Our resident expat in France provides some insider tips around renovating a period property and integrating into the local community.
We have lived in France for eight years now and, as is so often the case, time truly seems to have flown. We bought our beautiful 19th century home – an old presbytery a short distance from a huge and imposing 14th century church – in January 2010. This beautiful house had once been home to a Flemish merchant, who entertained in great style to judge by its many rooms, fine original tiled floors, high ceilings, open fireplaces and grand proportions. But that was in the 19th century! We needed to do a whole lot of work to bring it up to modern standards, including installing a kitchen, bathrooms, heating, rewiring and decorating. The list is long and still goes on.
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Shops close from 12pm to 2pm, but parking is free during these hours so a leisurely lunch in a nice French restaurant often beckons.
Renovating a house such as this requires not only hard graft, but a real vision of how to restore it in sympathy with its original character, as well as keeping it modern. This can work, I can assure you. We have replaced some cornices which were slightly damaged, kept some of the fine old French furniture left to us by the church from whom we bought it, painted it in soft Mediterranean colours, and installed one huge bathroom with cast iron bath and a good shower. We like to think that the Flemish merchant would have approved!
So what have we learnt during our time here so far? Firstly, things happen more slowly, so my advice to you if you are considering renovating your own property, is to accept this more relaxed pace and know that something you ordered yesterday may not arrive for a few weeks. We have learnt to get used to lunchtimes being sacred in rural France, with most shops closing from 12pm to 2pm. On the upside, parking is free during these hours so a leisurely lunch in a nice French restaurant often beckons.
Employing local artisans to help with the big stuff has paid off. Not only does this mean we have bills which will go against any Capital Gains Tax should we ever sell the house, but it also helps integrate us into our community.
If you are heading off for a viewing trip to France to see some period properties, check out the Viewing Trip guide to help you get organised
Looking at the bigger picture, we love our life here in France. You reap what you sow in life and so my final tip is to get out and about when you first arrive in your new home. Stop for a coffee in your local cafe, shop in local shops where everyone greets you with a jolly “bonjour”, browse local markets and talk to as many folk as you can. We have found the British and the French mix seamlessly here. It is truly heart- warming to join in local activities and hear a constant mix of the two languages being spoken.
I would like to thank you for reading my pieces throughout 2017 and wish you and your family a joyous, peaceful and very happy Christmas. Here is to 2018 being the year you make your French property dream come true!