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There’s so much more to the south of France than beautiful beaches and glitzy lifestyles – although those are worth experiencing, too. The region is a great place to discover a wide cross-section of culture, all under the gaze of the Mediterranean sun.
The south of France is well known for its bling lifestyle, and places such as Antibes, Cannes and St Tropez are sailing hubs for the world’s mega-yachts and their owners and guests. The parties are legendary, the clubs have a guest list that you’d be lucky to crack and the summer is hot, in every sense of the word. Beyond the superficial glamour, however, you’ll find a firm base of tradition and culture; families that have lived here for centuries, and people who know how to dress and have a firm sense of style and a love of art and good food. It’s this heady mix of panache and bling that makes the south of France such a wonderful place to spend the summer.
The winters are also lovely in the south of France. Cities such as Marseille get over 300 days of sunshine each year, which makes the cold weather pleasant, even when the crazy Mistral wind blows into town.
The light in the south of France has a magical, luminescent quality that isn’t found in a lot of other places. Through a combination of the wind, the high temperatures and the mountains, the sky turns a special shade of blue during the blue hour. This light has been attracting artists for centuries, but even if you don’t paint or draw, it’s a magical time to have a coffee at dawn or a glass of wine at dusk and watch nature in all its glory.
Like many coastal locations, the south of France is a great place to spend time on the beach. People flock to Pampelonne in St Tropez, where Brigitte Bardot first became famous in the 1950s, the famous Croisette in Cannes and the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. And while the beaches are wonderfully diverse, there’s so much more to the south of France than beaches. This part of the world is home to vineyards, mountaintop villages, huge lakes and the impressive Gorges du Verdon canyon, not to mention the Calanques. You may even spot a wild boar.
Aside from the natural geography of the region, its history has been diverse enough to leave behind lots of beautiful buildings and monuments to visit. The Romans left behind beautiful aqueducts, such as the famous Pont du Gard, which is a local’s favourite for summer swimming. The decision by the Papacy to set up home in Avignon in the 14th century resulted in the Palais des Papes, the world’s largest medieval gothic palace.
And then there are the more recent buildings. Provence is full of beautiful farmhouses attached to world-class vineyards, and larger cities rammed full of interesting architecture. Marseille, for example, boasts the 19th-century Palais Longchamps and Corbusier’s ‘city within a city’. Then you can add the famous painters and their museums (Cézanne in Aix, Picasso in Antibes, Matisse and Chagall in Nice), as well as the influence of many writers (think F Scott Fitzgerald and Hemingway). You’ll also find the region has a love of jazz, opera and street festivals sufficient to suit any musical taste.
The south of France isn’t just a great place to live. Its location also makes it a great base from which to discover some great places for day trips, or if you have longer, to visit other countries (Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Monaco are all in easy reach). The ski resorts at the foot of the Alps are two or three hours’ drive, and the shores of northern Africa are only a little further away.
The south of France is not known for having lots of jobs. Unemployment is high, and the jobs that are available are very specialised in certain industries (energy, healthcare and maritime). For that reason, it can be one of the hardest places to live, even for a short time. The good news is that English is the world’s number one working language and teachers are in short supply. In 2017, on a national level, a huge number of teachers are due to reach retirement age, leaving many posts up for grabs across the country. At a local level, there’s a huge gap for teachers in the school system in places such as Marseille. Many of these are for English teachers, so you might just find a new career and a way to stay for good.