And the winner is….
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.