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PROPERTY

5 of the most affordable places to buy property in France

Whether you want city buzz or countryside peace, there are plenty of places in France that you can move to without breaking the bank - here are 5 of the most affordable parts of the country.

5 of the most affordable places to buy property in France
Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Auvergne – If you are looking for vast forests, dormant volcanoes, and rolling mountains, Auvergne is the place for you. Relatively non-touristic, this is the perfect part of France to go to if you are looking for an authentic French countryside experience filled with medieval towns and river valleys. Property prices in Auvergne are well below the national average.

For affordability: The départment of Lozère is where the real estate is cheapest in Auvergne. Here, the price of a village house is generally less than €100,000. If you have more funds, you could invest in a luxury villa for around €300,000.

For quaint, village life: Montpeyroux has been rated among the most beautiful villages in France, and it is located in the Puy-de-Dôme département. 

For a more urban environment: Clermont-Ferrand is Auvergne’s largest city, with just over 141,000 inhabitants.

The cost of living is 12 percent less in Clermont-Ferrand than the French average. This city close to nature is located near the famous ancient volcanoes of Auvergne, like the Puy de Dôme, which is a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Chaine des Puys, a volcanic chain of 80 volcanoes over a distance of 32 km, in Auvergne (Photo by THIERRY ZOCCOLAN / AFP)
 

Pays de la Loire – If you want to be along the water (or at least in close proximity to the ocean) at an affordable price, or maybe you’ve always dreamed of vineyard living, but everything feels out of budget, Pays de la Loire might be the region for you.

Located in western France with a long coastline, this French region also encompasses a significant part of the Loire Valley, known for its wine production. Home to famous castles, there is plenty to explore in this part of France.

Just above Auvergne in price per square metre, the Loire region is also significantly lower than the national average. If you are looking to invest in a house, you might expect to pay around €1,500 per square metre, depending on the location and the commune. For an apartment, the average price per square metre is approximately €3,700 (€4,337 is the national average). Depending on the city and the location of the property, you could buy an apartment from around €2,790 metres squared.

For affordability: The département of Mayenne. Though landlocked, this département is not too far from the water – at about 30km from the Mont-Saint-Michel-Bay. 

For close proximity to vineyards: Saumur is located between the Loire and Thouet rivers, and is surrounded by the vineyards. The city is along a river, and features a historic castle, the Château de Saumor.

For a more urban environment: Le Mans, which is home to about 143,000 people, is most famous for its world-renowned 24-hour car race, but aside from that the city is quite affordable. You can find rental accommodation for an average price of €9.5 per square metre. The city also boasts a historic cathedral and authentic Roman fortifications. The largest city in the Loire region is Nantes, but Le Mans is significantly cheaper.

A view of Saumur as seen from the city’s castle (Photo by GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP)

Rhône-Alpes

For mountain lovers, skiers, and fondue fans alike, this region is popular spot for nature enthusiasts during all seasons.

There are some very pricey areas within the Alps as rich holidaymakers, price out the local, but there are also cheaper areas in the historic Rhône-Alpes area.

On average in Rhône-Alpes, the price per square metre varies from €1,850 to €3,762 for a house. If you plan to invest in an apartment, you should expect to pay between €2,650 and €5,119 per square meter, depending on location.

For affordability: Valence, this small French city is just about an hour’s drive away from the beautiful Gorges de l’Ardèche, home to natural arches and great for canoeing. The city would be a good place to invest in property, as its currently lower prices are on the rise. Currently, the average price per metre squared is €2,073.

For proximity to the mountains: Grenoble is sometimes called the French Silicon Valley, as it has managed to attract tech companies and workers. It is also nicely nestled into the Chartreuse mountain range, with a cable car in the city that offers spectacular views, Grenoble is prime location in the ski season. However, the city is far from the most affordable option in the Rhône Alps region (though still significantly cheaper than France’s top 10 most expensive cities).

For a more urban environment: Saint Étienne, the much less expensive neighbour city to Lyon. If you look at any list of ‘least expensive cities in France’ you will surely see Saint Étienne. But that does not mean that the city is not a great place to live. Featuring several museums that explore France’s industrial past and unique modern architecture, Saint Étienne is a great part of France to consider if you’re working with a budget.

Limousin

You may not have heard of Limousin, but you’ve certainly heard of limousines. The luxury vehicles’ name derives from the historic French region – as the carriage hood was thought to resemble the cloaks worn by shepherds in this part of central south west France.

Other than limos, Limousin, which is now part of the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, is a great place for fishing, hiking and horseback riding. The area is quite rural – among the least populated regions of France – so if you’re looking for wide open spaces, this is the spot for you.

For affordability: Brive (Brive-la-Gaillarde) is the second most populous city in Limousin, and in 2021 it made France’s Journal du Dimanche’s list of “500 cities and villages where life is good,” ranking 60th. It is also known for its famous market. 

For that quaint village: Aubusson is a small village in the Limousin region, and it is also considered the ‘capital of tapestries.’ The picturesque village is right along the Creuse river. 

For a more urban environment: Limoges is the capital city, with a population of around 130,000. Known for its centuries old porcelain production and the medieval homes in the city centre, Limoges’ cost of living in 2022 was found to be 9 percent lower than France’s average.

Alsace

Situated in eastern France along the border with Germany, you might know Alsace more for Strasbourg’s Christmas market, its famous white wine, or perhaps the gingerbread-esque houses sprinkled across the land that changed hands several times between l’Hexagone and the Germans. If you’re looking for a sign to move to Alsace, look no further than the storks (cigogne in French) who are supposed to bring good luck and are indigenous to the region.

For affordability: Mulhouse, known for its museums (including France’s national car museum), this city was ranked number one by French daily Le Parisien in terms of work and real estate opportunities. From Mulhouse, you can also commute to Germany or Switzerland.

For a gothic, medieval town: Cobbled streets, colourful buildings, and medieval architecture, Colmar is one of Alsace’s most popular towns to visit. It was reportedly the inspiration for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and it is a lovely mix between French and German culture. 

For a more urban environment: Metz – while not too far from Paris (just a few hours drive), this city is quite affordable (an apartment here will cost you about 60 percent less than it would in Paris). Though Strasbourg is typically the city referenced when discussing Alsace, Metz offers cheaper prices and closer proximity to three different countries (and their job markets): Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. On top of that, it is a city with lots of green space.

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
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