What Is It Like Living In The Dordogne As An Expat

An expat's guide to living in the Dordogne: the cost of living, the best areas, expat communities, and why the Dordogne is a perfect destination for so many expats.

The Dordogne offers one of the most exciting destinations in France for expats. Britons especially love living in the Dordogne – the area has the second biggest British expat community after Paris. The area has everything you could need for retirement – from entertainment to excellent living conditions.

In this guide we’ll cover the topics you need to consider when retiring to the Dordogne. We’ll look at important things like the cost of living, the best areas, and current expat communities so you can make a well-informed decision.

Is the Dordogne a good place to live?

The Dordogne has a lot to offer those looking for a typical French lifestyle. It has plenty of beautiful rolling countryside – perfect for walking or driving – and lots to see and do.

Living in the Dordogne
The Dordogne Valley is home to an enchanting mix of picture-perfect villages, medieval castles, mysterious caves, gorgeous food and the calm beautiful waters of the Dordogne River

There’s lots of historical heritage in the region too. You’ll find well-kept medieval castles (chateau in French), prehistoric cave complexes (Lascaux, for example), and more recent historic sites like the Cabanes du Breuil.

On top of this, you have the amazing weather. The Dordogne enjoys a typical French climate of high summer temperatures and lows in the winter. Expect it to top out around 40 degrees C in July and August and drop to freezing or below in the depths of winter.

The main spoken language is, of course, French, but the area is popular with Brits, meaning English is fairly widely spoken. It’s worth taking the time to learn some French, but language classes are quite common in expat circles.

The Dordogne has three airports, all of which have international connections to some extent. For example, Aeroport Bergerac Dordogne Perigord has several regular flights to the UK. This makes it easy to see friends and family after moving.

Is retiring to the Dordogne a good idea?

Yes, the Dordogne is a great place to retire to.

Deciding whether an area is good for retirement largely depends on what you want from this part of your life. The Dordogne has lots to offer for those wanting a French lifestyle, from good wine to warm climates.

If you love nature, walking, history and arts – you are in the right place.

The Dordogne has the largest number of villages boasting the title of the “Most Beautiful Villages in France”.

Living in the Dordogne
Saint Leon Sur Vezere, a small and very pretty village in the Vezere valley between Montignac and Les Eyzies set in a curve of the Vézere River

There are infinite picturesque walks where you can enjoy the natural beauty as well as some remarkable architecture. Périgueux, Bergerac and Sarlat are all labelled ‘Towns of Art and History’, with vast, protected areas to explore.

You can go walking, horse riding, cycling or canoeing in one of the region’s 33 parks and gardens.

Love music? There are about thirty various music festivals taking place in the Dordogne. From Classical to Baroque music, to unusual, eclectic Jazz and African rhythms, there’s something to suit all tastes.

Just like any other location in the world this beautiful area of France has its pros and cons. However, on the whole, the Dordogne gives expats a brilliant lifestyle and for this reason it’s hugely popular.

The advantages and disadvantages of living in the Dordogne

The advantage (or disadvantage depending on how you feel about it) of the Dordogne is that it’s a popular destination for British expats. This means that there’s a fairly sizeable English-speaking community, and you can choose whether or not to integrate into this.

After all, you don’t have to mix with expats if you don’t want to. Doing so does bring some advantages though, such as learning from their experience and having assistance with general admin processes.

A big advantage of living in the Dordogne is that you get good value for money on property prices. The region benefits from being fairly spacious, meaning land has less value.

But this isn’t necessarily true when moving to a town or city. If you want low property prices and the most “authentic” French experience, you’d do better moving to a smaller town or village.

The area will be a good choice if you want an active retirement, as there are plenty of historical and cultural activities on offer. But it’s also a good choice for those into their food and wine.

The Dordogne is inland, there’s no coast. So, take advantage of the freshwater swimming. The Dordogne River is the cleanest in France and has been awarded UNESCO biosphere status. If you don’t feel safe swimming on your own, choose one of the many supervised beaches of the Dordogne Valley.

Perhaps the only people the Dordogne wouldn’t be suitable for are those wanting an urban lifestyle. The largest city in the region is Perigueux, which has around 40,000 residents. This pales in comparison to cities elsewhere in France, such as Nice or Marseille, which have over 1 million residents.

Why is the Dordogne so popular with Brits?

There are many reasons why the Dordogne is so popular with Brits, but it can be summarised by the fact that the area epitomises everything positive about the French lifestyle.

Living in the Dordogne
The Dordogne river is perfect for kayaking and boating. It’s calm and serene, there are no rapids, and the scenery it provides is amazing

Its biggest draws for Brits relocating abroad include:

The weather

As mentioned, the Dordogne enjoys a fantastic climate. Rainfall is higher than other areas in France but low enough for you to enjoy the sun. The result is an abundance of lush greenery and some excellent local produce.

The food and wine

Dordogne is home to some world-renowned wines thanks to its climate. You’ll find dry reds and whites, and sweet dessert wines. Look out for Bergerac wines, dry whites from Montravel, and full-bodied reds from Pecharment.

The food is amazing all year round. Dordogne is home to truffles and cep mushrooms (penny bun/porcini); one of the tastiest mushrooms in the world. You can buy them at local markets or go foraging yourself in the autumn if you have the knowledge and a guide.

There are also a number of Michelin-starred restaurants and some fantastic local eateries that can’t be overlooked. In short, the Dordogne is ideal for those who like their food and drink!

Property prices are attractive

Like many more rural areas in France, Dordogne is home to its fair share of run-down properties. This might not sound attractive, but many Brits snap them up for next to nothing and invest in restoring them.

What’s more, many of these multi-building complexes have the potential to become gîtes. These are small businesses such as B&Bs, guesthouses, and hostels, and can be a great source of income in retirement.

Although the Dordogne isn’t necessarily that unique in what it offers compared to other areas of France, it seems to hold a special place in the hearts of British expats. That said, its food and wine are among the best in France, which is really saying something.

Is the Dordogne safe?

Yes, it’s one of the safest areas in France. Due to its lack of highly populated cities, there are little official crime statistics relating to the area of Dordogne.

However, one of the most recent publicly released reports from the French National Crime Statistics Agency (2015) rates the Dordogne as one of the lowest crime areas in the country.

In short, Dordogne’s crime rate is considerably lower than almost anywhere you’d find in the UK, so if you’re happy living in a British city then you should have no concerns about moving to a French town in the Dordogne.

Living in the Dordogne
Montignac: this very pretty village on the Vézère River is most famous for being home to the Lascaux Caves

What’s the cost of living in the Dordogne?

The cost of living in the Dordogne is far lower than the UK.

According to Numbeo, consumer prices in supermarkets are lower in the UK than the French average, but the Dordogne is well below this average. Also, you’ll save money by shopping locally and seasonally; this is the preferred model in areas of regional France.

Utilities are cheaper on average in France than in the UK. For example, monthly basic utilities (heating, electricity, etc.) cost around €146 (£131) in France, compared to £154 (€172) in the UK.

But perhaps the most important indicator is property prices. Property prices vary across the Dordogne, with the highest prices found in the most central and southerly regions. Property is cheapest in the north of the area.

That said, even the most expensive is still cheap. According to French-Property.com, the two most expensive regions are Grand Perigueux and Pays Vernois et du Terroir de la Truffe. Even here, the average property price is a meagre €150,000.

The cheapest areas of Dordogne are Haut Perigord and Pays de Jumilhac le Grand, where you can find a sizeable property for around €68,000.

You’ll save even more money by buying a relatively run-down property and investing a bit of money into restoring it. This type of property is widely available in rural French regions thanks to the draw of urban areas. However, some properties will need extensive work, including plumbing and electricity.

In short, the cost of living in the Dordogne is one of its main draws for British expats. It’s worth spending a bit of time on local immobilier (estate agent) websites to get a better gauge on the availability and pricing of properties in the area.

Where is the best place to live in the Dordogne?

There are many beautiful villages and towns in the region and it’s not easy to say which locations are the best. Expats tend to choose the location that suites their desirable lifestyle. Although the whole area is popular with expats, they’ve generally ended up collecting around a number of towns.

Living in the Dordogne
Another one of the most beautiful villages in France, the village of Domme, with its hilly streets and unprecedented views across the Dordogne Valley

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most inviting places to live in Dordogne:

Bergerac

Bergerac is a moderately sized commune in the Dordogne but has a fairly large British population. This is mostly because of the airport, which offers convenient connections to the UK.

It overlooks the Dordogne River and is known for its excellent wine. The British population has given rise to the Universite du Temps Libre, a non-profit organisation that offers French language lessons and arranges cultural activities. Regardless of your desire to live with British expats, Bergerac is an attractive retirement destination.

Eymet

Eymet is a commune roughly 24km south of Bergerac; roughly a third of its population are British. It still retains its local charm, including open-air farmer’s markets and a Bastide (fortified town) built in the 13th century.

Lalinde

Lalinde is a small commune around 30 minutes’ drive east of Bergerac. It has a population of around 3,000, a sizeable number of which are British. Like Eymet and Bergerac, its appeal to British expats is the local airport. It has plenty of historical value, as it was a key battleground in the Hundred Years’ War.

Domme

Domme is built on a hilltop and overlooks the Dordogne valley. Many of its buildings are original and retain their French style. Prices are on the higher side, but many have been modernised inside. It’s around 74km east of Bergerac, so airport connections are still convenient.

Perigueux

Living in the Dordogne
The ‘capital’ of the Dordogne department – Perigueux

Perigueux is the capital of the Dordogne and is its largest city. Even so, it’s not massive and has plenty of historical charm. You have 3 airports in the area, so it would be ideal for those thinking about setting up a B&B in their retirement.

Brantome

Brantome is located on the river Domme and was formed around the 8th-century abbey, built by Charlemagne. The abbey has since been rebuilt but is breath taking, and is home to one of the oldest Romanesque bell-towers in the country. Its population is less than 2,500, so it’s a fairly quiet area.

The most beautiful towns in the Dordogne

If you weren’t already convinced by the area’s offerings, the Dordogne is home to no less than 22 towns that regularly appear on lists of the most beautiful towns in France.

While you might not want to live in these (tourism is often higher in these locations), they make good day trips and amazing sight-seeing opportunities. Here’s a summary of some of the most beautiful towns in Dordogne.

Rocamadour

Rocamadour is built vertically into a cliff face and has some incredible architecture. This is one of the main tourist hotspots in the Dordogne.

Martel

Martel is home to a booming truffle trade and has a steam train that takes you round the valley cliffs.

Living in the Dordogne
Martel is known locally as the town of the seven towers, and, yes, it’s also one of the most beautiful towns in France

Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne

Its name literally translates as “beautiful place”, and it’s easy to understand why when you see it. The medieval market town borders a river and is surrounded by woodland. It’s everything you’d expect from a typical French town.

Carennac

Carennac is a combination of medieval and Renaissance buildings along a sleepy river. It’s worth visiting just to take it all in, and you won’t be disappointed.

Turenne

Turenne is built around a hilltop castle that sticks out of the surrounding countryside. It offers some amazing views of the area and is a popular destination for hikers.

The Dordogne offers so many picturesque towns and villages that you could spend your whole retirement just visiting and exploring them.

Living in the Dordogne in winter

As mentioned, the winters in Dordogne can get pretty cold. This definitely shouldn’t be enough to put you off considering the area for your retirement, as there are plenty of ways to deal with the cold.

Living in the Dordogne
Another beautiful village of La Roque Gageac in the Dordogne. The village boasts a ‘tropical style’ exotic garden that you can wander through as you walk up the hill

Most older French properties have incredibly thick insulated walls for just this reason, meaning the indoor temperature stays relatively constant. Also, you’ll likely have a fireplace, which will come into its own in the winter.

You don’t need to worry about roads either. Although administration processes in France have a debatable reputation, one thing they know how to do is clear roads. Agriculture is a big business in France, and kids need to get to school, so even in the most rural areas you can expect roads to be cleared by early morning.

Although tourism isn’t a massive business in much of the Dordogne, entertainment tends to die off in winter. Providing the weather is good, you’ll still be able to visit local towns and go out for meals though, so don’t worry about finding things to do.

Final thoughts on living in the Dordogne

The idea of living in the Dordogne might not sound as glamorous as living in the French Riviera, or as sophisticated as living in Bordeaux, but the Dordogne remains one of the most popular retirement areas in France.

The Dordogne has everything you could wish for from a French retirement destination. But on top of this it has some of the most attractive property prices in the whole country.

If you’re thinking about retiring to the Dordogne, it might be worth touring the area, staying at some gîtes (or renting) and trying to get the inside scoop from some local British expats. There are plenty of them around so this shouldn’t be too difficult!

For retirement, you could do a lot worse than the Dordogne. There’s very little in the way of negatives for the area, but just be sure to weigh everything up when considering your ultimate retirement destination.

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