For Australian beauty therapist Christine Prévost, there are lots of reasons to enjoy living in Alpes-Maritimes, as Stephanie Sheldrake finds out
With its warm climate, beautiful sandy beaches and palm trees, it’s easy to see why Australian Christine Prévost feels at home in Alpes-Maritimes.
Christine has lived in the sunny department on the most south-eastern tip of France for some 20 years, and she is glad to have made it her home. “I love this area; I like the weather, and the food and wine are fantastic,” she says.
It was romance that brought Christine to France – she fell in love with a Frenchman and moved to Paris in 1991 to be with him. They lived in the capital for two years before getting married and moving to Antibes for work, where they started a family. When their marriage ended in 2004, Christine bought a house near Valbonne, a picturesque village close to the Mediterranean, where she now lives with her two teenage boys, Ryan, 18 and Alex, 16.
Despite living in France for more than two decades, Christine admits that she still feels like an expat.
“The only time I felt integrated into the French community was when I lived in Paris. I had French in-laws and friends there, so I had to speak French, even though I couldn’t speak the language very well.”
Christine felt that she lacked confidence when speaking French in Paris, but found it easier when the couple moved to the south.
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“By the time we moved to Antibes, I could speak a bit of French and because there are lots of English-speaking people in this area, I actually felt quite confident to use the language because I felt my French was better than most people’s, so it was easier for me!” she laughs.
These days, Christine prefers to speak English and mostly mixes with other expats, but it wasn’t the case when her children were little. “When the kids were younger I spent more time with French mums and their kids, which helped my French a lot,” she explains. By contrast, French is the natural language for her two sons. “Ryan and Alex are pretty French – they understand everything I say in English, but they always want to answer in French because they’re more comfortable with that,” she says.
Though Christine prefers to speak English socially, she is comfortable speaking French in everyday situations, and sees the importance of speaking the language when living and working in France. “My advice would be to definitely learn to speak French,” she says.
Having studied beauty therapy and owned a salon in Australia, Christine decided to use these skills again in 2011 when she started a beauty business. She converted one of the rooms in her house to a beauty room, where she now offers clients a range of beauty therapies, from waxing to pedicures.
Christine explains that it has been important for her business to have a unique selling point, which is her English-speaking client base: “You need to have a market when you run a business and I target English-speaking people. I do that through AngloINFO (http://france.angloinfo.com), which has been a really good way for me to advertise,” she says. “It’s a niche market and I find that it’s easier to speak to English-speaking people – we can have a bit of a laugh. They keep coming back because they feel relaxed.”
In order to give herself financial security while she builds her business, Christine also has a part-time office job two mornings a week, though she hopes to be able to concentrate all of her efforts on the beauty business by the end of the year.
Christine set herself up as an auto-entrepreneur – designed for small sole-trader businesses. She explains that, as such, your earnings are limited and you are given tax cuts for the first couple of years. This does mean social charges are increased in the third year, however, and Christine advises saving money for this. “If you haven’t put the money away then businesses can sometimes go under in the third year,” she says.
When it came to setting up the business, Christine used a firm of independent financial advisers, who completed all of the paperwork on her behalf, making the process simple. The only challenge Christine encountered was that her diploma in beauty wasn’t recognised in France. “I got my diploma from Australia more than 30 years ago and it didn’t compare to any French qualifications in beauty. I did some research and it was established that it was the equivalent to Le CAP Esthétique, which is the standard French beauty qualification.”
Christine knew that having a website would be essential for her business, and she was able to do it herself. “I’d already done a little bit of internet marketing over the years, so I knew how to set up a website,” she says.
Having lived in the department for 20 years now, Christine has fallen in love with Alpes-Maritimes. She loves how there are some aspects of the area that remind her of her hometown of Brisbane, such as the beaches, the good weather and palm trees. But equally she loves the differences this region offers: “I love the old Provençal villages, because we don’t have those in Australia, with all their quirky streets and knick-knacks,” she says. “I like it because you’re near the beach, but in winter you’re still only an hour and a half away from the ski resorts. I’ve never lived anywhere like this before – it is such a beautiful area,” she says.
As for the future, Christine is planning to stay for at least another two to five years until her sons have made plans. “After that, I don’t know,” she says. “If my kids left I would consider moving. My boyfriend is Scottish, so we could go to Scotland or to Australia – I’m not sure.”
“We would probably like to keep a house down here because it’s such a nice place to visit. My ideal would be to spend six months of the year here and six months in Australia – that would be the dream.”
As far as dreams go, they don’t get much better than that. LF