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Best French Towns and Villages to Live

Friday 07 February 2020

A new quality of life study gives the best places to live in France, but is probably only useful if you accept the technique that has been used.

The study is the result of two years’ work carried out by the ‘Association des Villes & Villages où il fait bon vivre’ a charitable body formed in 2017 by Thierry Saussez, a retired civil servant from the government statistical service.

The association claims that its work is a far deeper, more serious analysis than has hitherto been undertaken. Such studies have become widespread in recent years, in line with the growing popularity of 'best of' listings.

To carry out the study they used 182 ‘objective’ statistical criteria provided by official government agencies.

Eight main categories, drawn from the results of surveys conducted among the French, were taken into account to decide the rating: quality of life (favoured by 82% of those questioned), safety (70%), transport (53%), shops and services (48%), health (43%), education (34%), sports and leisure and solidarity (28%).

For each of these main categories, a series of local statistics were analysed for each municipality. Thus, for quality of life they included: business creation, distance from seaside resorts, unemployment rate, life expectancy, number of graduates, tourist accommodation, as well as the diversity of the landscapes (forests, waste dumps, meadows, agricultural areas, maritime waters, urbanised areas, etc.), the ratio of owners to tenants, ports and beaches, etc.

The aggregated data provide a most interesting, detailed profile of each municipal area, but just how it is then used to make comparative value judgements between them is not explained. A good supply of tourist accommodation in the area may well be nirvana for some, but purgatory for others. And what if you do not need the convenience of a airport nearby? Or that you have no children so the number and quality of the schools in the area is of little interest to you? The lack of demographic segmentation (age, gender, income etc) in the survey make such judgements even more difficult to make.

A large number of other ‘objective’ factors are also omitted, most notably climate, perhaps one reason why so many northern locations perform so well, but a crucial factor for many individuals, particularly international buyers.

Nevertheless, the outcome of the algorithm is a league table of all the cities, towns and villages in France of the best places to live.

The results favour medium-sized cities at the expense of major conurbations. In the ranking of towns and cities with more than 2,000 inhabitants, Annecy, Bayonne, La Rochelle, Angers, and Le Mans take the top five places to live.

For large cities, only Nice (6th) and Bordeaux (8th) manage to climb into the top 10 ranking. Much further back, Lyon is only 56th (penalised by the sports and leisure criteria), Paris 58th (penalised by security), Marseille 85th (penalised by transport) and Lille 86th.

A list of villages with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants has also been compiled, with Peltre (Moselle) coming top of the pile, ahead of Guéthary (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), Martinvast (Manche), Épron and Authie (Calvados).

To go into greater detail, the ranking compares towns and villages according to their number of inhabitants (from 0 to 500 inhabitants to over 100,000 inhabitants), as shown on the graphic below. Top village with under 500 inhabitants is Mey (Moselle).

A search engine has also been developed, from which it is possible to drill down into each municipal area for detailed results, but for which you need to pay the handsome price of nearly €500 to get access.

A cheaper alternative might simply be to spend some time interrogating the published official statistics, just as the association have done.

You can find out where your own commune sits in the league table by visiting Palmerès des Villes et Villages où il fait bon vivre.

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