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A Tale of Two Countrysides: Comparing the British and French Countrysides

When most people think of France, they think of the Eiffel Tower, delicious food, and wine. However, many people don’t know France is also home to beautiful countryside. In this blog post, we will be comparing the British and French countryside. We will discuss the similarities and differences between the two countries and their respective landscapes. So without further ado, let’s get started!

My Country Background

I grew up in rural Lancashire in the North West of England and now live in the southwest of England in Somerset, on the fringes of the Exmoor National Park. I also lived and worked in Paris for ten years and visited several parts of the French countryside. So in this article, I aim to share some insights and knowledge that will help you decide where you might like to visit, stay, and maybe even live.

Country Traditions

The first thing worth saying about the British versus the French countryside is that both are packed full of rustic charm and beautiful villages with deep traditions. The fact is that France is a much larger country than Britain, and therefore the countryside areas tend to be more spread out and less populated than in Britain.

Countryside areas in France tend to be rural and almost countrified, which I like.

France and Britain were bitter enemies in the past, with one war lasting 116 years! These days, of course, things are much friendlier! A friendly rivalry persists on food, architecture, style, and education!

French cuisine has vast prestige among people in Britain, while the English have very different but equally respected cuisine. On balance, it has to be said that France and French countryside cooking would win on the food front, although in Britain, the rise of the gastropub and much more enlightened food culture has raised the game.

In France we have a saying, ‘Joie de vivre,’ which actually doesn’t exist in the English language. It means looking at your life as something that is to be taken with great pleasure and enjoy it.

Mireille Guiliano

Country Areas in Britain

In terms of natural beauty, you’ll find great charm and delight in both countrysides, with glorious countryside views and the opportunity to enjoy lovely landscapes.

In Britain, you might find yourself in the West Country. The English country Cotswolds has a rich and comfortable character. Cornwall has some wonderfully wild areas of coastline, such as the rugged cliffs at Porthcurno and Land’s End. Tales of smugglers and pirates of days gone by abound.

There are also many more urban areas in the same area, such as Plymouth and Truro. I have fond memories of Devon – including Dartmouth and Exeter.

The New Forest close to London reminds us of a mysterious past. Or you can head up to the Lake District further north to Scotland and its Highlands. Wales has the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. Not to mention its wonderful Pembrokeshire coastline.

Country Areas in France

France has many marvelous regions to visit. The highly efficient and remarkably cheap TGV rail service means you can get from Paris to the south of France within hours.

For example, you might be in the south or southwest, with castles like Montségur and Rocamadour. You have stunning countryside in the Tarn region you find great towns such as Albi and Montpellier. If you’re looking for cities, you might travel to Marseille, Lyon, Nantes, or Angoulême.

The regions of Normandy and Brittany have lovely scenery and towns such as Caen and Rennes. I fondly remember the coastline dotted with many lovely little ports, crashing waves, and pretty harbors. Not to mention the excellent seafood.

Provence understandably gets a lot of attention. The area around Bordeaux is also fantastic; if you find yourself there, check out the Pilat dunes. The world-famous Plum Village is also nearby for those attracted to meditation and mindfulness retreats. For the rich and sun-thirsty, the Cote d’Azur might be more your thing.

Rituals and Traditions

Both countrysides are full of rituals and traditions; anyone first in the French countryside would be well advised to pop into the local patisserie first thing in the morning and buy some fresh croissants and coffee. And in the evening, you’ll find some festival or fair going on around most towns, usually with music, food, and dance.

You’ll also have the chance to visit different places of worship; the sparkling Gothic cathedral at Chartres or the fantastic Romanesque abbey at Moissac. Many lovely old churches are scattered throughout Provence, some dating back to the 12th century.

In Britain, you’d probably want to wait until later to take advantage of a Devon cream tea, hot scones with clotted cream and jam, the hearty home cooking of a typical country pub, or that quintessentially British institution, afternoon High Tea.

What makes me really happy is a walk in the English countryside. A nice sunset, that British countryside it means I’m home.

Natalie Dormer

And you can’t leave Britain without trying a fish and chips dinner. Jokingly referred to as ‘our national contribution to world cuisine’!

When visiting these countryside areas, make sure that you check out the local traditions. for example, in the West of England, you will find wassailing – an ancient ceremony to welcome in the cider harvest. In Somerset, in the southwest of England, I’ve been to wassailing, where they used shotguns to fire into the trees the apple trees to scare away evil spirits.

In France, no Village would be without its pétanque. A game that involves landing hand-thrown balls closer to a tiny target. You’d be more likely to catch a cricket match in England in mid-summer.


Weather-wise, the French probably have the British beat. It tends to be drier and warmer in France, certainly in the south and southwest of France than in Britain. That said, there is something to be said about the freshness of the late spring or summer days in the United Kingdom.


If architecture is your thing, both countrysides have beautiful examples of the atmosphere of the country feeding into the styles of architecture—both on the grand scale and smaller.

French chateaux are world-famous for their opulence and style, although not every chateau (castle) has to be that way. If you have the time, especially in an area like the Loire Valley, take a vineyard tour, where the house style is likely to be much more workman-like. French country decor is much admired and emulated in the States.

The equivalent in Britain is the country houses or stately homes. These are very accessible through organizations like the National Trust. If you’re in the countryside, then there’s a good chance you’ll drive past some of these. And you might see a member of the nobility out and about. Often dressed in quite dowdy and anonymous attire!

Both countrysides have wonderful farmhouse traditions.

Where to Live?

So, if you are lucky enough to be faced with the choice, which countryside would you live in? France or Britain?

The first thing to be said is that a million Britons chose to buy houses in France, principally in the south and southwest of France. That fact probably speaks for itself!

Since Brexit, the number of British buyers will have reduced and probably will contract even further. No one knows what the future holds for a British ex-pat, but it looks likely that, at least for the time being, Britain’s countryside will be more crowded than it used to be as people return.

French countryside living was not an entirely rosy story for the French or British immigrants. French bureaucracy is legendary. Taxes are far from low. And the most significant obstacle was perhaps what the French call ‘la morosité’ – a profound gloominess that permeated French life. Perhaps it’s a question of highs and lows.

On several occasions when I lived in France, I remember thinking: “Why do these people feel so down?

Some French country towns, especially in northern France, are semi-abandoned. I remember one near the Belgian border where one in three shops on the high street was closed; when I asked locals incredulously why this was happening, they responded that people, especially young people, had moved to Paris.

You see the same in some tiny French country villages and hamlets.

Exodus to the city is rare in Britain, where house prices are high and desirable, and charming rural houses and cottages are at a premium. This, in large part, explained the exodus of a chunk of the British population to France. Along with the very popular memoir ‘A Year in Provence.’


Drinking culture is an excellent indication of the countryside culture. in France, you will typically find the local bar or tabac in a village. In contrast, in Britain, it will be the countryside pub. The locals in France will be drinking Monacos – beer lemonade and grenadine – while their British counterparts enjoy beer and pork scratchings or a cup of tea.

When in the French countryside, be sure to drink the local wine. Don’t be fooled by the low prices. The local wine sourced locally will often be better than anything fancier on the shelves.

In my experience, both communities are friendly. I remember walking around one village in France, where every second house invited us in for a small aperitif – a pastis. By the time we got to the village’s end, I was feeling quite tipsy! No doubt we served as the entertainment for the village!

Choose Both!

On balance, it’s tough to choose between the two countrysides. Whether to visit or to live. Ideally, give yourself the chance to do both.

Transport-wise, it’s simple; the Eurostar can get you from Paris to London in around two hours. Both countries have an extensive network of local airports if you choose to fly—some excellent services between ports such as Calais, Dover, Plymouth, and Roscoff.

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