Ah, the dream of France. Très cher? Oui, but you can live affordably if you avoid Paris, the Riviera, and Provence. Our suggestion: the Languedoc-Roussillon region in the Southwest. Languedoc-Roussillon includes Nîmes, with its Roman ruins; the bustling city of Montpellier; and the stylish town of Perpignan, with its shops and plazas. Once remote, the region is now just three hours from the bright lights of Paris via high-speed train to Montpellier. It is steeped in history, with medieval towns and castles, ancient olive trees and vineyards. Besides offering plentiful museums, festivals, and concerts, it is also a destination for the outdoor crowd, who hike in its rocky, picturesque hills and beachcomb along its lovely Mediterranean seashore.
Ed Ward, 61, an American expat from New York and the rock-and-roll historian for National Public Radio’s Fresh Air program, laughingly describes himself as a "starving writer." He rents a modest apartment in Montpellier and delights in his immersion in a French community: "I interact on a daily basis with farmers, artists, retired people, musicians, and foreigners, both expats and Moroccans and Algerians. The weather is good, and the whole place is laid-back. Provence gets all the press, but I like this part of France more."
Ethel and Paul Hammer-Hultberg, 79 and 84, are artists from New York State who now live in the charming medieval village of Sauve, about an hour west of Nîmes. They own a four-story home that they bought for $210,000 three years ago. Ethel reports that they love the "bright, sunny, sensational views from our windows, terrace, and balcony overlooking the Vidourle River." Both are impressed with French health care, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has rated the best in the world. Ethel describes it as "astronomically cheaper and far more humane than" the care offered back in the States. "Paul had prostate surgery last September," she reveals. "Five days in a private room, all fees and medications paid, came to $3,000, covered by our insurance. The same operation in New York two years earlier came to $25,000!"
What to Expect in
Mediterranean—hot and dry summers; cool winters.
A European melting pot—British, Dutch, Germans—with relatively fewer Americans, so far.
Cost of Living
Not cheap, but a comfortably frugal life can be had for $30,000 a year. Dinner out: $60 a couple.
For renters, a modest apartment in Montpellier starts at $1,200 to $1,500 a month. For buyers, mid-price houses and apartments are $250,000 and up. Coastal prices are similar or higher, although they drop sharply inland.
Excellent. French health care has been assessed as the best in the world by the World Health Organization.
Culture and Leisure
Museums, festivals, hiking, swimming, bustling markets, day trips to the awe-inspiring walled city of Carcassonne.
Access to the U.S.
Fair. Local airports connect to European cities, then it’s a transatlantic haul. (Or three hours on a high-speed train from Montpellier to Paris, then a transatlantic flight.)