Normandy has been popular with expatriates for years. Its stunning coastline, rich history and famous gastronomy have attracted people from around the world to live in this spectacular part of France.
Brits especially favour the region for its proximity to the UK and easy travel connections.
But what is it really like living in Normandy? We’ve taken a closer look at this northern part of France.
Does Normandy offer a good lifestyle?
In terms of lifestyle, Normandy has an excellent balance between urban and rural. Most of the department is dominated by rolling hills, fields of cows, sandy beaches, and, of course, the Seine river winding its way to Paris.
Normandy is also home to several major towns and cities, including Dieppe, Rouen, Le Havre, and Caen.
Much of life in Normandy is rural, and you’ll likely spend lots of time outside. Hiking, biking, horse riding, and water sports are common pastimes. However, the several cities and towns are very modern and offer everything you could need and expect from city-living.
Villages in Normandy are famously stunning.
Surprisingly, most old buildings survived the war or were lovingly restored, so it’ll be picturesque no matter which village you end up in. Normandy villages always look like some kind of old film set.
The area is strongly agricultural, which means not only is there plenty of fresh food, you’ll also find families and friends harvesting crops, making cheese and farming together, then sharing a meal en masse.
Because of this, community and family are interwoven in life here. Once you become a local, you’ll find your neighbours very welcoming, and you’ll never want to leave.
Of course, the area has a strong tourist presence in summer thanks to its famous beaches and landmarks from the World Wars. This brings in a large amount of money for the area, so it is generally very affluent with many good schools, public services, medical facilities and more.
Transport options are some of the best in France with direct train lines into Paris, and the vast ports at Caen, Le Havre, Cherbourg and Dieppe make international connections and imports easy.
All in all, Normandy offers one of the best lifestyles in France. No wonder it’s so popular.
The pros and cons of living in Normandy
To break it down simply for you, we’ve put together this list of the ultimate pros and cons of expat life in Brittany. Here’s what you should carefully consider before you move
The pros of living in Normandy
1. The landscape
Normandy really does have it all. Stunning beaches, dramatic cliffs, picturesque villages, rolling hills, wild forests and modern city centres.
It’s one of France’s most varied and beautiful parts, so if you appreciate a good view and like getting out into nature, Normandy is one giant playground.
2. The history
Although much of the history here is from the World Wars and is genuinely tragic, there are some fantastic sites to visit. You could live in the area for a decade and still find more to learn. The whole area is packed full of culture and history, from the medieval times and it makes an excellent place to explore.
3. The food:
Thanks to the fertile soil, lush grass and proud farming community, local food is incredible.
You will most likely buy your weekly food and veg from a local market. Meat comes fresh from local farms; bread is freshly baked, and fish is caught and cooked within hours. It’s foodie heaven, and we haven’t even talked about local cider.
1. The tourists
Normandy attracts tourists all year round thanks to the many war memorials, D-Day beaches, battlefields and more. However, in summer, the area swarms with tourists. While this does bring in money, it can get noisy and crowded in some places.
2. The weather
We’ll start by saying it’s not that bad. But really, it’s the same weather as in the UK. Lots of rain and fog and storms and short summers. If you plan to move to France for the sunny weather, you need to look further south.
3. Brits abroad
Some parts of Normandy are so flooded with British second homeowners and expats that you’ll find more Brits here than French.
Many restaurant menus are in English first, and if you’re looking to assimilate with French culture, you’ll be disappointed. Luckily, it’s only a few areas, and they are easy to find and avoid if you choose.
The cost of living in Normandy
With so much to offer, you’d be forgiven for thinking life in Normandy would be very expensive. But in reality, Normandy is a reasonably affordable place to live (another reason for its popularity).
Thanks to the strong agricultural industry, good local produce is very affordable. You’ll find weekly local markets the best places to buy fruit, veg and meat. The prominent fishing industry means seafood is fresh, tasty and easy to get on a cheap budget.
The huge ports mean importing foreign items is super speedy, and the only thing you’ll need to worry about is the government import costs.
If you plan to eat out or head to a bar, you’ll find all costs are relatively low. A good meal is possible at just €20 while a more expensive meal can be €60 per head. Local cider and beer are delicious and very cheap.
The most affordable aspect of Normandy is the property market.
Renting a decent-sized 1-bedroom apartment in a city centre will only set you back around €500 while a 3-bed costs around €900.
If you’re looking to buy, a lovely family home in a village can cost as little as €100,000. Most houses are detached, and a renovated, character home with a garden won’t cost more than €300,000.
Where to live in Normandy
If Normandy sounds like your dream location, we’ve narrowed down some of the best places to live in Normandy.
Thanks to its excellent connections and public services, basically everywhere offers a good life. You’ll never find it hard to register with a doctor, visit a local library, join a running club or anything else.
In Normandy, it’s all about charm, good food and good wine.
Barfleur has a tiny number of permanent residents, around 600 or so, and the village thrives on the summer tourists. But if you like seafood and want to live a quiet life by the sea, Barfleur is it.
It’s a small fishing community that is very tightknit. Expect to eat a lot of seafood while drinking white wine if you move here.
Want the conveniences of a large town but without the noise and fuss? Beuvron-en-Auge is situated just outside Caen, but it has retained a medieval village’s old-world charm.
It’s surrounded by dairy farms, so cheese is a big part of life. This is the kind of village with multiple bakeries and a flower festival where people drink local cider. Picture perfect.
Speaking of Caen, the city itself is an urban hub for the area.
It has everything you could ever need from good schools (both English and French), a good hospital, an excellent commercial centre for shopping, museums, art galleries and more. For a port-based city, it’s relatively elegant and a delight to live in.
Deauville is the Cannes of the north. The ritzy, luxurious seaside town attracts the rich and beautiful.
It’s a haven for wealthy Parisians leaving the city for the seaside break. The big attractions are the stunning architecture, pretty streets, art and film festivals, and luxury shopping.
Deauville is energetic in winter and summer, unlike other villages, making it pleasant to live here all year round.
Honfleur is the stereotypical Normandy village. It’s the village everyone thinks of.
It’s a beautiful harbour town with stunning 16th-century architecture, streets that feel like a maze, beautiful rooves, boutique shops and around 100 art galleries.
Honfleur is a cultural centre. If you’ve dreamed of escaping to a small Normandy village, Honfleur is probably what you pictured in your mind.
Expat community in Normandy
Normandy has been a popular new home for expats for a long time. As such, there are lots of expat communities. Since so many people living in Normandy are either new residents or have second homes in the area, you’re more likely to find small communities rather than one large expat group.
Online platforms such as Facebook or Expat Forum are more likely to have lots of small groups for local book clubs, running clubs, sailing groups or even wine and cheese tasting groups.
The expat community is general sprawling and overlapping. You’ll probably find yourself running into other expats in the local pub, joining a group and finding that your neighbour and local handyman are also part of the group.
If going digital to find like-minded people doesn’t appeal to you, you can get out and about and like we said, you’ll run into people reasonably easily. Local mayors and town halls also have bulletin boards where you’ll find local news pinned up. It’s old fashioned, but it works.
Things to know before you go
So, you’re ready to pack up and head to Normandy to start eating cheese, drinking wine and hiking on the cliffs? We don’t blame you. But there are a few things you should know before you go.
- As you might have guessed from reading this article, cheese and all things dairy is a large part of life here. While vegan options are readily available in the centre of cities like Caen and Dieppe, you won’t find them in most of Normandy. If you’re vegan, be prepared to eat at home regularly.
- Travelling long-distance is easy thanks to the ports, airports and train lines but local travel isn’t the best. You need your own transport or risk relying on buses which are few and far between and like most things in France, run to their own time.
- Some of the more affluent villages can receive an influx of Parisians in the summer. Prices rise, terraces are packed, and you may experience lots of people judging you. Even though they don’t live in the area, the Parisians will be less welcoming than the locals.
- Thunderstorms in the area are frequent and impressive. The huge cliffs and high winds coming from the channel create massive storms. Houses and tall buildings are regularly struck by lighting (Don’t panic, people don’t get hit), but if you’re afraid of storms or have a pet, you should be prepared for some scary nights during winter.
- It sounds crazy, but grass in Normandy grows like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the reason there are so many dairy farms; the cows can graze on luscious grass forever. But if you plan on having a garden, be aware that the fertile soil, gentle sun and frequent rain means you either have to embrace a wild garden or get ready to spend time taming it.
Final thoughts on living in Normandy
Normandy is rich in history, culture, good food and countryside. It’s a popular destination for expats with a good balance of affordable urban centres and rolling hills.
While you’ll find summer much busier and more touristy, Normandy attracts visitors year-round, making it an affluent and bustling area.
If you’re planning to make the move, think hard about where you’d like to live: beach, city or small country village. If possible, visit a few places first.
If you’re really stuck, you could always just try the local cheese and base your decision on your favourite one!