When we arrived in France just over two years ago we had our pre-conceived expectations of what life here would be like. I’d spent two summer seasons working on campsites on the south coast about thirty years ago, but that wasn’t much like ‘real life’, so those expectations were mainly based on our holidays and house-hunting trips. So, how do our expectations stack up? I thought it might be a positive and enjoyable experience to spend a few hours writing about all the best bits about life in France; an honest account and very much my own. Heather’s would be similar with a few exceptions, like driving, for obvious reasons. I could, with a little more difficulty write about the not so enjoyable experiences here. I probably won’t ever write about those all in one miserable, long moan, preferring to occasionally slide them into other blogs to get them out of my system. I love a list, so I’m tempted to list these numerically starting with the most enjoyable, but I’m going alphabetical to avoid having to make unnecessary decisions.
We have a beautiful, funny, greedy rescue dog named Pepper who has a mild fear of water and a greater, more rational fear of a local husky. We love our daily walks with her, spoiled slightly upon sight or smell of the husky. Unlike Heather, I’ve never really lived in or close to nature; to have large gatherings of sheep, cows, horses, llama and goats within smelling distance of our house. Our daily doggo walks usually turn into an animal watch experience, where my love of lists naturally leads to one being made containing all the animals we’ve seen en route. Many have names, and it makes us a little sad when our animal watch expectations are let down due to their relocation.
I’m so tempted to write a list of all the animals we see, but that would be a selfish, self-serving exercise so I’ll just say that nothing warms our hearts more than seeing one, two or on a very rare occasion a group of wild deer running across a field in front of us. Coypu are really cute, donkeys are adorable, the occasional wild boar is to be avoided and respected, peacocks were unexpected and all manner of poultry are Pepper’s favourites. List forming. Sorry. We love our animal watch experiences and can’t wait for the day when we see our lovely adopted foal Bisou back in the field down below with his mum and dad. Carrots await.
Changing of the seasons
Being so close to nature, and having it rammed so beautifully into our senses from our terrace means that we are constantly exposed to the ever-changing colours brought on by the changing of the seasons. Unlike Scotland, where winter is the dominant, seemingly never-ending season, summer wins here. Shorts and sandals come out in April and spend seven months as ever-present attire, lasting three seasons. March and April are a joy, watching the blossoms appear and the colours returning to the trees, but it’s autumn that provides the warmest of sensual hugs.
If you’re planning a little or long holiday to rural France, my advice would be April, May, September or my mois au choix, October. Many flowers are still in bloom are the trees perform visual miracles, reaching full marvel by November. Right now we’re in mid-February, it’s 17 degrees during the day, we’ve barely seen a cloud in over a week and the lizards are coming out of hibernation. The shorts are calling me, but it’s still just above freezing at night, so if I can still squeeze into them they’re a few weeks away yet. Winter seems to have barely started, and the beautiful frosty mornings are a joy we’re more than happy to live with for the month or two they’re with us.
Now I’m sure if we chose to live in a larger town or city our lives in France would be very different. Having come from Edinburgh, our wee hometown of Rochechouart feels almost hamlet-esque, the sleepy side of quiet for all but the summer months when gentle swathes of tourists and visitors flock to see our local delights. Edinburgh is beautiful, with a bounty of attractions and possibilities, but the community living experience we have here brings its own pleasures. Rochechouart is just the right size to have everything we need within walking distance, but small enough for local faces to be familiar and friendly. Rarely do we pass anyone without a “bonjour”, “bonsoir”, “m’sieu-dame”, or at worst, a smile.
We are lucky to have found the best neighbours possible who have helped us settle and offered advice, local knowledge and much hospitality. Beyond that, last year felt much more like we were part of our community, using our range of local services on a regular basis. Our post office staff see us the most regularly, and now greet us with smiles having not spat “Brexit” at us since early 2021. Our local bar owners are lovely. They see us second most when we meet with friends and neighbours for a Friday night catch up, and to lose money on the EuroMillions. As with everything in Rochechouart the schedule of events is on the gentle side, with the highlight being the wonderful annual Labyrinthe de la Voix music festival, but here we feel like everything that does happen is happening to and for our local community, and that everyone here is part of it.
I’ve always loved driving, and as with most drivers the less the traffic the more enjoyable the experience. Our journeys rarely take us more than two hours from here, and with the very rare exception, usually when venturing into Limoges, the volume of traffic rarely exceeds light. The joy of driving here, and almost everywhere in France for that matter is always highlighted when returning to the UK where it’s not just the volume of traffic that lessons the enjoyment, but it’s also having to share roads with ever-present bollards, taking up half the space alongside non-existent ‘road works’. If the roads improved post ‘road work’ it would help, but I can say with complete confidence through much personal experience, French roads are as smooth as silk compared to the rutted, pot-holed and litter-infested roadways of the UK. Even the quietest, most remote country lanes here are well maintained, with roadside hedges and greenery constantly given close trims. These flat, clean, well-maintained roads only enhance the enjoyment of the beautiful surrounding scenery. Any opportunity to go for a drive with Cherie FM (la plus belle musique) on the radio… I’ll take it.
Food and drink
Rochechouart is a beautiful town, though not blessed with a large range of eateries. Two restaurants and two or three smaller seasonal cafes and takeaways is quite limited, and whilst we’re more than happy to drive half an hour to enjoy nearby restaurants, the choice will never compare in size or quality to what was available to us in Edinburgh. But, it’s not the choice of eatery that I love about French food and drink. It’s the attitude. The French bar/café culture is renowned, and it’s that relaxed, laid back and sociable attitude to food and drink that I love. A little wine or aperitif is perfectly normal at any time of the day, but the emphasis is on little. Wine with lunch is almost expected and whilst I love and miss a traditional British pub, the attitude here to alcohol is refreshingly grown-up compared to the UK. That’s not to say quantities quaffed never exceed small… absolument pas.
The fact that most shops and even some supermarkets close for lunch took a little getting used to. But we’ve never minded a wasted trip, as we love the fact that lunchtime in France is cherished to the point where it seems almost celebrated. Never mind your meal deal or sandwich on the go… here it’s strictly 12 til 2 with an aperitif followed by three courses and wine being the norm. Work and learning stops and families gather for lunch, and the picnics we see nearby are simply home dining taken outdoors. We love our shared dining experiences with our friends and neighbours and the French way is now our way with aperitifs and glasses of wine enjoyed alongside multiple courses. My belts now use new holes, but a healthy attitude to food and drink is worth the extra inch or two. Oh, and those wine prices are just ridiculous!
Hunting for Etsy treasure
I’ve written plenty already about the enjoyment we have of our Etsy shop experience. But this is a blog about things we enjoy about our life in France, and our regular trips hunting for Etsy treasure is certainly one of those. Winter months sees that hunt slightly restricted to brocantes, indoor flea markets, vide-maisons and online ‘marketplaces’, all of which come with a faint tingle of anticipation as we know very well that Etsy treasure could be on any shelf, around any corner or in the most unexpected places. Vide-maisons are often as sociable and enjoyable as they are beneficial and fruitful, but it’s vide-greniers that we love the most.
We live in the Haute-Vienne, a few kilometres from the Charente and a few more from the Dordogne, with all three regions filled with beautiful hamlets, villages and towns. When those places host a vide-grenier the whole town comes out to participate, with local and nearby households selling their wares from pop-up stalls. Outside the winter months there are options each weekend within easy driving distance, so go we must. Some stalls are quickly passed by whilst others are filled with vintage curios and collectables, French antiquities and je ne sais quois. Such stalls are approached with great excitement which we try our best to hide as an overly keen face isn’t the best for the all-important haggle. There aren’t many better ways to spend a few hours than finding a beautiful village with streets filled with friendly faces selling unwanted treasure. But that’s just me.
Learning and working from home
Running our gite and Etsy shop means the majority of our working time is spent at home. Our hours are very much our own with deadlines and time commitments occasional and not too stressful. Cleaning, restoring and preparing our Etsy stock for sale is almost a daily occurrence, with workload increased when gite bookings and Etsy sales are at their busiest. Learning about all aspects of French life has been a rewarding part of our first two years, and much enjoyable time is also spent learning about the Etsy stock we sell, so our knowledge regarding the history and culture of French copperware, cookware, vintage barware and old stoneware pots and jugs in particular are all increasing rapidly. Every item we sell comes complete with a detailed description, so each piece feels like it comes with its own history lesson. Spending time at home together, with Pepper on her bed by our side, especially when it’s outside on our terrace accompanied by blue skies and a beer or glass of rosé, well… it sometimes doesn’t feel much like work.
View from our terrace
Our house is around 500 years old, more of a long, tall corridor than a regular sized abode and a lack of space inside can sometimes be frustrating, but… the view from our terrace which leads out from our kitchen is worth far more than any extra interior square meterage. It is the main reason we chose to live here and very much a constant highlight in our lives. To our right is the imposing and magnificent Rochechouart chateau whose oldest parts date from the 13th century. The view over the valley sweeps around, looking across to Lake Boischenu and beyond, then further around and over to Biennac.
Besides the chateau and lake, fields and trees dominate our view, often enhanced by kept and wild animals. Our view changes constantly, literally minute by minute depending on the light. With our ever-changing vista the weather conditions all feel far more impactful on our senses as we look out across the valley. The sun seems brighter, the sky bluer and the rain heavier, but it’s the change of colours I love the most. Post winter, April brings the colour back to the trees and by summer we look out over a huge sea of green. Around October the colours start to change, and by November a stunning range of yellows, reds and browns enhances the swathe of green. Our frosty winter mornings are just as beautiful, although for those two or three months each year the view is mostly enjoyed from indoors, until once again our terrace becomes our little slice of heaven.
Perhaps if I were to write a similar blog in two years time this list may change. Maybe Cherie FM would get more of a mention, or we may have found an enhanced interest in the manufacture of cheese, or local crop rotation. But for now this list of enjoyables suits us just fine.
Tony and Heather, it has been a true delight to read these amazing comments on your life in France.
Thanks so much for sharing these thoughts with us.
Many blessings for continuing
wonderful experiences in your country of choice.
Can’t wait for the next instalment!
Much love, Marjorie and Ken. XX
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Hi Marjorie and Ken,
Thank you for your kind comments, we really appreciate it 🙂