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  • Writer's pictureAhmed

What’s the best town in France to live in?

Updated: May 6

Road Trip!

We've been away again, this time on a long journey across France. Rather than visiting friends this trip had a more specific purpose: to find somewhere to live. Although we love Manche and its isolation, the distance and remoteness can also be a pain. Our opportunities for buying stock dry up after October very quickly and the business needs to be fed a continuous stream of goodies to live. We’re also aware that a child may not appreciate solitude as we do. We went through a long difficult exercise of triangulating where we want to live against all the things the people complain about:

  • Schools- Not every village has a school and not every town has a lycée.

  • Weather: France has a number of different microclimates

  • Les déserts médicaux: access to a doctor in parts of rural France can be difficult

  • Access to transport. How far is the nearest autoroute? TGV station?

  • Crime

  • House prices ...

...and that was only the first part.

It was a bit odd to bit sitting at home doing the kind of analysis I did for multinationals a few years ago... We then analysed population movement trends, forecast climate change impacts, school results. The results were all marked onto Michelin maps of France and we pinpointed towns and villages. The next step was to visit, and see the places and the people face to face. We had to hit the road.

(All photos by Carole, most are here)

We focused our energy on Loire-Atlantique the small département dominated by the growing city of Nantes. As antiquarians we require a huge amount of space and budget restraints mean we would almost certainly have to live in or around a village- and boy did we do the miles to ensure we visited as many as possible.

We focussed our attention initially on Châteaubriant, a small city in the département’s north, and Clisson, a town in its far south. Châteaubriant is linked to the similarly named steak, but in any case it’s a lively, well-connected and family-friendly small city. Clisson, with its mock-Italianate architecture and imposing castle was more touristy than we were expecting, but its red stone has a southern warmth which even on a grey day in autumn was pleasing. The Sevre Nantaise river gently burbled in the background....

Every day we headed out to tour local villages and towns we had pinpointed. Busy boulangerie? check. Active looking school? check. Post office? check. Happy local cafés? local brocantes? easy access to motorways? helpful Mayor's office? et cetera, et cetera. Obviously, we also managed to get to some flea markets in Angers and elsewhere too. The villages we visited were elegant and often charming but with many we seemed to be missing something.

I’m always mindful of the advice given by Tim Minchin- always be aware of the small things on the edge of your vision as the most worthy, interesting and fun pursuits appear on the periphery. We decided to spend a day trip creeping towards Brittany. I’ve always wanted to visit Guerande’s salt farms but it was the wrong time of year. Nevertheless, the town was a delicious medieval confection, a small walled village of winding alleys and hidden chapels in dark grey stone.

We visited La Roche Bernard a town in Morbihan hugging the hills at the opening of the Vilaine river. It’s a postcard fishing village with a long main road leading down to a port and buildings in grey, weather beaten stone. The presence of the ocean was imposing, something you could actually feel and smell in the air. We realised how much we would miss living near the sea.

We explored around Morbihan, the corner of Brittany- Muzillac, Questembert, Vannes, Ploërmel, Auray , Saint Anne d’Auray, Rochefort-en-Terre. Each has a kind of liveliness, architecture and physical arrangement which we liked more and more as we travelled. Each also has a strong distinctiveness, driven by geography, the sea and perhaps Breton identity. We realised quite quickly we had been sucked in. The search continues but right now it looks like our next home will be in Brittany and Léa will be une petite Bretonne.

(All photos by Carole, most are here on Instagram)

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