For members


Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours – why small-town France has the best of all worlds

Forget Anne Hidalgo's '15-minute city' dream, France’s city slickers have discovered the benefits of small-town life after Covid and confinement highlighted the limits of city living, a new report by national statistics body Insee reveals.

Wild boar, fast internet and kindly neighbours - why small-town France has the best of all worlds
Living in smalltown France has its benefits. Photo: loreat / CC BY 2.0 / Flickr

So-called medium-sized towns are the location of choice, with house prices in these previously unremarkable and oft-mocked unfashionable locations rising an average of seven percent year-on-year as demand exceeds supply. Paris house prices dipped a little in the last quarter, and those in the greater Paris Île-de-France region are rising more slowly than elsewhere in the country, as property hunters’ priorities change in the Covid era.

There is now, Jean-Marc Torrollion, president of the Fédération nationale de l’immobilier (Fnaim), told 20 Minutes, ‘a clear craze around human-sized habitats and cities’ in the French property market.

As someone who works from home and who lives one the edge of a ‘human-sized habitat’ in one of the more rural areas of the French provinces, I get the attraction. 

It’s just as far from the Year in Provence idyll as it is the 24-hour-a-day ambulance chase of the grand metropolis. But we enjoy most of the benefits of living somewhere larger with few of the cost-of-living drawbacks and we’re near enough to the wide-open countryside to see it out of the window.

We have a cinema, theatre, sports venues, shopping opportunities, swimming pools, parks, stuff for kids to do, schools that are mostly good, an ice rink, free in-town buses, and okay transport links, including an airport, though it only handles a small number of domestic flights a day, and civilians share it with the Paras.

Heck, we even have fibre internet connections and a couple of bistros that get an honourable mention in the Michelin guide.

Admittedly, the public transport system isn’t as good as it is in larger cities, and we don’t get the biggest of names performing here, nor is there the sheer variety of restaurants or places to go for a night out, but these are drawbacks I can live with.

Fundamentally, small and medium-sized towns in France are ready-made 15-minute cities of the kind Paris mayor and potential presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo dreams of. And there’s more to it than mere convenience. 

We moved to southwest France in late spring 2009. Work dictated the location back then and we’ve stayed in the same town ever since. We’ve worked from home since 2013, so we knew it works before big business discovered it. 

I have in the past occasionally idly wondered if moving to, or at least closer to, somewhere like Toulouse might be an idea worth pursuing. Now, after Covid, I’m convinced it’s not. 

There are five of us – nine counting the dogs and cats – living in a four-bed detached house with a reasonably sized garden on the edge of town. Behind us is forest, and we’re 500m from a river. I ride my bike along the riverbank cycleway regularly to the next village just for the joy of it. 

We have a car that we try to use as little as possible, and enough in reserve that it wouldn’t be a total disaster if our hard-working washing machine broke down suddenly and dramatically. And we have what we laughingly call a potager and set out every year to grow at least some of our own. It rarely turns out well – this year, blight wrecked our tomato crop.

Our neighbours, two generations of proper French paysans, could easily have laughed at our feeble self-sufficiency efforts. But they have been nothing less than patient and kind, answering our often daft questions and unironically gifting us little delicious treats from their garden.

Our garden backs onto their smallholding. They – successfully – grow their own. They keep chickens, geese, goats and a sheep – to the delight of our children, who love to feed them whenever possible. The chickens and geese provide eggs, which sometimes make their way over the fence and into a cake or two.

They hunt, too, of course. On more than one occasion, they have presented us with pieces of wild boar or – once – the leg of a wild sheep that will go down as one of the most delicious pieces of meat I have ever eaten.

And they know where the cep mushrooms hide. We’ve tried foraging for mushrooms, but – well – our local pharmacist thinks we have a death wish. No matter. Once or twice a year, we’re handed a tray of mushrooms picked that day from a secret location that I wish I knew.

In return, we make them cakes using the eggs we have been given and jam from the blackberries we actually manage to forage. And, when it’s dry, our well is at their disposal to water their crops.

It works, too. 

There may be more going on in a city, but we could not afford most of what we have – and, while I wouldn’t miss the car, I’m sure that the city ‘buzz’ would not be enough to make up for everything else we’d have to give up to find it.

And there’s the kindness of neighbours, too, which I wouldn’t give up for the world. And even if Hidalgo gets her way on 15-minute cities, it won’t be enough to tempt me away from all this.

Member comments

  1. Fast internet??? It’s 3mbps in my small town (less than 30mins to Paris). Mobile phone 4g is about 20x quicker. Cable coverage in France is super patchy.

    1. Damn you beat me to it. We are supposed to be getting fibre in six weeks but considering that we were promised main drains 22 years ago, I’m not holding my breath.

    2. Depends where you are and (I suspect, but know of no actual evidence) the “economic wealth” of the area, along with technical details. Where I live, I’ve had fibre-into-the-home for well over a year now, and at least one other provider has also been advertising fibre(-into-the-home) in recent months.

      My own complaint is the (admittedly excellent) local bus system shuts down very early (20h00 or so), which can be very awkward as the train station is multiple kilometres away up a mountainside (albeit downhill, when returning home). Taxis, and Uber, are not an option (for different reasons).

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For members


What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer


But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.