The picturesque city of Grenoble in south east France. Photo: AFP
When Parisians talk about leaving their beloved city to find more peace and space elsewhere in France or foreigners talk of the best French cities to live in, Grenoble rarely gets a mention.
Bordeaux yes, Nantes more and more, Rennes and Lyon always, but rarely does Grenoble, the picturesque city that stands at the foot of the French Alps in south eastern France get a look in.
But two new surveys in France plus some that are a little older suggest that the city surrounded by snow-capped peaks that boasts the world's first urban cable car could be the best city to live in France – if you are looking for a job or to set up business and, importantly, if you want to buy an affordable flat.
And then there's the student life – Grenoble was named the best city to be a student in France in 2016.
Firstly, a study by the French business magazine Challenges and business consultancy Arthur Loyd ranked Grenoble the third best city in France for business attractiveness – based on the potential for creating or relocating a business.
Grenoble was ranked behind Nantes and Rennes but the ranking, based on talent available, innovation, accessibility and being open to international markets, was positive news for the south east city. It was the second consecutive year it was ranked third.
The city's mayor Eric Piole welcomed the news.
“I know that Grenoble's business leaders can be one step ahead of tomorrow's global challenges. It's our lasting strength,” he said.
Piole also took to Twitter this week to brag about his city, this time for finishing top of an annual survey based on potential to find a job and buy a flat.
The second edition of the study by online property brokers MeilleurTaux.com and jobs site Jobijoba, weighed up the dynamism of the jobs market, average salaries, property prices and interest rates to come up with a list of the 20 best cities in France to live based on work prospects and potential to buy property.
This year Grenoble was crowned winner ahead of Lille in the north and Lyon in the central France.
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Grenoble, the capital of the Isere region came out on top against all other cities in France, including Paris, when it came to comparing the number of permanent jobs (CDIs) available as well as the price of buying a property.
Grenoble, which has a population of 160,000 has around 45,000 job offers each year, less than most French cities. But the rate of permanent job offers to 100 inhabitants is 12.3, which is better than all French cities apart from Lyon (13.8).
But when it came to the average price per metre square of property Grenoble was far cheaper than Lyon – €2,615 compared to €4,591.
The map below shows which cities in France made the top 20.
Map: MeilleurTaux.com and Jobijoba study
Based on the median salary of each city (the midpoint of the salaries, rather than the average) of each city, the study calculated how much living space could be realistically bought.
In Grenoble, where the average salary is €35,400, the study found that people can afford to buy an apartment of 60 square metres.
However due to an increase in property prices, this actually represents a drop on the size of apartment people could buy back in 2017, when the median salary in Grenoble would have got you 66 square metres.
Meanwhile, in Lille, the median salary is higher than Grenoble's at €36,000 but that will only get you an apartment of 49 square metres compared to last year when you would have got 57 square metres.
In the third city on the list Lyon, the median salary is higher still at €38,000 but people can only afford to buy an apartment of 36 square metres.
“In the end, it is not necessarily the trendy cities of the moment that offer the best choice: either real estate is expensive like in Bordeaux and Strasbourg, or employment is missing as in the Mediterranean, ” Maël Bernier, who advises instead to turn to “medium-sized towns like Grenoble and Lille”.
But not everything in Grenoble is rosy.
The city has been in the spotlight in recent months for its crime rate, notably around violent incidents and robberies. One police union described Grenoble as a “French Chicago” due to the high crime rate and the mayor Eric Piole recently called the government to intervene in a situation he described as “critical”.
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Grenoble. Photo: AFP
Rising property prices
Between 2017 and 2018, real estate prices jumped by an average of 5.8 percent in the 20 cities studied, Maël Bernier, the spokesperson of Meilleurtaux.com told Le Parisien, reducing the amount of square metres people could afford on average by seven percent.
However not everywhere has been affected by rising property prices.
Le Mans in the north west of France has risen to fourth place after coming 10th last year, thanks to an increase in the amount of real estate people can buy for the city's median salary.
If you earn the median salary of €35,400, you can expect to buy an 84 m2 apartment compared with 73 m2 in 2017. On the other hand, permanent job vacancies remain low in Le Mans.
Nantes and Rennes in Brittany, and Angers in western France all slid down the ranking, coming 7th, 9th and 13th respectively, with all three affected by both the drop in employment and the rise in the price of real estate.
The cities of Toulouse (5th), Dijon (6th) and Strasbourg (10th) also made the top ten along with the unfashionable city of Saint-Etienne (8th).
And while it might come as a shock to many that Grenoble has been deemed the most attractive city to settle down in in France, it's unlikely to surprise anyone that Paris doesn't make top of the list, given the price of property.
Paris dropped two place to 17th on the list and as a city known for its pokey apartments, people earning the median salary of €49,500 can afford to buy just 22 square metres.
Meanwhile, many may be surprised that for once Bordeaux – often cited as the most attractive city to live in France – doesn't top the table.
In fact, the southwestern city, apparently much-loved by Parisians desperate to leave the capital, once again came in just 11th out of 20 due a boom in property prices. With the median annual salary of €35,500 euros, it's only possible to buy an apartment of 34 square metres.