6 Months In.

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I just though I would write down a few things I have learnedduring my first 6 months in France. This may be of use to others, if not thenplease feel free to scoff.Before my move, I laughed at those who advised to rentbefore you buy.  I had been planning thismove for many years, had holidayed and researched the area, and I knew exactlywhere I wanted to buy, and what kind of house I wanted. Or so I thought! As itturned out, with a slow housing market in the Scottish Borders due to UK Union,and Brexit, uncertainties, I found myself having to sell in Scotland first,before buying in France, so a rental in Provence became necessary. I amcertainly glad it turned out this way. Not because I don’t like it here, butbecause my views of what and where to buy are now very different having beenimmersed here a while.Our rental property is most people’s idea of perfectProvence. A stone built farmhouse surrounded by vineyards, with views of TheLuberon to the South, and the Monts de Vaucluse and Ventoux to the North. Wehave more idyllic restaurants within a 10 minute drive, than I can count. Butwe very soon decided that if our rental house came up for sale, we would notwant to buy it.Firstly, a beautiful old farmhouse has secret places: Thereare the dark places for critters to hide – we had to remove on average, onescorpion per week during the summer, and whilst you do get used to them, theyare not ideal housemates. Would a more modern, or more modernised, house, have fewer critters. As autumn came along, odours followed. Rodents seekshelter inside the stone walls and lofts of old buildings as the weather coolsdown, and we assume that the periodic smells of decaying flesh occur after onehas died. It is amazing how much odour a dead mouse can produce, it seems tolast about 3 weeks, and there is nothing you can do except burn a scentedcandle. Then there is the insulation factor. Looking at houses inthe Summer, I laughed when the Immobilier extolled the virtues of insulationand underfloor heating. In December however, our uninsulated, draughty (yetdouble glazed) house turned into an ice box. Double digit temperatures duringthe day don’t seem to compensate for the minus temperatures at night, and ourelectric radiators and big open fire just can’t heat up those metre thick wallswhich kept us pleasantly cool in Summer. Moving on, it has been interesting to see how each of theLuberon villages has changed with the seasons. During the August tourist rush,we tried guessing which villages would go into hibernation during winter, andwhich would retain some life. On balance, we were pleasantly surprised at howlively winter is, but there were surprises both ways. Some of the villages weexpected to have a strong local following, are virtually closed in November andJanuary, whilst others we expected to shut down, remain quite lively duringwinter. Most of the positive preconceptions we had about the areahave thankfully, been reinforced. The markets here a superb, if you learn tofollow the seasons. Coming from the UK, we were used to being able to buy anykind of fruit or vegetable year-round, without thinking of the carbon cost offlying them from wherever. Here, you can buy boxfuls of peaches, nectarines andcourgettes for next to nothing in August, while a cabbage will be expensive. Asautumn rolls in, the prices reverse, as different produce comes into season. The locals here are wonderful. They are pleasant enough intourist season, but the lady in your village boulangerie has a moreenthusiastic “Bonjour” in the morning when she realises in late October thatyou didn’t leave when the weather cooled. It is very satisfying when they start to recognise you as a local.Most of the French here do not speak English,even many in the estate agencies and hotels, where you would expect a fairnumber of English clientele. Strangely, most are very apologetic about notspeaking English, whereas it is us Brits who should be ashamed of our patheticattempts at the language of a country we choose to live in! Don’t come to Provence expecting to find communities ofexpat Brits. The French talk of the large numbers of British in Bordeaux andthe Dordogne, and one even suggested to me that in Bergerac, English is now thefirst language! My own experience of that area is a holiday in a small villagenear St Emilion, where one of only two restaurants in the village had “ExpatNight” every Friday, serving a choice of fish & chips or curry! Not so inProvence. You will hear English accents at the local market, but the wholeexpat thing is low key, and I have spoken to as many Belgians and Dutch livingin the area as British. I personally prefer it that way, but I can understandwhy some may want to seek out familiar language, culture and humour. TheDordogne may therefore suit some better!The slow pace of life in Provence is reflected in the retailtrade, where if you want anything out of the ordinary, it might take time,compared to the UK. For example, my experience of tyre fitters in the UK isthat they can get a tyre for almost any car in a matter of hours. In Provence,if you have one of the ubiquitous Berlingo vans (only it seems, available inwhite!), you are spoilt for choice, but when I got a puncture in one of the ultra-lowprofile tyres on my BMW, even fitters in the larger towns of Aix and Avignon,quoted me a 1 week delivery.  The moralhere is that if you only have one car, and you need to rely on it, maybe Frenchis better.So what to conclude? Well, life in Provence has exceeded myexpectations, and I have not regretted my move for one second. I have modifiedmy priorities to some extent on house type and features, and am close to makinga purchase.  I still intend to live inone of those beautiful perched villages for which Provence is famous, but maybenot one I originally planned. From my original shortlist of half a dozen or sovillages in which I would like to live, one or two have dropped off, and one ortwo new ones have been added. And having previously mocked those who advised torent before you buy, I have now joined their number. The choice of house andlocation to live in year round for the longterm, as I intend, is too important tobe made on the basis of a few weeks Summer vacation.  

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Debbie-920207 1516612754

Hello Rick,

Thanks for your post and it is timely for me as I am planning to move in about a month following my husband securing a job in Sophia-Antipolis. I am interested in knowing which villages you would be keen to live in and those not and also the types of houses (modern with aircon or traditional stone) I have also heard that living in a valley is very humid in the summer months (Opio).  I have just spent 4 days in Valbonne (staying in a beautiful hotel there) and visiting potential rental houses.  We have looked at Biot, Opio and Antibes.  We found a fabulous modern interiored stone house and it seemed to tick all our boxes (Les Sembles, Vallauris) but have realised the area may not be as desirable as we think!  Any information you could give me would be greatly appreciated!  Thanks.

Rick-873865 1516615072

Hi Debbie,

We are up in the Luberon, so don't have much direct experience of the area you are looking at. For example being inland, we don't tend to get the humidity you mention for the coast, but we get colder, dry, winters. Also, you are closer to some of the urban areas which have local industry and don't close down in winter. With regard to house type, we came here looking for old stone, but having lived for 6 months in a rental impossible to keep bug free in Summer, and impossible to keep warm in winter, we will be buying modern - easier to keep clean and easier to heat, unless we find a very well modernised and insulated stone property. The point of my article was more to reinforce the "try before you buy" point, because no matter how many holidays you have spent here, you will be living your life differently when you are here 360 days per year. I was also careful not to mention specific villages, as we all have different tastes. For example within an easy commute for your husband, my own choice would be the mountain villages around Grasse, rather than the rows of sweaty bodies of the Summer beaches!

Nathan-903646 1516791666

Hi Rick, thank you for posting this it brought several smiles to my face this morning. I could not agree more with your comments. And you seemed to have hit the nail on the head in just 6 months! I have been here for about 12 years now but live not a million miles away from where Debbie and her husband are looking. I guess a lot depends on your language skills, budget, a car here and whether you have children. If you are young and looking for a bit of night life, head closer to Nice. If you are looking for a bit of tranquility close to beaches but away from tourists then perhaps look at the Var. 30 mins away from Sophia has a lot to offer if you want an all round experience of French culture and touristy places when it suits....

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