France can be a far more affordable place to spend time than you might imagine. Paris is the best place on earth to seek out a luxury lifestyle on a budget. Whatever your idea of the high life, you can find it in the City of Light. And the best part about this city is that some of the best it has to offer comes free.
Life's sweetest pleasures are here for the taking, including picnics in the Luxembourg Gardens, long walks along the Seine, and afternoons lost among the cobblestones of the Latin Quarter. These things cost not a sous. Paris is a never-ending feast of gallery openings, special performances, exhibitions, and celebrations, many available for little cost. Conversation groups, discussion groups, and book clubs are sometimes free. You can enjoy prix-fixe meals for $20 or less, and you can spend hours in a café, seeing and being seen, for the price of a single café au lait.
The more practical necessities of life don't come free in Paris, but they are more affordable than you might imagine. France boasts perhaps the world's best infrastructure (after Switzerland, maybe), and it's a bargain. Cable TV, Internet, and telephone service, as well as the Metro, the bus, and the RER train system, are likely less costly than comparable services wherever you're living now.
Look beyond Paris and France becomes more affordable still. This country hides country and coastal towns where the cost-of-living can qualify as budget. The Languedoc region is my top pick for country retirement on the Continent. This unsung part of France delivers an extraordinary and hard-to-match quality of life for every euro invested. Languedoc is historic, colorful, eclectic, always changing, authentically French, and, at the same time, very open to retirees. Villages here date from prehistoric times, but the feel of this part of France is medieval. The living is simple and traditional while still offering all the services and amenities of the 21st century.
My second France-beyond-Paris pick is a corner of the country so tucked away that even the French find it hard to place on the map. The Béarn region, in the southwest of France, has everything the would-be retiree interested in Continental country life could be looking for. From the Romans to the Renaissance and the Belle Époque to Art Deco, there's history to be enjoyed at every turn. This area also has gorgeous scenery, rolling wooded countryside, and friendly people. The majestic mountains of the Pyrenees dominate the views and beautiful beaches are just a short drive away.
How big, exactly, would your budget need to be to afford a new life in France? You could live in Paris on a budget of 1,500 euro per month, not including the cost of housing (always best considered independently). And you could call one of my favorite French country regions home at a cost of about 1,000 euro per month, again, not including housing.
If you’re looking for a French country renovation project as part of your retirement plan, in the current market, this is an almost irresistibly tempting and realistic idea. You could purchase a cute and cozy old farmhouse for around 70,000 euro. Of course, some renovation work would be required. How much is a matter of perspective. Maybe you’d be happy with basic but quintessentially French living quarters or maybe you’d want to do your French country house up more elaborately. In places like Cessenon-Sur-Orb, Cazedarnes, and Villespassans, you could own a little townhouse of your own for the equivalent of $100,000 or less. And France is one country where it's a relatively straightforward process for foreigners to borrow locally for the purchase of real estate.
Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter. Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.