And the winner is….

The fortress at Carcassonne

After seeing a July post about a trip we had taken to nearby Narbonne, blog reader Rebecca commented that she’d driven by that city many times, and it sounded as if it were worth a stop. We certainly agree, especially given that Narbonne appeared on our original list of cities that we might want to move to. Long before we ever considered moving overseas, we tried to create in Atlanta one aspect of European life that greatly appealed to us: a village. No matter what country we visited from France, to Germany, Italy, England, Scotland, or Wales, we always started in the big cities but managed to find outlying areas that charmed us. Of course each culture was different but there was always something that brought the residents together and in the UK the heart of every small town we went to was the village pub. It was no surprise then that “village” appeared as one must-have item on any new place that we would call home.

A quaint street in Albi

Those picturesque villages—stone cottages, moss-covered roofs, flowering vines tumbling from window boxes, bubbling streams—definitely exist in France but they have one drawback. They tend to be off the beaten path, out of reach of frequently running public transportation and therefore require access to a car. There’s even an association here called The Most Beautiful Villages of France and all of those that we have visited have big parking lots. After being owners of various motor vehicles for nearly 50 years, we were looking for an alternative.

We knew that the northern half of the country could have pretty cold winters with snow so we sought the advice of a friend from the south of France who now lives in the US. He is passionate about his homeland so we knew that he would have some good suggestions. We added those villages/towns/cities to some others that we found online using a search of the best places to live. The resulting list is below, in no particular order other than as they came to our attention.

Collioure on the Mediterranean

Without a car we knew that we would need easy access to a train station since we wanted to take advantage of being able to travel throughout Europe without the expense and time of flying over the Atlantic. The quintessential French experience of an open air market was important as was the presence of supermarkets for those times when the market wasn’t open or didn’t have what we needed. A water view from where we would be living, or at least the ability to quickly get to the sea, a river, etc. was another consideration. Lastly, population came into play since there had to be enough people living there to support the infrastructure of buses, trains, shopping, and cultural activities we needed without the impersonality you might experience in a big city. Rebecca had asked if we could share that list, so here it is:

  • Gaillac
  • Albi
  • Pau
  • Foix
  • Collioure
  • Villefranche-de-Conflent
  • Capestang
  • Uzès
  • Morlaas
  • Nay
  • Limoux
  • Quillan
  • Castelnaudary
  • Narbonne
  • Carcassonne
  • Toulouse

With these 16 choices the selection process began. All of the locations have markets but they don’t all have supermarkets. Some don’t have a train station and some are located in the snowy mountains. All of them have some kind of water access and a few have both a river and a canal. The population ranges from 250 people to half a million. One by one we eliminated the possibilities by a combination of personal visits and/or the realization that a particular place just wasn’t what we thought we wanted.

The canal in Narbonne with Bill, Gaynor, and Pete

So who was the winner? Well, we were, of course. Actually we could have made any of these towns or cities work for us but clearly Carcassonne had a check mark beside every one of our boxes…except that “village” one. The reality is that the street we now live on has become that village. We know the majority of our neighbors and share drinks and/or dinner with someone weekly and have daily conversations with others. We talk with the butcher, the baker, the fish shop owner, the green grocer, and the wine merchant, all at the top end of the street. We joke with the grocery store employees and even the mailman recognizes us when he sees us at the market. This is the village we were looking for.

The Aude river through Limoux

The fortress above Villefranche de Conflent

Garden festival in Quillan

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About Bob

While living in North, Central and South America, in the middle of the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, and now in Europe, my passion has remained the same: travel and meeting new friends.

Posted on August 27, 2017, in Life in France and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Pauline Watson

    This blog is absolutely fantastic. We will be in your area soon. We are taking une peniche on the Canal de Midi from Le Sommeil for a weeks cruising at the end of September. Thereafter we have stays at Ceret and Colliure. I am returning to Carcassonne myself next May. You inspire.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your wonderful post has me reflecting on what it is that we really want in our forever home. We already have a Maison Secondaire in a tiny gem of a medieval village which is designated ‘Petite Cité de Caractère’ which we are slowly renovating. But we never intended to live full time in that village. And I presently live in Grenoble which I love and would love the funds for a pied a terre here when our big forever move occurs. Your méthode is very very good. Our wish list of course is different but it does get me thinking in a slightly different way. And you are so right – sans voiture it is impossible to live in a French village. I envy you Carcassonne – it is truly a gem amongst gems. As is your blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • How kind of you to say such nice things, thank you! You’re right that Carcassonne is indeed a gem and I’m confident that you too will find your perfect place.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. RebeccaNYC (IG: @mybackstageopera)

    THANK YOU!!! I love that “my village” of Uzès made your list…but I imagine the lack of a train station removed it from the possible list for you. For us, that is a plus because Uzès is already getting over-run with tourists and a train station would surely worsen that problem (and we will have a car). We are in the count-down stage now (we are planning to be there starting in the spring of 2019, when I retire…yay!!) and I know I will have a million questions for you. Thank you for your amazing blog. I refer you to many of my friends who are considering doing the very same thing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, we do love our trains. Sounds as if you are going to be well prepared. If you (and your friends, thank you very much) don’t find your answers on the blog, please ask away! We’re happy to share our experiences.

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