6 Months In.3 Replies
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.