So many times I’m asked the question: what is it really like living in France? Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Is it fabulously chic? Do you speak French now? And the classic, do you eat croissants every day?
Hmm…well I can quite honestly say I don’t eat croissants every day, but I do indulge in plenty of pastries and fresh bread. More on that later.
So where do I start when it comes to living in France? There are so many wonderful things to tell you and I don’t want to leave anything out. From the culture and the history to the countryside and the weather I feel like we really have it all.
So this is my version of what it’s like to live here as an expat, and a true account of why I’ve fallen in love with the French way of life. And it wouldn’t be a true account if I didn’t mention the things I miss too.
We’ll start off with the more obvious and then move onto the things that really make France so special. The things that give it that “je ne sais quoi”.
Table of Contents
A Snapshot of France - the quick facts
Official Country Name: République Française
Capital City: Paris
Currency: € Euro (EUR)
Time Zones: UTC+1 (CET) and UTC+2 (CEST)
Country Code: +33
Emergency number: 112
Population: 60.7 million
Form of Government: Republic (has both a President and Prime Minister)
Major rivers: Seine, Rhine and Rhône
The Wonderful Weather in France
I know it’s cliche but top of my list has to be the weather. Sun is a necessity for me as I don’t do well without it. I get quite morose and depressed when faced with days and days of endless grey skies.
And the UK, which is where I hail from, has way too many grey days for my liking. I definitely suffer from SAD syndrome.
So when we were looking for our property, whilst location was important, so was the weather. Whatever region we chose needed to have plenty of sunshine hours in a year.
Being from the UK weather is a big topic of conversation and something we always talk about. When I lived in Australia the Aussies used to tease me about how often I’d mention the weather in a day.
Once a Brit, always a Brit.
Now I live in the Charente region of South West France where we get on average about 2,400 hours of sunshine a year. And it’s the sunniest place on the Atlantic coast.
In fact, it’s not unheard of to be sitting in the garden in my shorts in February.
For me, it makes such a difference to see the sun for so much of the year. My whole mood changes, I feel more positive and nothing ever seems quite as hard.
Now not all of France is lucky enough to have that weather. In the Northern part of the country their weather is not dissimilar to that of the UK.
Go further south and it all starts to change.
Property in France: Getting more bang for your buck
When it comes to property, you get so much more of it for your money here in France. I know for a fact the house I have here in France would be unaffordable for me in the UK. It would cost us at least four or five times more.
There are bargains all over the place if you know where to look and do your research.
For example, the Dordogne and the Charente are basically neighbours with similar countryside and houses.
The same style of property costs 30% more in the Dordogne than it does in the Charente, simply because people have heard of the former, and it’s become a sought after area.
It comes down to doing your homework.
A big rural property complete with barns and land isn’t just a dream, it can easily become a reality. We have a huge four bedroom house plus three big barns attached that we’ve renovated.
It even includes a party barn with one floor dedicated to my karaoke with the bar and ping pong table downstairs.
Is it a bit ridiculous? Definitely, but who cares. We’re in the middle of rural France living our own French dream.
Now obviously you need to know the ramifications of what you’re buying and the work that might need doing.
Renovating here brings its own set of issues. However, if I had the chance to do it all over again would I change it? No I wouldn’t.
We’ve had the opportunity to put our own stamp on this property whilst still retaining its original charm.
In fact, I recently discovered that our house actually sat within the walls of the old Le Coq Castle.
Owned by Baron Le Coq it was destroyed in the French revolution, but some of the remnants still remain, such as the well and the bread oven.
The original castle was built back in the 16th century and was one of two fortified buildings in the area.
There’s a wall just across from our property that formed part of the fortifications of the castle. Below is our land that leads down the hill to the river.
I often sit there in the summer lost in the idea of the knights that might have climbed the walls in years gone by. Which brings me nicely onto the history of France.
A Chateau on Every Corner in France
In the same way as there is a pub on every corner in Britain there’s a chateau on every corner in France.
Many of these chateaus have been in the family for hundreds of years, such as Chateau de La Rochefoucauld in the Charente. It’s been in the family of the same name since the 10th century.
The French love their history and have a rich and diverse culture which they celebrate at every chance. So many of the villages you come across still have their mediaeval Abbeys, Castles, Monuments, Bridges, etc.
They preserve their history lovingly and showcase it for all to see.
As you explore these lovely little villages it really feels like nothing has changed and you could be in a different century completely.
They’re a tapestry of the lives lived and the stories of times gone by. Each village has a Marie (town hall) and they have the “Carte Cadastrale”, a map of the commune, along with all sorts of other details on the history of your village.
Many families in the more rural areas have lived in the same village, and often house, for many generations.
They can tell you all sorts of things about life in your village, local disagreements, land disputes, and so much more.
The census records date back to 1826 and are updated every five years.
You’ll often find the best sources of information are your “Maison de la Presse” (newsagent) as they sometimes have books on local history. Two websites I’ve found hugely helpful for researching my local area are Gallica and My French Roots.
The Famous French Cuisine
France is famous for its food, and rightly so. For the French, meals are to be savoured and enjoyed with family and friends in a leisurely manner.
Mealtimes are not a rushed affair.
They take hours to prepare and even longer to eat. And it’s not just about the food. It’s about how you welcome your guests, present your table, pair the food with the right wine, and so much more.
One thing I’ve learnt since living here is how resourceful the French are and that includes the things they eat.
Most of our neighbours grow their own veggies. Claud, the farmer who lives three doors up from me, grows everything you can think of.
From his juicy Charentais melons to huge prize winning pumpkins and rows of asparagus.
I’ll never forget my dog Lottie coming racing across Claud’s field of melons, just after we’d moved there, with one of them in her mouth.
She was immensely proud of herself unfortunately Claud wasn’t so impressed. We had to promise we wouldn’t let her off the lead near his field again.
Although he’s softened a bit now and I think he’s actually quite fond of her.
For me though, it’s the foraging that I really love. Our neighbour Stefan loves to forage anything he can get his hands on.
Every year he brings us a basketful of the local mushrooms, Ceps (cèpe).
He and many of our French friends will go out in the forest to forage for them when they’re in season.
It’s a race to see who can get there first and get the best of them.
So much of French food is actually quite simple to make and it’s about choosing the right ingredients.
10 French Dishes Famous Around the World
Coq au Vin: A classic French stew made with chicken braised in red wine, bacon, mushrooms, and garlic and works really well served with mashed potatoes.
Ratatouille: A vegetable stew made with aubergine, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, and peppers, cooked slowly until the vegetables are tender.
Beef Bourguignon: Another classic French stew, this one made with beef, red wine, bacon, and onions and slow-cooked for several hours until the meat is falling apart. Great served with crusty bread.
Quiche Lorraine: A savoury tart made with eggs, cream, bacon, and cheese often served as a light lunch or brunch accompanied by a side salad.
Crème Brûlée: A classic French dessert made with vanilla custard and a layer of caramelised sugar on top and normally served in individual ramekins.
Tarte Tatin: A sweet and sticky upside-down caramelised apple tart usually served warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Escargots de Bourgogne: Snails cooked in garlic butter and herbs, served in their shells. A classic French delicacy that’s worth trying at least once.
Bouillabaisse: A traditional Provençal fish stew made with a variety of fish and shellfish, including saffron, garlic, and fennel typically served with crusty bread and a garlicky aioli.
Salade Niçoise: A salad made with tuna, boiled eggs, green beans, tomatoes, olives, and potatoes. It’s usually accompanied by a tangy vinaigrette dressing.
Crépes Suzette: Pancakes with caramelised sugar, butter, citrus juices and Grand Marnier.
Wine in France is Fabulous
How could I not mention the wine in France? I’m never stuck for choice here and there’s a bottle for every price range.
Again, the French are fiercely proud of their wine heritage and you won’t see wine from other countries in the supermarket.
My neighbour Stefan, who I mentioned earlier, has a great wine cellar which is literally a cave dug into the hill outside of his property.
It’s rumoured to be part of the original castle built by Baron Le Coq in the 16th century.
You could have a wonderful road trip sipping your way through France visiting the vineyards in some of the most scenic regions in the country.
There are so many wine regions to choose from and I’m lucky to live just 90 minutes from Bordeaux, known as the cultural capital of wine.
Its wine making history dates back to the 6th century and has some of the finest, and most expensive, wines in the country.
The best way to really understand the wine culture of this region is to enjoy one of the wine tours. Here’s two you might enjoy:
The Farmers Market and Brocantes
Brocantes (flea markets) are a way of life here in France. The French love a good bargain and it’s almost like a national pastime, especially in the summer months.
They love to recycle everything, or should I say “hoard”. And they never throw anything away.
You’ll often find some hidden gems lurking in the stalls of your local brocante that you’d never see in the shops.
’ve certainly found some wonderful items that would cost a fortune if purchased on Etsy or other sites like it.
You can lose yourself for a good couple of hours at a decent size brocante and there is always a selection of food stalls.
I mean “brocanting”, no that isn’t a word I just made it up, is thirsty work and you do build up an appetite.
You haven’t experienced France properly until you’ve been to a brocante. And if you’re not sure where to find one try https://brocabrac.fr/.
Or you can buy a book that lists them locally instead. You’ll find them at most supermarkets or tabacs and it’s called L’agenda des Brocantes.
And don't forget the local food markets
These are just wonderful because it’s where you’ll find your local seasonal fruit and veg. Most villages will have a market once a week, if not twice, and this is where you get the best food.
My local market has a fantastic cheese stall, fish stall and meat van, as well as all the usual stuff you’d expect to see.
They’re normally found in the village square so perfect for a cheeky glass of wine after you’ve done your shopping.
I’ll admit, I am that English person with a wicker basket wandering around the stalls attempting to speak French. It’s such a lovely experience and has become part of my weekly routine living here in France.
Daily Trips to the Boulangerie
It’s true, the French go daily to the boulangerie for fresh bread. It’s a way of life and one I personally love.
The bread here is lovely and fresh and not pumped full of preservatives or anything else, which means it doesn’t last for days on end. Hence the daily boulangerie trips.
There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh baguettes, flaky croissants and melt in your mouth pain au chocolat. It’s almost impossible to walk on by without indulging.
One little thing that I love seeing is how the French simply can’t seem to wait till they get home to enjoy their bread.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen people eating their baguette as they walk along the street. There they are nibbling the end of their bread as they walk home, or in some cases pulling off big pieces.
The Café Culture in France
Let me just say that the Café culture isn’t just a Parisian thing. It’s alive and well in rural France too because it’s central to the way of life here.
They are seen as the hub of the village providing somewhere to go in a place where there might otherwise be little to do.
It’s where local residents get together to chat, socialise, and dare I say, have a good gossip. Often the scene of entertainment and live music it’s an essential part of rural life.
There’s nothing better than sitting drinking coffee outside in a café munching a pastry.
I love watching the French interact with each other in this way. They gesticulate when they talk and their hands fly around all over the place. It’s really rather dangerous if you sit too close.
And if you hang out regularly, and are brave enough, it’s one of the best ways to learn French.
It’s the place where the world is set to rights and big political debates happen between neighbours.
If you want to know what’s happening in the village, or in France for that matter, spend time in your local café
Ordering coffee can sometimes be a bit of a challenge as it’s a little different from ordering in Starbucks or Costa. However, if you get stuck this article will help, Ordering Coffee in a French Cafe.
Unfortunately though, there are many cafés struggling to survive, especially after Covid, and the French government have stepped in to assist.
According to the Associated Press, the last 50 years have seen the number of French cafés drop from 200,000 to 40,000, which is so sad to hear.
The 1000 Cafés programme is run by charity Groupe SOS, which has received funding from the French government to save cafes as social spaces in small towns and villages.
Like I said, it’s a way of life here in France, and something we don’t want to see disappear.
The French Festivals and Celebrations
I don’t think I’ve ever come across a country that has so many festivals, it’s fabulous. They celebrate anything and everything. I think some of my favourites are the Sarlat Truffle Festival, Lemon Festival (Fete du Citron), the Asparagus festival in Pontonx-sur-l’Adour and the Fete de la Fraise Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne.
Where else would you find a festival celebrating the strawberry and the humble asparagus?
There are national holidays and celebrations pretty much every month too. So often I’ll go to the shops only to find everything is closed, again, for another national holiday. Some you may not know about which are steeped in tradition are:
Epiphanie: Fête des Rois
January 6th – Epiphany: Feast of the Kings. It’s to celebrate epiphany the French have a 700 year old tradition of eating Galette des Rois,– the “king cake.”
February 2nd – Candlemas. La Chandeleur is a day to eat and enjoy crêpes of all varieties. It marks the end of the Christmas season and the beginning of spring.
Fête de la Musique
June 21 – Music Festival. All over France musicians and entertainers take to the streets to perform and celebrate the first day of summer.
3rd Thursday in November – Festival of new wine. A wonderful celebration of the new harvest of beaujolais wine released at 12.01. Everyone is invited to drink the first wine of the season.
The Two Hour Lunch Break in France is Mandatory
Lunch has almost become a thing of the past for many people. It’s something that’s grabbed quickly whilst on the go or sat at your desk.
We wolf it down in 5 minutes flat and are lucky if we take even 30 minutes to appreciate life. Not for the French.
The French are well known for savouring their food. It’s an experience to be enjoyed not rushed.
That being the case we still see many people adhering to the two hour lunch break here in France.
When we were renovating our barns our French neighbour Stephan was leading the team of workers. They’d down tools at Midday and we wouldn’t see them again till 2pm.
I was always a bit worried about the word done after lunch as quite often a glass of wine accompanied the two or three course lunch.
Certainly most of the shops in our region close for two hours from Midday till 2pm.
You can forget about a quick trip to the pharmacy or the bank. They’re closed and enjoying some time out.
The French Way of Life
Something I’ve learnt from living in France is to value things a little differently. What was important to me in the UK isn’t so important here.
In France life doesn’t revolve around how much money you earn, the size of your house, or your collection of designer bags and shoes. Material things don’t matter here.
In France it’s about enjoying moments and the art of life.
The moments that enrich your daily life, both physically and mentally. The French are all about living in the moment.
Spending time with family, enjoying social gatherings and indulging in apéros along with wonderful cuisine are what’s important.
Even at Christmas, Le Réveillon, it isn’t about the presents and gifts, it’s about the food and being with friends and family.
The emphasis is on being present in the moment and enjoying the company around you, not going into debt to get the biggest and best presents for your kids.
The French have also honed the art of doing nothing. And I’ve embraced this wholeheartedly. It used to drive me insane that there was nothing to do here on a Sunday.
Now I love it. It’s a day where I can truly relax.
Sometimes we go out for lunch, maybe a bike ride and a picnic, or we just chill out in the garden. It’s wonderful to truly do nothing for a day and not feel guilty.
By living here in the Charente I’ve finally learnt to slow down. I enjoy life to the full and squeeze every ounce of pleasure I can out of the day.
I’ve now perfected the art of living in the moment and indulging in the simplest of pleasures.
Entertaining the French way
I love entertaining and in France there is always a different celebration happening or event to attend.
Here in the Charente we spend a lot of time at each other’s houses hosting parties.
In the summer, as you can imagine, there are many outdoor soirées. We tend to spend more time doing this than eating out at restaurants.
Apart from being a lot of fun, it means nobody has to be the designated driver as we all live within walking distance of each other.
Last year we spent Christmas Eve at Anne’s house, my French friend in the next village. We embraced the French tradition of a long 6 course meal that started at around 8pm and didn’t finish till gone midnight.
The food was wonderful and beautifully presented with some great wines to accompany each course. Very different from how we usually spend the evening but we loved it.
Bastille day is another example of how families come together. We were invited to my other neighbour’s house, Stefan.
Along with all his family members we had a lovely afternoon eating and drinking in his garden celebrating the day.
We finished off watching the fireworks over the river.
The French are fabulous hosts and nothing is too much trouble for them.
We usually try to take something that is typically English as we’ve found they love trying something different. A particular favourite was cheese and pineapple sticks, who’d have thought it.
They went down a treat and we’re always asked to bring them to a party.
We’ve hosted many of our own parties too from paella nights out on the patio to karaoke nights on the deck.
Back in 2021 I hosted my own version of a French dinner with 5 courses plus the obligatory cheese course. I’d made sure to have some dishes that could be prepared in advance so it wasn’t too labour intensive on the day.
I think in total the meal lasted for around six hours, but it was so much fun.
What the Expats have to say about Living in France
The best way to understand what it’s like to live in France is to hear it from those who have done it.
Amanda Johnson made the move to the Loire Valley in 2006. Here’s what she had to say when I asked her what she loved about living in France.
“The slower pace of life for one and that leads to a better work, life, balance. The community spirit and the fact that people are genuinely interested in how people are.”
Louise Pickford works as a food stylist in South West France with her husband Ian. When I asked her what she loved the most about living in the Charente here’s what she said.
“Probably a combination of things. The lifestyle, the weather, the countryside and the local people.”
Charlotte made the move to Paris with her young family and for her it’s all about the community.
“I love the sense of fraternity amongst neighbours. I know there is a stereotype about French people (or Parisians) being rude, but it’s not true. I’ve been coming here for over 20 years and now that I’m living here I can say it’s been the complete opposite for me.”
What do I miss now that I live in France?
Hmm…that’s a hard one to answer. It’s funny because I never thought I’d cope with rural life. I always imagined I’d need to get away regularly and get my fix of city life.
But in fact, it’s been quite the opposite.
I’m always relieved to get home to the tranquillity of my life here in France when I’ve been away.
I love the peace and quiet and the feeling of calm I get as soon as I’m back in the Charente.
However, there are a few things I miss from the UK, and most of them are food related.
I’ve always loved crisps, and I do find the lack of variety here in France a little disappointing. For me I like my crisp cupboard to be full of mini cheddars, hula hoops and monster munch.
I used to find the lack of Indian jarred sauces an issue too. But now, I make my own pastes from scratch and really enjoy doing it.
In fact, I have one of my recipes here on the blog you can try for yourself. Try my lamb rogan josh.
I also struggle with the lack of Cadbury chocolate. I’m a dairy milk girl and any other chocolate just doesn’t hit the mark for me.
My friends always bring me supplies when they come over and it’s probably a good thing for my waistline that it isn’t readily available.
I suppose one of the things I still struggle with is the lack of any type of urgency here.
Same day delivery is not something you’ll ever get here, and the French just aren’t in any type of hurry to get things done. In everyday life that doesn’t bother me too much but from a work perspective it can be a little frustrating.
And finally, I’d say my family. I do miss not being a little closer to my daughter, my Mum and my brother.
My Dad passed away in March 2022 so I do tend to go back to the UK more now and spend time with my Mum. However, our home here in France is always top of the list for friends and family wanting some time out and sunshine.
So that’s an insider’s view on what it’s like to live the French life and immerse yourself completely and utterly in being French.
I love living in France and cannot imagine my life anywhere else.
I hope I’ve inspired you to think about making the move too. Some other articles I’ve written that might help if you’re thinking of making the move to France are: