Best Books for Moving to France - essential reading for dreaming and planning your move to France
Updated: Aug 25
Whether your dreaming of retiring to France, starting a new life as a singleton, couple or family, France has enormous variety to tempt you. From its amazing cities, beautiful beaches, varied countryside and regional cuisine, there are so many reasons to love France. Do you love it so much you'd like to live there? Town or country, north or south, today I'm recommending some of the books that have helped me to consider a move to France.
From the memoirs that really bring home the massive change you undertake when you move to a new country to the practical guides to be on hand when you need them, today's blog post has everything you need to start dreaming and planning your move to France.
The essential reading for dreaming and planning your move to France is just that - a handy recommended reading list so that you can learn, dream and immerse yourself in the stories of those who've already made the move. There are handy guides for the language, culture as well as services to help you navigate visas and healthcare.
Many people moving to France fall in love with the gentle pace of rural life and want to reorientate their lives around the joyful art of living rather than living to (over)work. If you're dreaming of a country life, perhaps for the first time, then we have books that might help shape that vision in today's blog post that gives some essential reading for those wanting to move to France.
Have you wondered how you'll cope with the language, the culture and any renovations to the dream house? Are you looking for a chateau or a cottage? A traditional home or an eco home? A chalet in the mountains or a seasonal business and home? The memoirs and experiences of those who have bought a chateau, a dilapidated farmhouse or a vineyard might just help you to consider your options - and your dreams!
Often called the "expat book list' these books examine and relate the trials and tribulations of immigrants (let's face it, they're usually privileged anglophones from first world countries) moving to France and following their dream to settle in France. Nothing wrong with that, but this is not a list of much diversity, just so you know!
Before the UK left the European Union, people had a Freedom of Movement under EU law and it was pretty easy to study, work, live, travel and settle in other countries within that community. Nowadays things are very different and much more planning, thought and research is required by UK nationals who would have previously headed over to France and tried things out before taking the plunge.
So along with Australians, US, Canadian and many other nationalities you may need a visa to be in France and to stay in France, especially over 90 days (the 90/180 days rule for the Schengen zone). It's beyond the scope of this blog to explore all your options for where you live, but there is some general advice for 2022 at French Entrée which may set you off on your first steps to realising your dream of moving to France. Keep on reading for more e-book recommendations for working out how to move to France.
If you want to explore stories from those who have gone before you, then here is my tip top best books for exploring what it's like to move to France. From young families to retirees, those escaping the rat race a.k.a. metro boulot dodo, and those seeking a complete life change whether retirement or starting a business. There are would-be winemakers, work experience students, dreamers and ordinary families who all have their own unqiue stories to tell about their experiences.
Let's dive in!
First, the beauty of southwest France is where we start off our list of memoirs.
Memoirs and Moving to France Experiences
If moving to France is your dream, you'll love to hear about Caro and Seán's family move to the vineyards near Bergerac. Their young family moved from Ireland to a dilapidated wine farmhouse in the countryside with a can-do attitude and a small budget! Find out how it goes starting a vineyard and converting to organic farming while also learning French and raising a family.
Grape Expectations is Caro Feely's first volume of memoirs which whisks you away to the life-changing decision to buy the farm. But is the house quite what she was dreaming of?
In Saving our Skins Caro explores more of life rejuvenating the vineyard, learning French on-the-job and all the precarity of making wine. Can the vineyard succeed in covering its costs or will it be time to pack up? In the third volume, Caro explores the stresses and strains of the previous six years trying to make the business work.
'Hand harvesting was a different process to machine harvesting. It was convivial and slow. We started at dawn and slowly proceeded across the vineyards. It was better for us and for the grapes, the human scale and pace of it more peaceful and joyful.'
'But this rose-tinted glimpse of life is only part of the story - with it come long hours, uncertainty and their associated stress. For Sean and Caro Feely, the rollercoaster ride of managing a growing business is as challenging as making natural wine in harmony with the environment. Will the previous six years of hard work that created a flourishing organic vineyard in France prove worthwhile? Join Caro on her search for balance in life and wine. Does yoga hold the secret? And will she make it through this growth phase with marriage, farm and sanity intact?' Glass Half Full provides a lot of food for thought and completes this great set of memoirs (so far!)
I love the progression from newbies to village and community friendships blossoming, building a business and settling in with children. these seem like such important aspects to making a new life and it doesn't matter if you plan to make wine or something else, there's much to appreciate and learn from in these entertaining books.
For more moving to France and making wine stories, with a different experience, you might like award-winning Patricia Atkinson's books. Changing from professional jobs in England to a new, rural life in France through massive health shocks and knowing nothing much about making wine, these books are an interesting and immersive account of how to keep going when things get tough.
The Ripening Sun - Patrica Atkinson
La Belle Saison - Patricia Atkinson
I Ioved the reality of trying learn French and run a vineyard with no experience after a series of major life setbacks. A great contrast read to Caro Feely's books too - I recommend reading both so you can understand chemical, or standard, vineyard management and those certified organic and biodynamic. The processes and problems are quite different, but the similarities of creating wine for the first time are so inspiring.
Moving to France with children can be a challenge too. For an inspiring read, try this book set in the Toulouse area of southwest France. I enjoyed the premise and the experiences of daily, busy life with young ones trying to integrate too as well as huge, ambitious renovations. I sense a growing love for the people and region in the book too and it's different reading about wonderful Toulouse.
Moving to France without children can also be hugely challenging too. 😆 For a couple wanting a holiday home, maybe a country estate and space to roam with their beloved dogs, it was surprising to read about how life in France crept into their lives and hearts and became a full-time occupation! Read Beth Haslam's hilarious antics with husband and canine fur babies in southwest France. A sometimes madcap story of househunting, funny agents, even funnier situations with their beloved hounds and lots more besides. It's like going househunting with a funny friend!
If you're a city dweller with an eye on a more laidback French life, then you can't beat Janine Marsh's escapist, relatable animal-loving journey to living in France. It wasn't planned and having no pets and a regular city corporate job in London, I think she'd be the first to say that it's quite surprising how things turned out!
A charming read and now with volume three is out!
Memoirs about loving France and really falling in love with France are just my sort of story. (No surprise there!) I really enjoyed and became completely absorbed by the Sunflowers trilogy.
At first I thought a second home owner might not have enough to capture my attention, as I really love hearing about how people settle in to real life in a new country. But Ruth Silvestre's storytelling and experiences, some decades ago now, really brought to life the rural experience in the sunny southwest of France. Lot - et - Garonne is a glorious départment in Nouvelle Aquitaine famous for its fruit-growing and rural beauty. Making a fabulous change from stories set in Paris or Provence, this trilogy is heartwarming and beautifully poignant.
Also in the southwest of France is the old region of Gascony, now formed by modern day départments like Gers, but always at heart Gascon. Stereotypically proud (Cyrano de Bergerac and his loyal followers were Gascon and sing Gascon songs in the play), wholeheartedly rural and seasonal, Gascony is a pleasure and a delight to immerse yourself in. Martin Calder's memoirs of gaining hands-on farming experience in Gascony is a delight throughout. Evocative, charming and timeless it is well-worth reading over the summer to give you a real taste of rural life in France.
For a more mountainous rural life, Catherine Berry's family adventure to move to France with their three children is so inspiring, beautiful and poignant. While their spirit of adventure was high, their planning may not have been exactly that! Having decided at random with a pin in a map to settle in the Haute-Savoie department, near charming Annecy, the family embarks on a life-changing trip from Australia that shapes all their lives. A really wonderful book for Francophiles who get that adventurous urge to do the same thing - pack up and go!
If life in Paris is more your thing, then read on...
Sarah Turnbull's bestselling story of meeting a Frenchman and taking him up on his offer to visit him in Paris, planning to stay a week and then... This great fish-out-of-water story is enormous fun with Sarah's great writing and humour shining through. It's a personal tale that really emphasises the Parisian way of life and learning how things are done, when you're from Sydney and you don't feel like you fit in at all. From the language, food, style and seduction to fashion shows and making sense of it all this is a great read.
If you'd love to hear the story of an American in Paris, you might love the hilarious stories by John von Sothen who fell in love with a French woman and the rest, as they say, is history. He recounts the real-life Paris neighbourhood and lifestyle that might not meet the clichéd expectations we might all have about Paris (like Emily in Paris, which not only stereotypes French life and culture but almost every other nationality too.) As a savvy Francophile, you might prefer to hear about how the Parisians plan their holidays, mythbusting Paris family life and wrily observing the contradictions and beauty of living in France. Some laugh-out-loud moments guaranteed.
Monsieur Mediocre: One American Learns the High Art of Being Everyday French This book seems to have also been published with a different cover and title, Paris Match, but I understand it to be a paperback edition update rather than a wholly different book. I love the new cover!
More funny stories from an American feature in the hilarious 'I'll Never Be French No Matter What I Do' by Mark Greenside and the sequel. This time we're outside of Paris with a reluctant Francophile writer from New York.
Set in Brittany and the charm and beauty of Finistère and written by a writer who never intended to stay in France but ended up buying a second home there! It's a book I re-read every year beacuse it's so much fun! If you're a passionate Francophile then you'll love it too, mostly because he doesn't hold back in his wry self-observations as a clueless visitor and that makes it all the funnier. With the humour of a New Yorker he recounts embarrassing situations, hilarious menu choices and all kinds of interesting observations between life in the US and life in rural Brittany.
To avoid making the same mistakes if you move to France, you might like the next list of handy books for those wanting to move to France. 😊
The Practical Books for Moving to France
First and foremost, if you're planning to move to France it pays to think very carefully about every angle. From retirement plans, investments, pensions, wills to houses, schools, health insurance and which region you prefer, there is a multitude of aspects to consider. It can seem overwhelming to move country and even more so if you're doing it without the support of a big company or relocation specialist.
I've recommended some books and also noted three services which might be of enormous beneft to you in fact-finding what you want to do and understand how to make it happen or to adjust it to what's possible (visas, healthcare, identity cards, residency, registering at the right time for schools, etc are all helpful things to have someone fluent in French helping you with!) Why suffer bureaucracy alone, when you could save time and frustration by asking for help?
As a property professional earlier in life, I can also stress that it is vital to do two things as soon as possible in your house hunt. The first is to learn French. The second is to remember to get a survey! A survey of the property along with the legally required diagnostics reports will help you to find out if your dream home is a disaster or exactly what you hoped! Knowing if there is a planned high speed rail line next to your land, garden or house or any other blight which could affect your enjoyment of the property are all important to take into account and are usually checked by the notaire. I always think these questions are also worthy of asking the agent and doing some research, where possible, for yourself.
The cooling off period after making an offer, or making an offer with a suspensive clause, are options you might wish to consider carefully and they exist to potentially help you. Perhaps I'll do a blog post on property and France, but for now, here's a practical set of books that will aid your thinking, dreaming and practical plans.
If you're dreaming of buying a home in France, then this book will give you some good questions to ask yourself and some overviews of life in France, the attitude of many 'expat' immigrants in France and what you might expect form the property transactions. It's fair to say that if you find a trusted, reliable and honest real estate agent then you have truly struck gold! Most transactions without an agent fail, and a good agent will help you through many of the processes of property purchases as well as avoiding the pitfalls.
French Building Terms is a great book so you can tell your marteau from your tournevis. Lots of handy vocabulary including architectural and practical terms. The practical tips and vocabulary can never be underestimated if you're not a francophone! If you're a keen renovator at heart and fancy buying a longère or a château then this is the book for you!
Settling in France is a great book to help you understand the equivalent products for cooking and home baking as well as all kinds of household goods Really useful for conversions from the UK, Canada/USA and Australia. A helpful book when you're planning that first trip to the supermarché!
(Edited post to add this) very handy book of medical terms in French and English to help with any emergencies or illnesses which may arise on your house hunting trip, holiday or your time in France.
Seasoned traveller or first-timer to France, there might be some very well-explained cultural aspects explained in this handy guide that help you out.
If you want to continue to understand how to introduce yourself, make small talk with the cheesemonger or understand why 'bonjour' is the most important word you know then this is the book for you. A wonderful book full of interesting insights and research from two journalists passionate to understand the differences between North American and French culture and by doing so, revelling in the fascinating Frenchisms. They move from Canada to Paris to uncover the cultural and linguistic differences fro themselves. A really enjoyable and fascinating read, even if you're not moving to France!
Finding Help to Navigate the Bureaucracy - Moving with Assistance
Many people manage to move to France without help, but they do have to prepare themselves for the bureaucracy (let's face it, it's legendary) and they might make mistakes. Some of which could make the difference between an accepted application and one that's rejected.
If you're more at the dreaming about moving to France stage, then you might like Allison Lounes' site and e-books. I am currently enjoying her ebook The 5 Decisions Big Dreamers Make Before their Franceformation with its knowledgeable outlook, supportive framework and interesting client case studies. I am already feeling inspired about the process of moving to France. Are you intimidated by the idea? Excited by the idea? No idea where to start? Why not look at her free assessment and her e-books? (no affiliate links or affiliation, I just like the idea of being supported in moving to France and found her style very professional and realistic.)
Another friendly relocation specialist is Renestance, based in Occitanie but able to help with many issues and relocations to all regions of France. Check out their website for more information on how they could help you to realise your dream of moving to France. They have a handy questionnaire to find out how ready you are for your move to France, which handily prompts lots of thinking. There are plenty of free downloads in their shop and a selection of ebooks as well as a handy blog to help you understand everything about moving to France.
I have also heard good things about French Connections H-C-B (I don't get the name, but the service is incredibly well-reviewed, as you can see from this great story on their blog) and they seem to have plenty of proactive administrative support to assist you in planning your move to France. Whether it's sorting out your car paperwork or a full support package for a family move to France, they seem to have it covered. Find out more at their website and brochure.
Dreaming of having more land? Inspiring and Practical Tips for a Rural Life
If you dream of moving to France and creating a self-sufficient life or a smallholding then I can tell you that you really need this book! Lorraine Turnbull has the experience and a very practical way of looking at things to help you to really consider this idea without the rose-tinted glasses it's all too easy to put on (especially in my case when you have no experience of running a smallholding!)
Now available in a newly updated second edition, it could be the most up-to-date book about moving to France available. Covering everything you need to know including how to setup a business, it's a must-have for dreaming of the rural life. It also has tips for sustainability in everyday life even if you live in an apartment.
Her smallholding book might also be inspiring, although obviously less specific to France.
For more on smallholdings or creating self-sufficient food, greener systems around house and garden and inspiration on what is possible, you might enjoy Dick and James Strawbridge's practical handbook. I love this book - it has everything to consider from raising animals to planning a veg garden.
Dick's experience in creating a wonderful vegetable garden (potager) and managing land is of course part of the story he shares with his wife, Angel, and family on the TV show Escape to the Chateau, and early series of Escape to the Chateau DIY. For more on their lives moving to France and renovating a chateau in the Pays-de-la-Loire region of France you can enjoy these enticing books as well as their vlog on their site, as well as a world tour. 😊
I remember Dick wanted to create a truffle oak plantation or truffière, but it's not nearly as easy as it sounds.
Similarly, Jamie and Tanya Ivey hope they might find the black diamonds on land in Provence. Jamie Ivey's tales of becoming a wine seller in Provence rather accidentally, are so much fun. The Provencal life, culture and beauty springs from the page as well as the wine tasting notes. There's lots to love here, especially following their story from visitors in France to parents in Provence in search of a truffle income. Will it work out?
If you'd prefer the sun in the south and maybe olive trees instead of animals, you might enjoy Carol Drinkwater's tales from her olive farm. An accidental farmer who doesn't set out to fall in love with a property near the Mediterranean, but who ends up being rather an expert on olives, olive-farming and the history of these magnificent trees. Some 1,000 year olive trees exist in France too - what a history they have seen! Whether or not you fancy making your own olive oil, these memoirs have lots to enjoy which really immerses the reader in the south of France, warts and all.
A four-part series of memoirs which can take you to the south of France and throughout the Mediterranean. (Trigger warning: themes of pregnancy, loss, vehicle accidents, which some readers might find difficult.) Carol also recently featured on a UK television channel series about life in Provence. You can find it on replay (in the UK or through VPN perhaps?) on Channel5.
If travelling to France or around France is more your thing, then look out for more summer reading and essential book lists coming soon to the blog! If you too wish you could be in France experiencing your dream holiday, there will be escapist books you need for your summer reading and beyond.
I hope you have enjoyed today's post about moving to France and feel like you have some good books to dig into for inspiration and practical tips.
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