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The 39 maps you need to understand south-west France

The south-west corner of France has long been a magnet for other nationalities looking to set up home in the region's stunning countryside or attractive cities. And these maps give an idea of why this part of France is so popular.

The 39 maps you need to understand south-west France
Photo: AFP

The south-west has long been the corner of choice for other Europeans emigrating to France, and you can see why: it's got mountains, valleys, two coasts, world heritage and some of the world's most legendary wines. 

Here's a look at 39 maps that paint the picture of the region. 

First: the geography.

Here's what we're talking about when we say south-west France: the main rivers, mountains and cities.

By PethrusCC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

Now, some history.

Here's how it looked before the Roman invasion.

By Feitscherg – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

And here's what the Romans did for the south-west.


By the time of the Revolution in 1789, the south-west was beginning to look a lot more like it does today. 


The map was redrawn again in 2016, when the regions of the south-west went from this…

By Eric Gaba – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

… to this: it now comprises two “super regions”, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie.

By BayoHistoricairCC0, Wikimedia

Here's how to get in, out and around.

By Motorway

Screengrab CLICK HERE for full map

By train…

First of all the regional train map of Nouvelle Aquitaine.

CLICK HERE for full version

And here's the train map for part of Occitanie region.

And the main train lines in the south west.

For the full SNCF train map of France click here.


and by bike…

By Adrien Caillot/AF3V – click here for an interactive version.

Or on foot, if you fancy following in the steps of pilgrims who for centuries have walked the Way of Saint James through south-west France to the Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. 

Via France Sud-Ouest

And this map shows where you can fly to for cheap from one of the area's ten airports.

By La Depeche du Midi

Who lives there? 

Let's start with “how many”: here's the population density as per the 2009 census.

By INSEE – CC0, Wikimedia

It's one of the most popular parts of France for other French people to move to, according to national statistics office INSEE. On this map, red indicates more arrivals than departures while green shows the opposite. 

It also attractive to foreigners, as INSEE's map of the percentage of immigrants per department shows. 

The south-west is especially beloved by Brits. In fact, the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine is home to more British residents than any other in France. This map shows where they live – and here's more on how Brits made south-west France their home

What are the wages like?

This map shows the average net hourly wage by department – Haute-Garonne has the best rate.


And here's the percentage of the population in work (the darker, the higher).



How much is a house?

In case you're tempted to move, here's what it could cost you: the average house prices by (former) region. Click through to the interactive version to compare rental properties, too. 

By LaCoteImmo

And here's where you might have some luck finding a place: the percentage of housing that lies empty (the darker, the higher).  


Now for some language lessons.

The south-west has some distinct dialects that you might want to brush up on, depending on what kind of locals you're planning to hang out with.

By Langues_de_la_France1 – CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia

Here are a few place names in Occitan – or langue d'Oc, the name of the language to which most of the south-west dialects belong – to get you started.

Via Sapienca Occitana

And let's not forget Basque: part of the historic region, known as Northern Basque Country, extends across the Spanish border into the far south-west of France.

By Encyclopaedia Britannica

Even in French, things might sound a little different from what you learned in school. Practice pronouncing that final 's' of moins if you want to fit in.

By Mathieu Avanzi

When you go to a bakery in the south-west, whatever you do, don't ask for a pain au chocolat

By Mathieu Avanzi

And your pastries won't be going in un sac, but une poche

By Mathieu Avanzi

The important stuff: food.

Here are the historical specialities of the south-west. (See here for The Local's food map of the whole of France.)

Carte gastronomique de la France via BnF – click here to zoom in.

Here's where you'll find them, at the region's Michelin-starred restaurants.

Perhaps you've got room left for just a little after-dinner cheese.

Via Autour de la Gastronomie

And here's another food map to giveyou and idea of some local dishes.


The even more important stuff: drink.

These are the liquid specialities of the south-west. (See here for more information on tipples from all over France.)

By The Local France

And of course we have to mention Bordeaux and its wines.

By Wine Folly

But it's not the only show in town. The whole of the south-west has some star wines. See the interactive map for a full list of vineyards and the events they hold year round. 

By France Sud-Ouest

Beer more your thing? Here are Nouvelle-Aquitaine's finest craft breweries. See the interactive version for names and addresses.


Edibles aside, there are a lot of attractions.

From nature reserves…

Via Canalmonde – click here for an interactive version.

…to World Heritage sites that are well worth a visit

Via Europe Orient

And with thousands of hours of sun per year, you'll need a place to cool off: here are the swimming spots certified with the Pavillon Bleu standard of cleaniness. 

By Pavillon Blue – click here for an interactive version. 

Finally, here's how to think like a local. 

Hint: it involves ragging on everyone else. We won't translate all the choice slang here, but suffice it to say that for a Toulousain, anything north of Nantes is the Arctic and only morons ski in the Alps. 

By Peeweek – Desencyclopedie


READ ALSO: The 33 maps that paint the picture of France


Member comments

  1. The map article is great. On my first visit to Toulouse I struggled to find this type of information in one place. My first article was worth the subscription price.

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For members


Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?

France’s top-up health insurance 'mutuelles' have been getting steadily more expensive in 2020. Here’s a look at what’s changing, why and who is the worst affected.

Mutuelles: Why is French health insurance getting more expensive?
A dentist is checking the teeth of an elderly lady in a nursing home in Paris. Photo: AFP

“The prices have never been so high in France,” said Fabien Soccio, spokesperson for the company Meilleure Assurance (Best Insurance).

His company this week revealed the results of a new study of France's private health insurance fees, mutuelles, to French media.

After comparing 55 different mutuelles health insurances, Meilleur Assurance concluded that there had been a general spike in the average cost.

What is a mutuelle?

France has generous state health care that covers a lot of medical expenses, but not all costs are reimbursed.

In France you pay upfront for your doctor's appointment, prescription or procedure and then the government reimburses the costs to you. Depending on the procedure and your situation, usually about 80-90 percent of the cost is reimbursed.

If that cost is a €25 appointment with your GP that's not such a big deal, but with more expensive treatments the costs can mount up, which is where a mutuelle comes in.

The mutuelle is a 'top-up' insurance – not obligatory, but recommended – which covers extra costs that are not covered by the state. How much a mutuelle covers will depend on the kind of insurance, where you live and the expenses in question.

If you are an employee, your employer must pay for at least half the cost of your mutuelle

Who was affected by the price increase?

The 2020 price hike touched the country as a whole, however some regions and population groups were harder hit than others, Soccio told Le Parisien.

To compare the costs for different socio-demographic groups, Meilleur Assurance created three different types of profiles; a 25-year-old employee with a “classic” mutuelle; a couple with two children, also on a “classic” mutuelle and a 60-year-old couple with “strengthened” guarantees in their mutuelle.

Seniors hardest hit

Retirees tend to go for fuller versions of mutuelles because these cover additional costs (such as dental and optical treatments). 

Seniors on extensive types of mutuelles were those suffering the steepest price increases this year, Soccio said. 

“In 2020, fifteen départements exceeded a threshold of €3,000 in annual fees for a senior couple with extra guarantees,” Soccio said.

“That’s an average increase of more than €176 in one year,” he said.

For the couple with a child, the increase was slighter ( an extra 4 percent), whereas the young employee saw health insurance bills largely unchanged.

READ ALSO Brexit: Do I need a mutuelle to get residency in France?


.. along with Parisians

The study also revealed large price differences between different regions, with inhabitants in the Paris region Ile-de-France paying the highest bills for their mutuelles.

A retired couple would pay on average €528 more if they lived in Paris compared to if they lived in a more rural, cheaper département like Mayenne.

Similarly, employees would pay 30 percent more on average in Paris than in Pays-de-la-Loire.

Parisians also saw the steepest price increases since last year, by 14.6 percent on average for the retired couple with a mutuelle covering extra costs.

On a national level, the average price increase for the same couple was 12.1 percent. 

.. but everyone was a little worse off

However the country as a whole saw a price increase last year, with even those opting for the cheapest kinds of health insurance affected by the general price hike.

In one year, from 2019 to 2020, the cheapest type of health insurance had increased by 13.7 percent, according to the study. 

Why the increase?

Prices generally increase a little every year, but this year was unusual, Soccio said.

“Today, we are in an uncertain and troubled situation,” he told Europe 1, listing several factors that had contributed to the price increase: the Covid-19 pandemic, the government's new health reform known as “100 percent Santé”, and a new health tax known as the “Covid surtax”.

When the French government presented their new budget for 2021, centred on their dazzling €100 billion relaunch plan, they promised not to increase taxes for the French. Instead, to top up their savings a little, the government introduced a new tax, the “Covid surtax”, which will be paid through the mutuelles and other health insurance companies.

This tax will provide €1 billion in total to the state in 2021, and €500 million in 2022, according to French media.

What about the future?

Soccio said he worried the trend of prices increasing would continue in the next couple of years, leading to steep prices for even those opting for the cheaper mutuelles.

“It's safe to bet that the national average costs will pass €3,000 in the next two years,” he told Le Parisien.