How to visit to find a good town

Good day!
My husband and i hope to retire to France in the fall of’24 from the states. We are high school teachers and will live on our pensions. I speak fluent French, he, not much at all.
We are taking a trip this July to Europe and would like to visit Languedoc-Roussillon to see if we like the vibe. We don’t mind rural but i need people and culture, he would like some English speakers. Does anyone have some suggestions and whether it would be worth it to rent a conversion van and travel around to see the region?
I’d appreciate any thoughts.
Thanks and happy New Year!

Hello Holly. Isn’t it fun planning?!

I don’t know what is a conversion van but if it’s a caravan or camper van it is a good idea. You can then motor from village to village with no restriction in how long or short you stay.

A camper van may also be useful when house hunting because estate agents can be a little economical with the truth when listing the location of properties. It helps if you can reconnoitre and check out the environment independently.

May I ask why you have chosen Languedoc? You may find it interesting, and easy with wheels, to venture further east, into Provence.

You will find a wealth of experienced advice here in SF and I wish you happy times planning your retirement.

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Most definitely. The FR are massive enthusiasts for the ‘camping car’ and this is reflected in the way that provision for parking up is so varied and widespread.

For example, I took the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe that arrives at Dieppe at 04:00. I didn’t want to set out for the 3 hour drive home. I preferred to get my head down in my camper and set off after a good 4+ hrs sleep. I checked in the ‘bible’ of camper van park-up spots ‘campercontact’ and found that 5 mins drive from the docks the car park of a local church was a listed ‘aire’. Sure enough there was a very snazzy camper already there.

The FR make provision for an overnight stay in a remarkable variety of places. Favourites are the car parks of village halls or activities centres - the ubiquitous ‘salle polyvalent’. The only facility will be a fresh water tap and a drain for grey water discharge but it will invariably be a short walk from the village facilities.

One park-up was a tennis court+ size area of gravel in what had obviously been the rail station coal yard. Nothing but a fresh water tap and a grey water drain. But 100m from this patch of nothing was a supermarket.

These sites are all free.

Of course the spots graduate up to the full provision camp sites with electric plug-in, showers - the whole nine yards, at a price. These are very often set in their own lovely grounds by a river or lake. It’s catering for the FR on summer holiday.

Here’s one of the zero facilities free spots. The car park in the centre of this tiny village in La FR Profonde had an area designated for 2-3 camper vans. I was the only taker. A short walk away was a marvellous traiteur with a superb display of delicious comestibles.

Turning the view round the other way - lovely summer evening, glass of wine, stand-by of Quiche Lorraine …

You need the app for this site in your phone. It is run by a Dutch outfit - they are as up for campers and caravans as the FR. The list of sites is world-wide! But FR is represented to the nth degree.

Campers are available for hire. You might like the way of it so much you end up buying one. It’s a marvellous way to see this big [for Europe] country and elsewhere.


SFers are offering well-intentioned advice about places, but we don’t know where you’re moving from in the US. and what you’re used to

Obviously, the climate here isn’t as extreme as in the northern states, but there’s an increasing number of departements where it can hit the mid 40s (C) in August. Personally, I like the ‘idea’ of Provence, but despite having also lived in a part of S Africa that’s climatically similar to New Mexico, I find in Provence there’s often too much glare in summer while winter can be unpleasant and demoralising.

Sète has a great market, some good restos and a flourishing arts scene, also Narbonne is a lovely place that’s big enough but not too large. It might be too far from the Med for you, but Cahors and Figeac in the Lot and Celé valleys (not my departement) are well sized cosmopolitan towns which are pleasant all the year round. Another one to think about might be Carcasonne, it has a lot ofplusses.

I live in the PO dept of the LR region and it was a shock to me this summer after the past 32years in maritime Finistère where the heat was concerned and I have never sweated so much in all my life. Saying that, there are some beautiful places to visit and live and I am totally happy with the choice of commune I made but be warned, property prices have risen, there is not a lot of choice now to buy in the more popular areas and flooding is always a possibility being a huge flood plain under the Pyrénées so you need to consider that. We went upto Pyrénées 2000 on tuesday afternoon, there was no snow apart from some false stuff on two runs but nothing anywhere else, practically unheard of this time of year so if you are a ski nut you might want to think perhaps towards the Haut Pyrénées region/Andorra where we could see more snow up higher. People are not as friendly down here compared to Bretagne but Spain is only half an hour from me and shopping attractive at La Jonquera/Perthuis every so often and Barcelona for international flights about 1.5hrs away. Take your time searching, you will know once you have found the ideal place.


This is a very important point for anyone looking to retire to a new country.

Like leather trousers - Best not choose what requires you to be a totally different person from who you are.

Speaking from experience, moving home multiple times in a few short years and learning where we’d prefer to be by experience is quite costly.

And enjoy the journey!

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Yet! Another good point.

Global Warming now must become part of planning where to spend the next decades (and where will not be unsellable for our inheritors.)

Click ‘choose map’ to select a map calibrated by temperature levels so as to see the effects of a certain rise in temperature above pre-industrial levels by 2100, or ‘warming choices’ for outcomes hundreds of years from now if the temperature rise is at a certain level:

I’m going to put in a plug for staying in B&Bs during your search, rather than hotels. B&B hosts know their communities well and might be a good source of information on anything you’d want to know about the area, whether it’s access to health care, good boulangeries, the local economy and whether it’s trending up or down, climate, recent weather patterns, local political leanings, and so on. In our experience you don’t have as much contact with the owners or staff when you stay in a hotel as you do at a B&B. Another plus is that breakfast is included in the price, and at the breakfast table you get to talk to the hosts and other guests, who are likely to be from other parts of France.


This is a very pertinent point. Where you come from in the US will make a difference to what you find an acceptable climate. If from the SW states you will be used to very high temperatures and drought conditions and that is the way things are going in the southern regions of FR, along with wild-fires.

I moved from the Spanish coast at Valencia to Normandy. The extreme heat of summer had become unacceptable. I made a strategic decision to avoid south of the Loire. But even here in Vire, Calvados, a water crisis, with restrictions, was declared by the water authority this summer.

The ‘écluse’ [lock] in the town of Vire dried out. In the foreground is the channel of the river Vire. In the following weeks it got a lot worse and the whole area became cracked mud, the river a mere trickle.

Now it’s back to what one would expect in this region; a powerful wet gale has been blowing for hours.


Thank you all so much! Great info!
I live in Massachusetts but will be spending the summers in Canada where my family has a summer house. I don’t mind the cold but would prefer to have a more moderate winter. I am interested in narbonne and Carcassonne. Iwill be looking at the climate website mentioned above. Great resource.
Does anyone have any idea how long it will take to visit around there and if going in the summer is worth it if we hope to be in France the other 3 seasons?
Thanks again everyone!

In summer Carcassonne is absolutely rammed with tourists, its quite warm too


I’m a great believer in seeing your future property on a wet, windy, wretched day in February - if you love it and the surrounding area in miserable weather you will probably love it when the weather’s good - that said, I agree with @Mark, anywhere that is a major tourist draw is an absolute nightmare in summer. And beware of the crowds AND the heat.

I’ve said elsewhere - what has suited us is finding a medium-sized town (pop 10,000) that “works” all year round - doctors / pharmacists / choices of banks / good local (not posh) restaurants / good DIY stores / choice of modern supermarkets /etc. We live in the countryside 10 minutes drive away. Nowhere fancy / well known but just practical for our day to day living. We can visit all the beautiful tourist places in France and then happily go home to sanity and tranquillity afterwards.

I found our home in a week - it was meant to be. I was viewing 5-6 properties a day. OH had been out 2 months earlier (also for a week) and begun to realise the task involved and it meant I was much better prepared. Also, he spent HOURS on the computer looking at estate agent sites so that by the time I came to France I had a diary full of appointments and a realistic schedule.

Be aware that French estate agent publicity is awful - nothing like the quality of marketing found in the US and UK. Also, unless you are going very upmarket, houses are not presented for viewing - so be prepared to be disappointed and come with a good imagination.

Also, make sure you ask questions about “rights of way” - “servitudes”. Several of the places I saw had shared access / rights of way across land, which immediately became a deal breaker for us.

I know it’s anecdotal, but I met someone at a party who was hugely relieved to have sold his house in Carcassonne - couldn’t take the tourism and the wind. There’s more to the climate than just temperature.


The mediaeval town is certainly crowded in summer, but I wasn’t suggesting there because it’s completely separate and only merits a single visit. Incidentally, my younger brother once worked as a patissier in Carcassonne for several months and didn’t evenrealise there was an older city! (not wholly unremarkable if you knew my brother).

We often stop by Carcassonne at various times of the year en route home from Spain to the Aveyron as it’s got a decent market and restos and is easy to get in and out of.

As a more general recommendation I found Google Earth very useful for looking at places when house hunting. That’s how I first viewed our village, whose unique, spectacular location wasn’t even mentioned in the estate agents’ handout


Languedoc-Roussillon along with some parts of the Rhône valley can get a bit breezy for long periods, but you’ll have amazing blue skies. I advise you to look up le minstral ( the locals have a saying “le minstral can blow the horns off a bull”!).

et la Tramontane


Absolutely true, sadly. Unless you get lucky and find a wonderful one but then that is only for one area and does not cover every available property in that area. Be warned - sometimes agents do not give the accurate location, or even village. They do this generally to stop buyers approaching sellers directly and circumventing the sales commission. Or, because the actual location is/or next to a horror.

@SuePJ ’s advice to do your research is invaluable. In advance, if you can, will save time of wasted visits. Another good thing to check is schools in the area. You may not need one but a primary and a lycée indicate there are children in a, hopefully, growing community. There is also a government census site online showing how many residents are owned/rented/secondaire in your selected area.

Not to alarm anyone, there is an official website with crime statistic listings by area. Wise to be aware of because high crime is not somewhere you would want to be in the middle of when you have all of France to choose from.

Happy hunting!


Tramontane here in French Catalonia, but coming from the coast in Finistère I am used to strong winds blowing for days on end. At least I won’t have roof tiles coming off like I did in the old house.

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Regarding the US estate agents, I was shocked when my daughter said they had to be accepted first by the real estate agent before they could be shown any properties for sale. I suppose it weeds out the nosey and those who can’t afford to buy

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Hopefully. And the kleptos :grimacing:

I think in the US it’s that you have to be pre-approved for a mortgage before a realtor will take you on.

It’s fun for me to troll the websites of realtors in our two favorite areas of France, even though I’m not a serious buyer.

One thing that adds to my fun is the website
which shows which properties have been sold recently (up to 2021 now, I think) and at what price. Sad to think I came close to buying my dream manoir, being a mere 590,000 euros short.

Since we’re just traveling and not buying, we use the pagesjaunes website to evaluate villages and towns we might be going to or through. I check to see if the place has a boulangerie with a wood-burning oven, or a cinema, or an ice cream shop. If I were considering an area to live in, I’d have a much longer list of nice-to-haves and have-to-haves.

My biggest concern as a buyer would be medical care. Parts of France are a medical desert. A town may have a hospital but it’s not well staffed, and a specialist on their roster might visit only once a week or so. On paper it looks good, but in actuality, it can’t be relied on. SF members who actually live in France will have better information for you.

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Except having a doctor in your town when you buy, doesn’t mean they will still be there when you move in.