10 reasons to consider retiring in the “Provence of the poor”
I knew nothing about Occitania when I moved to France. It happened to be the location of an apartment I could afford on a limited income. Nine years later, still living happily in the same small village, I discovered that Occitania has all the characteristics that attract hordes of visitors to Provencebut it is less discovered, less touristy and less expensive.
The area’s affordability, low crime rate and excellent air quality are just a few of the qualities that make it one of the most enjoyable and sought-after parts of France. I have my own reasons, I’ve listed 10 of them here…and I could easily come up with 10 more.
1. Cost of living
Living here is really affordable, even with little more than a social security pension. My partner and I pay $760 per month (electricity and water included) for our two-bedroom apartment with a garden which, thanks to the mild climate, we enjoy all year round. Rents further inland tend to be lower.
We spend between $325 and $380 a month on groceries, mostly at weekly farmers markets and discount food chains.
Lunch is around $15 for one today’s special (today’s special). And finally, as we toast our good life with glasses of excellent local wine, there’s the added satisfaction of knowing that a bottle costs less than $4.
2. Hello, sunshine
The south of France says sunshine, and Occitania has about 300 days a year, barely less than Provence.
Located between the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean, the region enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers, cool winters and moderate springs and autumns.
3. Miles of beaches
The fine sandy beaches of Occitanie extend from the eastern Pyrenees to the Rhône delta, a coastal strip of 216 km.
Within half an hour’s drive from my house, I can choose from several beaches, each with their own vibe, including a nudist beach which I haven’t tried.
Most beaches are close to restaurants and casual shopping, a few are open year-round. In the summer, for around $27, you can rent a lounge chair and umbrella, and enjoy a drink and a light lunch brought to your side table. Not a bad way to spend the day.
4. The great outdoors
One of three national parks in Occitanie and listed as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the Cévennes is an outdoor paradise of limestone cliffs, volcanic plateaus and scrub-covered plains interspersed with rivers and streams .
Forget the word “park” and think of a large geographic area that covers parts of four different zones. departments. Whether you’re looking for dramatic scenery, hiking, canoeing or quaint French villages that seem frozen in time, the Cévennes has it all, including a local specialty: Pélardon, a delicious soft goat’s cheese.
5. A foodie’s paradise
Speaking of food, Occitania is a foodie’s paradise. I like to show the many outdoor markets to visitors. It’s amusing to see their reactions stall after stall of local products, regional cheeses, shimmering olives, trays of tapenades, ropes of dry sausage (cured sausages), artisan breads of all shapes and sizes, fresh seafood and buckets overflowing with colorful flowers.
After whetting our appetites, let’s go to taste the cuisine of Occitania: cassoulet—a Toulouse specialty of beans and sausages, or Tiellean octopus and tomato tart from the fishing port of Sète.
Visitors here never leave hungry.
6. Vines, vines everywhere
After driving for miles and seeing nothing but vineyards, you won’t be surprised to learn that Occitanie is the largest wine region in France. But what might surprise you is that many wineries are small family operations.
With a few winemaker neighbors (wine growers), I developed a great appreciation for the work and artistry involved in wine making. Although this area is less tourist-oriented, many areas (vineyards) have road signs offering tastings (tastings) – drop by for a drink and perhaps chat with the winemaker.
7. Picturesque perched villages
With its maze of winding cobbled streets and tiny mullioned houses, Saint Guilhelm-de-le-Désert always enchants.
Nestled in the spectacular Hérault gorges and a stopover on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela, this perched village is ranked among the most beautiful in France.
At the top of the hill is Gellone Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Have a drink at one of the café terraces and shelter from the sun under a 180-year-old plane tree.
8. Cruise on the Canal du Midi
Fancy a lazy barge cruise? You can hire a barge or houseboat on the 17th-century Canal du Midi, a 149-mile network of waterways that flows from Occitanie’s capital, Toulouse, to the Thau lagoon near Sète.
Spend a weekend or more, sip a glass of wine and watch the French countryside slowly pass by. Or just stroll or cycle along the verdant banks of the canal.
9. Meet the native son of Béziers
Considered an extraordinary technical feat, the Canal du Midi, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was designed by Paul Riquet, a native of Béziers. His statue presides over the Allées Paul Riquet, a tree-lined boulevard of restaurants, shops and open-air markets. From the town center it’s a pleasant walk to the canal where you can see the barges pass through the staircase of locks—The 9 LocksDe Fonseranes– which Riquet also designed.
10. Feeling crazy?
What would a region be without macabre history? Take Occitania Cathar Country, Cathar Country, for example. A collection of 12th and 13th century castles, churches and ruins once belonging to a religious sect that dared to oppose the Catholic Church, until Pope Innocent III decided he had had enough and launches a crusade to eradicate them.
It started in Béziers where the Crusaders massacred the entire population of the town, around 15,000, then set the place on fire. Over the next 20 years, Cathar strongholds were ransacked until the sect was finally deemed wiped out.
Today, the Cathar Country is a great tourist attraction. You will see signs everywhere. Guided tours are available.
This article was originally published in International Living.