So I thought it was about time I revealed all, but first of all a word of warning. This post will be long!
Many years ago The Old One, The Middle One and I went on a long awaited for holiday to Cannes on the Cote d'Azur. Friends had a very small apartment there which they rented out to friends. It was my first holiday in this wonderful country and I fell in love with the lifestyle and relaxed way of living. Yes, even in Cannes, which is not expensive if you know where to shop and avoid the expensive restaus and shops on La Croissette.
The Old One and I had another holiday at the apartment 2 years later and I fell head over heels again. As we were on our own we explored a bit more of the country, driving up into the hills behind Grasse and exploring the Luberon, which had just become "Peter Mayle Country".
House prices, even then, were well beyond our reach. We were told that bargains could still be picked up in the Var, but somehow Provence and all that it brings with it - harsh winters, hot summers and the dreaded Mistral - didn't really appeal to me from a "living here permanently" point of view. Great for holidays and seeing how the other half lives, but not for living.
Nope! Definitely not! Let's try further north. Where? Burgundy! Yes lets! We did and, yet again, it didn't really appeal. Lovely villages. Beautiful rolling hills covered in vines. It's bound to have great weather as it's one of the most famous wine regions in the world.
What? Cold winters? The wind whistles down through the valleys to help create the Mistral? Oh gawd! OK let's try further west, but NOT the Dordogne. That's Little Britain.
We did the Champagne region (hmm - good idea but we don't think so), we did the Loire (too far north and way way too expensive - commuter land). We did Annecy in the Alps where it rained solidly for what seemed like weeks, we were camping and I was 3 months pregnant. That ruled that out!
2 years later we took off for a month in a van with The Young One strapped into her car seat and an even bigger tent in the back. It rained and it rained and we drove further and further south to escape it. We started in the Loire again and actually started viewing houses, but the prices were even more horrendous than last time and the rain put us off.
We chased the sun down to Montpellier and La Grand Motte, the Camargue, sun, sea, sand, white horses and sea salt. Yes, there is a certain something, but I really do not like the spartanness which is similar to Provence.
10 days later we started north because it had started to rain (again). We stumbled upon a camp site on the banks of the Ardeche near the Gorge. This is more like it! Rolling hills, trees, far enough south to get the good summers, but not as hot as further south. Oh Gawd! Look at those prices!
House prices were beginning to rise. We were buying all those English "French lifestyle" magazines and knew it was going to be now or never. The Young One was 2 years old. We had another year of kindergarten before we had to make up our minds to get her into the local primary school, or spend a fortune and register her for the Reception class at the expensive, but very good, prep school where she was already in the kindergarten. This would mean us working flat out for the rest of our lives. Definitely not what we envisaged.
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Oh well, let's go to the French Property Exhibition at Hammersmith again, start making serious enquiries and see what happens.
Which we did.
And this is what we found.
The self same picture.
That's it. That's the one! And look at the price. We can afford that. And it's huge.
Lets book an RDV and drive out and see it. We're going ski-ing with friends at Easter, we could see it then, after the ski trip.
Where is it? Aarrghhhh. The Dordogne! Oh pffff. Let's chance it.
We did. April 1998 saw us driving in a snow storm from Bourg St Maurice in the Savoie , across the Massif Centrale, towards Périgueux and a part of France as yet unchartered.
We saw the house in a hail storm, with hail stones the size of golf balls. We fell in love.
Main house habitable? Check. Lots of storage space? Check. Big enough to run the dreamed of B&B? Check (look at those bathrooms). Land? Check. Swimming Pool? CHECK! And it's got a cottage to restore. Definitely check!
We signed the Compromis de Vente (the contract between us and the sellers saying we wouldn't pull out) and drove back to the UK whooping like school kids.
We put our house on the market, told the school TYO would not be returning in September, The Old One was already semi-retired so he didn't have to do much and I forewarned my boss that I would be going on holiday in August and not coming back!
We sold our 2 up 2 down with a postage stamp garden in West Sussex for a good price, the removal van appeared, we packed up, and the rest, as they say, is history.
11 years on life is still good, The Young One is more French than English and we have never ever regretted the decision.
I did do B&B for about 4 years, but juggling summer with guests and friends was exhausting and we stopped doing it. I now look after a gite across the lane for friends and that suits me just fine.
We've had our run in's with the French health system, the tax system and various other bureaucrats, but who hasn't. The French have their way of doing things, as do the English. When in Rome do as the Roman's do (and don't whinge in public if you don't like it. There are ferries back to the UK every day).
We have built up a great circle of friends - some have crossed our path, some via the internet. We mix with the French and the English, go to the soirées at the salle de fêtes and have helped with the vendange.
I taught English for 3 years at the local primaire when The Young One was there, but gave it up when she moved up to collége.
I've somehow managed to get myself on to a sort of Committee for the collége, set up to welcome English parents and their children to the area and to provide a helping hand. Goodness only knows why, but I felt that everyone was so supportive to us, especially the French, that it is a way of putting back into the community.
And in between all of that, I quilt, The Old One does his DIY (the cottage is still not restored) and we spend our summers mowing the lawn, entertaining friends and swimming. Who could ask for more!
Oh. Just one more thing. Why did we move? Well - wouldn't you if you were worried about the education system in the UK, were sick to death of working just to keep the child minder in chocolate biscuits and wanted a better life for your daughter?
Just think - if we hadn't moved I wouldn't have started quilting (no time), would probably be
So that's why we moved to France. Hope it's answered some of your questions.
Now if you'll excuse me I've got a garden to tend to.
By the way - if you have a spare 5 minutes, can you cross your fingers. TYO has got her Brevet Blanc (Mock GSCE's) today and tomorrow. As I type this she has just finished her French Dictée. It's also her 15th birthday. 15! I can't believe it.