CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

How we found our perfect French property

PUBLISHED: 16:07 22 August 2017 | UPDATED: 16:11 22 August 2017

Beth Haslam's house in Midi-Pyrénées

Beth Haslam's house in Midi-Pyrénées

Archant

British author Beth Haslam shares her experience of searching for and buying a property in France

Why did you decide to buy a property in France?

Our story of buying French property is a bittersweet romance. A tale of gradual allure followed by several disasters, it thankfully has a happy ending.

We had holidayed in France for years. Skiing in the Alps, beach breaks on the Atlantic, halcyon interludes in the countryside – all our visits had been super. As semi-retirement approached, we decided to buy a second home. I love my garden, growing veg and walking my beloved dogs. Jack, my husband, does not. On the other hand, he is never happier than when making or mending things. These range from cars to furniture to horribly oily machines. We are both country folk, and this heady combination meant we needed a country property with enough space and a decent climate to indulge our outdoor pursuits. We quickly ruled out the UK, because of unreliable weather and the high cost of land. So, Europe was the answer.

France, which suited our modest language skills, also ticked the vast majority of our other boxes. It was very accessible with good infrastructure, had locations with a great climate, and boasted amazingly low property and land prices compared with the UK.

____________________________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

Why should I buy a property in France?

This is why Brexit persuaded this young family to move to France

____________________________________________________________________________

Beth at the local marketBeth at the local market

How did you start looking for your French property?

Filled with naïve confidence, we researched properties. Each evening after work, I trawled the internet. This was harder than I’d expected because of our unusual specification.

We wanted a small house that didn’t need renovation. We didn’t want a pool. But we did want at least 100 acres of mixed fields and woodland. Frustratingly, properties with 100 acres all seemed to have enormous houses, often châteaux, but neither of us wanted to rattle around in a vast property, and I refused to spend my dotage with a duster in hand.

To find the climate we wanted, our search took us to the south of the country. This was fine by me. I’d always been filled with romantic thoughts of living in Provence anyway, so that was top of our list. We then added its western neighbours: Languedoc-Roussillon, the Midi-Pyrénées and Aquitaine. I soon realised that focusing on the ‘southern belt’ was vague at best. France is big, really big. With scant knowledge of each region, my steep learning curve ended up almost vertical.

Then came another problem.

I was primarily dealing with French local estate agencies and quickly found my language skills inadequate. When I tried actually talking to estate agents, things got infinitely worse. Most conversations are spoken at twice the standard speed, and often shouted. Add to these a thick local accent, and I was frequently sunk.

After numerous anguished conversations, I came across some English-speaking agents. These are often self-employed people who work with estate agencies and service the international market. It was a heavenly discovery.

____________________________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

How to decide where to buy a property in France

“I was priced out of the UK but could afford to buy in the south of France”

____________________________________________________________________________

Sam and Biff the Haslams' dogsSam and Biff the Haslams' dogs

What about property viewings?

Some six months later, we had a shortlist of 12 rural domaines (estates) to visit. They ticked most of our boxes, and I was convinced each would be ideal. It would just be a question of which we liked best.

How wrong I was. One day in mid-April, we packed up the car and our two portly dogs, Sam, my adored Australian Shepherd, and Biff, our Norfolk terrier, who had issues. Why the dogs? Because, despite Jack’s moans and groans, we had never holidayed without them. I wasn’t about to start now.

Our journey of over 3,000 miles took nearly four weeks and became an epic adventure. Before we had even viewed the first property our car was almost written-off by a violent hailstorm that hit the delightful town of Mirepoix. Thank goodness my husband is an engineer. He quickly patched up all the broken bits and we continued from property to property in a pebble-dashed car.

Sadly, each property turned out to be vastly different to the literature, causing my short-tempered husband to explode on several occasions. A couple may have been suitable had it not been for the weather conditions. Visiting these exposed another flaw in my research. I should have taken into account prevailing winds – one of which, we were gaily informed, sent the locals mad for months on end. Then there were the mountains (I still have no idea how one of the properties managed to perch on a near-vertical slope without subsiding into the ravine below). We battled on, solemnly grading each as awful, seriously awful or downright terrible.

Were you put off from buying a property in France?

Ironically, despite failing miserably with bricks and mortar, our affection for France was steadily developing. We found ourselves in countryside that was exquisitely beautiful and charmed with wildlife. Scents of rosemary, thyme and hints of lavender pervaded the air in Provence. Languedoc-Roussillon was lush, then craggy and simply gorgeous. Aquitaine’s endless pine forests led us to the ocean where massive sand dunes bordered magnificent beaches. We saw places, and viewed buildings, steeped in fantastic history. And we met remarkable, charming people.

____________________________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

10 insider tips for successful househunting

How we renovated a French château

____________________________________________________________________________

Beth's houseBeth's house

How did you eventually find ‘the one’?

Eventually, we came to the end of my research list with nothing to show for it except a battered car. Completely dejected, we were about to return home when our ever-optimistic agent called about a “perfect” estate that had just come on the market. This time he was right! So, quite by accident, we found our ideal property (although inheriting a moat was never part of the plan). We visited the domaine on our way back to the UK and instantly fell in love. We had found our home.

What do you love about France?

What do we love about France? Where do I start?! We eventually settled in the Midi-Pyrénées, about 60km from Toulouse. Our home is snuggled in the depths of a fruit-growing area. The countryside is decorated with tiny, ancient villages. Here, the mode of transport between each is generally a tractor. Life ebbs and flows with the seasons – nice and slowly, but with purpose. It’s like stepping back in time 50 or so years.

This is a place where those silly old values such as courtesy, helping one another out, and giving gifts – just because – are commonplace. It is very special.

One thing I worried about was how we would be received. We, les anglais, had bought a house with a rich history, from an extremely well-known French family. Would they hate us? Not a bit. From the first day, visitors arrived to welcome us and offer help. They didn’t care that our French wasn’t up to scratch; they just wanted us to feel part of the community. We were overwhelmed by their kindness.

The temperate climate is perfect for us. It’s also ideal for traditions such as the weekly markets where we arrive each week, catch up on the local gossip, and barter for impossibly fresh goods.

Fêtes are an integral part of life too. Each one proudly celebrates a local product – wines, fruit, livestock and garlic – we celebrate it all. And each is brilliantly supported with everyone enjoying the party atmosphere in streets filled with the heady scents of food and drink. Then there’ll be a regular metallic thwack as another metal ball hits its target in a keenly fought match of pétanque. This is life in the south-west of France.

____________________________________________________________________________

Don’t miss

How to make new friends when you move to France

This is why we love living in France all year-round

____________________________________________________________________________

The house required a complete renovationThe house required a complete renovation

Tell us about your property

And then there is our home. Despite undertaking a total renovation (which practically finished us off), we adore our eccentric collection of buildings. Some date back to the 16th century, but our particular nest is a now-modernised farmhouse cottage – so cosy I want to wrap my arms around it every day and give it a big hug.

Our land is a perfect combination of forest and fields. We share it with wildlife that includes wild boar, deer, hare the size of small dogs, and pheasants. As a nature lover, it’s like living in paradise.

Hitherto, my published writing had been in a different genre. Our househunting adventures changed all that. They were so extraordinary I felt I had to share them. Natural disasters, near-death experiences on crumbling roads, dog catastrophes, eccentric aristocrats – you name it, it was chucked at us. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Now, as I begin writing Fat Dogs and French Estates Part IV, I am describing day-to-day living. I’m desperate to share our latest exploits. But this book will also be a celebration of our love affair with France and her people.

Moving here is the best thing we have ever done.

Beth is the author of Fat Dogs and French Estates part I, II and III bethhaslam.com @fatdogsfrance

More from Living in France

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

French cheese doesn’t just have to be saved for the cheeseboard, why not experiment with canapés too?

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

How does a jewellery designer, filmmaker and restaurateur who was born in Israel and grew up in New York come to turn a French château into an artists’ retreat? Ziggy Attias shares his life in Champagne-Ardenne

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

France has helped launch a satellite to study the effects of global warming; but how do French attitudes towards climate change compare to those of other Europeans?

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

France has historically been on the leading edge of eco-friendly projects and regulations. While many argue that much more needs to be done to meet environmental goals in France and globally, here are 11 ways that French government, companies and people are striving to be green.

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Seen a French property that would make fabulous food business but unsure of the paperwork and process? Read Tracy Leonetti’s at-a-glance guide to opening a restaurant or cafe in France

Read more
Running a business
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thinking of setting up a campsite in France? Here’s what you’ll need to consider when it comes to planning permission.

Read more
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

With its unbeatable wine and cheese and laissez-faire attitude, there’s nowhere better to retire than France. But which cities are best for growing old in? Here’s the top 10

Read more
Pays de la Loire
Thursday, January 25, 2018

If you are buying in or moving to France you will need a French bank account but before you open one make sure you read these 11 things you need to know to avoid making a costly mistake

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

France might be experiencing a shortage of general practitioners but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a GP willing to take on new patients. Here’s what you need to know about finding and registering with a doctor when you move to France

Read more
Expats in France
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The French pharmacy is so much more tham a place to pick up your prescriptions. Here are 11 things you might not know about pharmacies in France.

Read more
Healthcare in France
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now