Thursday, January 28, 2010

And the winner, for the 5th year running, is - France

Here’s some unsurprising news. France has just been judged as the best country in the world in which to live, by website 'International Living'.

For the fifth year running, France topped the annual index of countries ranked by quality of life. The USA was ranked seventh. And poor old Britain, beleaguered by fear of terrorism, by crime, recession, binge drinking and ‘celebrities’, languishes down in 25th place. (Behind - ahem - Hungary, Uruguay, and Lithuania. And only slightly ahead of Slovenia, Argentina and Ecuador.)

The International Living (IL) Index ranks 194 countries for overall quality of life, using wide-ranging financial, social and other criteria. Security, income, spending power, political freedom, climate, leisure, culture, environment, healthcare and infrastructure are all taken into account.

The top ten countries for 2010 were:

France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the USA, Belgium, Canada, Italy.

No wonder beautiful France was found to be the best country overall. The IL Index may measure objective criteria but there's an awful lot about France that’s easy to feel but a bit harder to define. The beauty of Paris all year round; the tranquility of the countryside; the olive groves and vineyards; markets brimming with locally-grown fruit and vegetables; the freshly-baked baguettes and pain de campagne handed to you by your charming local baker; the glittering stone fountains heavy with moss in medieval village squares.

And everywhere you feel the care, the tradition and the wisdom that’s put into daily life - raising a family, preparing a lunch, pruning an olive tree or organizing a strawberry festival in a tiny place such as my nearest village, Velleron. Click here for: The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence

The bureaucracy and taxes that make people groan in France are nothing really compared with the wonderful quality of life. Bureaucrats are often surprisingly helpful when you need advice. And the taxes fund the best national health care in the world.

What the French have above all is a huge understanding of the art de vivre. They created it after all. They're also thoughtful and intelligent caretakers of a fabulous country full of old stone houses shaded by beautiful platanes; ubiquitous canals and sparkling fountains that work in harmony with great rivers like the Rhone and Durance; pretty countryside tracks leading into forest and garrigue filled with mushrooms and herbs; outdoor markets providing olive oil, honey, almonds, goats cheese, wild boar sausages, figs, fennel, artichokes, purple garlic, endives, wine...

There are mountains, rolling countryside, forests, lakes, the wetlands of the Camargue, vineyards, olive groves, the long Atlantic coast, the glamour of the Cote d'Azur, medieval hilltop villages, beautiful market towns.

No wonder the French are, in the main, so cheerful and so charming.

For people thinking of moving to a new country, the IL Index provides a great snapshot of the quality of life you can expect to find around the world. If income is your thing and you don’t much care about political freedoms, you’ll find a place to suit you. (Try Bahrain or Saudi Arabia…) For political freedoms and hang the cost, try Tuvalu. But if you want to live in a country which has unrivalled natural beauty, a mostly wonderful built environment, a great philosophy based on democratic freedoms and the art de vivre, and the world’s best cuisine – it has to be France.