Living in the French Riviera

Living In The French Riviera – Insights For Expats

Jacob Powell
All the useful information you might need about living in the French Riviera, such as the best retirement destinations, cost of living, and the status of the region’s expat community.

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The French Riviera (also known as Côte d’Azur) is one of the most affluent and desirable destinations in the whole country, if not the world.

If you’re considering the French Riviera as your retirement destination then you obviously have your heart set on a certain standard of living.

Even so, you likely have questions about retiring to the Côte d’Azur. In this guide we’ll cover all the useful information you might need, such as the best retirement destinations, cost of living, and the status of the region’s expat community.

Moving to the French Riviera (the Côte d’Azur) in retirement

The French Riviera has long been seen as the stomping ground for the world’s most rich and famous. But the region still offers plenty of opportunities for affordable retirement that’ll grant you access to a very high standard of living.

Whether you’re interested in the long history of cities like Nice or Marseilles, the lifestyle of Monaco, snowboarding in the Alps, or simply taking in some of the amazing food and beautiful nature, the Côte d’Azur has so much to offer.

It’s no secret that the area is home to big money. This translates into great healthcare services, plenty of amazing restaurants, and loads of interesting activities – both on the sea and the land.

Living in the French Riviera
Saint-Tropez has always been popular with artists and creative people and remains known for its beaches and nightlife. It used to be a humble fishing village, although yachts now outnumber fishing boats in the Vieux Port

But the area also sees plenty of tourism, meaning there are a wealth of day activities and some interesting nightlife. The French Riviera would be perfect for retirees looking for an active lifestyle, but would also be ideal for those looking for something more relaxed.

Property prices in the French Riviera are understandably higher than the rest of France, but you’re paying to live in a premium area. It’s probably fair to assume you already knew this seeing as you’re considering it as a retirement destination!

Overall, the Côte d’Azur offers plenty of attractive prospects for expats looking for a varied and interesting life in retirement. It’s a large stretch of coastline, so you have plenty of variety in retirement locations too.

French Riviera vs Italian Riviera (Amalfi Coast)

Perhaps your main criterion for retirement is a Mediterranean coastal area, and you’re wondering whether the French Riviera or Italian Riviera would be better. Realistically, both offer glamour and unforgettable experiences, but the main deciding factors are:

Language

This is an obvious one, but the French Riviera is French-speaking and the Italian Riviera is Italian speaking. If you already have knowledge of one language, this might sway your decision.

If you don’t have much knowledge of either, the general consensus is that basic Italian is easier to learn. There’s a clearer relation between spelling and pronunciation. But the more advanced you get, the easier French becomes.

Food

Another obvious but important factor is the food. The Côte d’Azur features a lot of seafood (and of course salade niçoise), along with French specialties such as duck and veal.

The Italian Riviera will feature more pasta (obviously) with lots of pesto. Similarly, the area is big on white wine, while the French Riviera is big for rose wine.

Living in the French Riviera
The French Riviera is a paradise for gardeners. It has a sweet microclimate that allows maintaining amazing gardens like this one in Eze.

Ultimately there’s no way of saying which is better because it depends on the type of lifestyle you want. It might be worth spending some time touring both in order to make a more informed decision about where to settle down.

Pros and cons of living in the south of France

The  d’Azur might seem like the perfect place, what with its affluent lifestyle and amazing scenery, but it’s worth knowing the pros and cons before making your decision.

Pros of living in the south of France

1. The weather is pretty great

While there is some variation depending on geography, the French Riviera’s climate is pretty constant. In the east (Cannes) it reaches 28 degrees in the summer, while in the west (Marseilles) it gets to about 30. Winters are fairly cool but much milder than the UK.

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The main advantage is that the Alps block much of the poorer weather coming from the north. The sea’s proximity keeps away much of the weather spikes too, although it does increase rainfall.

2. Plenty of opportunity for star spotting

If rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s most rich and famous is top of your list, then the French Riviera is for you. Whether it’s finding movie stars during the Cannes Film Festival or playing blackjack with socialites in Monte Carlo, the area has plenty to offer.

3. Close proximity to the sea

This almost goes without saying, but living on the Côte d’Azur puts you right on the edge of the Mediterranean. This gives you plenty of opportunities for sailing, swimming, or any other water sports you might enjoy.

4. Varied history and culture

The French Riviera is a collection of towns and cities, and so has plenty of variation in its history and culture. If that’s your thing then you could do a lot worse for a retirement destination.

You’ll find Roman ruins (like the ones in Climiez), ruined castles (such a Grimaldi near Saint-Tropez), and plenty of evidence of the region’s popularity with Georgian and Victorian upper classes. It’s a history-lover’s paradise.

Living in the French Riviera
The French Riviera is full of lovely beaches like Paloma Beach near Villefranche-Sur-Mer where you can spend all day in peace and tranquillity

5. Great food and wine

The pro of great food and wine is applicable to pretty much all of France. The Côte d’Azur is no exception, as it features amazing seafood, excellent wine, and very affordable fresh produce.

The best way to buy much of this food is still at the local open-air markets, which will usually be weekly in almost every town and city. The French are big on locally sourced produce, and it would be silly to not take advantage of this.

Cons of living in the south of France

1. Tourist crowds

Tourism isn’t always a bad thing because it does bring benefits, but often isn’t what you’re after when looking for a retirement destination. Of course, larger cities like Nice, Marseilles, and Saint-Tropez will see much more tourism than others.

The easiest way to avoid this, if it will be a problem for you, is to live in one of the smaller towns in the region. Not only will this offer a quieter lifestyle, but property prices will be more attractive too.

2. Its reputation does come with some downfalls

The New York Times once described Saint-Tropez as full of “see-and-be-seen restaurants”. Similarly, playwright Somerset Maugham described the region as “a sunny place for shady people”.

This shouldn’t put you off the French Riviera, but should make you consider it as a realistic retirement destination. Living there permanently is different to visiting it on holiday. That said, this issue is completely avoided by living in a smaller town outside the main hotspots.

3. Things are fairly relaxed

This might sound like a big pro, and it usually is, but not when it comes to important things. Like much of France, shops shut for lunch every day, but compensate by staying open a bit later.

Also, don’t expect a British timescale for things like house repairs or resolving issues with utility providers. The French don’t seem as bothered as the British, but it shouldn’t be a problem once you acclimatise to it.

What is it like to live on the French Riviera?

Explaining what it’s like to live on the French Riviera can’t really be summed up in a simple sentence or two. As the area covers a large number of towns and cities there’s a lot of variation. It stretches around 550 miles, so would be like wondering what it’s like living on the west coast of Britain.

That said, the cities do share some similarities. The weather is fairly constant (and amazing), the food and wine quality has small variations but remains consistent, and there’s plenty for those seeking an active lifestyle.

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Living on the French Riviera is like living in a permanent holiday on a film set. From the Cannes Film Festival to the Monaco Grand Prix, and sailing the Mediterranean to skiing in the Alps, the Côte d’Azur has almost everything you could need.

Living in the French Riviera
Love glitz and glamour? Take a walk along Boulevard de la Croisette in Cannes – it is lined with sandy beaches, upmarket boutiques and palatial hotels.

That said, it’s always worth being realistic that the area can offer everything you actually need. Luckily it has a great healthcare system and excellent international connections, so the answer is likely yes.

Is the French Riviera safe?

The French Riviera is no less safe than a large UK city such as London or Manchester. Of course, there are variations between the cities, and more affluent areas will usually benefit from a lower crime rate because of their larger police forces. In short, if you feel safe living in a British city then you should have no concerns in the Côte d’Azur.

Just to give you an idea, Numbeo rates the crime index in London as 52.6, with a level of crime rate at 62.1. Theft, violent crime, race- and gender-related crime, and drugs are all rated moderate to high.

Comparatively, the same site rates the crime index in Nice as 41.8, with a level of crime rate at 42. The same crime areas in Nice are all rated moderate to low. Safety walking alone (both day and night) are moderate to very high.

Similarly, in Marseille, the crime index is 58.5, and the level of crime is 63.7. Marseille is more on par with London, as its crime areas rate from moderate to high.

But then you look at somewhere like Antibes, located between Cannes and Nice, and the crime index drops to 21. Its level of crime is lower still – 19.4 – and all areas of crime are low to very low.

As you can see, it really depends on where you live as to the safety level. Realistically, there shouldn’t be any concerns regardless of where you decide to call home, but living away from the bigger cities guarantees a safer life.

As you may have guessed by now, the French Riviera is a popular destination for many, particularly the rich and famous. But why is it so popular?

The most obvious reasons for the French Riviera’s popularity are its beautiful scenery, perfect sailing waters, excellent food, and the numerous opportunities to spend money.

Living in the French Riviera
With its narrow cobblestone streets festooned with flowers, Antibes has stolen the hearts of so many artists, writers, and less prominent expats

Along with events like the Cannes Film Festival and the Monte Carlo Grand Prix, you’ll find plenty of other cultural activities ranging from art galleries and museums to water sports. Arguably, there’s something for everyone.

And if celeb spotting is on your list, here are just a few of the famous faces you might see walking the streets:

Johnny Depp

Depp owns a (comparatively) small villa near Saint-Tropez, along with a nearby vineyard. It’s located in a small village called Plan De La Tour, around 30 minutes from Saint-Tropez.

Elton John

Elton owns a beautiful villa at the top of Mount Boron, not far from Nice. Expect a big mountain hike if you want to see this property!

Tina Turner

This famous popstar owns an impressive villa in Villefranche-sur-Mer, near Nice. The town granted her honorary citizenship back in 1995.

Bono

U2 frontman Bono owns a stunning villa in Eze-sur-Mer, a small seafront villa. The band’s guitarist owns a neighbouring villa on the same stretch of beach, so you might even get double the stars for your money!

How much does it cost to live in the French Riviera?

With all this glitz and glamour, you might be wondering, is the French Riviera expensive?

The Côte d’Azur cost of living largely depends on where you choose to settle down. There’s variation between towns and cities, and between central and peripheral city regions.

Take two prominent French Riviera cities, Marseille and Nice, as examples. Numbeo reports that the cost of living in Marseille is 5.2% lower than London, but the cost of living in Nice is 5.5% higher than in London. Having a higher cost of living than London is fairly impressive.

In Marseille, renting a one-bedroom central apartment will cost around €581 (£525) a month, compared to London’s £1,735 (€1,919).

Buying an apartment in the city centre will cost around €3,200 (£2,891) compared to London’s £11,665 (€12,910). The same space in Nice will set you back €809 (£731) and €6,635 (£5,995), respectively.

Groceries in Marseille are about 30% cheaper than London, while in Nice they’re about 20% more expensive. Eating out is cheaper in both French cities by around 25-30%.

In Nice you could expect to pay around €40 (£35) a month for a gym membership, which would cost €28 (£26) in Marseille and £45 (€48) in London.

Living in the French Riviera
Menton’s lemons are so special, they deserve an annual festival. And so The Fête du Citron is organized by the Menton authorities every year at the end of winter to dazzle everyone with fantastic displays and celebrations.

But then if you look in the smaller towns around the Côte d’Azur, the cost of living drops dramatically. For example, in Antibes, house prices are a whopping 140% lower than in London!

Living on the French Riviera can be as expensive as you want it to be. Realistically, it’s not a penny-pinching destination, but this isn’t a secret. For a fairly comfortable, no-frills retirement, you’ll probably want to budget around €1,100 per person. This won’t include hobbies or healthcare.

Healthcare in the French Riviera

The French Riviera has an excellent healthcare system, much like the rest of France. Obviously the big money found in the region means there are plenty of private hospitals, but the public ones are excellent too.

Some notable public hospitals include the Hospital Centre Cannes, the Princess Grace Hospital in Monaco, and Cimiez Hospital in Nice. You also have private healthcare facilities like Polyclinique Saint Jean in Cagnes-sur-Mer, Institut Arnault Tzanck in Mougins, and Hopital Grasse.

All hospitals have excellent English-speaking facilities too, making communication that bit easier. In short, healthcare shouldn’t be a big concern when considering the French Riviera as a retirement destination.

  • Healthcare In France For Expats – how to register with public healthcare, your health insurance options and everything else you need to know to keep healthy in France.

Where should I live on the French Riviera?

Choosing a retirement destination in a single city can be a challenge, let alone along 550 miles of beautiful French coastline! If you want bustling city life then there are the big ones to choose from (Nice, Marseille, Saint-Tropez, etc.).

  • What’s It Like Living In Nice – the cost of living, the pros and cons, the highlights of the expat lifestyle, and some of the best areas to live in Nice.

But if you want something a bit quieter and off the beaten track, here are some suggestions for the best places to live in the Côte d’Azur.

Villefranche-sur-Mer

This village is located about a 25-minute drive away from Nice and is almost a different world. It still retains its quiet fishing-village charm featuring ochre houses and wide, open seafront promenades.

It’s a great choice for those looking for an active lifestyle, as there are plenty of walking trails along the coast and around the surrounding hills. With Nice only a short drive away, you can have amenities in easy reach but peace and quiet when you want it.

Menton

Menton is a hidden gem on the Côte d’Azur. Only a 20-minute drive from Monte Carlo and very close to the Italian border, this would be a great choice for those with travelling in mind.

Living in the French Riviera
Apart from lemons, Menton is known for its beaches and gardens such as the Serre de la Madone garden, and for being very pretty.

Here you’ll find museums and beautiful green spaces, such as the Botanique Exotique de Menton and Serre de la Madone. There are also some great beaches, and being so close to Monte Carlo means you can pop up for a spot of gambling whenever the mood takes you.

Antibes

Antibes is a small resort town found between Cannes and Nice. It’s got a rich history, including a 16th-century fortification wall and an archaeological museum. What’s more, it was once home to Picasso for a period of his life.

Round the corner from the main town you’ll find the Cap d’Antibes, home to luxury hotels and “Billionaire’s Bay” featuring some of the biggest and most impressive villas you’ve ever seen. Antibes will be a good choice if you want culture and don’t might the annual tourism boom.

Cannes

If you’re in the market to spend some serious money, you can’t go too wrong with Cannes. Property prices here can exceed €30 million! You’ll find a mix of stunning modern villas (with their own pools) and 18th-century mansions depending on your tastes. There’s even plenty of space in the harbour to moor your yacht!

Making friends and meeting people in the French Riviera

Although it’s always worth trying to get involved in local communities, having an expat community to enjoy is also helpful. Luckily the Côte d’Azur is popular with expats and there are plenty of vibrant clubs and social groups.

Of course, it’ll depend on the city or town you settle down in, but here are some of the biggest:

Nice Expat Meetup Group

This group is exactly what it sounds like: an online meeting place for expats based in Nice and the surrounding area. There’s always a list of upcoming social events that are great for meeting new people and getting settled in the community.

British Association of Monaco

The BAM is a similar group, just based in Monaco and only open to Brits. They have a collection of resources to help you get settled, and a list of events where you can meet people in the area.

International Women’s Club of the Riviera

The IWCR is a place for English-speaking women to meet up. They style themselves as an active club and go on lots of outdoor trips and arrange regular meetings. This will be a good group for women to learn the area and try some amazing local food.

Another generally foolproof option is to see what groups are on social media, such as Facebook. Expat communities regularly set up events on there and this will be a good way of meeting people in your local area.

Things to do in the French Riviera

There’s definitely no shortage of activities in the Côte d’Azur, regardless of where you decide to settle down. Of course, many of them reflect the region’s glamour, but what better way to spend your retirement?

Sailing

You’ll find plenty of places to rent a yacht from a number of towns, including Cannes, Nice, Monaco, and so on. You can rent yachts by the day or week, with or without a skipper, and have plenty of flexibility over what you do with it. Alternatively, if you’ve got a bit of spare cash, you could always buy your own!

Living in the French Riviera
Sailing is hugely popular in the French Riviera. Even if you don’t do it yourself, there’s always an opportunity to participate in one of the numerous regattas as a spectator. This one is ‘Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez’ regatta line up.

Golf

As with all places not short on money, the French Riviera is home to some world-renowned golf courses. Here are just a few of the most popular:

  • Golf de la Grande Bastide, Chateauneuf de Grasse
  • Royal Mougins, Mougins
  • Golf d’Opio Valbonne, Valbonne
  • Golf de Sainte Maxime, Sainte Maxime

The Royal Mougins is where you’ll most likely bump into some celebrities, particularly when the club hosts its annual Monaco-US Celebrity Golf Cup.

Water sports

If water sports are your thing, then you’ll be pleased with the range of diving activities on offer along the Côte d’Azur. You’ll find diving schools in cities like Nice, but also in smaller towns like Vallauris and Ramatuelle. Many of these places also offer things like jet skiing and wakeboarding too so you won’t be short of options.

Dining

Of course, you can’t overlook dining in such an affluent region as the French Riviera. Whether you’re looking for a local eatery or a fine-dining experience, it won’t be difficult to find the perfect spot for some food. Here are the highlights:

  • La Vague D’Or

Saint-Tropez is home to two Michelin-starred restaurants, and this is one of them (it actually has 3 Michelin stars!). It’s big on seafood and on prices; the menu starts at €200!

  • Carte Blanche

This restaurant is located in Hyeres and is smaller and less expensive than some other fine-dining places, but is no less excellent. It features a seasonal menu that changes regularly, meaning you’ll always be in for a new surprise.

  • Hostellerie Jerome

Located in La Turbie, not far from Monte Carlo, this restaurant has 2 Michelin stars. The food is local but elevated; menu prices start at €78 a head.

  • Le Parc 45

Found in Cannes, this one-Michelin-star restaurant is famous for its invention. Considering it’s found in such a bustling city, it has to do something to stand out, and it really does.

Shopping

There is no shortage of shopping malls on the Côte d’Azur, many of which stock only designer goods (as you’d expect). Some of the highlights include Le Metropole in Monaco, Nice Etoile in Nice, and Polygone Riviera in Cagnes-sur-Mer.

But don’t forget to check out small boutiques in places like Monaco and Monte Carlo. Many of the hottest brands wouldn’t be seen in a shopping mall, so you have to go hunting for them instead.

Snowboarding in Côte d’Azur

Considering the proximity of the Alps, it would be wrong to overlook the opportunities for skiing and snowboarding in the French Riviera. Whether you’re looking a day trip from home or somewhere to spend the whole winter, there are plenty of great locations for snowboarding in Côte d’Azur.

  • Valberg

Valberg is a great family-orientated ski resort that boasts skiing, snowboarding, and cross-county skiing. There are a number of great hotels to choose from, and the slopes are great for people of all ages and abilities.

  • Isola 200

Isola 200 is the highest ski resort in the French Riviera, meaning it gets snow earlier and for longer than everywhere else. It’s also the region’s largest, so you’ll have plenty of options for skiing and snowboarding.

  • Val d’Allos

Val might not be much to look at, but it is massive. If you’re thinking of spending your whole winter somewhere, it might not be here.

  • La Colmiane

La Colmiane is another family-style resort that’s perfect for all ages and abilities. It has hotels and condos to choose from so would be ideal for a whole winter family getaway.

Final thoughts on living in the French Riviera

Retiring to the French Riviera has the potential to be a life-changing decision. Its affluence and luxury is so vastly different from the UK or the USA, and much of its stunning scenery will never get old.

That said, it won’t always be a film-set location. There are some serious points to consider when weighing up retirement on the Côte d’Azur, but many of these are overcome by moving to a smaller town outside the big cities.

Overall, the French Riviera has lots to offer as a retirement destination. There’s great food and culture, variety, and vibrant expat communities to help you settle down. It’s fair to say you won’t do much better for a retirement location.

You might find useful:

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Join hundreds of expats who've already benefited with our free guides.

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