What is the rural built environment like in your part of France?

Before we moved to France in 2014 neither of us had that much experience of la France profonde or deepest rural France. My partner had lived in the med near St Tropez for many years in the 1990’s and early 2000’s whereas my experience of France was visits to the med, a school trip to Normandy and a short trip to Paris.

Having looked at houses for sale online with Greenacres etc and explored Dordogne, Vienne, part of Haute Vienne and Charente we took the plunge and bought in north Charente in 2014. There are some pretty villages in that part of Charente (Verteuil/Nanteuil) and with the soft climate and copious sunshine the shabby white limestone buildings and hamlets wear their patina of age and French shabbiness rather well.

Short story…we didn’t settle in Charente and moved over to the Massif Central area in 2017 (eastern Limousin - Millevaches area). We came here primarily for the cooler climate and green, hilly and mountainous landscape. We still haven’t bought here but intend to if we can find the right property.

I have to say that before we came here (Massif Central) I was expecting all of it to be cutesy hill villages with granite houses and beaucoup charm. Having explored and travelled widely in the Millevaches region, south eastern Creuse, north Correze and eastern Haute Vienne, I must say that I am pretty underwhelmed with the shabby, run down nature of most of the rural hamlets and villages here. Yes there are a few pretty, mainly granite villages and towns (Eymoutiers, Meymac, Aubusson, Vallieres etc) but a great deal are extremely run down and underwhelming with a real horrible mish mash of architectural styles.

Take Treignac for example in Correze: this large village is a so called “petite citie of character” yet to my eyes it is plagued by breezeblock extensions, dodgy 1970’s era houses and not reaching it’s potential in any way befitting a known tourist village. Yes it has some lovely, really old and historic buildings but there are so many empty, decripit, crumbling properties that the city of character designation seems like charity? This pattern is repeated across much of the Millevaches Parc Naturel Regional, with places like Bugeat, Peyrat Le Chateau, Felletin etc having a really neglected vibe and harbouring some archtectural monstrosities (burnt out hotel -Bugeat; collapsed building in the middle of the town - Peyrat). I wonder if any form of planning control has ever been excercised in these sort of places? Why for example are there grey breezeblocks on display next to historic buildings? Is planning control only a recent thing here in France?

Maybe I don’t get the whole shabby French thing but to my eyes many of these places are all shabby and not chic. Is it just a cultural difference? Are other parts of France much more picturesque when it comes to the built environment? The landscape here (Milleavaches) is lovely, but I can’t help thinking that the hamlets and villages are really not doing much to promote the area? I certainly remember places in the Dordogne such as St Jean De Cole/Brantome being picture postcard beautiful. Is it just the “diagonal du vide” that suffers from a run down rural environment due to mass emigration?

What is it like in your part of France?

I remember many parts of Charente, Deux Sevres and Vienne being pretty run down too. Is Dordogne a special case?

For balance we all know that huge parts of the UK are run down, deprived and neglected, but equally there are some beautiful and stunning historic towns and villages (Cotswolds; Dorset; New Forest; Lake District). Is it just a case of the remote Limousin area being economically deprived or is rural France in general dying? For what it is worth, nearly all of these tatty, crumbling places are spotlessly clean when it comes to litter, which is not the case in deprived places in the UK.

What are people’s thought on this?

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Back in May we went for a drive and went to a small town we had often driven through, it always looked lively and attractive and I had specifically asked to visit. When we got there it was a real disappointment shabby, run down ,etc. We then moved to a wine town which had its scruffy bits but some busier, lively parts. As we headed back to Vichy you could see things changing .Vichy as a major spa town with a lot of sporting activities and a guaranteed income is lively , has on going development and a positive vibe. A different world within 30 miles

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Vichy is in Allier department isn’t it? We have checked out some areas in Puy De Dome for possible properties. We loved Clermont which was nicer than we expected, quite vibrant, young and dynamic. Went to the Livradois Forez PNR and although the scenery was great the actual built environment was not. Ambert was disappointing and out in the hills we came across whole hamlets completely deserted…like a 15 house hamlet completely dead? Such a shame. Seems much of the Massif Central has depopulated and suffered from some dodgy architectural development in the 60’s/70’s.

Yes Allier, Clermont is a university city so has a buzz to it. My place is not far from the 03/63 border and mostly bucks the trend of large parts of rural France

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I live in a teeny-tiny little village in 69, there’s currently 1700 residents, in the middle of the Beaujolais vineyards. The village is pretty active though. We seem to have lucked out and have found a place where there’s plenty of young people showing up/living here. (I’m in my 40’s so not entirely young I guess :P).

The hameaux that are part of the commune at large are also quite vibrant, there’s one that’s emptying out a little but, according to the lady that runs the bakery (also the village gossip…) that’s going to be a thing of the past since some properties went up for sale and have had quite some interest already.

We’re not entirely rural I guess, we do have that whole “car is a requirement to live here” bit happening, but yeah… my 2 cents.

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We live near Brantome and it is beautiful. But our tax fonciere and d’habitation are much more expensive than we expected. More than our council tax in the uk was so perhaps that plays a part.

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The Massif Central has no through transport routes.
It is difficult to get around.
It does, therefore not benefit from investment.
It is the rural equivalent of towns where the major industry has died.
It has a harsh climate which limits its agriculture.
I am in the Clunysois, which is beautiful, but also quite wealthy.
If you go up into the Morvan in the north of Saone et Loire you can see poor maintenance of property and roads etc.
I am not an authority on planning, but the abundance of concrete in the 60’s seems to be worldwide.
You mention the Cotswolds where I used to live.
Stroud Police Station is a concrete monstrosity which looms over the town.
Pretty villages attract second home owners, schools and shops close because there is not a sustainable year round population to keep them going.


Paul, sadly most of rural France is poor, the villages are dying. But what can you do, local councils aren’t going to raise the local property taxes sky high for their residents just so they can keep the place pretty for tourists. So unless they can get government grants to restore and improve their heritage it won’t get done - and there’s a limit to what national taxpayers can be expected to fund as well.

You can check out every commune’s vital statistics on INSEE. Treignac for instance (2015 figures) has 9% unemployment but only 71% of 15 to 64 year olds economically active, and an average household income of below 20k. Only 52% of the properties are principal residences, 37% are holiday homes and 10% are empty.
Those aren’t the statistics of a healthy town. The disproportionate number of holiday homes has to be a factor in this - summer visitors don’t keep the local shops and business in business year-round, and when shops and businesses close, it becomes less attractive town to live in and move to. Once the rot sets in it’s a downward spiral and it’s very sad. Find a solution and I’m sure the mayor of Treignac, and the mayors of similar towns all over France, will be very grateful.


Some great replies here. I guess another factor is the size of France and the gradual drift of populations towards the cities and urban conurbations. I suppose this must contribute to the .
I think in the UK, especially England it is now seen as more desirable to live in the countryside and commute to the well paid job in the city. That’s if you can afford to live in the countryside!! I know in rural Hampshire this is beyond the means of most. Apparently commuting is not the same here in France and I suppose that is obvious given the scale of the country and the more basic road network. Just to get from south Creuse into Limoges or Clermont involves a journey by road of well over an hour on pretty challenging roads to be fair.

Does anyone know more about the planning rules? One of my bugbears with our area (Millevaches) is that you have these beautiful centuries old granite buildings and right next to them or even tacked on you will have some horrible grey breezeblock structure that has not been rendered or timber clad. This is the case in Peyrat Le Chateau (87) where right next to the historic chateau there is a building whose top half is a breezeblock extension. There appears to be no control for this or maybe it is not retrospective? I was told that if buildings are still breezeblock on the outside they are not classed as finished and therefore no property tax has to be paid? Seems the authorities are missing a trick?

I agree with Anna that rural poverty is a main reason. But on top of that you have to add in the french planning system that is far less attuned to the importance of visual impact than in other countries (unless of course there’s a historic monument nearby), and the french inheritance system that can have houses sitting for many, many years while a family agree what to do with it. And then there’s the cost of construction materials making it cheaper to build a new home on a lotissmemt, than renovate an old one. You often see and old farmhouse tumbling down, with a brand new home for the farmer just beside it.

(Just seen the breeze block comment - that is an urban myth)

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So that is not true about the breezeblocks being left to avoid property tax as the building is classedas unfinished? I think the historic monument rule is not applied here in the Millevaches PNR!! As I mentioned the chateau in Peyrat has a building right next to it with breezeblocks. I think so many of these places could be so much more appealing if they were tidied up a bit. I think Macron needs to drastically change the inheritence tax laws, maybe excluding properties of a certain age. Mind you I doubt Macron has ever been to our area? I did read somewhere that there is a new law coming in that will mean the state seizes run down and neglected properties after 10 years if they are allowed to fall into total, unsightly disrepair…not sure what will happen then? They really need to do something to encourage younger people back into these areas though. In France it seems that all the wealth is with the state and there is very little private wealth in areas such as the Millevaches.

For starters I think “the countryside” has rather different meanings in France and the UK. As you say, in the UK people live in the countryside and commute to cities. Most of the English countryside would be semi-urban by France’s standards. The families that move to the countryside from cities don’t do farming. They don’t like muck and smells and noise. Obviously there is still some production goes on, but “the countryside” is dual purpose at best, and in some areas, production is very much secondary. The UK doesn’t produce anywhere near enough food to feed the nation these days, maybe about half what it needs?
This applies more to the English countryside. A lot less of rural Wales and Scotland has been townified.

In France by and large the countryside is farmer territory, it’s where food and wine is produced, and it’s a totally different lifestyle to living in a town. France is very productive, I believe it’s still the only country in Europe that’s self sufficient unless this has changed in recent years.

Re planning rules, I seem to remember that France had a sudden realisation of the need to protect its heritage in the second half of the last century - I can’t remember the chap’s name but there was a prominent figure who was outraged at the desecration of heritage all over France with horrid new buildings being put up all over the place, and he brought in a national policy on preserving heritage and had a national survey done to see what the current situation was. Since then heritage has been respected more but obviously a lot of damage had been done by that time. (I could have this very mixed up but I think that’s the gist - I remember translating a website all about it, but that was many years ago and I forget the details.)

Paul, I think the French authorities are a bit sharper than you suggest. No, you can’t avoid property taxes simply by leaving breezeblock exposed!

Good to see you taking an interest in this, and it’s an interesting topic to have raised. But, be aware that your perspective as a relatively newcomer to France who is looking at how things appear on the surface, very much as a visitor or tourist would do, is likely to be rather different from people who live here and are less concerned with heritage and how photogenic the surroundings are, than with taxes and pouvoir d’achat and giving their kids a good start in life. The government is aware of the importance of heritage, I’m sure it’s on the list but I don’t think it’s a priority right now when France has more immediate problems.

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I’m down in the south, living in a village, Loupia, (214 residents), about 6km out of our nearest town Limoux, in the Aude (11). Most of the villages here are built on the circulade footprint of a church, one or two circular roads around it and then roads at a tangent or off like spokes of a wheel. The village centres are old but the outlying properties tend to be either standard block houses or, the new vogue, very modernist boxes.

In the summer sun Limoux always looks pretty but come winter, I wonder to myself whether in fact it just looks run down. Luckily, we have more sunny days than not, although it doesn’t feel like it at the moment! Mirepoix, (Ariege), 24km away, is a very attractive town, and very popular. And we are lucky enough to have Carcassonne about 30kms the other way.


Yes I agree Dave, it looks much worse here in the winter months, particularly as we get very little sunshine and the days are grey and gloomy. Driving through the hamlets here in winter, most look downright desolate, with fallen down buildings, roofs fallen in, rusty tin roofs, breezeblocks. It is not the France they show on those holiday/lifestyle shows that’s for sure. I find it depressing to be honest.

According to statistics, once every two days a farmer commits suicide in France.
When (hopefully) Macron or one of his successors finds a way of breathing life back into the rural economy, then no doubt its recovery will be reflected in the state of the built environment. I think we have to see its current state of decay as a symptom of local conditions, not a separate issue, and as the cliché goes - you have to treat the cause not the symptoms.

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As usual, it’s all about money. We (the commune) spend a significant amount of our budget on trying to keep the village(s) clean and tidy, and the local minor roads maintained. We are also quite strict about what can and can’t be done within 500 m of the church. However, there are still “run down” properties all over the commune, but privately/family owned and there is little we can do to change anything and we certainly can’t afford to buy and renovate. Similarly, if someone (maybe a farmer…) gets permission to build something and it ends up looking like a brick shit house, there is very little that can be done. It’s also impossible to change the mindset of the paysan - I don’t need a flushing toilet as I’ve always gone in the garden attitude.

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Yes Mark…it usually comes down to filthy lucre unfortunately. I think the area we are renting in at the moment is particularly run down. I know when we lived up near Nedde generally there were a lot more attractive hamlets and Nedde is one of the best kept and prettiest villages in the whole Millevaches area. We are currently in Chamberet commune in Correze which is the very edge of the plateau. Some of the hamlets around here look like actual scenes out of ‘Deliverance’. Dumped rusting vehicles; piles of nondescript rubbish; actual falling down buildings; rusting corrugated tin roofs, farming crap scattered everywhere. Such a shame as the countryside and landscape here is very pretty. The Millevaches Parc Authority could play a much greater role if they had the resources (take note Macron). I am having ongoing struggles with our local mairie and the PNR just to try and get the copious flytipped waste cleared up in our commune. I just cannot relate in any way to the paysan attitude I guess?

Reality versus illusion? In reality, most things are limited by what’s affordable. Illusions don’t have that constraint.

France is what it is, the product of the mindset and priorities of the nation, the government’s economic policies, internal and external pressures, the times that are a-changing. You can’t blame France for not being the imaginary idyll that the makers of Brit holiday/lifestyle programmes choose to portray it as, for their own profit.
I’m not suggesting it’s wrong to try and improve things, but I think you need to respect France for what it is, not resent it for not being what you wanted it to be.


The PNR Millevache has just been granted a further 15 years status. What that means for investment, who knows…

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Do you know which new communes have been allowed to join. I know there were several under consideration. Saint Juinen La Bregere in Creuse voted not to join? Also have you heard anything on the pellet factory near Bugeat. We heard some French people chatting in Eymoutiers saying it had fallen through? Can’t seem to find anything about it?