The South of France, also known as the French Riviera and referred to as “le Midi” by the French, is the most popular area in France. The area is made up of the country’s Mediterranean coastline and its hinterland and stretches from France’s border with Italy to its border with Spain.
The region has a mild climate and boasts more than 300 days of sunshine. Those living in cities in the South of France enjoy a wonderful blend of fresh produce, ancient sites, rich culture, upscale shopping, and fine dining.
For more than 100 years, places in the South of France have attracted expats looking for a completely different — and very relaxing — lifestyle. With more than 60 miles of coastline, this part of France also attracts millions of tourists each year.
The South of France is made up of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (affectionately known as ‘PACA’) to the east of the river Rhone, and Languedoc Roussillon, to the west of it.
The South of France is a fun place to live; it conjures up memories of 1950s glamour, and there is plenty to see and do year-round, including exploring the beauty of the coastline, the Calanques, and the lavender fields of Provence. Each of the popular cities and towns has something special to offer those planning to make it home.
The following are our favorite best cities in the South of France to live in and why:
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Nestling on the coastline between Cannes and Nice is Antibes — one of the best towns in the South of France. Antibes is a colorful town with a mixture of nationalities of all ages. It is full of history, as it was founded by the Greeks and has 16th century ramparts to climb for great views. It was much-loved by Picasso, who spent time at Château Grimaldi and gave many of his works to the museum, while novelist Graham Greene spent his winters in Antibes.
Living in Antibes France
Antibes is divided into three main areas: the Old Town, Juan-les-Pins, and Cap d’Antibes. The Old Town is dominated by the ramparts and is a maze of narrow streets, shops, and restaurants with bars that feature live music. Close to the Old Town is Vauban, a large marina popular with yacht owners. This is the most affordable part of town for housing, with attractive studios, apartments, and town houses.
Juan-Les-Pins is the town’s coastal area, popular for its shopping and beaches. The peninsula of Cap d’Antibes, has beautiful coves and the Phare de la Garoupe — a lighthouse surrounded by villas — on its tip. Antibes has numerous parks and gardens plus good walking routes.
Jazz à Juan, Europe’s oldest jazz festival, is held in Antibes each July. Nice Airport lies nine miles east; there is a regular bus service. Antibes and Juan-Les-Pins have SNCF railway stations with trains connecting to all major cities.
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Cannes has been linked with films for more than 70 years and today is one of the most famous cities in the South of France — and the second-largest. Cannes has a rich, 400-year-history. The narrow streets of the Old Town lead down the hillside to the Old Port, where it is fun to hop on a ferry to Iles de Lérins to enjoy untouched sandy beaches and a variety of historical sites.
Living in Cannes, France
During the winter months, Cannes is quiet and tranquil. In the spring, the first of the big events takes place — the Red Bull Air Race. May is the month for the world-famous Cannes Film Festival, which attracts scores of celebrities who like to walk along the palm-tree lined Boulevard de la Croisette to Porto Pierre. For those who love action, there is Formula One in Monaco at the end of May; the principality lies just 45 minutes east of Cannes.
Cannes is without a doubt one of the best cities in South of France. The center of the city is primarily for short-term and holiday rentals. La Croix des Gardes, Palm Beach, and Californie are the main residential areas. They are on the fringes of the city.
With the sea so close, most residents enjoy water sports and underwater photography. Inland there are good hiking routes and pretty medieval villages to explore. Cannes has several museums to visit, and very chic boutiques. There are easy links to Nice Airport, which is just 16 miles away; a SNCF railway station with services to all major towns; and the hop-on, hop-off City Palm minibus, which follows a circular route around the city.
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Choosing to live in the town of Grasse is perfect if you prefer a slower pace of life. Grasse sits between the coast and the mountains, with stunning views over the Bay of Cannes.
Living in Grasse, France
Grasse is known as the “The World Capital of Perfume.” The town center is traditionally Provençal in character with old buildings, cobbled streets, and pretty squares. There are perfume shops, museums, and workshops, and as you walk through the streets you will smell jasmine, orange blossom, and roses.
During the year, there are several events linked with flowers, including the Jasmine Festival and ExpoRose. There are Open Days at the oil mills, as well the Grasse Tennis Open and popular truffle markets in November. In the Old Town there are some lovely older properties in need of renovation that can be bought for extremely good prices.
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When we think of the best places to live in the South of France, we can’t leave out Marseille, the country’s oldest city. Marseilles has a huge port and enjoys a mild and pleasant climate.
Living in Marseille, France
Marseille is home to many nationalities. There are a number of neighborhoods with affordable housing, and most people walk or hop on a bus to move around one of the best places in South of France. There are museums and exhibitions to visit and plenty of green spaces, including several cycle parks. It is easy to find a reasonably priced restaurant serving popular regional dishes.
Interestingly, in Marseilles, smoking is actively discouraged. Locals will tell you that the cost of living is 30% cheaper in Marseilles than in Paris. Marseilles offers easy travel too as it has an International Airport which has many overseas flight options.
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The town of Menton is lesser known to foreigners, but has been popular since the British aristocracy “discovered” it in Victorian times. In those days, Menton was a pretty fishing village on a semi-circular bay — the last village before the Principality of Monaco and the Italian border. The British developed it into a chic health resort, and it has remained up-market ever since.
Living in Menton, France
Menton is one of the best places in the South of France if you seek peace and tranquillity, and it is a favorite spot for artists. The residents flip between French and Italian in conversation and cross the border regularly for lunch. Menton enjoys a micro-climate that is the best in the entire French Riviera. Menton’s appeal is reflected in its property prices.
There are places to visit including climbing the steps opposite Plage des Sablettes up to the Basilica. The steps are steep, but the views are brilliant.
The Basilica Saint Michel-Archange has some amazing ceiling and wall frescoes. Lemons are the symbol of Menton, and a Lemon Festival is held every February and March. Music is enjoyed during the annual classical music festival. There are walks to enjoy in the rolling countryside and a number of water and other outdoor sports.
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This vibrant city is lesser known, but is a fun place to live as it is small in size, making most places easy to reach on foot. It boasts the largest pedestrian area in a European city. The city was the hub of the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages, and its famous university is one of the oldest in the world. It also has the Jardin des Plantes — one of Europe’s oldest botanical gardens.
Living in Montpellier, France
Montpellier is considered by the French to offer one of the nation’s highest standards of living. Because the city has a large student population it has a lively café culture, reasonably priced restaurants, and always something going on. During the summer months, the cafés and restaurants spill out onto the pavements, adds to its character.
Montpellier is in rolling countryside about six miles from the coast, which has many lovely beaches — including Plage de L’Espiguette, which is 11 miles of sand and dunes. There are several markets in the city for buying excellent fresh produce; if you don’t feel like cooking,, the city has several Michelin-starred restaurants.
Montpellier is home to two large concert venues: L’Arena and Le Zenith Sud. There is the annual summer opera festival that hosts more than 150 events and Cinemed, the autumn cinema festival. Montpellier offers excellent culture and good weather without being as touristy as some other cities and towns in the South of France.
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Nice is the most famous of the South of France cities. It stands overlooking the Mediterranean on the Cote d’Azur (meaning “blue coast”). Nice is very cosmopolitan and enjoys an excellent climate that ensures that time can be spent outside in the sunshine all year. Summer temperatures average 79 degrees Fahrenheit, and the winter drops only as low as 50 degrees.
Living in Nice, France
Walks along the famous Promenade D’Anglais (which stretches for four miles along the shore) are fun, as is a browse in the daily market in Cours Selaya. Wandering around the marina admiring the yachts and enjoying a coffee is lovely too. The Old Town is fascinating, with narrow, winding streets lined with shops and restaurants that lead up to Nice Cathedral, which is famous for its beautiful Baroque architecture.
Nice has its own international airport, which is ideal if you enjoy traveling. The city is well located for trips into Italy as well as exploring the coast and the winter sports in the French Alps. There are direct ferries to Corsica, Bastia, and Ile Rousse, too. Through the year there are carnivals and jazz festivals to enjoy as well as some great walks and cycling trails through the local vineyards.
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Situated on a peninsula a 25-minute drive east of Nice, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is a relatively tranquil spot with rocky beaches, clear azure water, and green landscapes. It has been a favorite spot with the rich and famous since Victorian times. Even today the area is much-loved by actors, politicians, and tech tycoons and is referred as the π“Peninsula of Billionaires.” There is an abundance of large, lavish villas and equally lavish yachts moored in its harbor.
Living in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, France
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat is home to only about 1,500 permanent residents. The area has several iconic hotels including Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, which is now managed by the Four Seasons. The hotel was awarded “palace” status in 2011. The area was once just a small fishing village, but was discovered by rich expats staying in Nice who considered it one of the best places in South of France.
There are monuments and museums to visit, as well as enjoying a walk to the famous lighthouse and Semaphore Tower built by Napoleon III. Nearby are the two springs created by COEXIST that promote religious tolerance. The popular Maurice Rouvier coastal walk links Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to Beaulieu-sur-Mer.
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Situated on the French Riviera, Toulon is one of the country’s top naval ports and is one of the quieter cities in South of France, being visited rarely by tourists. Toulon overlooks the Mediterranean; its best beaches are found in Le Mourillon neighborhood. The beach is fringed by cafes and restaurants as well as a series of grassy embankments where a variety of festivals are held during the summer months.
Living in Toulon, France
Toulon has a thriving cultural scene with an opera house, theaters, and a comic venue. The new La Rue des Arts is home to art galleries and workshops where jewelry artisans and clothes makers can be watched as they work. A popular walking/cycling trail connects the historic center to the beaches of Le Mourillon and continues along the coast to Hyères and beyond. Toulon has a small airport that offers internal flights, but Marseilles International Airport is 55 miles away.
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We saved the best for last. Many people who live in Villefranche-sur-Mer believe it really is a “little piece of heaven.” This pretty seaside town with its buildings painted in candy colors certainly offers a slower pace of life than some other cities in the South of France. There are steep, narrow streets with flights of steps that climb up the hillsides to the terraces of vines. It retains the character of the fishing village it once was.
Living in Villefranche-sur-Mer, France
The February Fishing Festival is fun. There is a parade, music and colorful costumes and fishers decorate their boats and throw flowers at each other. The town was described by Jean Cocteau as “a source of myth and inspiration,” while the Rolling Stones recorded their album “Exile on Main Street” here. The town is featured in the Bond movie “Never Say Never Again” among a number of others.
When you feel like exploring further afield, Nice lies just two miles to the west, and the principality of Monaco four miles to the east. Nice also has the country’s third-largest international airport.
There are of course so many wonderful coastal towns and cities in France to live in. If you decide you would love to live in the South of France, it is worth taking your time to explore the region; you will soon get a feel for the areas that suit you best. One thing for sure is that you will suddenly become every popular, as family and friends flock to visit you.
Take one more step toward your dream of moving abroad, with these articles about living in France.
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