Retirement planning: 3 affordable cities in the South of France
Most retirees assume—mistakenly—that the South of France is beyond their reach. But a new report from the editors of Internationalliving.com points to three compelling locales—a big city, a historic university town, and a small city—all of which offer good weather, friendly locals, and remarkably good-value living.
“France offers retirees an excellent quality of life,” says International Living Executive Editor, Jennifer Stevens. “But what most people don’t realize is that it can be remarkably affordable, too. Yes, Paris is expensive—as are many big cities. But a retired couple can live well in the South of France for less than $30,000 a year. And life there, of course, comes with excellent food and wine, sunny days, a culture that celebrates the arts, and a wonderfully easy pace of living.”
The report delves into three southern France French cities—Bordeaux, Montpellier and Pau—each offering a different appeal.
Paris might be the crown jewel of France, but the city of Bordeaux is a glittering diamond in its own right. This ancient city, in the famous wine-growing region of southwest France, has experienced a dramatic renaissance in recent years.
Thanks to its beauty and history, much of the city has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And Bordeaux is a wine-lover’s paradise, with everything from world-famous estates to small cellars barely known outside of France.
Situated on the Atlantic coast, Bordeaux is close to over a dozen gorgeous sandy beaches. Beaches around these parts tend toward the naturally wild side, with scrubby pines, marshes, and large dunes. Hourtin Lakeside Beach is a natural clear-water lake that happens to be the largest freshwater lake in France.
The weather in Bordeaux tends to be pleasantly mild, getting neither particularly hot in summers nor particularly cold in winter. Average temperatures in July, for example, reach only about 70 F (although the highs are about 79 F), while the average low in December is 43 F.
“Bordeaux offers good value for money compared to Paris,” says Barbara Diggs, IL’s France Correspondent. “It’s a nice alternative to the high prices of the capital, if you want to be in a city in France. The real savings kick is if you’re there long-term. You can find furnished properties of 700 square feet to rent in the center of the city for around $1,800 to $1,900 a month. It’ll be less the further you are away from the pretty center.”
Montpellier—Historic University Town
The perpetual sunny skies and mild winters of Montpellier have attracted many retirees to this dynamic university town in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region.
Situated just a short tram ride from the Mediterranean coast, Montpellier offers teeming cafés along its medieval streets, a village-like atmosphere in the suburbs, and tranquility in nearby beachside towns. And every year, the city hosts dozens of festivals, from film to opera.
For city lovers, Montpellier’s draw is its historic center, Écusson. Dating from the 10th century, Écusson is full of wonderful flagstone streets lined with timeworn, sand-colored stone buildings.
Montpellier is home to several universities, including one of the world’s oldest medical schools (founded in 1220), where both Nostradamus and Rabelais once studied.
Montpellier is more affordable than you’d think a Mediterranean town would be. Many restaurants and cafés, probably aware that a good portion of their clients are students with limited budgets, are reasonably priced.
“Real estate prices are also reasonable, considering the city’s broad range of amenities and its location near the sea,” says Barbara Diggs. “I saw local real estate agents listing unfurnished one-bedroom apartments renting for ($765 to $1,060 a month and two-bedrooms starting at $1,100.”
A glorious stretch of Mediterranean sand can be found at the nearby seaside town of Palavas-les-Flots. Picture a sprawling strand with miles of fine, white sand and gentle waves—city life feels much farther away than the 35-minute bus ride it takes to get here.
Pau—Smaller City Living
If you are looking for a retirement option that really delivers, consider Pau—a beautiful French city of 80,000 a few miles from the Spanish border. Gorgeous old villas and mansions line the streets, taking in spectacular views of the snow-capped Pyrenees.
Pau has mild, wet winters with mild, warm summers. In summer the average temperature is 68 F to 86 F, while in winter you can expect around 54 F. With such a climate, it’s easy to see why European nobility flocked to the city for vacations in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Its location lends itself to the best of both worlds—the nearest ski resorts are only 45 minutes’ drive and you can be at an Atlantic beach in an hour.
The city has easy access to hiking, climbing, and cycling. Pau is second to only Paris when it comes to hosting stages of the Tour de France. The city is known for its interest in sports, and boasts the first 18-hole golf course created in Europe, which you can still play today. It has a Victorian-style clubhouse with a distinctly British atmosphere.
It would not be France without a local wine and Pau is famous for Jurançon, which is produced in only 25 towns and villages. The moelleux (sweet) white wine is the most famous, however they also produce a dry one.
But when it comes to essential facilities, Pau has an excellent hospital and other health centers, an airport with connecting flights around the world, and the TGV (Train Grand Vitesse) trains that run to places like Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse.
“You will find that property prices are very reasonable when compared to the States, but by French standards are higher than those of cities of similar size,” says Stewart Richmond, IL’sSouth of France Correspondent.
“As Pau is a university city, buy-to-let apartments—especially one-room studios—are popular investments. If you want to buy a full-time retirement home, expect to pay around $240 per square foot but you can buy apartments for under $18 a square foot.
“And don’t forget, there are many items which make the cost of living in France desirable— especially if you like cheese and wine which are ridiculously cheap compared to the U.S.”
More information on French cities and towns to Live and Retire in, here: Best Cities and Towns to Live and Retire in France
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