If you’re thinking of retiring to France, where should you live and what type of property should you buy?

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By Karen Tait, editor of French Property News.

If you’ve decided to retire to France, the chances are you already know the country pretty well and have a fair idea of where you want to be. This may be based on holidays you’ve taken in the past; if so, make sure you know what the area is like all year round, as you may only have experienced it in the warm and busy summer months — in winter it may be a completely different proposition.

Where to live
Many retirees head south for the sunshine, but the heat of the Midi can be too much for some people.

– More temperate climes further north may be easier to live with.

– Think about seasonal differences. Many places that are gloriously hot and sunny in summer, get surprisingly cold in winter, especially in the centre of the country.

– Coastal areas tend to have milder winters, but the west coast, for example, has some pretty spectacular storms all year round, and the coast often gets more rain.

– North or south of the Loire? One rule of thumb for those seeking warmer weather is that the climate changes for the better (if you like sunshine) once you get south of the River Loire. Also consider that parts of the west coast, such as the Vendée, have almost as many annual sunshine hours as the Côte d’Azur, so you don’t necessarily have to head right down south for the sun.

KAREN’S TIP: You can study climate patterns on the French weather website meteofrance.com.

Getting around
Access is another thing to think about. Even if you’re moving full-time to France, you’ll probably still want to go back to the UK to visit friends and family — and no doubt they’ll want to visit you in France too.

– Consider multiple forms of transport; local airports, ferryports, train stations (including the high-speed TGV service) and road networks.

– It’s best to have a choice of options; flights are good for quick visits but at other times you might want to drive, especially if you want to take things back and forth to the UK.

– Many more parts of France have become accessible. Over the past decade low-cost airlines have opened up many parts of the country that were previously difficult to get to, giving house-hunters a much wider happy hunting ground.

KAREN’S TIP: Remember that these routes do sometimes close too, so make sure you have other options if that was the case.

Town or country?
Most retirees heading across the Channel choose a rural location for their new home. With such a variety of landscapes, you really are spoilt for choice: from mountains to sea; vineyards to wide open plains; and sunflower fields to dramatic gorges.

– A country home is often the dream, but consider too whether a village or town, with easier access to facilities, would suit you better as you get on in years.

– As well as proximity to doctors and shops, you will be part of a community and it should be easier to become involved in local French life.

Property
Now you’re finally retired, it might be time to move to the house you’ve always dreamed of — and there’s a good chance this will be a charming home in the country with a lovely large garden.

– Don’t underestimate the upkeep: a house like this will need a lot of work.

– If you’re a healthy and active retiree, you’ll probably relish this, but if this is to be your last move, you need to think ahead. A modern, low-maintenance property might be preferable in the long term.

– For those who love traditional style, many French house builders, particularly in rural France, build in the local vernacular, so you may be able to find something with both character and all mod cons.

– Think seriously before renovating. Many retirees have turned ruins into wonderful homes, but you need to think about how much DIY you’re prepared to do, how well you would oversee builders, and how you’d cope living on a building site.

KAREN’S TIP: The last thing you’ll need is escalating costs eating into your pension and back-breaking work at a time when you should be taking it easy!

How big should your property be?
Consider size too. Are you finally able to buy the rambling home you couldn’t afford in the UK?

– Work out what you need. Do you really need all those extra rooms (which you’ll need to clean, unless you’ll employ a cleaner)?

– How often will you receive guests, and would they be just as happy to stay in a local gîte or B&B?

– Other things to consider are features: If you’d prefer fewer steps or slopes to climb — a single-level property might be a good idea — and easy-to-use kitchens and bathrooms.

KAREN’S TIP: If you’re planning on running a gîte or a B&B to supplement your income or to keep busy, you need to decide whether to buy a going concern — more expensive initially, but you’ll be able to start bringing in an income immediately.

– Another option is retirement villages, such as those offered by Les Seniorales d’Equemauville in Normandy. These are not common in France, but with an ageing population, and ever-more-active retirees, it looks like there will be more developments of this type.

French Property News
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