When most people consider relocating to France, their thoughts inevitably go to Paris, and then perhaps to the sunny French Riviera.
But in a quality of life study by The Local to find out the best city in France for foreigners to live, a humble city in Brittany in western France came out as the surprise winner.
And the foreigners who live there are not one bit surprised.
Here's why they say Rennes is such an excellent place to live for foreigners (and French people as well, of course).
It’s a ‘city with a small town vibe’
Georgia Wyche, an American English teacher who has been living in Rennes for two years, described it as “a city with a small town vibe. The size of Rennes is quite comfortable and not intimidating," she added.
Although it retains its small-town charm, Rennes is a cultured, international city according to locals.
“Rennes is a lively university and student city that is accustomed to opening the door to foreigners,” said Wyche. “I have a smorgasbord of friends coming from Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Belarus, France, Greece, Brazil, Tunisia, Syria, and so forth.”
So as a foreigner in Rennes, you certainly wouldn’t have a problem making other international friends.
Locals will welcome you with open arms
The French have a reputation for sometimes being a bit standoffish toward foreigners, but the city of Rennes shatters that stereotype.
Stewart Bennett, who runs O’Connell’s pub and has lived in Rennes for 15 years, said the local Rennais were very welcoming - especially towards the Celtic nations, the Irish and Scots.
This openness makes for a well-integrated expat community.
"Most of our friends tend to be mixed couples,” Bennett added.
Faire la fête
In Rennes you’ll never have a problem finding a place to faire la fête, whether you’re looking to make some English-speaking friends in a jovial Irish pub or have a quiet glass of rouge in a typical French setting.
The bar to people ratio is enviable, with a bar for every 1,670 inhabitants.
“You know Montmartre (in Paris) with its little streets and the village feel? There are parts of Rennes that are quite similar to that, with lots of bars and cafes,” said Bennett of O'Connell's pub. “But of course it’s not nearly as expensive as Paris.”
Rent doesn't cost an arm and a leg
As a foreigner living in France, it's certainly not ideal to shell out three-quarters of your monthly paycheck just on rent when you'd rather be enjoying your city.
It can be hard to justify paying €1,000 a month to live in a 6m² studio (also known as a closet) with a shared bathroom in Paris when you can live in relative luxury in Rennes for only €470. The only average monthly rent lower than Rennes was in Clermont-Ferrand.
An excellent place to find a job
Finding a job is probably the top concern for foreigners moving to France. And although the unemployment situation is rather grim in much of the country these days, in Rennes you might have a better chance of finding a boulot than in some other major cities in France.
Rennes had the lowest unemployment rate in the last three months of 2015 (8 percent) compared to all the other cities we looked at.
In a separate study, that we did not use for our rankings, Rennes was ranked as the best mid-sized city in France for starting a business, thanks in large part to the high quality of training the city's universities offer and the "eco-system" for creating a business, which includes the low jobless rate.
Getting around is a breeze
Photo: Mar Kiddo/Flickr
The compact city center in Rennes is easily walkable, and nightmarish traffic jams like those in Paris and Marseille are nowhere to be found.
Eric Beaty, Economic and Commercial Attaché at the US consulate in Rennes for 16 years, praised the “efficient” and “quite inexpensive” Metro system.
“Somebody can live in the city and not need a car,” he said. “That’s quite important for expats."
In The Local's study, based on several factors including bicycle paths and the number of residents served by public transport, Rennes beat out several major cities, including Paris.
And if you need a change of scenery?
Dinan, Brittany. Photo: Benh Lieu SONG/Flickr
If you want to take a day trip or head back to your home country for the holidays, apparently the only hard part about leaving Rennes is that you’ll miss it.
Bennett of O’Connell’s pub said that in recent years “the transport links have really improved. The Rennes airport is developing quickly so there are lots more flights back to the UK."
Rennes is also a perfect jumping-off point to explore the best that Brittany has to offer, such as the villages that are often ranked among the most beautiful in France.
Looking for love?
Photo: Mar Kiddo/Flickr
Some expats find themselves living in France because they’ve already fallen in love with a Frenchie, but plenty of others are single and ready to mingle.
Well, in Rennes, 57 percent of the population is single according to one survey, so your chances are good.
So forget the City of Love — in fact it's Rennes that gives you a better prospect of meeting your soul mate, or âme sœur in French.
One of France's greenest cities
The capital of the Brittany region often ranks among France’s greenest cities, with a whopping 42 m² of green space per inhabitant, as compared to the national average of 31 m².
The stunning Parc du Thabor alone should be enough to win over nature lovers, but if not there are 59 other city parks to explore as well as community gardens for those looking to flex their green thumb.
Smart (or at least smart-sounding) people
The pleasantness and intelligibility factor of the local accent is not to be discounted as a foreigner living in France.
The consensus is that the “sexiest” and most charming accents are found in the south of France (especially Toulouse), but who wants to sound sexy when you can sound smart?
Rennes has the most “intelligent”-sounding accent according to a survey by French dating site Parship.
Ready to move to Rennes?
Well at this point we're hard-pressed to think of any reason you wouldn’t want to live in Rennes, honestly.
As the city's mayor said: Rennes will amaze you.
Here at The Local, we have to say, we’re convinced.
By Katie Warren