many and available for as little as 50,000 euro.

Kathleen Peddicord

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