I'm planning a month long trip next April, shortly after I retire, to explore whether or not I might want to spend at least some years of my retirement in Spain or southern France (or Italy for that matter, but that's another trip). I've picked these areas for initial exploration on the basis of climate, affordability, geography and cultural interests...never been to any of them and needed to start narrowing the options somehow! I'd prefer not to rent a car this time...although I know it will limit what I can see. Aside from the expense, I'd rather rub elbows with others on a train or bus than spend my time isolated in a car by myself...after all, getting to know the locals is part of the exploration!
I should make clear that this is an initial exploration trip, with the intention of coming back to anyplace I really like and spending several months there, exploring in more depth. Right now, I just want to get a feel for the people, the food, the lifestyle, the weather and topography and see if any place really speaks to me. I think I'm more drawn to cities...large or small...than to picturesque small towns, but would like to see some of the more interesting and/or beautiful smaller towns to get a taste of what they are like. Would like to find someplace with some expat community, but I've zero interest in winding up in a Little Britain. I would much rather find some place that I can grow into and become part of, rather than carve out a little English speaking niche of it.
My initial plan is to arrive in Montpellier, spend several days there, then head to Carcassonne via train for another short stint. Then, train back to the coast (Narbonne, I think) and take the train to Collioure. From there it's on to Girona, Barcelona and Valencia.
Questions for anyone who knows these areas: Can you suggest any smaller towns I can get to on public transit that would be worth while experiencing? Would a trip to Toulouse be worthwhile? Any smaller towns or areas close in to Montpellier, particularly worth looking at?
Thanks so much!