University town

Long before we knew that we’d be retiring in another country, we looked across much of the US for the ideal place to settle. One option that we considered was a university town where we anticipated the excitement of a diverse environment, i.e., lots of different people with a range of ideas all open to discussion. Our visits to cities like this had shown us endless dining opportunities, a multitude of community events, concerts, films, plays, and art shows, plus—vital for us—being pedestrian friendly since we wanted to live without a car. That was a good idea as was our consideration of a beach house, living by (or floating on) a lake, or even going on-the-road full time in an RV as Bill’s parents had done for years. Then the possibility of retiring in Europe took the lead and here we happily are in a house that’s not on the water in a city that doesn’t have a university. Those thoughts persist, however, so when our local newspaper published an article called “What are the cheapest university towns in France?” I wanted to take a look.

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Keeping your house above water

Years ago when we told our friends who live in the north of France that we were considering moving to the south of their beautiful country, the first thing they said was, “Watch out for the floods!” They were understandably concerned since there had been 14 major inondations involving overflowing rivers in the previous 15 years in this part of the country. We knew that Carcassonne itself had risks since we’d seen numerous high water marks beside the 14th century bridge that crosses the Aude river (featured photo above) that brings us drinking water daily and destruction occasionally. Luckily we’d also seen the flood zone map prepared by the local newspaper so that we knew in advance where to concentrate our house hunt, or more accurately where to avoid. But what if you’re looking elsewhere in France; is there a national database to access?

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Arcachon in 1 day

When a city consistently makes it to the top of an annually published list of where French people say that they would like to retire, it makes you curious why this one place is so attractive. We’d been to Bordeaux several times but had never taken the train less than an hour further west right to the Atlantic coast to visit Arcachon. Adding that 53 minutes to the trip would only cost an additional 5 € so we thought that this would be a good time to see for ourselves why everyone wants to move there. This was a wintertime excursion to a summer beach resort, it seemed, so we didn’t have our hopes too high. To our pleasant surprise we found a lively town with plenty of pleasant walks, shops to peruse, and restaurants to enjoy and it didn’t hurt that our hotel room had a great view of the sea!

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The happiest place in France

Disneyland is trademarked as “the happiest place on earth” and we would certainly agree that it’s fun. But what about the happiest place in France? To find that out took the combined efforts of a research institute, a think-tank, a national news source, and the railroad to interview residents of all 12 regions in mainland France. Over a month-long period 10,000 people were asked their opinion of their daily lives and about where they lived. To get an expanded view beyond the local area some of the 100 questions dealt with social ties, cohesiveness, and the country’s vision. The top finding was that 78% of the respondents declared themselves “happy” and within that, 38% were “very happy”. Satisfaction with the work/life balance was at 70% while general optimism about one’s own future ranked at 57%. And there’s more encouraging news.

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Which big French city?

No, we’re not about to move. Even after 6 years, Carcassonne still has what we were looking for when we were deciding on a place to live and it continues to get better. On our “must-have” spreadsheet that put 16 cities to the test, we found everything here except a water view, and that may have been a wise choice after all. (Another blog post will provide insight into that rising question.) Having lived in four of the biggest cities in the US—including numbers 2 and 3— we wanted our retirement location to have more of a village feel. While countless villages do indeed exist with colorful flowers cascading from window boxes outside blue shuttered windows in honey-colored stone houses set between cobble-stoned streets and babbling brooks, most of them are in rural locations (like this featured photo of Le Bec-Hellouin–sorry, not our house) requiring the one thing that we did not want: a car. We are grateful to have found a smaller city where we can walk to everything we need within a few minutes or ride a bus (15 € per year) anywhere else in town. However, lots of people are still looking for the buzz that you can only get in huge population centers so when I saw an article where the residents of this country’s 20 largest cities talk about what makes their home “best” I wanted to see why and who would come out on top.

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The healthiest cities in France

If you had to study Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in high school or college you might recall that the base of the pyramid is formed by “physiological needs” such as air, water, food, and shelter. In other words, if you lack any of those essentials you aren’t long for this world; however, once those needs of bare existence are guaranteed you can move up a level to “safety needs” that will ensure your continued survival. Here we address issues such as personal security, resources, and health. Deciding where to live bears some similarities to Maslow’s pyramid: first you must find a location that will give you the kind of accommodation (shelter) and nourishment (food and water) you seek and then you begin looking at less-essential but still vital issues including that safety need of health. An article in the newspaper Le Figaro ranked the top 100 French cities where “one can live in good health” and I was delighted to see that Carcassonne was included in their list.

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France’s favorite village

France 3 TV program

To be called a “village” in France the population must be less than 2000 people and the houses can’t be further than 200 meters apart. According to the Mayor’s Association, that describes 29,000 places around the country and even if you lower the number of inhabitants to 500 you are still left with 18,000 communities. Each year television channel France 3 runs a contest to whittle down those thousands to just 14: one village to represent each region in mainland France and one from overseas. Now that the shortlist has been announced the fun begins because everyone (as far as I can tell) gets to vote for their favorite village, link below. Continue reading “France’s favorite village”