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Here’s The Most Important Thing You Need To Understand About Spending Time In France

Here’s perhaps the most important thing to understand about France: It can be a far more affordable place to spend time than you might imagine.

  Paris is the best place on earth to seek out a luxury lifestyle on a budget. Whatever your idea of the high life, you can find it in the City of Light, and the best part about this city is that some of the best it has to offer comes free.

Life’s sweetest pleasures are here for the taking. Picnics in the Luxembourg Gardens, long walks along the Seine, afternoons lost among the cobblestones of the Latin Quarter. These things cost not a sous.

Paris is a never-ending feast of gallery openings and special performances, exhibitions and celebrations, many available for little cost. You can join conversation groups, discussion groups, and book clubs sometimes free. You can enjoy prix-fixe meals for $20 or less, and you can spend hours in a café, seeing and being seen, for the price of but a singlecafé au lait.

The more practical necessities of life don’t come free in Paris, but they are more affordable than you might imagine. France boasts perhaps the world’s best infrastructure (after Switzerland, maybe), and it’s a bargain. Cable TV, Internet, and telephone, as well as the Metro, the bus, and the RER train system, are likely less costly than comparable services wherever you’re living now.

Look beyond Paris, and France becomes far more affordable, for this country hides country and coastal towns where the cost of living can qualify as budget.

The “other” south of France, for example, the Languedoc region, may not be the cheapest place to retire in the world, but I’d say it’s one of the most affordable options on the Continent. More to the point, this part of France delivers an extraordinary and hard-to-match quality of life for every euro invested.

Languedoc is historic, colorful, eclectic, always changing, authentically French, and, at the same time, very open to retirees. Villages here date from prehistoric times, but the feel of this part of France is medieval. The living is simple and traditional while still offering all the services and amenities of the 21st century, including good schooling for children ages 3 to 18.

Our second France-beyond-Paris pick is a corner of the country so tucked away that even the French find it hard to place on the map. From the Romans to the Renaissance, the Belle Époque to Art Deco, there’s history to be enjoyed at every turn. Gorgeous scenery, rolling wooded countryside, and friendly people. The majestic mountains of the Pyrenees dominate the views and beautiful beaches are just a short drive away…

This Béarn region in the southwest of France has it all. With so many appealing towns in the region, we find it hard to recommend any single one. However, two top choices would be Nay and Morlaas.

As France Correspondent Lucy Culpepper explains, both these towns are “a good size; not too big or too small. I’ve found them both very welcoming. Both have every facility and service you need, both have interesting historical centers, and both are set in beautiful, though different countryside.”

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. How big, exactly, would your budget need to be to afford you a new life in Paris or elsewhere in France?

Here are quick-and-dirty, back-of-the-envelope estimates: You could live in Paris on a budget of 1,500 euro per month, not including the cost of housing (always best considered independently)…and you could call one of our favorite French country towns home at a cost of about 1,000 euro per month, again, not including housing.

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