The top 10 happiest regions in France: a buyer’s guide

A more laid-back, stress-free way of life is what attracts many across the Channel – but with so much choice, where is best to stick a pin in the map? Eleanor O’Kane reveals all you need to know about the happiest regions in France

The first dilemma for those considering a move to France is often ‘where should I live?’ It’s a question that gets asked a lot at Living France HQ, so when French economic evaluation group Globeco published a list of the happiest regions in France, we decided to find out more.

Where Eleanor Roosevelt once declared happiness “a by-product of a life well lived”, Globeco opted to measure their happiness index based on a number of factors, including life expectancy, education, crime levels, political participation, gender equality and regional research and innovation, to determine an overall standard of living. Although the survey classified all of France’s 22 regions, we’ve focused on the top ten, explaining what each region has to offer and the prices that property buyers can expect to pay to buy into the lifestyle in each specific area.

 

10 FRANCHE-COMTÉ

Access? The nearest airports serving the UK are in Bâle-Mulhouse, Geneva and Lyon, while the TGV Est Rhine-Rhône connects the region’s major towns.

What it offers: The great green adventure.

Trees cover almost half of this region, which is comprised of four departments, shares a border with Switzerland, and is nestled between the Rhône and Rhine rivers. Little visited by British visitors, the region’s inhabitants enjoy a wholesome way of life defined by its natural features. The Jura mountains and Massif des Vosges provide magnificent spaces for relaxation and adventure, as do myriad lakes and rivers. Although a green paradise, Franche-Comté is also one of the most industrial regions in France with companies such as Peugeot and Alstrom based here. Unsurprisingly for a tree-filled region, the production of wooden products is important to the economy, including children’s toys, pipes and cheese boxes. Locations such as Montbéliard, Besançon and Dole offer a pleasing town-based lifestyle, while the mountains are never far away.

Food and drink: The region is home to the vineyards of Jura that produce vin jaune, redolent of fino sherry. Comté cheese and Montbéliard sausage are also among its hearty culinary highlights.

Cultural delights: Don’t miss the UNESCO-listed salt works at Arc-et-Senans and Salins-les-Bains, and Besançon’s Vauban citadel. Le Corbusier’s stunning chapel at Ronchamp is UNESCO favourite for 2016.

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Average house price: €147,300

Cheapest department: Haute-Saône (€120,300) – the capital Vesoul is a pleasant town with 15th- and 16th-century architecture.

See also: Jura (€140,000). Try the pretty town of Arbois, surrounded by vineyards and considered the Jura’s gastronomic capital.

 

9 LIMOUSIN

Access? Limoges and Brive-Vallée de la Dordogne airports serve the UK, while Paris is less than three hours by rail from regional capital, Limoges.

What it offers: Rural bliss.

One third of this region is forested and every ninth person you bump into is likely to be a farmer, according to the stats. Cattle are extremely important to the economy and Limousin beef – one of the region’s renowned products – is exported to 70 countries. Tourism is also important, thanks in no small part to extraordinarily pretty villages such as Collonges-la-Rouge, Curemont, Turenne and Mortemart. Small business forms a significant part of the economy and the region enjoys the lowest rates of unemployment in France. There is a higher number of pharmacies in Limousin than the national average, possibly reflecting the region’s ageing population. Often perceived as a sleepy backwater, Limousin has benefitted from significant amounts of EU funding in the past five years and now attracts around 10,000 newcomers annually to its landscapes and towns such as Brive-la-Gaillarde.

Food and drink: Carnivores will love the supreme beef, lamb and pork, while those who want their five-a-day can feast on Limousin’s famous strawberries and AOC apples.

Cultural delights: The region has excelled in the decorative arts since the Middle Ages and is home to Limoges porcelain, the famous Aubusson tapestry and world-class enamel artists.

Average house price: €125,000

Cheapest department: Get away from it all in Creuse (€97,500), with one of the lowest population densities in France.

See also: If you fancy a cultural hotspot amid rural surroundings head to Limoges (€149,000).

 

8 CENTRE

Access? Tours airport has flights to the UK; the region’s main towns are easily accessed by train from Paris.

What it offers: An elegant, enviable lifestyle.

With only two towns of more than 100,000 inhabitants (Tours and Orléans) and less than half the national average population density, this is a region of rural communities. It’s the first region for growing grain, but also for the production of medicine, and second in France for those all-important beauty/health products that keep France’s pharmacies in business. With three UNESCO World Heritage sites (including a 280km-long stretch of the Loire Valley itself), the region has an important tourist economy, and is France’s third biggest wine producer. As well as its impossibly grand châteaux, including Chambord, the region boasts three varied Parcs Naturels Régionaux: the Perche, the Brenne and the Loire-Anjou-Touraine. Together with neighbouring Pays de la Loire, Centre spent 10 years and millions of euros developing the ambitious 800km-long Loire à Vélo cycle trail, which takes visitors and locals on a pedal-powered tour through landscapes filled with the area’s most magnificent castles, countryside and vineyards.

Food and drink: Loire Valley wines such as Touraine, Vouvray and Sancerre are world famous; if you love goat’s cheese, this is the region for you.

Cultural delights: The châteaux and the gardens are world-class but don’t forget the UNESCO-listed Gothic masterpiece that is Chartres cathedral.

Average house price: €160,000

Cheapest department: Indre and Cher share the lowest average house price spot at €120,000 – note the beautiful town of Bourges, a gem of the Loire Valley.

See also: The medieval town of Tours (€199,000) in Indre-et-Loire is a vibrant, historic town with easy access to Paris and the UK.

 

7 BRITTANY

Access? The UK is easily reached by ferry. Inland, Rennes has an airport and Nantes airport in neighbouring Pays de la Loire is handy too.

What it offers: France with a Celtic twist.

Brittany’s coastal landscape, which counts for one third of France’s entire coastline, has influenced its culture and fortunes. As a strongly rural region with few large cities, more inhabitants here live in small communities such as Binic than the national average, with 40% living in communities of between 1,000 and 5,000 people. Although deeply traditional, Brittany is a dynamic place to live. Towns such as Rennes and Saint-Malo are vibrant, and the region has a growing reputation for excellent cuisine. It hosts several international annual contemporary music festivals such as Les Vieilles Charrues and La Route du Rock. Telecommunications and the automobile sector help bring employment to the region. However, the economy is still propelled by centuries-old industries such as fishing, boatbuilding and farming, with Breton farmers growing 75% of all France’s cauliflowers and artichokes.

Food and drink: Seafood is king here, but the locals can’t do without their salted butter either. Other Breton treats include buckwheat crêpes, butter-soaked kouign-amann cake and traditionally made cider.

Cultural delights: Legends and fables abound, as well as traditional music and dancing, while modern offerings include pottery and the classic striped jersey.

Average house price: €162,000

Cheapest department: Côtes-d’Armor (€142,000) offers coastal living and a rural lifestyle within a stone’s throw of the UK.

See also: Charming Quimper (€149,300), in the Finistère department, was voted the 10th most cultural town in France is 2013 by lifestyle website www.changerdeville.fr 6 AQUITAINE

Access all areas? Choose from the airports at Bordeaux, Bergerac, Biarritz, Pau and Brive-Vallée de la Dordogne to reach the UK. There are plans afoot to develop the TGV service in the south-west, reducing the Paris-Bordeaux journey from three hours to two by 2015.

What it offers: Quintessential France.

Aquitaine’s links to England stretch back to the 12th century when the region came under English rule following the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine to Henry II. Although formal ties were severed in 1453 with the end of the Hundred Years War, the region has long held a place in our hearts and remains a firm favourite among expats. Its elegant towns and cities such as Bordeaux, Pau and Biarritz have attracted English visitors for centuries, while these days, in summer, tourists flock to picture-perfect sites such as Sarlat and La Roque-Gageac. One in 10 inhabitants is employed in agriculture in the region; the majority in the wine industry. With Aquitaine boasting the largest AOC wine area in France, it’s also the country’s second largest wine-producing region.

Food and drink: This is the land of Bordeaux wines and spicy Basque food, not forgetting Perigordian cuisine: confit de canard, foie gras and walnut oil.

Cultural delights: A mélange of French, Basque and Occitan culture reflects the rich history of this region.

Average house price: €204,300

Cheapest department: Laid-back Lot-et-Garonne (€140,000) famed for its bastide towns, rivers and trademark pigeonniers.

See also: Landes – surfers take note: it’s cheaper than its pricey neighbour Pyrénées-Atlantiques yet offers the same wild surf beaches (€185,000).

 

5 MIDI-PYRÉNÉES

Access? The region is served by four airports: Toulouse, Tarbes-Lourdes, Rodez and Brive-Vallée de la Dordogne. Regular high-speed trains run from Paris to Toulouse and Tarbes. The current plan will open up the south-west by rail by 2020, and improve links from Toulouse to Bordeaux.

What it offers: The best of everything.

Midi-Pyrénées is the largest region in mainland France – it’s more than twice the size of Wales – so expect a wealth of culture, landscapes and lifestyles. Comprising eight departments, it stretches from the Lot in the north, where the River Dordogne carves through limestone cliffs, to Pyrenean peaks and Mediterranean beaches in its southern fringes. Regional capital, Toulouse, is the fourth largest city in France and the European capital of aeronautics and space research. Although Midi-Pyrénées is famed for heart-stoppingly beautiful villages such as Conques and Cordes-sur-Ciel, three quarters of the region’s population live in urban areas, with 25% in the Toulouse area alone. Alongside the technological excellence, the region has a strong agricultural bias and has the largest surface area given over to organic farming in France.

Cultural delights: Religious sites include Rocamadour, Moissac and Lourdes, while Albi boasts its UNESCO-listed Episcopal City. Music fans should head to the jazz town of Marciac, which hosts world-class performers every August.

Food and drink: This is the place to try cassoulet. Other quintessential French dishes from the region include duck confit, foie gras, truffles and Armagnac.

Average house price: €188,000

Cheapest department: Ariège (€110,000), where you can live among some of the most dramatic Cathar sites, including Montségur, Roquefixade and Foix.

See also: Gers (€164,600) – the sleepy birthplace of the real Musketeer d’Artagnan and home of Armagnac brandy is, for many, the epitome of traditional France.

 

4 ALSACE

Access all areas? Strasbourg Airport is an international hub while the ongoing development of the TGV Est rail line will cut down travel times from the region to Paris by 2016.

What it offers: A unique French experience.

Alsace borrows the best from neighbours Germany and Switzerland, adding them to more familiar French delights. The result is a charming, compact region of green landscapes, hearty food and staggeringly beautiful villages. As a border region, its history is volatile and fascinating. Centuries of conflict are evident in must-see sights including the mighty Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, which stood watch over key trade routes, and the Maginot Line fortifications. At the Mémorial de l’Alsace-Moselle you can discover how decades of conflict affected the inhabitants of the region from 1871 to 1953. Alsace fills its coffers with income from wine and tourism, but also has a thriving automobile industry, thanks to the large Peugeot factory in Mulhouse. The region proudly celebrates its industrial past with tourist attractions such as the Cité de l’Automobile and Cité du Train museums, both of which have national heritage status.

Cultural delights: Picture-perfect, chocolate-box villages mean you’ll never be stuck for somewhere to visit, while the region’s historical and war sites make it a must for history buffs.

Fill your boots: Try Alsace’s German-sounding goodies, from kugelhopf to bretzels and discover first-class wines at villages, including Riquewihr, on the 170-km Route des Vins d’Alsace.

Average house price: €207,000

Cheapest department: The departmental average in Haut-Rhin is €205,400.

See also: Strasbourg (€300,000). This beautiful city is an international hub where, due to its status as business and financial centre, job prospects are high.

 

3 PAYS DE LA LOIRE

Access? Nantes, Angers, Tours and La Rochelle airports all offer direct flights to the UK. Paris is easily accessible by TGV from the region’s major towns.

What it offers: A healthy, happy lifestyle.

Despite having a wealth of historic towns such as Angers and Saumur, this is definitely a forward-thinking region, which expects to have grown its population by a quarter by 2040. If you love cycling, this is the place for you: choose from the western leg of the 800km Loire à Velo trail or a section of Vélodyssée, the new track that hugs the west of France linking Devon and the Spanish border. The region attracts two million tourists a year, who come from afar to enjoy major events such as the Vendée Globe yacht race and the Le Mans 24-hour race. Those with a green outlook will be inspired by regional capital Nantes, which has embraced sustainability on a city-wide level. With 100 parks to choose from, the Nantais enjoy 10 times as much green space as Parisians and breathe clean air filtered by 100,000 trees.

Cultural delights: The charming and magical Machine de Nantes (above right) while Le Mans’ Plantagenet old town is full of history.

Food and drink: Those who like a tipple can indulge in Loire Valley wines and Cointreau, while 210km of coastline ensures superior seafood, from shellfish to sardines and anchovies sold fresh on the quayside in coastal villages.

Average house price: €165,000

Cheapest department: Mayenne (€120,000) is not one for city slickers; however, this rural idyll offers peace and quiet. Medieval history fans should look at the pretty country town of Laval.

See also: Loire-Atlantique (€213,100) – with beachside villages, the smart resort of La Baule and fun city of Nantes, you’ll feel like you’re on holiday all year round.

 

2 RHÔNE-ALPES

Access? International airports in Lyon and Geneva as well as good rail connections from the major towns ensure you can escape if you ever tire of the flawless views of lakes and mountains.

What it offers: The great – truly great – outdoors.

Rhône-Alpes was recently lauded as the ‘greenest’ region in France by French independent green media outlet Terra Eco, which measured different factors including sustainable development and solar energy usage. Named for the region’s two defining features – the mighty River Rhône and the peaks of the Alps – this is an outdoor playground that appeals equally to thrill-seekers and those in search of peaceful fields of lavender and genteel markets. The region was the birthplace of film pioneers the Lumière brothers and has the highest cinema-going population; it enjoys an excellent reputation for theatre too. While some French communities are losing locals to the big cities, 90% of communes in the region are growing in size as it pulls in incomers from neighbouring regions and retains its native sons and daughters. Anyone who really wants to get away from it all should relocate to Rochefourchat in Drôme; in the last census it had just one inhabitant, making it the least populated commune in the entire country.

Cultural delights: It’s not all about getting back to nature; the city of Lyon is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the birthplace of cinema.

Food and drink: The varying landscapes produce foods from Bresse poultry in the north to the olives of Nyons in Drôme-Provençale.

Average house price: €229,000

Cheapest department: Loire (€171,700) – the Roannais area in the north offers medieval villages as well as scenic countryside for outdoorsy types.

See also: The Drôme on the fringes of Provence; its southern tip offers a lavender-scented, sun-soaked lifestyle; average house price €196,000.

 

1 ÎLE-DE-FRANCE

Access all areas? The capital is a transport hub with three international airports and excellent rail connections.

What it offers: City and country life in heaped measures.

It might circle France’s capital city but, with half the region’s land given over to agriculture, statistically you’re more likely to find yourself alone in a green field than on a crowded city street. That said, having one of the most exciting and beautiful cities at its heart makes Île-de-France a good choice for those who need access to the bright lights – for work or play – but still want a slice of the rural life. The population is younger than the national average and, with a large number in higher education, one of the best educated in France. It’s home to no less than 17 universities and some of France’s greatest grandes écoles. All of this makes it a dynamic region perfect for families and those looking to kick-start a business. Inhabitants boast France’s longest lifespan – making life here really worth living.

Cultural delights: From museums to historic châteaux fit for kings, including Versailles, the list is endless.

Fill your boots: Try brie from the town of Meaux, Jambon de Paris, Grand Marnier, and Gâtinais honey.

Average house price: €307,900

Cheapest department: Seine-et-Marne (average €243,200), home to Fontainebleau and its château.

See also: Yvelines (average €372,900) – its main town, Versailles, was voted best by users of French property website www.changerdeville.fr in 2013 for its culture and lifestyle.

 

Measuring up

For the average house price across the regions we used the current market price for a five-room, old house according to the Notaires de France’s property price index where possible. The exception to this is Île-de-France, where only the average price across all sizes of old house is available. www.immoprix.com www.paris.notaires.fr For more on the French happiness index visit the Globeco website www.globeco.fr

Read our region guides