In 2018, my family and I left Bristol, GB to start a new life in France (read my previous post here). Despite growing up in the French Alps, we settled in the Vienne, in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. Find out how we ended up here, and what factors we considered for our move.
Our Area Search Criteria
When we started our search, we had a list of criteria that helped us in our decision making for buying a property in France:
- easy access from UK and to other major French towns – so easy to get to by road and plane
- we were hoping to be cash buyers so we were limited in our budget
- we knew we wanted to live in the countryside (as opposed to a town), but not too remote either
We also had a list of criteria for our property search, including : a house with three bedrooms, a gite / self contained cottage, a garage and/or workshop space, a good sized garden.
There may have been others, but thesee were the main ones I remember, and the ones we used to start our search.
Areas We Considered in France
The French Alps
We researched various areas when trying to decide where to live, including the Alps where I grew up and where my parents still live.
Growing up in the Alps was pretty amazing! We lived in the Grésivaudan valley, surrounded by three mountain chains. This meant snowy winters spent skiing and snowboarding, and hot summers spent hiking and swimming in lakes and waterfalls. It is a part of France which celebrates sports and outdoors activities, and I feel so lucky to have grown up there.
All About the Budget
In the end, it mostly played on budget, and what we could get for it. Living in Bristol at the time, our house bought in 2011 had taken on a great amount of value. This was great, as whilst it remained tricky for us to buy somewhere bigger in Bristol, we were hopeful that this would allow us to be cash buyers, and thereby mortgage free in France. Our budget was therefore mostly limited to the amount our Bristol home sold for.
As in any other country, different geographical areas in France are more or less expensive. Whilst we could have bought a house in the Alps within our budget, our budget did not stretch as far there as it did in other parts of France, and it would have meant sacrificing a great deal of criteria from our list.
It was also an area I knew well and we fancied somewhere different for our new adventure. So we kept on looking.
We briefly considered Provence, having watched ” A Good Year” about a million times and Barry being in love with the area.
When looking at property listings online, we laughed when we saw the properties we could afford with our budget (I can confirm that there were not many, and they were not good).
I also remember telling Barry that I felt he would struggle working as a gardener in the Mediterrean heat, as it was quite a drastic change from the UK climate he was used to at the time. He agreed, and so we carried on looking.
At one point, I thought Toulouse would be nice. A big city fairly South and with an International school. Having been to the one in Grenoble, I knew this would be great for the kids. However the International School was free at the time I attended. When I saw the fees for the Toulouse one I quickly set aside any thoughts of sending the kids there…
South and a Little Up
So we carried on with our search. We knew we wanted somewhere sunny and fairly warm… somewhere where my sun-loving, inner-lizard and Barry’s coping mechanisms for the summer heat would be able to coexist. After looking at the South coast of France, we started to climb back up on the map.
At some point in our search, we started looking into Charente. Several of our friends went there often on holiday and had relatives there. It was easy to get to by road and by plane. It was close enough to Bordeaux and the coast for day trips and within easy reach of Paris. And… it seems we could get a lot more for our money than many of the areas we had looked at.
When people ask us how we landed here of all places, we don’t have any detailed answers other than that, which has often raised a few eyebrows. Mainly, we wanted to live somewhere new, in France and go from there!
Living in the Vienne
We eventually moved in the Vienne, and live just a couple minutes drive from the Charente and the Deux Sèvres.
Living in the Vienne means that we have much cheaper Taxes Foncières than we would have had for similar properties in the Charente. Definitely worth asking your estate agent about these when househunting. In our case, we are talking a 700€ difference per year!
There is no denying it: we live in rural France. We’re not isolated or completely remote, but it is the countryside. My family and I loved in Ireland, South of Cork for a few years when I was 3, and my parents were reminded of there when they came to visit us.
The Great Outdoors
On the whole, we have settled well into country living. We have so much more outdoor space than our 60m² garden in Bristol. The kids are able to play outside throughout the year and have grown strong and healthy. They enjoy spotting deer on the school run, and I never tire of watching the various birds of prey fly over us, and the odd owls. I wasn’t very brave when I saw a boar nearby but luckily that has been a rather rare occurence so far!
We are surrounded by so much beauty. Whether it be on our doorstep, where we can walk along the river Charente, swim in it a hot day, and enjoy long bike rides through country roads. Or by travelling further afield.
Within less than an hour drive we can be in Poitiers or Angouleme. Both bigger cities with the expected shopping quarters, bars and restaurants. A little further afield we have Saintes, Cognac, Niort and Limoges.
A couple of hours South will take us to St Emilion, which we fell in love with this Summer driving back from Arcachon (about 3 hours drive). Within two hours we can also be in Bordeaux, which we look forward to exploring further once things settle down with covid.
We can also reach the coast within a couple of hours drive. La Rochelle has become our favourite, and we have also enjoyed day trips to Royans and Rochefort.
We love having our old stone French farmhouse in a quiet hamlet, yet having so much within reach for day trips or mini weekends away.
There is still so much left for us to explore. This has probably been what we have missed the most year due to covid and the limitations it has imposed.
So there you have it. The reasons behind our choice of where to live in France. As you can tell, Barry and I aren’t ones to thoroughly research things in advance.
A litte note however…
We didn’t jump in completely blind though. I feel it is important to point that as I am French, and already speak French fluently, we had a fair level of confidence that this would help us hugely in our move.
We still had to set up most things from scratch, as I had left France so long ago many of my files had been closed and reset in the French system.
However there is no denying that speaking French and knowing the system (or people who did) helped us immensely.
I have also noticed since moving here, how some people only ask advice from other expats and emigrants. Whilst this can be of great help when the language is limited, I can’t help but feel that they run the risk of missing out on vital pieces of information to help them settle quickly and well in their new country.
I have also seen false information going round in such groups, mostly from lack of knowledge rather than down to bad intentions, but it then gets passed on from one person to the next.
So make sure you speak to local people and local organisations, and if needed, use a bilingual local hand holder service who can help you become aware of your new country’s ressources and services, until you are able to speak the language confidently yourself. After all, another great thing about moving abroad is meeting people from another country and learning their culture (and language) from them, we have so much to learn from each other.
Have you moved abroad? What process did you follow when choosing where to live? Would you do anything differently in hindsight? I would love to hear from you.