French cafés are the beating heart of a neighbourhood, the gathering place to exchange ideas and gossip, the cosy corner to relax and nurse a coffee or kir while watching the world go by. In fact, these traditional cafés are so important to France that President Emanuel Macron has launched a plan to save them.

Chairs and table in a traditional Parisian sidewalk cafe
France has launched a campaign to save and sustain cafe culture in rural communities ©Alexander Spatari/Getty

Earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macron launched a campaign to open or revive cafés in rural villages across France, especially ones that have suffered sharp population decline in recent years as young people swap rural life for city life. Small villages still account for 30% of France's population but more than half of these villages no longer have a single operating café or bistro. More than just coffee and croissants, these spaces are a rich blend of community, culture and comfort. Really, they're essential to a small-town's vitality. But according to the Associated Press, the last 50 years have seen the number of French cafés drop from 200,000 to 40,000.

Cafe exterior with green awnings and red umbrellas
Cafes are vital to a community's vitality ©Arthur Tilley/Getty

The campaign, called 1000 Cafés, is run by charity Groupe SOS. It received funding from the French government to save and sustain cafes as commercial and social spaces in small towns. A website was launched last week, where small-town mayors could lodge applications to open a café in their town. The criteria is simple: the town must have less than 3500 inhabitants and either have no café or one that is in danger of closing down. If there is no cafe in the town, the mayor and community must be able to identify a suitable space in which to open one. Groupe SOS will take into account all the costs necessary to open and upgrade the bar, as well as staff salaries.

Three women park their bikes outside outside a small village French cafe on a bright morning
No chains are allowed to open under the 1000 Cafes campaign ©photogodfrey/Getty

These spaces will also offer services and products that are no longer available in the town, such as post office services and can even branch out into co-working spaces, artistic centres or general stores offering everyday grocery items like bread, milk and cheese.

"It will not be a franchise, or a brand," Jean-Marc Borello, president of SOS Groupe, told Le Parisien, adding that "the locals will define the place, the decor, the name, and especially what will serve the bistro."

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PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 02: People have drinks at the terrace of 'Cafe de Flore' in the Latin Quarter district as bars and restaurants reopen after two months of nationwide restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak on June 02, 2020 in Paris, France. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has spread to many countries across the world, claiming over 376,000 lives and infecting over 6,2 million people. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/Getty Images)


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