When thinking about retiring in France, there are so many options. Betting can be a bit overwhelming and anonymous for newcomers, not to mention incredibly expensive. While the stunning countryside, on the other hand, can be a bit secluded and lonely for newcomers.

Finding your bearings in France can take time, especially if you are not European yourself and suffer from a bit of culture shock. You will need to learn the language, or at least the basics. You’ll also have to get used to some weird customs, from closing most shops on Mondays to listening to your cheesemonger’s advice when buying your cheese. Never just load ahead.

So here I have listed some alternatives to Paris and rural villages. These locations allow you to get used to living in French with all the conveniences, such as language schools and other conveniences nearby, as well as places to explore from your new home, including art and culture, restaurants and cafes, and the countryside just steps away. on the outskirts.

Spending your first year in France in one of the following cities will allow you to settle into French life, to acclimatize, to learn what you really want – be it the bright lights of Paris or a hamlet in the hills – and just find your feet. I could easily live in each town, they are all fabulous without being too big, full of history and charm, and all are close to other exciting and potentially retirement-worthy areas in France.

But which one will you choose?

Lyon, France

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1.Lyon

The gourmet city of France

Less than 2 hours from Lyon, you can be in Paris, in the Alps or on a Mediterranean beach. It’s so conveniently located that you can explore the best of France from its bustling train station and even catch the Eurostar to London for the weekend. But chances are you’ll want to spend your time in the town itself, exploring its traboules originally built in the 4th century to allow locals to descend to the rivers with the balls of silk produced by the Canuts. – Lyonnais silks.

Lyon is known as a foodie city, brimming with little restaurants called corkswhich often serve very rustic cuisine from snout to tail, but have evolved into a lighter, less meaty menu in recent years.

There are many language schools and the approximately 500,000 inhabitants are more open to Parisians, with the city having a very international feel, making it an ideal springboard for retirement in France.

Pro tip: Lyon offers modern and Haussmannian accommodation, all at a much more reasonable price than in Paris. One point to bear in mind, however, is that Lyon is indeed very hilly. If you plan to age here, you might want to look for an apartment near the funiculars.

Aerial photo of the castle in the city of Nantes, Le chateau des ducs de Bretagne, France

Aerial photo of Nantes, France

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2.Nantes

The city that reinvents itself

Two hours west of Paris by train, Nantes sits on the Loire with so many places to explore nearby, but is also a short drive from the Atlantic coast, perfect for a weekend getaway. -end. Once a bustling shipbuilding town, whose engineers and grand ships inspired a young Jules Verne, the town has, since the decline of industry, reinvented itself as a fabulous center of art.

An annual festival, the Trip to Nantes, and the Green Line connect the most interesting sites of the city traced in the pedestrian streets. Often referred to as one of the best places to live in France, with its 300,000 inhabitants, it is not too big, the climate is temperate without being too harsh or hot, and public transport is easy and goes a long way.

The city center is full of history and small lanes full of cafes and restaurants, and teeming with city life, old and new. On the outskirts, as in the adorable Trentemoult, there are small houses on the banks of the river for a perfect compromise between city life and the countryside.

Pro Tip: There is a Facebook group connecting Americans to Nantes, which will make your first entry easier.

Saint-Emilion-Vignoble in Bordeaux, France

Saint-Emilion-Vignoble in Bordeaux

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3. Burgundy

A city of wine and culture

Bordeaux, with a population of less than 300,000, has it all: a fast TGV link to Paris, some of France’s finest beaches a short drive west, world-famous vineyards surrounding it and a beautiful town center along the Garonne. It’s a bustling but smaller-scale town with all the amenities you could want, but also a bit quieter way of life.

The city has long attracted expats and retirees from all over the world and offers a handy website that gives details of life in the city, where to find accommodation, potential new hobbies to meet like-minded people, and more.

Pro tip: Why not explore the city with an American expat couple who live in Bordeaux? On this walking tour you can ask many questions about life in the city.

Street in Aix-en-Provence, France

Aix en Provence

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4. Aix-en-Provence

The gateway to Provence

It is the smallest and most picturesque town of the lot. Little Aix-en-Provence is home to less than 150,000 people, making it small enough to literally breathe in the herbaceous smells of the surrounding province, but big enough to give you lots of shops, restaurants, art (it’s the city ​​of Cézanne birthplace) and history. And it’s all still within ridiculously easy reach of the Province hills and its lavender fields, and less than an hour’s drive from the Mediterranean coast.

With a superb language school and a charming English café-bookstore, it’s no surprise that this is one of the top choices for American retirees in the south of France. The cost of living is slightly higher in Aix than in any of the smaller neighboring villages. If you liked it there and decided to stay, it might just be the best option to buy property outside of Aix, but within easy commuting distance.

Pro Tip: International life offers a step-by-step guide to retiring in or near Aix-en-Provence, down to suggested monthly expenses.

Aerial view of Toulouse, France

Aerial view of Toulouse

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5.Toulouse

The pink city on the canal

Toulouse, in the Occitanie region, is one of my favorite cities in France, and I find it perfect to live in. With a population of less than 500,000, it’s a maze of medieval streets, grand buildings constructed from the local pink-orange stone, countless superb restaurants and cafes perfect for a sunset over the Garonne. . It is popular with tourists coming to take a cruise on the Canal du Midi, which gives it a cosmopolitan air.

Famous for its hearty cuisine, from cassoulet to superb cheeses, Toulouse is influenced by the nearby Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, with the Canal du Midi linking the two, and the Pyrenees and even Catalonia, Spain, which is only 100 miles away. Living options include historic downtown living, proximity to the river or canal front, as well as modern suburbs, all connected by a superb tram system.

Pro tip: The aviation industry in Toulouse attracts many expats to the city, so it’s very likely to find someone from home to meet.

Aerial view of Montpellier, France

Aerial view of Montpellier

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6.Montpellier

Mini Paris by the sea

Also located in the Occitanie region of southern France, Montpellier couldn’t be more different from Toulouse. In fact, if you stand on certain corners and blink, you might think you’re back in Paris. Here there is a twin to the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue Foch of Paris, and there are grand buildings in the Haussmann style.

But take a closer look and the history of this place will take your breath away. With a medical university dating back to 1220, cobbled streets and shops that still have wells inside, and more medieval structures than you could throw down a knight, Montpellier is simply stunning. It offers a true Mediterranean climate with superb beaches accessible by tram.

Pro tip: Montpellier offers proximity to the countryside as well as the coast, with highlights such as the Camargue with its wild horses nearby.

City of Saint-Germain-En-Laye, France

City of Saint-Germain-En-Laye

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7. Saint-Germain-En-Laye

At the gates of Paris

Ok, this one cheats a bit, because Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a suburb of Paris, but it’s also a city in its own right, a royal city just that. Not much cheaper than Paris, living here, however, offers a very different lifestyle. Only 20 km from Paris and 20 minutes by RER from Charles-de-Gaulle Étoile, it is in this city that the Sun King, Louis XIV, lived.

Today, it is home to some of the best international schools near Paris, which accounts for its international population. The town has a small-town feel with a wonderful market, narrow lanes and great views of all of Paris from its slightly elevated perch. Without feeling too small, it’s the perfect introduction – if you can afford it and can’t resist – to the lure of retirement in Paris.

Pro Tip: It’s a young place, with 50% of people under 20, and many young families, which makes it dynamic. Rather than sleepy, it’s a bustling little town that will keep you young.