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Sandrine13 Jul 28th, 2017 10:00 AM

Southern France Small Towns for Expat Retirement
I've seen some amazingly helpful suggestions on this site, but note that the responders request more information to give good precise feedback, so here goes!
I'm researching a move to Southern France (Provence or Languedoc probably) to semi-retire. It is just me and hubs who expect to open the home to friends and family we hope will visit. I speak French well enough though I grew up in the U.S. (half my family are in France but mostly the North, East and Normandy). I have a French passport, will have a car and can purchase up to ~$700-800k. I know the St. Tropez Bay area well, as family have a tiny vacation house in Port Grimaud there and it's lovely. But I'm thinking it wouldn't be ideal for year round and is too much based on tourists and ritzy folks.
Here's the wish list: 1) small pretty/picturesque town with friendly, low-key year-round social life possible -i.e. doesn't empty out in the winter time; town has its own life aside from tourists; 2) nice weather year round (not baking in summer or freezing in winter or too much wind or too muggy); 3) opportunity to purchase a Provencal or farmhouse style home that has been modernized inside but keeping the old features; 4) the town itself would have some options for all basic amenities (fruit, veg, bread, wine, pharmacy, hospital, some decent restaurants), some art/music options, Petanque?, card-playing in town square, weekly market?; 4) I love swimming in the Med, so close to the Med without being overly touristy (30-60 min drive is OK); 5) progressive, artsy, or outdoorsy things to do art/culture/historical/natural sites/vineyards/hiking in a city nearby and/or within the region. Is that enough or is that overloaded? I suppose this might be what EVERYONE would want. What's NOT necessary for me is a "hot nightlife", schools for kids, opportunities for work, public transport (though a tram to a nearby larger town with cultural entertainment would be nice if possible)... I don't have to be too close to an airport or train station- I'll make do if I can get all the other stuff! And yes, I will be asking family members for input too, but this site has a lot of knowledgeable folks. THANKS IN ADVANCE!!! :-)

suze Jul 28th, 2017 10:03 AM

St Cirq will be along in a minute to help.

StCirq Jul 28th, 2017 10:15 AM

St-Cirq is here but cannot help because the OP's wishes are nothing like mine. I mean not even one thing on her list is even remotely like my life here, except maybe accessibility to weekly markets.

I think she should contact Peter Mayle.

sundriedtopepo Jul 28th, 2017 10:27 AM

St Cirq that surprises me. Not even remotely?

Bedar Jul 28th, 2017 10:30 AM

Last I heard Peter Mayle was living in East Hampton, NY. Julia Child's house was up for sale a while back at the OP's price range. Don't know if it sold. Try Sotheby's R.E. listings.

suze Jul 28th, 2017 10:34 AM

Really? You can't buy "fruit, veg, bread, wine" in your "picturesque town"? That is surprising.

hetismij2 Jul 28th, 2017 10:39 AM

No suggestions for a town but I would suggest you visit in winter, maybe rent a place for a month or two and look around the general area you are considering. Nothing like spending January and February somewhere to get a real feel for the place.

Sandrine13 Jul 28th, 2017 10:40 AM

Wow. No suggestions from StCirq? I am thinking of a small town outside of Montpellier or Arles maybe. I was looking closer to the Spanish border but heard that the wind there can be a dealbreaker. Otherwise, near the Pyrenees and the Med seemed perfect Grimaud, St. Maxime, Cogolin are nice but the area is too touristy. Hiking, swimming, some music and theatre nearby. I know there are lots of places that would fit the bill, but I want to narrow it down a bit. Besides jokes about Peter Mayle and Julia Child, no thoughts?

Sandrine13 Jul 28th, 2017 10:42 AM

Hetismij - thanks for the suggestion. I should do that.

StCirq Jul 28th, 2017 10:44 AM

No, sundriedtopepo.

The budget is WAY beyond mine, though it's probably apt for buying where they're looking.

"Nice weather year round" is impossible.

"Opportunity to purchase a Provençale or old farmhouse that has been modernised inside but keeping the old features" - umm, no, not going to happen.

These are really rich people with a French dream. They are nothing like us.They don't need Fodors and they certainly don't need me.

suze Jul 28th, 2017 10:49 AM

Okey-dokey, no help from St Cirq then.

Whathello Jul 28th, 2017 10:50 AM

I understand pretty well StCirq and I have had the pleasure when young(er) to stay in a remote beautiful house in Dordogne. Small village - well in French we'd call it a 'hameau' - means you don't need to write your street on the evenelope, there are 6 houses and the postman takes coffe with you each morning anyway.

Nothing like what I would want to retire.

OP would want something like AIx en Provence (lots of other places but I happen to be able to retire in Aix) which has theatres, cultural life, students (thus life) shops, restaurants that don't close in low season.

On the list I'd add Nimes, Montpellier, Toulouse, Avignon (but smaller maybe ?), Nice (but too touristy ?), I'd avoid Marseille (too ... too much).

I know a lot of friends who bought a house like the one we have on the seaside at Cavalaire but sold it because they could not stand the winters and the lack of animation.

Avoid Gordes, Bormes les Mimosas, St Trop ! I have been in St Trop in end december early jan, it was empty and desolate, all roads ripped open to make roadworks, all but 2 (two !) restaurants closed, jeez, if I had found a cord, I'd had hung myself in the total indifference of the inhabitants who were all away.

Hospital is indeed becoming important when you grow old. On the Riviera you have la Timone at Toulon or Marseille and another one at Marseille or Toulon and that's it. I had to go to Gassin twice, God almighty I would not want to have my mother in law taken care of there...

Quoique ;-)

Sandrine13 Jul 28th, 2017 10:52 AM

Not really rich, just lucky purchase in the US real estate market, right before prices tripled. We don't need a lot, so we want to put our eggs in a nice house where friends can visit. Seems like a lot of judgement going on here, so will continue to research on my own.

fuzzbucket Jul 28th, 2017 10:58 AM

If you are seriously thinking about semi-retiring, there isn't any one town that will fill the bill for you.

€700K to €800K won't get you a renovated house or apartment with original details. Just take a look at the online ads on the internet:
Barnes, Sotheby,Garcin,Besse are good realtors, but you will pay more than €1M plus renovations, taxes and realtor's fees - unless you want to end up with just the shell of a crumbling mas.
I'd try to narrow down what you really want, pick one or a few cities, rent apartments (you will need a French bank account) and check out transportation and food shopping options.

suze Jul 28th, 2017 11:00 AM

<Seems like a lot of judgement going on here>

There is. But note that's only from one person.

suze Jul 28th, 2017 11:02 AM

I do encourage you to go spend more time there. What's the longest time you have been in France? And at what time of year?

That's more important than shopping for a house right off the bat. Making sure the move is a "fit" for you.

Sandrine13 Jul 28th, 2017 11:20 AM

Suze - good suggestions. Thanks. I've visited in the winter, spring and summer, and early fall. Though that was mostly in the North. I'm planning to spend time renting and driving around at different times of the year over the next several years to gather more data. I had seen some excellent feedback on this site to other posts so thought I would give it a try to see if there were some cities around which to zoom in on.

Fuzzbucket - I've seen quite a few amazing nicely renovated places on in that price range throughout the south, so that is why it seemed a reasonable price point (though I was surprised compared to prices here in U.S. cities). However, like I said before, we don't need a large space, location is what matters the most.

Thanks for the thoughtful suggestions!

Whathello Jul 28th, 2017 11:26 AM

'There is. But note that's only from one person.'

And THAT is not a judgment I guess.

Maybe StCirq and Fuzz know the real estate market better than others here.

Sandrine, 800 k€ will not get you a nicely newly renovated house that has kept all the ancient charm of the US fantasy of french life.

My neighbour in Cavalaire sold his garage - a bloddy garage ! that was attached to his house for more than 300 k€. The purchaser spent an additional 50 k€ at least (and he did most of the job by itself) to convert it to a small habitation. Oh, I forgot, he must have 154 square meters of land - translated it in square feet, it basically means that he can spit from one part of his ground and it will land in the neighbour's garden.

I would recommend that you spend some holiday in France, best in late November - 1 week here, 1 week there etc so that you realize what life is in France. You'll get time to look at the houses for sale.

Here a sample at 'le bon coin' (a kind of e-bay widely used in France) with some descriptions of houses.

As I said I happen to stay a lot of time in Cavalaire and they sell houses for a crazy price - they propose an apartment of 23 square meters (16m2 is a norm for rooms in 3 stars hotels) for ... 125 k€. And it is totally normal.

700-800 k€ will get you a normal house in a nice place, nothing that fancy, or a (quite) nice house in a $hithole, err a remote area.

And yes, better wear a flak vest, lots of sniping on this site, reason I was away for some time and I'm not sure it is a good idea to return but I'm bored to death in the train from gare de Lyon to Hyeres.

15 more min and I've better things to do, rosé wine is not that far away anymore.

sundriedtopepo Jul 28th, 2017 11:29 AM

Friends of ours lived in Collioure for 2 years. They really loved it but they are from England, so maybe more accustomed to the cool winters on the coast.

Sandrine13 Jul 28th, 2017 11:38 AM

Thanks Whathello! I appreciate your humour and hope you get to that glass of Rose soon! I've been visiting my relations in France since I was a wee toddler, enjoying the 'US fantasy french life' vicariously through the years visiting with them. Maybe all those places on are fakes, but they sure look nice.I will be heading to Provence in a week, so will be able to see a few firsthand. Looking forward to my first glass of rose in the warmth of the afternoon sun!

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