Mountainous region: either the Alps or the Pyreeness for a home

Looking to buy a home in the mountains above 1,000metres. Criteria is mild summers and winter snow. Looking for a maison de maître with some land attached.

Narrowed it down to either the Pyrenees (south of Lourdes for the climate) or the Alps. I’m drawn to the Alps, for the higher altitude and the winter scenery. However I’ve not found much information on the different regions and climate.

Ideally would be nice to be around a community of some sort, preferably a food growing one, but not essential. Also access to lots of wilderness ie not too touristy, which I understand is where the Pyrenees excels.

Any pointers, particularly on the Alps would be good. I’m planning to head out there soon and rent over the winter (would anyone like to rent their house out?).


Higher altitude and food growing is a challenge… most high altitude agriculture is milk or summer pasture for a variety of meat animals. Your growing season is a touch short. Mild summers are also a challenge, as the last 3 summers have been blazingly hot, even higher up.

We are in the Jura, as preferred it for many reasons. But ended up deciding to live just over 700m, as that way we are just on the normal snow line so can get in and out easily in winter, but are 20 minutes from ski areas (fond, not alpin), and have a better growing season. Population density here is low, so we don’t feel pressured by people at all.

The only way to choose is to visit, at different times of year for mountain regions as they change so enormously from summer to winter. One area I love in winter reveals itself as pig ugly in summer…

That is the case for lots of places in the Pyrenees, it all looks like a quarry.


What do you mean by “community” a village or some sort of monk/nun/buddhist set-up?


Thanks for this, really helpful. I briefly visited Parc naturel régional du Haut-Jura last year and absolutely loved it.

I’m just looking to grow a few vegetables & keep some livestock as a hobby so a shorter growing season is fine.

I’m looking at short-term renting through the seasons at several locations. I’ll be heading out shortly for the winter season to both the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Excellent, so it is possible to find areas in the alps that have low density.

Year round resident local community. Ideally a creative liberal international one. Keen to avoid towns which are bustling in winter/summer but become ghost towns out of season.

Tourists areas are fine, so long as there’s a local community there too.

I have a load of cousins who live in 66 Pyrénées- Orientales, it is nice and good for access to the sea and Catalonia, some bits are v pretty and some bits look like a rockfall has just happened.
If you want to grow stuff just a polytunnel will help with a shorter growing season. Livestock will need shelter and food in winter so you’ll need space for them and storage - 65 and 64 are nice too, 64 is a lot wetter but pretty and generally milder. There’s Ariège as well if you want remoteness.

I am a bit confused by this, France is a touristy country, wherever you are somewhere pretty you will get a population increase in tourist season, that is how people make a living - just avoid actual resorts and you should be OK. We have immigrants everywhere, pretty much. Lots of them are like you and want a non touristy place, but that is a bit of a paradox, isn’t it.


Watching this thread! We recently had a holiday break in Ariege in the Couserans area and absolutely loved it. It was for us what the French call a “coup de coeur”. We are considering a permanent move to Ariege and particularly the mountainous area south of Saint Girons. It’s very different to where we live now in North Correze, but with the rugged snow dusted peaks when we went in October and the lush greeness of the wooded hills and meadows we just fell for it. Probably damn hard to make a living there…but what the hell, it ain’t exactly easy here in the Plateau Millevaches. Be interested to hear people’s growing experiences up in the hills. We have read that it is pretty lush and green for a reason. What is it like in the heat of summer down there? Is it much cooler around and above 800 metres?

Polytunnels are all well and good, but there are still big constraints - including them being flattened by a heavy snow fall. Forget purple sprouting broccoli or any autumn planted veg. We manage to grow just about all our fruit and veg most years, but this year for example late snow ruined the blossom on all our fruit and we had one apple (from 7 fruit trees…). But unlike other areas that are too hot, we are still eating our own tomatoes as they didn’t get burnt to a crisp by summer sun.

So be realistic about living at altitude, there are compromises to make. And high heating costs unless you build your own (nearly) passive house, or spend months every year felling and chopping wood. The housing stock is not hugely energy efficient so we did have to do quite a bit of work to get it manageable.


Hi thanks for posting. St Girons & Ariège is definitely on my list. Did you visit the Saturday market at St Girons? I hear it has a great international community of Interesting alternative creative types.

From what I understand the snow line is above 600m, but it would be interesting to see what the area is like during the summer. I’m heading out there in a few weeks to experience the winter season & maybe try some snowboarding.

Might be good to compare notes! Glad to hear you liked it, Ariège & St Girons is repeatedly mentioned when it comes to a strong liberal creative community coupled with smallholdings & mountains.

What was the population density like there?

Ariège, 2016 population density 26/km2. It is one of the least densely populated départements, I think the the most empty is Lozère.
St Girons has a population under 7000, but it is a sous-préfecture so it should have ok services.

Hello John. Have you been to Saint Girons yet? It wasn’t what we expected but we were there on a quiet day in October. I imagine on a day when the famous market is taking place it comes alive. I think we were expecting a more alternative vibe and a town that had a more arty and touristic feel? Mirepoix was very funky, beautiful and with a really great market and eco vibe, but that is quite a few kilometres away from the mountains and very popular with Brits. The area around Massat (the Massat valley) is well known for alternative living. We stayed in a beautiful gite near Aleu and our host Sandrine has lived in the area for years. She’s a photographer and you might find this link to a photography project she did very interesting. It’s all about people who have moved into the Massat valley for a different type of life. Here’s the link:-

I recommend her gite which is on Air B&B. 800 metres up and with a view of Mont Valier at over 2800 metres.

Regarding population density, it depends what you are used to. We currently live in a very sparsely populated part of France (Plateau Millevaches in Correze). Ariege has an overall population density of 31 people per km2, which is pretty low. Compared with Lozere which is France’s least densely populated Department at 21 people per km2 , it’s pretty close. The hills and valleys do feel quite populated compared to say the Scottish Highlands region which has a ridiculously low density of 9 people to a km2!!

I think Ariege has a better climate though!

Summer weather varies, I’ve ridden over most of the cols in the Ariège, often doing the Ariégeoise in late June. a few years ago we had just 10° and wet over most of the cols while it was 18 to 19° in the valleys passed through Massat and St Girons. But it had been in the 30s the day before and a huge thunderstorm cooled everything down for the race. Last year the race had to be stopped due to a death and others having problems due to the heat as temperatures were over 30° on the same cols and far hotter in the valleys. Same thing further west in the hautes pyrénées : wet and cold over the Tourmalet then Aspin, Hourquette and Azet in 30° + a couple of days later.

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Wow, thanks Paul. That’s all really informative. Added to my notes. I’ll look up Sandrine on Airbnb too!

I’ve not yet visited south of Toulouse yet. Only read up on St Girons & the area in preparation for a long trip there. Thanks for sharing your impressions.

Mirepoix sounds more interesting, and it would be a good town to visit coming down from the mountains. And thanks for pointing out Massat valley.

Lovely project Paul, thanks for posting the link - just fascinating

Your most welcome.

Hi Paul
We spent a long time about 20 years ago comparing Pyrenees with Savoy and Jura. Our outcome is that we bought a 100 yr old stone traditional monolithic barn/farmhouse with garden and orchards in a Jura village close to the beautiful medieval town of Nozeroy. We are 830m up, and 20 minutes to half an hour from regular ski areas. When lucky with snow at our altitude the village pisting machine is used, and up to 300 km is possible from village to village. Despite the height we cropped loads of ripe tomatoes outside this summer, although we do plan a greenhouse. Our neighbours Potagers grow prolific amounts of vegetables, making them almost self sufficient for vegetables all year. At this height planting starts no earlier than Easter. There are different microclimates from one side of the village to the other. The other side cannot successfully grow tomatoes outside, but their beans are better! Local knowledge is essential, ie ask neighbours before being tempted to buy.
We felt that the valley parts of the Savoy and French Pyrenees we visited were a bit claustrophobic in summer and worse in winter. The Jura claims to be blessed in each of three seasons. We are on a high plateau in rolling countryside that reminds me of parts of Somerset when I was growing up. The best outcome for us though has been the welcome and friendship we have received from so many of our neighbours and their wider families. It has made us feel completely part of the local community. We still feel so lucky to have stumbled on the Haute Jura!

A lot depends on whether you are on the ubac or the adret

Hi. I agree that the sunnyside of a valley is so much better! More open south sloping countryside is likely to be even better.

As a result one village near us is Longcochon,derived from Longue Couchant, because they get sunsets for longer than anywhere else in the area. We get less diurnal sun than more elevated neighbours in the village, who in hope of change du climat, have already started their vineyard!

Some ancient Chinese recommended ‘camping’ on site for a year through all seasons before starting a house design.

Given modern pressures of time,

over the years I have used SketchUp (free) to look at the local topography and sunpaths on specific sites both summer and winter, with students, (including alpine valleys). The free topography is not as accurate as paid for, but it gives useful insights. I would be happy to explain how to do this.

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So mice that there’s another person who recognised the joys of the haute jura!

That’s interesting. I’ve visited Jura briefly and it was very beautiful. I loved the light there.

Is Jura fairly densely populated and what are the highest elevations? Also, did you find Savoy significantly different? I’m just reading up on the Savoy at present.