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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Anyone for cheese? Half a kilo per week if you are French

Did you know that you can study for a degree in cheesemaking in France? In fact, not only a degree but you can then follow it with a Masters as well. Cheese making is taken very seriously in France and considered a highly respected profession. I suppose it makes sense; France has one of the highest consumptions of cheese in the world at around 26kg per person per year. The figure is the equivalent to half a kilo a week whereas the British, for example, consume only 11.6kg per person per year.

And consumption of cheese increased even more during 2020, up by over 20%, presumably as the French sought comfort food during the pandemic. According to data from the French agency AgriMer, sales of cheeses produced from cows’ milk rose by 9.4%, organic goats’ cheese jumped by 32.2% and organic sheep’s cheese rose by 5.5%.

Former president, de Gaulle, is famous for asking: “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” but today it is thought that, if you count varieties and sub-varieties, there are closer to a 1000 types of cheese in France. There are also 40 cheeses that have been awarded the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status (better known for wine), which means those cheeses, such as Roquefort, can only be produced in a certain region.

The most popular cheese in France is Camembert, closely followed by Comté. When pollsters ask the French for their view on having a meal without cheese, the most common response is “unimaginable” despite the fact that cheese in France is not cheap; the average cost is €20 per kilo. Remember too that, because the French take cheese so seriously, there are rules as to how it is eaten. Firstly, the French unlike many countries have cheese as a third course before the pudding course. Secondly and very importantly, you should slice it correctly depending on its shape: This means that, for round cheeses, you should cut pie-type wedges whereas for log-shaped cheeses, it should be parallel slices and, for square cheeses, you should aim for triangles. When it comes to wedge shaped cheeses such as Roquefort or Brie, you should cut along the side and certainly not cut off the ‘nose’ because the cheese develops differently from the centre outwards.

In this region, we predominantly have sheep and goats cheese usually made with unpasteurized milk by small producers from start to finish which are then sold at the local markets. Some of it is more expensive gram for gram than gold but that doesn’t stop the lengthy queues at the favourite stalls for those in the know as to the very best producers.

Cheese is not only a staple food in France but it is part of French heritage and identity; a way of life with cheese being eaten by 96% of French people (according to planetoscope.com). So while there has definitely been a rise in vegetarianism in the last decade in France and a steady reduction in meat consumption, prising the French away from their cheese looks unlikely to happen anytime soon and if you are looking for job security and a good income, going into the cheese business might well be the way ahead, in France at least.

Courses up to Masters level are offered at Les ENIL, Ecoles Nationales d’Industrie Laitière: https://www.enil.fr/metiers/fromage

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

 

Extreme lockdown in the Pyrenees; Deep Time


It seems that not everyone is fed up with lockdowns. On March 14th a team of volunteers – eight men and seven women – were sealed into a deep cave here in the Ariège for 40 days. They are part of a scientific experiment called the Deep Time project. It is the first of its kind in the world and is currently underway in the Pyrenees, in the  Grotte de Lombrives, the largest cave in Europe by volume.

The experiment is part of a wide-ranging study into human behaviour; to study how humans manage and live together in completely unknown situations, and how the brain deals with time when there is no physical indication of its passage.

The Franco-Swiss leader of the experiment, Christian Clot, is one of the participants, and was inspired to set up the project having seen the problems of isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Hence the goal of observing the effects of long-term isolation, without any concept of time. “Losing time is the greatest disorientation there is,” according to the project’s website “And it is this aspect that the mission Deep Time wants to understand better. Because to this day, we do not know how our cognitive system understands and manages this indefinite continuity.”

The volunteers, including a jeweller, an anaesthetist and a security guard, from all over France are taking part in the project on a voluntary basis, without any compensation. Arnaud Burel, a 29-year-old biologist, agreed to take part in the mission “to get a taste of this timeless life, impossible outside with our computers and mobile phones constantly reminding us of our appointments and obligations,” he says.

They will have no source of light, no phones, watches, or any other method of knowing even what day it is and will have to get used to the 12 degrees and 95% humidity of the cave, generate their own electricity by means of a pedal system, and draw the water they need from a depth of 45 metres. They will also be equipped with an assortment of sensors that will allow a dozen scientists to follow them from the surface. The cave has been divided into three separate living spaces; one for sleeping, one for living and one for carrying out studies on the topography of the place, the fauna and flora in particular.

“This experiment is a world first,” Professor Etienne Koechlin, a neuroscientist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, said: “Until now, all missions of this type focused on the study of the physiological rhythms of the body, but never on the impact of this type of temporal rupture on the cognitive and emotional functions of the human being.”

The findings of the project could be relevant to future space missions, submarine crews, mining teams and other settings where people are enclosed for long periods.

The ‘Deep Time’ experiment began at 20:00 local time on Sunday, March 14 and, if all goes to plan, the volunteers will come back out on April 22.

You can read more about the experiment on the Deep time website here

Find more information on the Grottes de Lombrives here

 

If you would like help finding a property in France, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Latest trends in the French property market

For many buyers, it is the perfect storm in the French property market right now. There are very few houses coming onto the market for sale, everyone seems to be looking for the same type of property and travel restrictions mean that international buyers cannot even get to France to do any viewings.

In addition, prices have been on the increase since 2015 and country properties particularly are selling at asking price and even above in some areas.

Despite the pandemic, at the end of 2020 the French real estate market had proved itself very resilient (Notaires de France latest report), and this trend is expected to be confirmed in 2021, driven initially by interest rates remaining very low and falling steadily since July 2020. Indeed, rates are currently very close to their historic low. And due to the dominance of fixed rate mortgages, France’s housing market is much less prone to sharp upturns and downturns than housing markets in other countries, where variable mortgages are a major source of instability.

In addition, since the start of the pandemic, there has been a noted change in demand for property away from the cities and towns and this is already having an impact on prices which are rising less quickly, for example, in the French capital than in the rest of France, something that has not happened since 2013.

According to the latest analysis of the French property market by the Notaires de France, there has been a shift among the urban population towards greener areas and a continuing and more permanent shift towards a real estate market that is more provincial, closer to nature and with more space, while still remaining connected. Whether this is merely the acceleration of a lifestyle change that was already in motion prior to the health crisis, a fundamental movement in the property market seems to be underway.

Foreigners are notably absent on the national map. The share of non-resident foreign investors is now close to its lowest level in 10 years but, interestingly, in the same vein as French residents, non-resident foreign buyers are also shifting their investment from urban centres to rural areas.

During the long housing boom which lasted from 1997 to 2007, French house prices surged by 150% (112.5% inflation-adjusted). Since then, the housing market has not moved much. It started to weaken in 2008 and while price falls were moderate, so too have been price rises since then. After falling by an annual average of 1.7% in 2012-2015, house prices started to rise again in 2016 as shown below.

 

HOUSE PRICES IN FRANCE, ANNUAL CHANGE (%)
Year Nominal Inflation-adjusted
2008 -3.75 -5.41
2009 -4.09 -4.44
2010 7.60 5.86
2011 3.68 1.20
2012 -1.96 -3.44
2013 -1.81 -2.44
2014 -2.52 -2.79
2015 -0.50 -0.59
2016 1.50 0.99
2017 3.25 2.08
2018 3.34 1.41
2019 3.78 2.67
Sources: National Institute for Statistical and Economic Studies(INSEE), Global Property Guide

 

Bear in mind, that the French property market is full of micro-markets so it is always very difficult to generalise and also, most importantly, French country property, despite having increased in price, is still better value than most other countries for similar quality houses. If you need help with your property search, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com

Can I still buy a house and move to France permanently after Brexit?

Life has of course become more complicated since Brexit for British nationals living in France and for Brits wishing to move to France and live here permanently. But it is still entirely possible, there is just a bit more paperwork and a few more hoops to jump through than previously was the case.

You still have every right to buy a property in France after 2021; the difference now being that, since January 1st this year, British buyers are now non-EU citizens which means that for anyone wanting to move to France to live, you will first have to go through the immigration process as a ‘Third Country National’ and apply for a long stay visa known as a Visa Long Séjour valant Titre de Séjour or a VLS-TS. To do this, you need to apply in advance (leave enough time as it can take weeks or even months) to the French Consulate in the UK. To make an appointment, you need to go to this site: https://france-visas.gouv.fr/en_US/web/france-visas/

Expect to be asked for various documents such as
– Proof of medical insurance
– Proof of accommodation as to where you will be living
– Proof of funds
– Reasons for coming to France (to work or study/ join family members etc)

Once you have your visa and are in France, you have two months to apply for a non-European carte de séjour, as long as you fulfil certain requirements such as being able to support yourself financially. The website for applications is: https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/N110

If you are hoping to move to France for your retirement, this is also still possible for British nationals, but you will similarly need to apply for a VLS-TS, and you will need to prove sufficient resources to support yourself and proof of health insurance. It is thought that income requirements for retirees will be lower than that of a working household and will take capital assets into account so for example, if you are a retiree who owns a home in France without a mortgage, you would be likely to have your visa approved.

If you need help with finding property and moving to France, please get in touch: nadia@foothillsoffrance.com