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Which part of south-west France is the top 'dream destination' to move to?

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Which part of south-west France is the top 'dream destination' to move to?
La Rochelle, on August 11, 2019. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

It has experienced one of the biggest population increases based on inward migration, while its main town is the number one destination that French people dream of moving to.


Known for sandy beaches, delicious oysters and the lively coastal city of La Rochelle, Charente-Maritime has become France's 'go to' département.

The département was home to 661,404 people in 2021 (the most recent population data) in comparison to 635,682 people 10 years prior. 

Charente-Maritime saw a population increase of 0.6 percent in the past year, in comparison to a decline in the neighbouring département (Charente), which saw a decrease of 0.1 percent.

MAP Where France's population is rising - and where it's falling

But the data shows that its population increase is not based on the 'natural' demographic balance (the difference between births and deaths) - simply more people are moving there. 

By 2030, Le Parisien reported that experts expect to see the number of households in the département grow by 1.08 percent compared with 2023.

Where are people flocking to?

Many people have moved to La Rochelle, the largest city of the département. About 80,610 people live there, which is 3,000 more than there were 10 years ago. Meanwhile the French capital of Paris has seen a steady fall in population over the last 10 years, with 120,000 fewer people living there compared to 2012.


A 2021 OpinionWay poll found that La Rochelle was the top city French people intended to move to - followed by Ajaccio in Corsica.

After La Rochelle, Saintes, the historic inland town, boasts the second most inhabitants in the département, followed by Rochefort, located along the Charente river near the coast.

The area is not only popular amongst French people. Based on pre-Brexit data from 2016, around 40,000 Brits lived in Nouvelle Aquitaine (the region containing Charente-Maritime), though many opted for nearby départements of Charente and Dordogne.

However, it did not rank as highly among Americans - Nouvelle Aquitaine came in fifth place in terms of French regions where Americans choose to live.


Why move to Charente-Maritime?

When analysing the reasons French people gave for moving, a 2023 study found that cost of living was one of the greatest factors. As such, more people were opting for affordable, small to medium-sized cities and towns, and Charente-Maritime is home to several.

Despite the market slowdown in 2023, demand for real estate has also continued to increase in Charente-Maritime. In 2022, its largest city came in eighth place nationally for the highest 20-year increase in real estate prices.

READ MORE: Will 2024 be a good year to buy property in France?

"We're almost more expensive than Bordeaux and Nantes", Edith Girardeau, a notaire in La Rochelle, told France Bleu in December 2023. "The attractiveness of the area has meant that prices have risen," she explained.

According to reporting by BFMTV, La Rochelle was a particularly popular choice largely because of its close proximity to Paris, being only three hours away by high-speed train. 


On top of that, the city has a "temperate climate, high-quality infrastructure, dynamic cultural life, and of course it is on the coast," one relocation expert told the French news channel.

The city has much to recommend it - an attractive historic centre, sandy beaches, good shops, a lively nightlife and an extensive calendar of festivals including the huge summer music festival known as Francofolies.

It's also home to the very successful Stade Rochelais rugby team (current European champions) - among the many foreigners who have made La Rochelle their home is the team's Irish coach Ronan O'Gara, who last year went viral with his dressing room team talk, delivered in distinctively accented French with a few 'f bombs' chucked in. 



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