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MAPS: Where in France has the largest number of second-homes

France is a country of second homes - almost 1 in 10 properties is a holiday home, with buyers - both French and foreign - living their dream of a home by the sea or in the mountains. Here are some of the most popular areas.

MAPS: Where in France has the largest number of second-homes
People look at property advertisements in an estate agency dedicated to British buyers, on June 16, 2016, in Eymet, southwestern France, in the Dordogne region where a large population of British expatriates live. (Photo by Mehdi FEDOUACH / AFP)

Owning a second-home in France is a dream for many – both French and foreign alike. Some imagine a life on the Breton coastline enjoying fresh seafood and cidre, while others aspire to a chalet in the alps. 

Properties that do not function as a primary residence (maisons secondaires in French) are common in France, in fact according to a 2021 study by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), they make up approximately one in ten properties in France overall.

Using data from 2017, INSEE found that second-homes account for 3.2 million properties in France – of which around 90 percent have French owners and the remaining 320,000 are owned by people living in another country.

The largest single group of foreign second-home owners are Brits, followed by Belgians, Italians and Swiss. 

They are also more likely to be located in some parts of the country than others. Over a third (33 percent) are in mountainous areas, while about 18 percent are on the coast, particularly the west coast and around the Mediterranean.

When broken down by département, the preference to be near the water and the ski resorts becomes particularly visible, as shown on the map below:

When broken down by municipalities - or EPCI's (Public establishment of inter-municipal cooperation), a designation used by INSEE - it is easier to zoom in on the smaller localities within the départements shown in the map above that have the highest proportions of second home owners.

The five communes in France with the highest portion of second-homes are all in the mountains.

The area with the most second homes proportional to total properties, as of 2019, was Germ in the Haut-Pyrénées département - a ski resort where 96.97 percent of the properties are classified as second-homes.

As for the other top four communes, three are located in the Alps and the fourth is located in the Pyrenees mountains. All of these areas have over 92 percent of their local properties reported as second-homes.

The relatively cheap property prices in some parts of France, especially rural France, means that having a second home is not only the preserve of the super rich. French people often inherit family properties which can be used as a second home, and this plays a part in the French preference for taking summer holidays within France. 

However, being a second-home owner in France is becoming an increasingly expensive reality, as several areas that qualify as "zones tendues" - urban areas of more than 50,000 inhabitants with a housing shortage. In those areas, local authorities have the ability to increase taxes (taxe d’habitation) for second-homes.

READ MORE: Why some French cities are increasing taxes for second-home owners

The "zones tendues" which voted to increase the residence tax to the maximum 60 percent are Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, Nice, Biarritz, Arles, and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, with Marseille also recently voting to increase its taxe d'habitation as well.

While it is worth noting that several cities and localities might qualify as "zones tendues," that does not mean they have chosen to increase residence taxes. 

But the list of zones is growing, and the Loire-Atlantique city of Nantes was recently added to the list. You can check whether your town is in a zone tendue here.

Nevertheless - as shown on the maps, many second-home owners prefer to buy property away from the cities and most populous areas.

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MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

The cost of living is a hot topic in France and across Europe right now - so where are the cheapest places to live?

MAP: The 20 cheapest French towns and cities to live in

At a time when purchasing power has never been so central to French people’s concerns, French daily Le Parisien has compiled a list of towns and cities where your money will go the furthest.

In order to produce this ranking, Le Parisien compiled the average salary in each location and then looked at the price of the average supermarket shop, the cost of transport (fuel as well as public transport), property prices (to buy or rent), property tax rates and the cost of a cinema ticket. 

READ ALSO Food, fuel and transport: Which prices will rise in France in 2023?

And it turns out smaller is better.

Of the 96 towns and cities tested, Niort, in the département of Deux-Sèvres in south west France (population around 60,000) came top,

Laval, in Mayenne (population around 50,000) was third; Saint-Brieuc, in the Brittany département of Côtes-d’Armor (population around 45,000), was 8th, and Rodez, down in the southern département of Aveyron (pop: c 25,000) was 10th.

The 20 most wallet-friendly towns in France are:

  1. Niort
  2. Châteauroux
  3. Laval
  4. Nevers
  5. Belfort
  6. Chaumont
  7. Épinal
  8. Saint-Brieuc
  9. Saint-Étienne
  10. Rodez
  11. Châlons-en-Champagne
  12. Quimper
  13. Arras
  14. Foix
  15. Poitiers
  16. Le Mans
  17. Colmar
  18. Montauban
  19. Bourg-en-Bresse
  20. Nantes

READ ALSO The 20 small towns most popular with house-hunters in France

Niort gains, the study found, in part because it has offered free local public transport since 2017 - a policy that other towns that rank well also implement, including second-placed Châteauroux (Indre), Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, 24th) and Gap (Hautes-Alpes, 63rd).

For various reasons, including infrastructure, offering free public transport that meets higher levels of demand in larger cities is unviable, the report said. 

In fact, France’s larger cities are noticeably low in Le Parisien’s rankings. Lyon stumbled on to the list in 58th, Paris in 77th, Marseille 84th, and Montpellier 90th. Nantes, coming in 20th, is the only ‘large city’ representative in the top 20.

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

The report stated that, despite salaries being little higher than average in larger conurbations, people also pay more for shopping, public transport, movie tickets, and housing.

The survey found that, on the whole, your euro goes further in the west of the country - where supermarkets are cheaper, and towns aren’t too congested, while the cost of a tank of fuel is lower, as are - researchers discovered - the more abstract costs, such as insurance, for the same level of service as elsewhere.

READ ALSO OPINION: An inflation ‘tsunami’ is about to hit France

Eastern France, the study found, benefited from relatively cheap property prices - offering more bang for a house-buying buck than the expensive ‘coastal bounce’-affected south or the Ile-de-France region, which orbits the cost-of-living singularity that is Paris.