Is the French climate all it's cracked up to be? How much has it changed in recent decades?

I haven’t been on this forum for ages and ages but I dipped in yesterday for the first time in in a very long time. I made a few replies to a new member asking about life in Limousin.

It got me to thinking about the main reason that bought us (and I expect many) to France in and that was to live somewhere with a better (i.e. reliable) year round climate for outdoor living/activities/lifestyle. Previously we had lived temporarily in North Kent and before that mainly Wales and a bit of Scotland…so we know harsh weather.

Can we talk about the weather…or more specifially the climate!!

When we did our initial research we decided that we did not want to be in the hot and dry south or indeed in the mild north (Normandy/Brittany) with it’s pretty wet but milder winters.

We initally chose Charente in the south west of France but soon realised that for summer living it was just way, way too hot for us with temperatures in the high thirties (even low forties) and very muggy nights. (Historic climate records showed high twenties).

Our first winter here in 2014-15 was incredible though, with virtually wall to wall sunshine and cold frosty mornings from December through till spring…we thought to ourselves this is pretty different to North Wales…we are up for more of this. That was the last sunny and dry winter 6 years ago!

In 2017 we took the advice of a friend and moved over to the greener and hillier Limousin region in search of altitude. Haute Vienne, in the area east of Eymoutiers. Plateau Millevaches Parc Regional area known for its water, forests, hills and mountains, the north western corner of the Massif Central.

We came to this upland area with the expectation of cooler summers with more frequent rainfall and cold, snowy winters. Neither of those have been our experience!

Our first winter in Nedde in 2017-18 did indeed have a notable cold snap when we had decent snow and some chilling night time and daytime lows. Maximum cold reached was -15 and we lost lots of plants in pots such was the sustained cold and wind chill. However the rest of the winter was very wet, grey and uninspiring.

In early 2018 we moved again to another rental near Chamberet in North Correze, but still within the Plateau Millevaches area. Summer 2018 was stonking hot, as was summer 2019 with a fierce drought and water restrictions. 2020 was also very hot although the heat did not arrive till mid June and we also had a freakish warm and sunny February. Seems hot summers are fairly nailed on this far south.

What has been most noticeable to us however is that the seems to be an acute difference between the climate we expected from long term records and the actual climate we are now experiencing. Winter 2019-20 was one of the wettest, dullest and mildest on record here and across much of Northern Europe. This winter has been pretty mild too (limited frosts) but with a minor snowy outbreaks (White Xmas).
However it seems it is not unusual for it to go two or three weeks here without actually seeing the sun at all in the winter months…maybe not what one would expect this far south and only 280 odd kilometres from the Med coast.

I know many people looking to move to France mention a better climate as a primary motivating factor for the move but I actually think it is becoming so changeable, extreme and unpredictable across most of the country. We were hoping for cooler summers by living at altitiude in the Massif Central but it has still pushed the high thirties regularly even here on the Plateau. The cold, sunny and snowy winters seem to be a thing of the past …or at least they are extremely fleeting.

I know we should expect decent rainfall living in the green and hilly, cow farming Limousin, but it seems to go from extreme drought to extreme “rainy season” rather than year round regular rainfall as the historical climate records show.
Lately it has rained virtually every day for weeks and weeks on end. I know it is not just confined to the Plateau Millevaches because I am in gardening/weather discussion groups on Facebook and see the posts of people’s flooded gardens and moans about the weather.

I realise by choice that we live in one of the more extreme climate areas of France (Massif Central), but for me the climate here is much more extreme than lowland UK, despite being so much further south. Escaping the extreme summer heat hasn’t really worked for us despite choosing to live at altitude (810 metres). The downside for us seems to be wet and dismal modern winters.

I know all about climate change having studied for an environmental degree in the 1990s. Maybe France is losing it’s perceived “reliable climate” south of the Loire? Who knows, but 5 grey and wet winters out of six makes me think so.

I wonder what people’s take on it is? What’s the climate actually like in your part of France…better or worse than you expected? I suppose such a huge and geographically diverse country as France has many microclimates. Did you pick a good one?

We’ve had a house here in the Charente Maritime since 2003 and the change in the climate over such a short time has been extraordinary, defined seasons are long gone and we now have miserable, mild and wet Winters followed by a short Spring and then months of either scorching hot or warm and wet.

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Weather here in 72 during the winter is much like Scotland only unlike there it doesn’t forget to stop raining.
It’s quite mild during the day and around freezing at night, spring is usually very nice, but we have noticed the summers are getting hotter, anywhere between 27 and 41C, with weeks between thunderstorms mostly at night and very little rain for months on end.
Farmers love it as they usually get 4 crops a year and especially with the corn you can see it getting taller daily.
I love it hot as I used to work with huge glass furnaces and I am used to the heat, my partner and her dad less so.
The weather was the main attraction to settling here, that and bring so close to the Le Man’s track as I had been coming to the 24 Hours for 30 years.
This winter has been a bit wetter and colder but we are used to that, autumn is like the spring very pleasant, the locals think I am slightly nuts as I usually cut grass at midday when they are all hiding.
I just wish the sodding grass would take a break from growing all year round, cutting grass is not my favourite occupation and if I could I would have 3 acres of chips down :laughing:

Yes, quite a dramatic change in the 15 years we’ve been in this region. We chose to move to the east, just on snow line at 700m, because we wanted a more continental climate. I hate too hot summers! And am happy in cold climates.

Our first years we had perfect 4 seasons…flowery damp springs, warm summers with bursts of ‘Weather’, lovely cool dry autumns and crisp sunny, snowy winters. It is becoming more Mediterranean in feel, with summers hotter and winters milder. Snow every 3 or 4 years at our altitude, and temperature over 30 in summer. Grrrr.

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We lived in the Aude from '99 to '08 and profited from nice cold snaps in the winter, often with a bit of snow, one year from Boxing day until feb (we could see the Pyranees and we were at about 650m). Summers hot and dry on the whole but nothing like what we have now. Summer 2005 was not hot, I remember it didn’t get above about 24c all summer! I have pics of me in the Vendee in August in a jacket. Friends down there said that there hasn’t been snow like that period since we left!

If I’d realised how much how quickly the climate was going to change I would have reconsidered where we looked when we came back here in 2015. The summers here are brutal, we are on limestone (either a thin layer of dirt in our garden or in some places out of the ground) so you get the heat then it keeps giving and giving well into the night. I grew up hot and dry (central west NSW Australia) so it isnt’ like I’m not used to it either.

As someone else said the rain is so not spread out nicely either. I had no idea it would be soooooooo grey and wet for months on end sometimes, I find that very difficult tbh and one of the reasons I can’t live in the UK. The Aude certainly wasn’t like that in winter, more often bright blue skies.

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Climate/ecological breakdown is changing weather everywhere - and Meteo France are projecting that France will be - or rather is being particularly hard hit - especially higher altitudes incidentally.

Having said that, the moderating influence of the ocean is surely the crucial thing if you want to avoid the ‘continental climate’ pattern of very hot summers and very cold winters?
We’ve only been here in Brittany for 9 years - it has become noticeably warmer in every season, but rarely reaching the mid-30s even in summer - mid-20s is much more typical.

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We had decided between here and brittany then decided against it due to the winter weather up there. In hindsight from some things I’ve looked at I think we actually have as much if not more winter rain / grey here!

Brittany has the reputation in France of being wet - but (perhaps because we’ve come from the UK) we feel this is just one of those regionalist myths. Certainly, it’s both warmer and drier than most places I’ve lived in the UK.

Why would one want to avoid a continental climate? My absolute favorite!

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Well - I was responding there to Paul’s quest to escape ‘the extreme summer heat’ - the point being that this is increasingly difficult away from the ocean, even at altitude.

In Manche Normandy it is very very wet in the winter - and grey too. There is a colour on one of the colour charts for a very posh UK paint company called “Normandy Grey” and it’s spot on :smiley: Grey with a green tinge. It’s been like that for years but more recently it’s got quite a bit warmer in summer but nothing like the temperatures further south of course. We did think when we moved here permanently of moving further south as we didn’t need to commute any more but spring, summer and autumn here are perfect. Still wet cold grey and depressing in winter though…

As far as I’m concerned, here in the Auvergne, more specifically the Livradois natural park, the weather has become warmer and drier for longer. The summer heat still gets to me, and I am most comfortable in the spring and autumn, and funnily enough, the dry winters. Snow in the winter has become almost inexistent for any noticeable duration, and the extreme bouts of cold rarer and rarer. Even though we still get summer storms, they seem to have become rarer and give lower precipitation than previously. Certainly , the meadows are drier and the grass yield for the farmers smaller. The fact that the Orioles arrive in March and leave end of August, and egrets can be seen all year round, are other signs for me of the increased warmth in general.

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We are in Charente 16270, and the summer heat heat has certainly taken us by surprise.
Between 30-40c from around mid-July to 3rd / 4th week in August.

Until 15 years ago, we always spent August in the Cote D’Azur, and can’t remember it being that hot.

It has certainly been a challenge finding suitable plants: need to cope with -10c up to 40c and survive the lack of rain.

September to the end of October is still pleasant; gardening etc OK up till Christmas.
From then until March? its all gloomy and rain, with only a few cold, frosty mornings.

Ideally I’d like to live somewhere civilised within driving distance of the UK, that has an all year round temperature of around 25c. Don’t think such a place exists.

Madeira and La Gomera (Canaries) come to mind. Not very drivable though :wink:

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Down here in the Lot Valley, I’m fairly happy with the weather, even though it’s certainly changed in the nine years since we bought the house and the snow shovel that I bought in our first winter, hasn’t been used since.

Was previously living in Cumbria and have observed a similar winter pattern here - winter precipitation that once fell as snow, now falls as rain and now immediately runs off high ground rather than staying there for a while as snow and then gradually melting. However, in Cumbria this is a much more serious problem because the Lake District mountains are deforested, they’re just bare rock so there’s no soil to trap the water, also the rivers are very short and therefore the time between rain falling on high ground and urban settlements being flooded can be very brief.

By contrast, in France high ground often remains forested, the rivers are many times longer and have barrages so much of the flow can be controlled.

Our village was flooded last week, but everything was back to normal within 24 hours, whereas when Cockermouth was flooded (to a depth of three metres) it took the old Georgian sandstone buildings on the main street nearly two years to dry out.

As regards summer heat I’m not too bothered, as before Cumbria I lived in S Africa’s Eastern Cape, where the climate’s similar to New Mexico. Here, our house remains cool (very old thick walls and small windows) we’ve got reversible heat pumps in every room (installed by the previous owner), but rarely use them in winter or in summer, and when we do use them in August heat, we’ve found the dehumidifier opton is more effectice the the AC. Our garden got grilled las t August when we had temps in the low forties, but everything recovered in September.

Where are you Jane? How far east? I think our area of North Correze is too impacted by oceanic weather influences rather than continental and with climate change it is getting worse. Summers are unbearably hot even at altitude. It does cool a bit a night which is good, but even last summer we had a week of sleeping downstairs as the bedrooms were 30 degrees at night!

We are both keen growers and gardeners and it is a real challenge for plants with the extremes of heat, wet and cold. This winter has been not quite cold enough most of the time for snow, but say 1 or 2 degrees so frequent sleet and rain but horribly damp and cold like the UK winter weather. All the ground is water logged and all the lanes around us are mudbaths. The Plateau Millevaches has three cross country ski stations but they must be barely used during these modern winters. I hope we get a decent spring this year as last year March, April and May were frequently wet, cool and windy. It’s the lack of sustained sunshine that is the real tough one to deal with. Day after day of rain and leaden skies when it doesn’t really get light…that has been the majority of this winter (and the two or three before that). High pressure seems to desert the Massif Central during the winter these days. At least we make up for the sun in the summer. If it stayed around 25 degrees it would be amazing. 40 degrees is just nuisance heat.

Hi Alex. I think you must be a fair bit drier and colder than us being much further east? We have a place near the centre of the Plateau Millevaches at 810 metres (in process of renovation). Our rental is at only 480 metres so a huge difference in snowfall levels. In summer/winter it is generally about 3 degrees cooler at 810 metres than where we rent. Neither of us can abide the summer heat which is why we left Charente sharpish. However we both love mountainous and hilly landscapes. We did consider Auvergne and looked at properties there. The droughts here on the Plateau Millevaches (1000 sources) have been really bad the last few summers. There are defined mountains here but as in the name the area is essentially a high plateau up to 979 metres at the centre of the the Limousin. Without higher mountains adjacent such as the Alps or Pyrenees there is not the same catchment area for winter snow/rainfall so the plateau has really dried out in recent baking summers with sources drying up frequently.

We have only been in Saone-et-Loire for two years. During that time the winters have been fairly mild. In the past -15 to -20 at times was not that uncommon, but the coldest it has got this year is around -6 at night. Winter can be very misty which is beautiful. Only a bit of snow and sometimes grey but often sunshine too, as well as rainy spells.

There have been droughts during the summers
We have had a lot of sunshine during different times of the year. This last year I think it was March and April as well as the summer and November was really sunny. The months without rain are of course a big problem, for farmers and wildlife in particular. There were water restrictions over the summer.

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It used to be the case that altitude was a big factor in affecting temperature. Obviously latitude too, but we thought by being at a relatively high altitude of 810 metres (2657 feet) that the summers would be much cooler than in Charente. There’s not a huge difference in reality.Once it get’s above 30 degrees it’s damn hot!!

None of this is a shock to me really, as I studied climate change as part of my environmental degre over 20 years ago. I guess it is the rate of change and the instability that is the shocker.

Our winters are not even reliably cold anymore and we are several hundred kilometres from any coast. We certainly get the heat and drought in summer. It’s more about extreme spells of weather. Even here in “rainy” Limousin, the last three summers have seen major drought, especially in Creuse. Then we will have a winter like this one where it will rain every day for weeks on end, no sign of the sun and grey, damp and dank. If it was three days a week of sunshine and then four days rain it wouldn’t be so bad, but when it is bad here it’s relentless. I guess climate change means more extreme and prolonged weather events and more instability.