What happens after you move to France?
- Credit: Archant
Does the reality live up to the dream? We catch up with expats Laura and Rowan Wickham to find out how they’re getting on running a gîte business in Charente
Laura and Rowan Wickham fell in love with a property that would become their home and income all in one. This year they’ve added a wedding business to their gîte business Moulin de Chazotte. We ask them about their life in France and they tell us why moving was the right decision.
Where and what did you buy in France?
In 2016, we bought a 15th-century French watermill which is located just outside Cognac in Charente in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. We bought the property as an up-and-running gîte business and have just renovated a beautiful barn for our new wedding business.
How does life here compare to life in the UK?
Life is hugely different but for us, mainly because we swapped stressful jobs and city living for being our own bosses in the middle of the remote French countryside. We do feel like it’s a bit like stepping back in time living here; everything is just a bit more chilled out.
What is a typical day?
We definitely don’t have a typical day. We have four holiday cottages so during the peak summer months of July to September we do fall into a slight pattern of washing and cleaning and socialising with guests. The rest of the year we spend on renovation projects. Saying all that, we do try and have some form of routine each day, especially as we have animals.
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Do you earn a living from your property?
Yes, or at least we are on our way to. When we originally bought in France we knew we wanted to buy a business so we could literally hit the ground and earn immediately. We also wanted somewhere we could turn into a wedding venue for additional income. We actually have four booked in already with our first one just a couple of weeks away, so wish us luck!
Are you self-sufficient?
We are trying to be. I think our family and friends find our new hippy ways slightly amusing. We have chickens and our next project is to get some sheep and/or goats to help cut our vast expanses of lawn and also to use for their milk and cheese.
We developed a veg patch and this year have enough tomatoes to feed most of the region!
Did you renovate the property?
We were lucky - the previous owners did a lot of the hard work for us. The great thing about this property though was that there were still undeveloped areas we could put our mark on.
Have you integrated with the local community?
Having previously lived in Switzerland in a somewhat expat bubble, we knew that it was important in rural France to get involved with the local village community. Rowan joined the local rugby team and that was a great first step, particularly as he is originally from New Zealand and the French love their All Blacks! We try wherever possible to use local suppliers and tradesmen and find many of these through the rugby team itself which is great.
What are your three top tips for someone following in your footsteps?
1. Learn French. You may not even need it in your area and you don’t need to be fluent but the French really do appreciate it if you try, and that really helps you to become part of the community.
2. If you’re planning to buy somewhere with gîtes or a wedding venue, or both, be prepared for hard work. Everyone thinks that we have an amazingly charmed life. We don’t put pictures on Instagram of having to clean 10 toilets, continuously making beds and the endless hours of washing and ironing bedding! But, for us it is a small price to pay for the amazing life we get to live here.
3. Just go for it! Lots of our gîte guests are viewing properties and are off to see their 86th house but it’s not quite right because the kitchen tiles are too blue or the birds are too noisy or the windows not wide enough! If you want to move to France then just do it!
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