Top 100 ranking: The healthiest towns or cities in France to live in

A new list compares towns with older populations to see where you are more likely to live into a healthy old age – with a clear socio-economic divide emerging

27 October 2021
View at Cathedral of Saint Cecilia of Albi, France.

The Occitanie city of Albi came in overall top place, while Montauban also figured among three of the major rankings compiled Pic: Nata Shilo com / Shutterstock

By Hannah Thompson

Albi, Tarbes, Bordeaux, Grenoble and Antibes are named the top five healthiest towns or cities to live in across France in a new ranking.

The ranking, by Le Figaro, compares 100 towns and cities across the country, to determine where people have a greater chance of living into old age in the best health.

It looks at a number of criteria including general public health, the number of doctors and air quality.

The 100 places were selected because they have the most inhabitants aged 75 and over.

Overall, Le Figaro compiled three rankings: 

  1. General health statistics based on the rate of certain serious illnesses typical of old-age including tumours, cardiovascular illnesses, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  2. How many doctors there are in the town or city
  3. Pollution levels

It then took the average of these three rankings to compile an overall list. The full rankings from 1-100 can be found directly on the Le Figaro website.

General health

The top 10 towns with the best general health, according to departmental data, were: 

  • Ajaccio
  • Tours 
  • Toulouse

Five towns and cities in the Alpes-Maritimes came in joint fourth place (places 4-8). 

  • Antibes
  • Cagnes-sur-Mer
  • Cannes
  • Le Cannet
  • Nice

The top 10 was rounded out by Grenoble (Isère), and Montreuil (Seine-Saint-Denis).

Number of doctors 

The top 10 towns by number of doctors per 10,000 inhabitants, including GPs, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, lung specialists, and radiologists, were: 

  • Biarritz
  • Bayonne
  • Bordeaux
  • Montauban
  • Lille
  • Neuilly-sur-Seine
  • Vannes
  • Rouen
  • Amiens
  • Narbonne

Air quality

The top 10 towns with the best air quality, by data on the average air pollution particles of PM10, PM2.5, and oxygen levels, were:

  • Pau
  • Brive-la-Gaillarde
  • Montluçon
  • Limoges
  • Bourges
  • Tarbes
  • Besançon
  • Montauban
  • Vannes
  • Niort

The overall healthiest places

To compile the overall ranking, Le Figaro took the averages of the three other rankings, and applied coefficients, meaning that general health was considered the most important factor, followed by the number of doctors, and then the air quality. 

The top 10 overall were: 

  • Albi
  • Tarbes
  • Bordeaux
  • Grenoble
  • Antibes
  • Tours
  • Neuilly-sur-Seine
  • Toulouse
  • Montauban
  • Bayonne 

The mayor of Albi, the town that came out top, said that the result was due to a “health policy that is bearing long-term fruit”.

Stéphanie Guiraud-Chaumeil said that the 50,000 inhabitant Occitanie town had “well-maintained natural spaces”, and people are encouraged to walk, cycle, do exercise and take public transport.

She also said: “Here, we eat well, and locally. We know that when it comes to preventing cancer, healthy food is very important.”

Socio-economic divide

The rankings show that most of the healthiest towns are in the south, or in higher-income areas of Ile-de-France.

The towns at the bottom of the rankings tend to be in the Hauts-de-France. They are Roubaix, Calais, Dunkirk, Tourcoing, and Saint-Quentin.

Le Figaro stated: “Obviously, moving to a well-ranked city will not magically add years to anyone's life expectancy. Nevertheless, the divide in French health imbalances is striking.”

It then asked, somewhat tongue-in-cheek: “Should we see the results as a sign of the benefits of sunshine, or of cooking with duck fat?” 

In response, Professor Antoine Flahault, professor of public health at the University of Geneva, suggested more seriously that the reason for the national split is likely socio-economic.

He said: “My three hypotheses are based on income, education and place on the social ladder. These are the social determinants of health. In reality, everything that we promote for good health is taken on board by the richest and the best educated. We need to make the same factors accessible and of more mass appeal.”

The Agence Régionale de Santé (ARS) Hauts-de-France appears to be aware of the problem.

In July, it launched a major call for projects to fight against smoking and alcoholism, poor housing conditions and pollution (including noise pollution), and in favour of healthy eating and encouraging people to take more exercise.

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