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La Belle Vie: The long history of the French coastline and growing old in France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: The long history of the French coastline and growing old in France
This aerial photograph taken on April 7, 2024, shows a view of Juno Beach, one of five beaches used during the Second World War (WWII) D-Day Allied landings, in the department of Calvados, northwestern France at Bernieres-sur-Mer on April 7, 2024. (Photo by Lou BENOIST / AFP)

From the uncertain future of the Normandy beaches to the secrets of integrating into life in the Pyrenees mountains and growing old in France, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

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La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings. For many Americans, Brits, Canadians, and Australians visiting the Normandy beaches is a vital part of experiencing France. It was a priority for my parents, especially my father who is a US Army veteran, when they visited two years ago.

As the cohort of WWII veterans who were part of the allied invasion of Europe dwindles, it feels more important than ever to hold onto that history. And yet, this is becoming more and more complicated with erosion and rising sea levels that threaten to strip away what remains of the physical history of the Allied invasion of Europe.

Rising sea levels threaten Normandy's historic D-Day beaches

France's coastline contains another interesting part of WWII history - hundreds, if not thousands, of now-dilapidated bunkers.

They once were part of the 'Atlantic wall', which was Nazi Germany's effort to protect against Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. These days, many of them remain in place, either sinking into the sand or serving as squats and hang-out spots for local teenagers.

Why does France still have so many WWII bunkers on its coast?

And if you travel further north along France's coastline, you'll come to the English Channel. Earlier this week, we marked the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Channel Tunnel, considered one of the greatest engineering feats of all time. Three decades on, and over one million freight trucks and nearly 10 million passengers pass through the Eurotunnel each year. 

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I was fascinated to learn about the initial reactions following the Tunnel's inauguration: French newspapers heralded a new age - one where 'Britain is no longer an island', commentators said it was symbolic of peace in the post-war period, and some in the UK worried about diseased animals hitching a ride from Europe to Britain.

In some ways, the Channel Tunnel has created a more connected Europe, but perhaps it has not lived up to all of those early expectations, particularly in the post-Covid and Brexit years as Eurostar has suffered financial losses.

In Pictures: 30 years ago France and the UK opened the Channel Tunnel

The Pyrenees mountains are on the opposite end of the country, hugging the border between France and Spain. Many people, including foreigners, are drawn to this part of France for its unique culture, gastronomy and landscape. 

Author Stephen Cracknell spoke to residents on both the French and the Spanish side of the mountains about what brought them to the area and why they remain.

'They treated me like a son' - The secrets of integrating in a Pyrenees community

Perhaps southern France has a certain appeal due to its comparatively longer life expectancy than other parts of the country (could also be the delicious Tomme des Pyrénées cheese).

Nevertheless, many people do choose France as the country they'd like to grow old in. This might sound logical, considering the fact that by 2030 over 65s are expected to outnumber under 15s.

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But is France actually a good country to grow old in? We've looked at a few factors that can help us determine how the quality of life really is for older people in France.

Is France a good country to grow old in?

For many people, the decision to retire and grow old in France is 'simple comme bonjour' (easy as pie).

If you like that phrase, we've got seven great French expressions from this month's roundup.

8 favourite French Words of the Day

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