View from the Foothills of France

Some personal views on living, working,
bringing up family and making the dream happen in the most beautiful region of France. View from the Foothills of France also includes some personal and professional thoughts and tips on finding and buying the perfect property in the Ariège and Haute Garonne regions.

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Beware the so-called ‘eco-house’

As with anything that becomes fashionable, the original concept of an ‘eco-house’ and ‘eco-living’ has in some areas been hijacked by those looking to make a quick buck. I have noticed this more and more in France, where the term ‘eco-house’ is now regularly applied to any house for sale that happens to be built out of wood or that has some form of alternative energy or insulation.

All I can say is, when house hunting, beware the term ‘eco-house’ and be sure you ask the agent or seller what it is that makes said property so ecological. Often it will turn out that the house is a wooden kit-house (which can be very ecologically sound but can equally mean very thin walls and very un-ecological, chemical wood preserver and unsustainable timber). Or simply that it has solar panels on the roof which is great but this does not suddenly make an old stone house into an ‘eco-house’.

The problem is that there is no agreed definition as to what constitutes an ‘eco-house’. It is, however, generally accepted that it is a property built in such a way that reduces energy consumption and waste while also reducing the negative impact of a building on human health and the environment. Hence an eco-house should be a combination of sustainable location, sustainable materials and sustainable living brought about through better design, construction, siting, operation and maintenance.

The design and construction of the building should be done in harmony with the natural environment and an eco-house should give the owner the ‘best of both’ by providing less of an impact on the environment along with a healthier place to live and lower ongoing running costs.

So far, out here in South West France, I could count on one hand the number or eco-houses I have seen measuring up to this definition. I hope that this is going to change and I will see more and more houses providing more sustainable ways of living but, in the meantime, by all means put ‘ecological’ on your property search wish list but be very wary of anyone trying to sell you a so-called ‘eco-house’.

 

If you have any questions about looking for a house in France, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Becoming part of the community in France

I went to a funeral of a neighbour this week; one of the first people we met when we moved into this hamlet and who lived most of his 80 years right here. Funerals are of course always sad but this one was also uplifting in that it really brought home to me the importance of community; something harder to find these days when so many people move away from where they are born for education and work. There was a real sense of friends and family coming together to both celebrate his life and support those left behind.

The sense of community in this part of France is still very strong and one of the reasons that so many of us are attracted to the region. It is rare nowadays to be born, grow up, live, work and retire in the same place and with many of the same people you have known all your life. This can of course be claustrophobic, even suffocating which is why many people move away for a while but it is also noticeable here how many people also later move back with families of their own. There are of course disagreements, fallings out and the usual gossip but, at important times, people here know that they can rely on their family, friends and neighbours; a guaranteed safety net as and when needed.

At the funeral, nearly everyone knew everyone else and the atmosphere was one of kindness, friendship, of everyone rallying around, of support and even a sort of contentment, especially in the sunny graveyard where, as the priest pointed out, our neighbour was put into the earth of the village and countryside that he loved and the same earth he had worked all his life both to earn his living and produce his food.

With my property finder hat back on, the experience made me reflect again on the importance of region and the local community when looking for a house. Of course, the right property is of huge importance but, to make that house into a home, it is equally as important to get a sense of the town, village or hamlet and a feel for the community and then, once installed, make sure you get out and meet your neighbours and become part of that community.

The changing makeup of the expat in France

Our local market is the place where I am most likely to come across other expats and incomers who have made this region their home. It has only been recently however that it has struck me how much the makeup of not only the local population but also of the expat population has changed over the last two decades.

In the past, much of the expat population in France was made up of retirees or early retirees who had often spent many holidays coming to France or possibly had a holiday house here and then moved over to enjoy the last few decades with better weather and better food and wine.

Now however, thanks to the internet and the flexibility of the labour market, people do not have to wait for retirement to follow their dreams and experience the adventure of moving abroad. Hence it is evident that the demographics of expats in France has changed hugely in recent years with young couples, families and career professionals increasingly in the majority.

This can only be for the good as far as I can see; diversity in age, culture and background leads to a fascinating melting pot, shared ideas and hopefully a more open view of the world. There was a time when rural France could be closed and inwards-looking but this is certainly no longer the case thanks to the influence of ever younger and more economically active immigrants (yes, I believe immigration is a force for good but then I am an immigrant so I would say that). The world has certainly shrunk but, at the same time, this has allowed people’s horizons to stretch and, in my opinion, this can only be a good thing.

Flying high – Toulouse International Airport

Cockpit of Airbus380. Photo by Captain Dave Wallsworth (@DaveWallsworth)

In the last decade, Toulouse airport has become a major international transport hub, bolstered by the growing industry in the region including the presence of the Airbus headquarters, the largest cancer research centre in Europe and the increasing number of high tech industries in and around the city.

Last year, Toulouse airport had a record 14.6 percent increase in traffic to 9.2 million passengers, making it the fifth-largest in France. This was driven mainly by the growth of low-cost European airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair, with international flights now making up half of its traffic. There are at least 11 flights a day just to Paris and British Airways operates three flights a day to Heathrow. There are also direct long haul flights to most of France’s overseas territories.

The airport is partly owned (49.99%) by Casil Europe, a holding company created by China’s state-owned Shandong Hi-Speed Group and the Hong Kong-based Friedmann Pacific Asset Management. Local governments and the Toulouse Chamber of Commerce together own a minority 40 percent stake and the French government owns the additional 10.01 percent.

Casil Europe has said it wants to boost traffic to 18 million passengers by 2046, in large part by developing connections to Chinese destinations.

Investment in regional airports undoubtedly has a hugely beneficial knock-on effect for local areas and economies and the influences are already being seen in this part of the South West. There is a growing number of job and business opportunities and the area is increasingly dynamic with people from all over the world choosing to make this region their home. If you would like help in moving to and finding property in this region, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com