French association ‘Villes et villages où il fait bon vivre’ recently released its annual rankings of villages and towns in France, ranked by their overall quality of life.
The criteria of the rankings rates 198 municipalities and communes in France across 10 categories which include quality of life, safety, transport, shops and services, education, sports and leisure solidarity, real estate appeal and environmental protection. The association’s name literally translates as ‘towns and villages where it’s good to live’.
2022 was the first year the list has taken into consideration environmental protection, with criteria specifically dedicated to looking at the air quality.in villages and towns in France
For more information about the ranking’s methodology and research, head to villesetvillagesouilfaitbonvivre.com.
The top 10 towns in France
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1. Angers (49), Maine-et-Loire
For the second consecutive year, Angers in Maine-et-Loire retained its title as the top town in France. It’s a city in western France on the edge of the Loire Valley and is renowned for its historical ties.
The city lies on the banks of the Maine river which is pleasant to cycle along in spring and summer.
A lot of Angers’ appeal comes from its medieval history. La Châteaux D’Angers looks over the city which can be seen as you approach the town from the motorway. It has played the role of fortress, prison, palace and barracks in its time, making it the heart of the town.
Appeal of Angers
- Fine art and culture
- Terra Botanica theme park
- Bustling nightlife
- Active retired community
- Average house price per m2: €3438
2. Bayonne (64), Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Taking the second spot for best towns in France, but the top departmental spot is Bayonne in Pyrénées-Atlantiques. It’s close to the Spanish border and is most famous for its medieval architecture and diverse museums.
Bayonne is home to 51,894 people and is about 21.7km2. That’s typically smaller than British towns but is closest in size to Worcester.
Close to 27% of people in Bayonne are retired but over 40% in Bayonne are between the ages of 15-44.
Appeal of Bayonne
- Cultural charm
- Narrow, colourful townhouses
- Maze-like old town
- Street markets and terrace cafés
- Notable festival, Fêtes de Bayonne
- Average house price per m2: €4409
Biarritz (64), Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Biarritz is a city in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques region and is home to 25,877 people. In fact, it’s the largest top-scoring city on the list so far. The most populous age range in Biarritz is 60-74 years, and its retired community makes up almost 43% of said 25,000.
Biarritz has been a popular resort town since the 1800s when European Royalty visited for their holidays. Its seaside position makes it a great location for surfing and watersports.
It’s often described as a half ritzy, half coastal resort – which is what attracts so many second homeowners looking to buy a holiday home.
Appeal of Biarritz
- Modern apartments
- 2 nearby airports
- Flourishing water sports community
- Laidback lifestyle
- 16 golf courses nearby
- Average house price per m2: €8264
Anglet (64), Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Anglet is a coastal town renowned for its 11 Atlantic surfing beaches, which include Les Cavaliers and Marinella. It’s also home to the biggest surf club in France, the Anglet Surf Club.
Anglet is home to 39,719 people, with the majority of inhabitants (40%) aged between 45 and 74. 35% of inhabitants in Anglet are retired. It’s certainly not a boring town, there’s loads to do. Besides water sports, there are ample sports facilities with tennis courts, swimming pools and golf courses.
The appeal of Anglet is its seaside location and les Sables d’Or (golden sands).
- Apartments and detached houses
- Coastal location
- Sandy beaches
- Active community
- Average house price per m2: €6610
La Rochelle (17), Charente-Maritime
Over on the west coast of France, the Charente-Maritime’s La Rochelle takes our #5 spot for top towns in France. La Rochelle is on the coast and has a seaport on the Bay of Biscay (see above).
La Rochelle has been a centre for fishing and trade for hundreds of years and its maritime influence is prevalent throughout the town.
Of homes in La Rochelle, 68% are apartments and 32% are detached homes.
Appeal of La Rochelle
- Beautiful architecture
- Arcaded streets
- Grand marina
- Average house price per m2: €5108
Lorient (56), Morbihan
Ranking 6th is Lorient, Brittany is northern France. Home to some 57,276 people, Lorient is a hugely popular town for French and expats alike. The population of Lorient is super varied in age, with almost equal amounts in each age bracket.
Lorient is known as a city of art and culture. Its maritime history and nautical influence attract many to this day. In the 17th century, Lorient was used as the base for the French version of the East India Cmpany and has one of the biggest fishing ports in France.
While maritime trade has decline, the town is known for its varied industrial sector which includes mechanics, electrical engineering, food processing and electronics.
Around 50% of the population are employed, and another 30% are retired. The most popular homes in Lorient are detached houses (25%) and apartments (74%) – the majority of these homes are used as primary residences with only 3.3% being second homes.
Appeal of Lorient
- Historic appeal
- Close to seaside and country
- Average house price per m2: €2912
Annecy is one of the most beautiful alpine towns in France. It lies in the southeastern corner of France where Lake Annecy feeds into the Thiou River. Its beauty is instantly recognisable courtesy of the colourful houses, winding river, cobbled streets and outdoor markets.
Castles and cathedrals nestled behind mountains and shores make Annecy so picturesque. And it’s not just pretty, there’s lots to do in Annecy. Whether you like to can ski, cycle, hike or lounge – there’s something for you here.
Appeal of Annecy
- Natural beauty: waterfalls, lakes and nature reserves
- Old-town appeal
- Castles to explore
- Outdoor activities
- Average house price per m2: €5420
Rennes (35), Ile et Vilaine
Rennes is a city in Brittany known for its medieval design and grand cathedral. It’s one of the most cultural towns in France when it comes to art. The Musée des Beaux-Arts displays work by Botticelli, Picasso and Rubens. There’s also a notable planetarium at Espace des Sciences.
As a vibrant, medieval town, Rennes is pretty to look at – the colourful houses stand out a mile off. It’s renowned for street food and there’s a broad selection of styles available for foodies.
The most popular style of homes in Rennes are apartments (85%) and detached houses (13%). The majority of the 220,000 inhabitants live there permanently.
Appeal of Rennes
- Attractive squares
- Green spaces
- Bustling nightlife
- Cultural hub – art
- Small-town feel
- Average house price per m2: €4194#
Brest (29), Finistère
Coming in at the 9th best town in France for quality of life is Brest in Brittany. Brest is split in half by the Penfeld river and the National Navy Musuem, which lies at the river’s mouth. The town is in a sheltered bay not far from the peninsula. It also has a medieval history.
Weather in Brest is more than pleasant. Temperatures are an average of 15°C and summers often enjoy highs of 20°C, although it has been known to reach 39°C!
The town often celebrates its maritime roots with ‘tall ship meetings’ every four years. The Breton crepe is the most renowned food in Brest – a Brittany favourite.
Around 23% of people in Brest are retired, around 20% are unemployed/don’t work and the majority of people are in work. The most populous age bracket is 30-59 years.
Appeal of Brest
- Winding river
- Maritime heritage
- Warm climate
- Community driven
- Average house price per m2: €2246
Le Mans (72), Sarthe
While lots of people know of Le Mans purely for the famous sportscar endurance race, there’s a lot more to Le Mans in northwest France.
Le Mans in le pays de la Loire is a city with a well-preserved old town and roman buildings. There are several medieval churches of note, plus art museums.
Le Mans has 143,847 inhabitants, with a large percentage of that (30%) being retired. It’s worth noting, lots of retired race car drivers choose to retire here due to the area’s connection with the world-famous endurance race of the same name.
Appeal of Le Mans
- Active retired community
- Medieval influence
- Friendly locals
- Motorsport hotspot
- Average house price per m2: €2098
Why stop here? Here’s a few more articles that might interest you…
Six of Brittany’s best coastal towns for buyers
Discover the dreamy Dordogne in southwest France