I cannot believe that a month can go by so fast and here we are already with the second newsletter. Does anyone else find that time just seems to fly by, oh if only I could slow it down just a little! It’s been another somewhat action packed month.
Of course the two youngest girls are back at school and Jack is back in Bordeaux at University. This somewhat defines our days, there is a set routine. The daily school run once again becomes a way of life, noticing little changes that have been made here and there since the beginning of the summer on roads we have scarcely travelled for a couple of months. It also seems to be a month of roadworks around here, there are road closures everywhere, it’s as if with the end of the holidays, with far fewer tourists and everyone back at work maintenance on our roads has begun in earnest. Never have I seen so many diversions. But on a positive side it’s rather fun. Getting around takes a little longer but at the same time we traverse roads that we never even knew existed, there is always something new to see so it’s certainly not a hardship!
With a slightly slower pace of life with the holidays over we’ve been back at work on our own house. It’s hard to believe we’ve now been here just over seven months. We did the major work straight away, now there are the niggly little finishing jobs that really have to be done! One side of our kitchen is fabulous, the other, where Roddy made fabulous built in pantry cupboards is fully operational but still missing any doors, so everything is fully on display, great for ensuring we keep the shelves somewhat tidy, but definitely not the end plan. Another thing hopefully that will get finished this month. Then we have to move upstairs to the girls bedrooms, there is still wallpaper peeling, that we started to take down that needs finishing. You may recall for anyone that follows me on Instagram that every single room in this house was wallpapered to within an inch of its life. Thick heavy faux wood panelling, rather dated textured paper was prevalent and stuck on with the heaviest of glues. It's been a long job. We got most of downstairs finished, except for one back wall of the sitting room which still has to be finished! Now the girls will get their bedrooms decorated, hopefully before Christmas as they’ve been very patient.
As you know Izzi had her horrendous accident falling down two stairs and breaking both her tibia and fibula clean in two plus two other fractures. Thank you so much to so many of you who ask after her so often. She’s doing remarkably well. The physiotherapist this week said her progress the past couple of weeks has been remarkable. She’s walking quite well and is hopeful she will return to London at the beginning of November. Of course that will be so sad for us, but the one good thing about covid is we got to have Izzi staying with us for so long, such an enormous unexpected pleasure. Now she has to get back on with her own life and anyway she’ll be back again at Christmas.
And to end on a very exciting note, tomorrow Millie arrives for a week’s holiday. To those of you who are new here, Millie is daughter number two, she is now 21 and had been travelling in Vietnan taking a break from University when covid crippled the world. She returned early when everything became so crucial and went back to her temporary job in the Channel Islands where at least she had some work, at the time to save up for more travel. Who knew it would be 19 months before we saw her again, before travel opened up sufficiently that she would be able to visit without having to self isolate when she returned back to Guernsey. The champagne is already on ice, it will be an incredible day when we all see her again and we are going to have such a fun week, so exciting.
For years Rochefort was our closest good sized town. It was just a ten minute drive from our house and we would urge guests to spend at least a morning or afternoon just wandering around. So often it's a town that is completely overlooked, tourists head to Saintes or La Rochelle. Rochefort sometimes gets forgotten but when people do visit they come away surprised, for it really is the most lovely little town. With a population of around 25,000, Rochefort is situated on the banks of the Charente River. The original town dates from the 11th century, but the Rochefort we recognise most today has straight streets and promenades built in the 17th century under the order of Louis XIV. It was at this time that it became an important military port. The centre of the town is dominated by the large Place Colbert with restaurants overlooking the square. From here the main shopping streets fan out at right angles. But I like to get away from the more populated areas and explore a little. I love the colour of the local stone with the original cobbled streets.
Restaurants spill out onto the pavement where it’s a great place just to while away an hour or so watching the world go by.
The market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning is always hugely popular with both locals and tourists and well worth a visit.
The little side streets are home to much smaller shops, little boutiques with one off items are well worth browsing around.
And then there’s the architecture. Just stroll around, camera in hand, look up, look around, look everywhere, there honestly is so much worth looking at. I have walked these pavements many many times and still I find something new to look at.
The umbrellas are an annual tradition every summer and autumn. They are a tribute to Jacques Demy and his musicals Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort). Indeed recently the award winning composer of the enormously popular La La Land, Justin Hurwitz, said that these two musicals from the 1960’s were “huge influences”.
And finally no visit would be complete without spending a little while inside the Eglise Saint Louis. From the outside you might walk past, unsure that it is even a church. But this vast building, completed in the 1800’s is stunning inside. The doors, are always open and visitors are welcome.
Lots of people dream of buying a house in France and living here on a permanent basis. For some it does become reality, for some it remains just that, a dream. But I do know that a lot of people are nervous to take that final jump and make the move here. It takes a huge amount of courage to move countries, sometimes to the other side of the world, to know next to nobody, often to not speak the language. It's a huge leap of faith and I think one of the best things for anyone considering such a move is hearing how other people have coped and their experiences. I’m really excited to introduce you to Jillian who lives with her husband amongst the vineyards close to St Emilion.
Can you tell me when you moved to France and why you wanted to come and live here? Was it a quick decision, or a dream that developed over several years?
My husband and I (both English, though my husband has an Irish passport) moved permanently to France in March 2019 after our youngest son graduated to ensure that we were here before Brexit. We bought a holiday home here in 2014 and have loved being here so decided to take a leap of faith, give up our jobs and move!
My husband always came to France on holiday as a child and tbh it was more his dream than mine to live here but we loved the area from our numerous holidays and much prefer the quieter pace of life here and the space. Our home was the 2nd house we saw on our first trip to this area!
Of course the question everyone wants to know is did you speak French when you came here and if not fluently how easy has it been to learn the language and to cope on a daily basis?
We both studied French at school but that was obviously a long time ago… my French is now at a level that I can cope with daily questions but have found it very difficult to just chat – though our French neighbours are very tolerant and also most people in this area do speak some English as its very touristy and also most work in the international wine trade. My husband is much more confident with French and I do rely on him for phone calls which is possibly the hardest part of the language.
You have an absolutely beautiful house, I know you have done a lot of work. Was it habitable when you first moved in and what has been the hardest part and what has surprised you the most? And because most people imagine renovating an old French home, any words of caution and advise?
The house had been unoccupied for about 10 years before we bought it but had been in the same family since it was built…we bought the furniture with the house not realising that we were also buying all the contents of the cupboards and it has taken a long time to sort what we wanted to keep and what we sent to the local depot vente. The hardest part of the renovation, other than the cost, has been the length of time it takes to appoint artisans. It took over a year for any real progress to start and it was much more expensive than we thought… renovation is about €1500 a square metre which is definitely underplayed on the tv programs. And you can’t do everything yourself as it has to meet the regulations so its important to hire properly qualified electricians and plumbers etc.
A lot of people dream of buying a house with a large amount of land and living the good life, with some degree of self sufficiency, at the very least a few chickens and a big potager. I know you chose a house in the centre of a village and with a smaller garden. Was this a conscious decision? And have you found living in the middle of a village has meant you have been far more integrated with local life than perhaps if you had bought in the country?
It is a village house and the neighbours are lovely and very welcoming – it has a real sense of community and it lovely to have restaurants and shops within walking distance, there is a mix of English and French and other Europeans in the village
I know you work as a Florist, was this your profession before you moved to France? Your arrangements are absolutely stunning, can you tell us how easy has it been to set up your business for anyone else thinking of doing something similar?
In the UK I was a finance director so it was a big change to become a florist!!! I have always loved gardening and in the UK used to do the church flowers as well as always having flowers in the house. I was really lucky to see a job being advertised on Facebook on a weekend when we were here in France before we moved here permanently, this was as a floral assistant in a local chateau and I learnt so much the first 18 months. Then of course covid hit and as a wedding venue we had no work! The florist who I used to assist decided to move elsewhere during covid, so in May I became the senior floral stylist which was incredibly nerve wrecking but I absolutely love it. I have been incredibly lucky that I was the right person in the right place at the right time…
What would you say are the best things about living in France?
I absolutely love my job and it is the best thing about living in France for me, I work with a great team which is really good fun. The weather here is lovely and we enjoy trying the different restaurants in the area. We also love that we can just get in the car and go to so many different places…we are within 2 hours of the coast or the mountains.
Finally, any words of caution for anyone planning the big move and any words of encouragement?
Lockdown was difficult here and we moved here telling our children that we were only a short easy flight away – covid has obviously effected this and it has been difficult to be so isolated from our family in the UK though facetime has saved us. My word of caution is that living in France is not a cheap place to be and I really wouldn’t underestimate the time and money that renovating a house will cost…too many people buy a large house and garden because they can afford to buy the property but then really struggle with the ongoing costs, maintenance, heating etc, and it does get cold in France! I have been incredibly lucky finding a job I love and many many others really struggle – you need to be able to speak French if you want to get a job and learning French really helps you get the most out of living here. It will also be so much more difficult in a post Brexit France… Now the renovation is finished my husband is itching for another project so it cant be all bad!
To see more fabulous photos you can follow Jillian on Instagram @myfrenchtownhouse
Don't forget you can keep up-to-date with daily happenings over on my Instagram @ourfrenchoasis.