My husband and I moved lock stock and barrel to France over nine years ago now: my, how time flies. We are so glad that we made France our home. In a nutshell, it is a far more relaxing lifestyle, there is more space, less traffic, a lovelier climate and we have quite simply never looked back. Here I look at some of my favourite things to do, places to see and events to go to down here in the Occitanie region of the south of France.
Previously just the Languedoc-Roussillon, Occitanie is now 2 areas combined: Languedoc-Roussillon and the Midi-Pyrénées. There seem to be so many aspects of life to enjoy here but if you are thinking of moving here or even buying a second home here, this may just help whet your appetite even more and get you moving pronto!
What the best things about living in the south of France?
We decided we wanted to be in the south of France for a variety of reasons: the wonderful climate with hot dry summers, beautiful fresh springs, cold but usually sunny winters and rich warm autumns was one major consideration. Then we thought about how nice it would be to be near to the sea and the mountains. We are about 45 minutes’ drive from miles of sandy beaches. We both love to ski and we can be in the Pyrenean mountains in a couple of hours and Spain is only a little over an hour away by car. All this was just for starters!
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Rich culture and heritage
This area is rich in history. We are in the department of the Aude which is a large department and mainly known for its vines. Being surrounded by vineyards is such a pleasure and drinking good quality wine at a fraction of the price in the UK was also a big pull. Our village has 3 wine domains. But it is not just the wine; we have so many fantastic ancient Cathar monuments within a stone’s throw of our village. If you are interested in history, you will love this area with its medieval villages, many hardly changed from hundreds of years ago with stone buildings, churches, chateaux and monuments often perched high up on the mountainside.
We both love to ski and we can be in the Pyrenean mountains in a couple of hours and Spain is only a little over an hour away by car. All this was just for starters!
Our main local towns are all quite beautiful, our favourite being Montpellier which has some excellent individual shops and restaurants but is also architecturally absolutely wonderful. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cité of Carcassonne is France’s second most visited attraction after the Eiffel Tower. We are just half an hour away from this monumental castle, majestically lit up at night and an amazing site to see at any time of the day from the nearby motorway.
Nature and activities
If you like nature and getting out and about either walking, hiking, running or cycling, this is the place for you. Cycling is one of the most popular sports in France and in this part of the south there are numerous cycle trails along which you will see the most superb unspoilt countryside. The Canal du Midi, which runs right across from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean coast, is a huge attraction. Built originally for trade, it is now enjoyed by boat lovers, tourists and residents. There are so many pretty villages bordering the canal with welcoming restaurants and cafés where one can linger and watch the world go by.
Markets and community events
We love the markets! Every town and most villages have a weekly market selling not only fresh local food produce but also homewares and clothes. This is always a great way to spend a morning, usually followed by a coffee or perhaps something stronger at a local café!
Living in a village in the south of France brings with it a great feeling of security and relaxation. We have found our French friends and neighbours to be nothing short of friendly and helpful. Everyone mixes together very well indeed. The feeling of a strong community is very evident here. People tend to look out for each other, the generations mix well and many villages go to great lengths to put on events year round such as musical soirées, attic sales, art exhibitions and classes of all types. Joining in local events and socialising is very important in order to be able to properly integrate into the locality in France. Basically, you can be as busy or not as you like but getting out and about and mixing brings rich rewards with new friendships and knowledge about the general area.
Delicious (and affordable) dining
I need not perhaps mention food since most of us love traditional French food, but suffice to say that most of our local restaurants, in common with much of rural France, offer a fixed price menu, often with a glass of local wine and a coffee thrown in for around €12 to €14. Of course one can splash out (we have a 3 star Michelin restaurant near us called the Auberge du Vieux Puits if you are feeling rich), but generally speaking it is a joy to be able to go out and enjoy a good French meal with friends without spending a fortune. In the summer months the cafés and restaurants are buzzing outside with people eating and drinking. If you are a dog lover, by the way, you will find it pretty easy to take your pet along with you too since most restaurants are perfectly happy to accommodate our furry friends – a great bonus for us!
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As the years have gone by, we have noticed a much more cosmopolitan atmosphere here with many other nationalities than just us British people: the Australians and Americans seem to love it here, for example, as do the Dutch and Belgians. It is such a pleasure and such an enriching experience to meet other expats from around the world and swap stories.
We do not feel crowded or hemmed in, we simply have a wonderful feeling of space and freedom.
As I touched on at the start, the lifestyle in the south of France is at a much slower pace than in the UK but never boring. We do not feel crowded or hemmed in, we simply have a wonderful feeling of space and freedom. There is so much to enjoy down here, whatever your interests are. Maybe I am biased but this area has so much going for it, I am not ashamed to show it off. See you down here one day?
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