Where the house was: Why do British people move to France?

The Ariège is a depopulated area in the French Pyrenees. Why is it popular with Britons seeking a new life in France?

When I first began researching British incomers in Ariège, I was curious as to why they’d chosen that out-of-the-way corner of France. It turns out that choice wasn’t always the right word…

For quite a few people it was simply where the house was, rather than an informed decision based on what that area offered as a way of life to them.

Escape the UK for France

People talked about escaping the British climate, and yet the Ariège gets its fair share of rain. And it can be very cold in winter.

Others said they came for the slower pace of life and the wonderful walks, but when I probed it became clear that not many had been familiar with the region before making the move. Some certainly were familiar with the region after holidaying there, but others told me they’d looked all over France and had settled in the Ariège when an estate agent called them with a house available that ticked all of their boxes – that overused cliché beloved by presenters on the property shows. ‘We’d never heard of the Ariège’, they told me. ‘But the house ticked all the boxes at the right price’.

One couple admitted that they’d never even visited France on holiday. They chose the Ariège as it’s close to mountains. Another woman confessed to going into an estate agent’s while on holiday and buying a house there and then. ‘It wasn’t planned at all,’ she admitted.

Opportunities and lower property prices

Other incomers found the Ariège offered all kinds of opportunities that were unavailable back in Britain.  To one couple, the location in south-west France was ideal for further travelling within Europe, avoiding the fate of their neighbours back in England who were ‘digging in to die’. Another woman relished the challenge of creating an ‘English garden’ in the Pyrenees, a contrast to life back in England that had become too easy and predictable. And some took advantage of cheap prices to buy further properties to rent out for a retirement income.

It became clear that many people ended up in the Ariège because property prices hadn’t yet reached the levels of those in Provence, Dordogne or the Pyrenees further west. 

In fact many of the incomers I spoke with had originally looked to settle in the neighbouring Aude region, perhaps drawn by Carcassonne and the drier climate. But they’d drifted west and ended up buying in the Ariège because the ‘right house’ could be found at a more affordable price here.   

Yet another cliché from the property shows comes to mind – your money goes further. 

An old Couserans house in the Ariege with sleigh
An old Couserans property with its own winter transport

When the dream turns sour

It’s easy to think of people as wealthy and privileged if they can afford to move to France. In relative terms they are. Surprising, then, that some of the interviewees complained that their new dream life was hard to manage financially. 

One couple faced a loss of thousands of pounds on a house they could no longer afford to live in. Another couple were dismayed they had to save up to eat out.  The woman who bought the house while on holiday became worn out by the high cost of living in France, citing what she saw as unaffordable food, taxes, petrol, road taxes and the health system. 

A House at the End of the Track book Brits moving to France

To balance that out, almost everyone appreciated the simpler, less consumer-led life of the Ariège.

Eager to hear the rest of the stories? They’re all in the realistic travel narrative A House at the End of the Track.

Saint-Girons in France popular with Brits
The town of Saint-Girons

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