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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Made in France

I recently watched a horrifying documentary on the clothes and fashion industry (The True Cost, Netflix) which should be obligatory watching for us all. Like many people in this part of France in terms of what we eat, I try to be very careful about buying locally grown, seasonal produce mainly from the local markets where we have got to know the producers and know that the amount we pay is what they get with no middle tier taking the profit or imposing restrictions on shape or size of their produce.

When it comes to what we wear however, it is true that I think less about where my clothes are made and who is making them or whether the money I spend is going directly to the producer or to a retailer or distributor. It is therefore reassuring that France and the French are way ahead of most countries on this one which probably stems from the pride and trust that most French people have in their country and their industry. There is a big emphasis here on buying goods that are made in France and there is even an national campaign called ‘Made in France’ (I don’t know why the campaign is titled in English however!) which is a merchandise mark indicating that a product is planned, manufactured and packed in France.

This very recognizable badge guarantees that the product you are buying is made, produced and sold while complying to French labour and employment laws which are very regulated in France. It means that when you buy something with this label you know that women and children have not been exploited in the production process, that they are paid a fair wage, have strict hours, a decent and safe working environment and the rights to holidays, maternity leave and sick pay.

Of course, products made here in France are therefore often more expensive to make and therefore to buy than those shipped in from other parts of the world but, if this means we all buy less and think more before we buy, it can surely only be a good thing.

Do you wish you had more time? France may have the answer

It is too easy to feel increasingly bogged down in work and day-to-day admin and weighed down by negative news and social pressures. If we are not careful, life can be a matter of looking down at our feet (and our phones) and concentrating on each difficult step and never feeling we are quite on top of everything; waiting for the big events, the weekend, the holidays rather than savouring the small, everyday pleasures, the moments that make up most of our lives.

There is, however, a potential cure and it is involves spending as much time as possible in rural France (possibly urban France too but I don’t have experience of that). Anyone who has ever been to France will know that time moves more slowly here. Why is that? Why are there always people sitting chatting on café terraces at all times of the day? How are the French seemingly quite happy to stand in a long queue in the bakery with no apparent sign of frustration? Could it be simply that the French make better use of the time they have? France operates a famously short 35 hour working week and employees have also won the ‘right to disconnect’ meaning that they no longer look at or answer emails out of office hours; a reaction against the so-called “always-on” work culture invading Europe from the States. There is undoubtedly still in France a cultural emphasis on working to live rather than the other way around.

If you prioritise work and earning money, then undoubtedly you will find yourself spending most of your time working to earn and working some more. On the other hand, if your main priority in life is to spend time with your family or to cook beautiful meals or to play the sport you love, then you will make sure that you find the time to do this. What the French seem to intuitively understand is that time is fluid and elastic and, just as Parkinson so famously worked out, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” What the French do differently is simply to make sure that it is their favourite and most pleasurable activities which are expanding to fill that time and not their work.

Hence, for example, restaurants in France are full between 12 and 2pm; the lunch break is still sacred and nearly everyone stops. The French have made food, eating and family meals a priority and allocate the time to this above everything else. In addition, because it is the eating and being with family and friends that is important, it is also rare to see people sitting in cafés and restaurants here communing with screens rather than each other. They focus on what matters and then somehow life finds balance and time just slows down.

If you would like help finding a French property with a better lifestyle and extra time attached, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

 

 

Matching dream and reality when buying in France

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to share a delicious coupe de champagne with a very happy couple, newly ensconced in their beautiful home here in the foothills. The champagne was to celebrate the realization of a long-held dream and the start of a new adventure for my clients who had finally found their perfect house. These clients contacted me last year to ask for my help to find and buy a property out here in the Haute Garonne region of France. Their brief was similar to many of my clients; they were looking for that classic French house, a traditional stone building with lots of character, plenty of original features, wooden shutters, a bit of land, lovely views and in a peaceful and beautiful location where they could enjoy an excellent quality of life.

They had both always dreamed of living in France and they had talked about it many times. But each time they seriously considered making the move, something seemed to happen that persuaded them to put if off for another year. Of course taking the plunge and following a dream is not the same as taking unnecessary risks which is why they decided to hire me to ensure they had considered all the options and possible pitfalls as well as the opportunities. When you choose this lovely part of France, you are buying a way and quality of life not just a property investment and a ‘good buy’ means more than just getting a bargain. It is also easy to have your head turned and your heart stolen and forget to take into account the practical aspects that will make the dream a reality.

They had a clear wish-list but were realistic enough to know that there would always be some compromises needed and that their perfect house might not necessarily exist but that it could be created as long as the location and unchangeable details of a property were right for them.

After a few weeks of searching, having viewed all the houses on the market that seemed to match their criteria (eliminating 80% of them that did not  in reality or had potential problems), we had a short-list and after three days of viewings, they knew they had found their house.

They completed last week and I was privileged to be their first visitor in what I’m sure will prove to be a very happy home. It is never too late to follow your dreams; just make sure you have a professional helping you through the process so that those dreams become a wonderful reality and not a nightmare.

Finding the perfect house in France

All of us set out to find our dream house when we start our property search in France; the perfect French home, ‘the one’ and we probably have a picture in our head of what this will look like. The problem is that the perfect house does not really exist except in our heads; every house has its compromises. So what should you compromise on and what should you absolutely not?

  1. The view. Nearly everyone wants a view whether it is of rolling hills, bucolic fields of flowers, a pretty market square or snow-capped mountains. This is something that a house either has or not (unless it’s possible to cut down some trees to revel a hither-unseen view) and therefore, one area where I suggest you should not compromise.
  2. Walking distance to a café or boulangerie. Another favourite on the list of ‘must-haves’ but more difficult to find than you would probably imagine and it might involve many more compromises on other factors on your wish-list.
  3. A large garden/lots of land. This is a favourite for British buyers (less so for Australians and South Africans who are more realistic about the work involved!) If everything else about the house ticks your boxes but the garden is smaller than you would have ideally liked, it is probably worth compromising.
  4. A swimming pool. Again, often top of the ‘wish-list’ but keep in mind that it is better to buy a house that fulfils most of your search brief but doesn’t have a pool than to buy a house with a pool that is not quite the right house. You can always put in a swimming pool but you cannot easily change the fundamentals of the house.
  5. A large kitchen/dining room. This is an ever more popular request thanks to the way we live nowadays. Old French houses, however, were not designed to be open plan. Smaller, individual rooms and often a very small galley kitchen are the norm. Nevertheless, do not dismiss a house because it does not tick this box; usually you can open up rooms or take down walls to create exactly the space that suits you.
  6. No renovation work. Horror stories abound about the trials and tribulations of undertaking a renovation in France but plenty of people renovate very successfully in France. It is not a cheap process but, if you go into it with your eyes open, it is one of the best ways of creating your dream home so don’t rule out this option if the location, position, style, setting, size and price of the house are all right.
  7. Easy access and within an hour of a major airport. This depends on how you will use the house; for example, if you are going to be commuting or travelling regularly to your home in France you should probably not compromise on this. If it is a holiday house, this is far less important.

In summary, if something can be changed such as décor, room layouts, finishes, heating or electric systems, then it is worth compromising. If it is an element which absolutely cannot be changed such as the view, the location, the proximity to services or accessibility, think long and hard about your priorities before compromising. You cannot pick up your perfect house and move it somewhere else but you can find the perfect location and gradually change a ‘compromise’ house into your perfect dream house.