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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Reasons to be cheerful in France in 2022

If Covid has taught us anything over the last two years, it is to make the most of the good times. So, if one of your resolutions is to spend more time in France this year, then here are some things you can look forward to:

1. Markets and fresh food culture
Buying most of your food at local markets really does improve health both physical and mental. In this part of France, there is a strong culture of buying local, organic and seasonal produce so that’s a big tick in the better health box. But also, buying from local producers, talking to them face-to-face is the perfect antidote to all those zoom meetings and working from home. You get to interact regularly with local people, chat about the food, put the world to rights and remember the elements of everyday life that really matter.

2. Work-life balance
This is something that has been thrown into strong relief over the last couple of years, but the French already have this much better under control than most other countries. In France, you will find that, while people work hard, they also have clear boundaries and do not let their lives become consumed by their work. The French most definitely work to live and not the other way around.

3. Slower pace of life
While shops closing at lunchtime and on Sundays and having to queue while people write cheques can be frustrating, it does also teach you to slow down and remember that life isn’t a race and there is enjoyment to be found in taking one’s time and doing not very much. So, enjoy those leisurely lunches, the slow shopping at market and rambling Sunday walks and picnics; what’s the rush?

4. Excellent value restaurants
Talking of long lunches, you can still eat out in southwest France for incredible value; a three-course lunch with a glass of wine and a coffee is still available in most places for under €15 per head and you can take your time too; French restaurants serve between 12 and 2pm and only one service per table so you will never feel rushed.

5. Empty roads
Not something I really appreciate enough until I travel abroad, and I am shocked at how busy the roads are and how long it takes to get anywhere. Of course, we have jams around the cities here but, for most of the time, you will be cruising on empty roads and enjoying beautiful, unspoiled views, wide, open spaces and stunning scenery at the same time.

 

An unprecedented year for French Property in the time of Covid

It has been another very strange year for the property market in France; I hesitate to use the word unprecedented, but I have certainly never known there to be so much demand for country properties in France whilst, simultaneously, there being so few properties for sale. That is pretty much the definition of frustration for estate agents who have lots of buyers and nothing to sell them. It has been better for me as I tend to cover a larger area and can look at private sales and Notaire sales too but certainly I have had fewer properties to view for clients than usual this year. In addition, prices are rising fast; something that has not really happened in the property market here in southwest France since the early 2000s.

The demand looks set to continue into 2022 and it does seem that there has been a step change in what people are looking for in their lives and therefore their homes. Certainly, from the enquiries that I am getting, search criteria have changed with the majority of buyers looking for large properties in the middle of the countryside with lots of space, spare rooms or outbuildings for offices and big gardens and the potential for multi-generational living. Our values seem to have been reset and hence it looks as if the demand for a quality of life will continue to drive the demand for rural French property and continue to shift prices upwards.

In the meantime, we are looking forward to a very French Christmas here (despite the fact that the sun is shining, and it is 17 degrees outside). I always think that the French have adopted the best bits of Christmas while discarding the stress and overspending. In our region at least, people seem to just focus on eating, drinking, and enjoying time en famille. We will follow suit and, luckily for us, because we are so close to the mountains, we know that, while we will enjoy our aperitif in the sun on the terrace, we also can pretty much guarantee a white Christmas by driving a short way into the mountains to the snow for a walk, some sledging, some skiing, and some mulled wine.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2022

If you are thinking about investing in a French home next year, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

How to choose a home for happiness and mental wellbeing

After many years of helping clients to find their perfect property here in France based, in the first instance, on a detailed list of their requirements, what I have learned above all is that a property can tick every box but still not be ‘the one’. While most of us have easily defined opinions about what we know we like and dislike and many of our reactions to a property are conscious and objective, it seems that others are far more unconscious and visceral, bound up with our less definable personal instincts and experiences.

What is it about a space that makes us feel at home? On the most fundamental level, human beings have a need for shelter and security. But beyond that we also want comfort, beauty, stimulation, and connection with those around us and with the world outside.

When children are asked to draw a home, they commonly draw houses with steeply pitched roofs, even when they themselves live in flats, according to Lily Bernheimer, a researcher in environmental psychology. The pitched roof symbolises shelter and enclosure, which we need to make ourselves feel secure. Our homes need to feel like a place of refuge from the rest of the world. This psychology informs, albeit often unconsciously, our reaction to a property.

As Alain de Botton discusses in his book, The Architecture of Happiness, we may seek beauty from design, but there are all sorts of other aspects that we may not even be conscious of that lead us to find buildings and objects attractive or unattractive: “Our feelings of contentment are woven from fine and unexpected filaments. It isn’t sufficient that our chairs comfortably support us; they should in addition afford us a sense that our backs are covered, as though we were at some level still warding off ancestral fears of attacks by a predator.” The same can be said for our home.

He goes on to say; “When we approach front doors, we appreciate those that have a small threshold in front of them, a piece of railing, a canopy or a simple line of flowers or stones – features that help us mark the transition between public and private space and appease the anxiety of entering or leaving a house.”

Trends in current research support de Botton’s assertion that when it comes to design, we are subject to a host of neurological responses we have no control over, and which we may not even recognise. “We’ve been optimising our environments too much for our cognitive mind in recent years, and we need to ignite our senses and bring more awareness to what feels good rather than what we think.” Perhaps what we think we want isn’t actually what makes us feel at home. For example, memories of home are usually associated with the things in it, which you can touch and smell (“the attic and the cellar, the fireplace and the bay window, the hidden corners, a stool, a gilded mirror, a chipped shell”) rather than the building in its entirety, which you can only see.

Which is all a very long way of saying that, while a detailed list of criteria is very important in choosing the right home for you, equally as important, once you have made sure your practical considerations have been taken into account, is to then allow your unconscious self and your feelings to take the lead when viewing a house. I have said it before, but it bears saying again that, while it is important to use your rational, thinking head in working out what you are looking for practically in a property and a location, once this is established, it is equally as important to let your heart have a say.

If you need help or advice with finding your home in France, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

France to further strengthen ban on single-use plastics

The French government has announced plans to ban the use of plastic packaging for most fruit and vegetables from January 2022. This follows on from laws which came into effect from January 1st this year banning single-use plastic plates, cups, cotton buds, plastic straws, and cutlery.

The new plastic packaging ban will apply in the first instance to harder fruit and veg such as leeks, peppers, and apples. It will then be rolled out to tomatoes, green beans, and other more delicate items by June 2023 and finally to salads and berries.

Retailers who fail to comply will face hefty fines. About a third of fruit and vegetables sold in France is currently wrapped in plastic. Each consumer will also have the right to be served using their own container, as long as it is clean and adapted to the nature of the product being purchased.

In a further effort to reduce plastic waste, from 2022 there will be a ban on plastic tea bags. Fast-food chains will no longer be able to give away plastic toys and water fountains will become mandatory in public places (including schools) in order to reduce public dependency on plastic bottles. Restaurants will also be compelled to offer free still water to their clients.

There are more proposals in the pipeline to reduce plastic use in France even further in the next few years and it is also now mandatory to provide consumers with accurate information regarding proper waste sorting and details of the composition and recyclability of material.

Here in the foothills, shopping at local markets, home-grown produce, paper bags and shopping baskets have never fallen out of favour and so, again, Southwest France is head of the game when it comes to a more environmentally sustainable way of living but at least now chain supermarkets will be forced to follow suit.

If you are thinking of moving to France or buying a holiday home here, please do get in touch to see how I can help: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com