So where’s the best place in France to be happy?

In which city in France are you most likely to live a happy life? According to a recent survey of French people it's certainly not the capital. It's just not near enough to the coast.

So where's the best place in France to be happy?
Where's the best place in France to live a happy life? Photo: ParmaC/Flickr

A survey by the Observatory for Happiness has revealed the top ten cities in France in which the French believe they would be happiest living.

The grandly titled “Observatoire du bonheur” has released the results of its seventh-such poll, which reveal where you should head to in France if you are still on the eternal quest to find contentment.

Asked their ideal place to live – and let's face it, France has plenty of options – most French people opted to avoid the capital.

So where do they ideally want to live?

Jean-Pierre Ternaux, neurobiologist and co-ordinator of the Observatory of Happiness, which was set up to find out what makes the French happy, gives us a clue.

“Mainly coastal towns, where the climate is pleasant, and life is sweet,” he said. “But above all, these cities [which have been chosen] have made tremendous progress in terms of ecological development, and we are able to breathe [in them].”

Here's the countdown:

Grenoble, Lille and Marseille took tenth-equal place.

Grenoble, at the foot of the Alps, is a favourite winter sports destination, while northern city Lille has shaken off its reputation as grey and industrial to become a cultural hub in French Flanders, and the bustling port of Marseille has been similarly regenerated as an arts and culinary destination that breathes dynamism into the otherwise sedate southern coast.

SEE ALSO: Lille – France's most underrated city?

Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace – famed for its Franco-Germanic mix of cultures and sweeping views of the Rhine – took ninth place.

On the other side of the country, the Breton capital Rennes, with its large student population and resulting lively bar scene, came in eighth.

France's culinary capital Lyon ranked seventh in the happiness ratings.Basking in 2,000 years of history and bursting with Roman, medieval, Renaissance and modern architecture, it is France's third largest city and a Unesco World Heritage Site.

France's capital city only managed the sixth spot. Love it or loathe it, Paris is indisputably France's political and economic powerhouse, and home to more than 18 per cent of the country's total population. A global city on a par with London, New York and Tokyo, Paris is a fashion and media capital, and each year vies with London to be the most visited city in the world.

Another tourist favourite, Nice, took fifth place. Capital of the French Riviera, the French are not immune to its glamour either and the sunny city is renowned as a culinary destination.

In third place are Toulouse and Nantes, each with 12 per cent of votes.

Toulouse, capital of France’s southern Midi-Pyrénées region and sitting by the Spanish border in easy reach of the Mediterranean, is nick-named la Ville Rose for the terracotta used in its architecture, while the western city of Nantes, on the Loire river, is only 30km from the Atlantic Ocean.

In second place, with 15 per cent, is the southern city of Montpellier, capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region and just 10km inland from the Mediterranean. Wealthy and bourgeois, Montpellier is famed for its antique shops and upmarket fashion boutiques as well as its medieval centre.

And finally, taking the top spot, is Bordeaux, with the French believing the southwestern city, not far from the Atlantic coast, is the place to live happily ever after.

Listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the port city is in easy reach of both mountains and coast, and is the wine capital of the world – its vineyards generate €14.5 billion a year.

No stranger to survey success, a separate poll in August 2014 placed Bordeaux in the top spot, with 39 per cent of respondents naming it the best place in France to work.

Patrick Dumoulin, director of the Great Place to Work institute in Paris, told The Local recently that there's no comparison between Bordeaux and Paris. 
“There’s a real attraction to the quality of life in this region. And the weather is attractive to many people as well. There's a certain 'south west way of life', if I dare to say that.”

Bordeaux was also voted best tourist destination in Europe for 2015 by 250,000 people across the continent, and the city's mayor Alain Juppé was judged the best in France in a ranking last year by French magazine L'Express.

The pollsters praised the “legendary wine-growing region” and lauded its elegance, culture, and proximity to Basque country, Spain, and the ski slopes of the Pyrenees. 

“Before, people would say Bordeaux is a ‘sleeping beauty’ – a sad or dark city, a city where you get bored, But now they say it’s a city that’s alive, where you can walk peacefully and there are beautiful things,” Stéphan Delaux, deputy mayor of Bordeaux and president of the Bordeaux Tourism Board, told The Local.

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UPDATE: Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Travelling between Spain and the UK during the pandemic has been very difficult due to border closures, cancelled flights and quarantines, but what is the situation like now? Is it possible to drive between Spain and the UK via France?

Driving between Spain and UK
Photo: Bertsz / 67 images/ Pixabay

Several readers have asked about the restrictions and necessary documents and tests needed to drive to the UK and if it’s possible. Here’s what you need to know.

Travelling by car between the UK and Spain at the moment is possible, but not very easy. Although it’s a lot easier now than it was before the state of alarm ended, it will still involve PCR and/or antigen testing, quarantine, and lots of form-filling. This will mean extra expenses too. 

Spain and France have both updated their rules on travel as restrictions begin to ease. Here’s a look at what you need to know driving between the UK and Spain, via France right now.

Leaving Spain

Movement in Spain has become a lot easier since the end of the state of alarm on May 9th. This means that you can easily drive across regional borders without the need to prove specific reasons.

There may still be certain municipalities or health zones that you might need to avoid because their borders are still closed due to a high number of cases, but for the most part, your drive through Spain, up until the French border, will be easy.

Keep in mind that some regions still have certain restrictions in place such as when bars and restaurants are allowed to open and a few still maintain curfews, so you’ll need to check the rules of those regions you’re planning on driving through.

READ ALSO: UPDATED: What are the post state of alarm restrictions in each region in Spain?

Crossing the French border from Spain

Travel into France is allowed for any reason, including for tourism and family visits. This easing of restrictions was introduced on May 3rd, which saw France opening up both its regional and international borders.

According to the French embassy in Spain: “Entry into the metropolitan territory from a country in the European area is subject to the presentation, by travellers over eleven years of age, of a negative result of a PCR test, carried out within 72 hours prior to departure. This obligation applies to all modes of travel (arrival by road, rail, air or sea)”.

They also state that all travellers will have to present an affidavit/certificate of international travel, certifying that they do not have symptoms of Covid-19 infection and that they are not aware of having been in contact with a confirmed case of Covid-19 in the fourteen days prior to the trip.

“If you are over eleven years old, you agree that a biological test for SARS-CoV-2 will be carried out upon arrival on French territory” it continues.

The certificate can be downloaded from the website of the French Ministry. The supporting documents must be presented to the control authorities at the border.

The test must be carried out within 72 hours of departing for France and the antigen test is not accepted. You must take a PCR test, otherwise, you’ll be refused entry to France.

A Spanish police officer checks PCR coronavirus tests at the border between Spain and France. Photo: RAYMOND ROIG / AFP

You can drive straight through France, as there’s no quarantine requirement for those coming from inside the EU.

Note that France still has several restrictions in place, but they are gradually easing. As of May 19th, the curfew was extended to 9pm and bars and restaurants were allowed to operate outdoor services only. This means that you’ll need to stop driving and find somewhere to spend the night after the 9pm cut-off time.

If you have to travel past curfew for an essential reason, you will need an attestation permission form, which you can find HERE.

From June 9th, the curfew will be extended again until 11pm and the interiors of bars and restaurants will be allowed to re-open. 

Masks are compulsory in all indoor public spaces across the country, and also outdoors in most of the larger towns and cities. If you don’t wear one, you could face a fine of €135.

Entering the UK

On May 17th, the UK government lifted its ban on all non-essential travel abroad and replaced it with the traffic light system, assigning countries to red, amber or green lists, according to their health data.

France and Spain are currently on the amber list, as well as most other European countries, bar Portugal, which is on the green list.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The European countries on England’s ‘amber’ travel list and what that means

This means that you must follow the amber list rules.

The UK government website states that if coming from an amber-list country, even if you’ve been vaccinated, you need to follow these rules before you enter England:

 On arrival in England you must:

  • quarantine at home or in the place you are staying for 10 days
  • take a COVID-19 test on or before day 2 and on or after day 8

Children aged 4 and under do not need to take the day 2 or day 8 test.

You may be able to end quarantine early if you pay for a private COVID-19 test through the Test to Release scheme.

The traffic light list only applies to England, but Scotland also has its own traffic-light system, which at the moment has the same green-list countries as England. It is thought that Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to adopt the traffic light system too.

If you’re entering the UK from an amber country, you can go for any reason. It doesn’t have to be an essential trip and entry is not limited to UK nationals or residents.

Find further information on UK travel rules HERE.

If in the future, France makes it onto the green list, then no quarantine will be necessary. Regardless, of this, a negative Covid-19 test is still needed to enter England, plus another test on or before day 2.

What about driving back to Spain?

The UK is still advising against travel to amber countries for leisure or tourism reasons, which France and Spain are both currently on.

This isn’t a travel ban, but the official stand can mean that your travel insurance won’t be valid, so check your policy before you travel.

JUNE UPDATE: From Monday, May 31st, France is tightening up entry requirements for arrivals from the UK, following in the footsteps of Germany and Austria as European countries become increasingly concerned about circulation of the ‘Indian variant’ of Covid in the UK.

So what’s the situation if you are just passing through?

If you are returning to your permanent residence in another EU or Schengen zone country then you can travel, as one of the listed ‘vital reasons’ is returning home. You will, however, need to show some proof of your residency, ideally a residency card.

If you are travelling for another reason you can travel through France, provided you spend less than 24 hours in the country.

The testing requirement applies to all arrivals, even if you are only passing through France, but if you spend less than 24 hours in the country you are not required to quarantine.

You will also need to check the rules in your destination country on arrivals from France. If you are entering France from an EU or Schengen zone country you will need to show a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours and this must be a PCR test. You can enter France for any reason from an EU/Schengen country.

And yes, these rules all apply even to the fully vaccinated.

To find out more about the rules and exceptions for travel between France and the UK click the link below.

READ MORE: Spain-UK road travel – Can I transit through France despite the new Indian variant restrictions?

Currently, the Spanish government website states that only citizens and legal residents of the European Union, Schengen states, Andorra, Monaco, The Vatican and San Marino, as well as those who can demonstrate through documentary evidence an essential need to enter Spain, will be able to enter the country.

However, Spain recently announced that it would welcome British tourists into the country without a negative PCR test from May 24th. 


The website also states that “all overland travellers (excluding children under the age of 6 years old) who wish to enter Spain by road from France, are required to present a negative PCR or antigen test taken within 72 hours prior to entry”.

This applies to everyone, even if you have been vaccinated already.

Please note The Local is not able to give advice on individual cases. For more information on international travel to and from Spain, see the government’s website and check the restrictions in your destination country with the appropriate embassy.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I fly from the UK to Spain to visit family or my second home?