The top 500 best places to live in France for 2021 have been revealed, in the second annual study by the quality of life group l’Association villes et villages où il fait bon vivre ("the association for towns and villages where it is nice to live").
The group calls its list “the most complete ranking ever done” of the 34,837 places analysed, with 183 criteria used to compare them.
Who were the winners of France's best places to live in 2021?
The main line-up of winners presented by the association represents communes with 2,000 inhabitants or more. There is a separate line-up of very small towns and villages.
Retaining the top spot from 2020 was the picturesque alpine town of Annecy in southeastern France, followed by Bayonne in second place - also a non-mover from last year.
However, this year Angers overtook La Rochelle for third place with Le Mans rounding out the top five.
How are the best places to live chosen?
Of the 183, 152 criteria came from national statistics institute Insee, and 31 came from other public bodies such as the Interior Ministry.
The criteria were spread across eight categories.
- Quality of life
- Shops and services
- Sports and leisure
- Community support
The ranking also accounted for the number of inhabitants and used nine population strata rankings from Insee to compare like with like.
The association website allows you to search by name or postcode, to see where your commune ranks.
Covid has changed the way people in France live
The 2021 list has been shaped by an unprecedented period that saw health services under intense pressure, the closure of businesses, a nationwide shift to working from home, fluctuating rates of unemployment - and a collective assessment of our priorities when it comes to choosing a place to live.
The data from the list shows how the need for quality public transport has been replaced with the requirements of high-speed internet coverage and access to environments that will benefit health and wellbeing.
Medium-sized towns have conquered the list, driving out their larger city siblings. Estate agencies are noting an increase in demand since lockdown for properties in medium-sized towns - notably new builds with a garden.
"Out of 319 towns and cities with between 20,000 and 50,000 inhabitants, 305 were eligible for the label of 'towns and villages where it is nice to live' which just goes to show the interest we're now seeing in these towns", said Antoine Chauvel, the director of l’Association villes et villages où il fait bon vivre.
Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica, has jumped 140 places thanks to its quality of health and its digital infrastructure. This year's climbers also include the port city of Toulon on the Mediterranean coast, Châteauroux in Indre, Pau in the Pyrenees, Metz on the banks of the Moselle river, and seaside Caen in Normandy.
Of the major French cities, only Nice, which dropped several places, and Bordeaux, made the top 10 this year.
The growing demand for property outside of major urban centres should not be interpreted as a preference for remote, rural living, says Nicholas Hazard, author of Le bonheur est dans le village (Happiness is in the village). People are seeking the best of both worlds in smaller towns and villages that still have fast and convenient access to the city.
Here are the top 20 best towns and cities to live in France in 2021:
- Annecy (74)
- Bayonne (64)
- Angers (49)
- La Rochelle (17)
- Le Mans (72)
- Caen (14)
- Nice (06)
- Bordeaux (33)
- Avignon (84)
- Lorient (56)
- Brest (29)
- Rennes (35)
- Strasbourg (67)
- Pau (64)
- Cherbourg-en-Cotentin (50)
- Rodez (12)
- Le Havre (76)
- Metz (57)
- Biarritz (64)
- Saint-Étienne (42)
Here are the top 20 communes with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants
- Peltre (57)
- Guéthary (64)
- Epron (14)
- Martinvast (50)
- Authie (14)
- Théoule-sur-Mer (06)
- Buros (64)
- Vantoux (57)
- Les-Loges-en-Josas (78)
- Saint-Quay-Perros (22)
- Piscop (95)
- Le Pin (77)
- Laloubère (65)
- Falicon (06)
- Mey (57)
- Ploulec'h (22)
- Sonnaz (73)
- Marcellaz-Albanais (74)
- Laguenne-sur-Avalouze (19)
- Flourens (31)
Newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche has the full listings, while the association website offers a search tool.