Retiring in France

For hundreds of British retirees, a new life in France seems the perfect way to enjoy the fruits of their labours. But how easy is it to adapt? Deborah Curtis finds out

“We had always enjoyed holidays in France,” says George Luke. “On one holiday we had a stopover in Burgundy both on the way there and the way back, and we fell in love with the region.”

He and his wife Coral began their expat adventure in 2002 – spending six months in France and six months in England – before a change in family circumstances forced their hand in 2004 and they moved over for good.

“It was unforeseen circumstances that led us to move here permanently,” says Coral. “We came over at Christmas in 2003 and realised that moving to France would be the solution we were looking for so we went back to England and set the ball rolling.”

They have now been in the region for seven years and were joined in 2007 by their daughter Amber and grandchildren, Abygaelle, now aged 10, and James, seven. The family expanded further when Amber met her French partner, Jean-Marie, and they had Alexandre, who is now 17 months. The two families live together in Moux-en-Morvan, in Ni�vre, within the boundaries of the Parc Naturel R�gional du Morvan. Coral is disabled and Amber and Jean-Marie both work, the latter in Paris, so the new property is ideal for everyone.

“It is a big house,” says Coral. “We live on the ground floor and our daughter’s family live upstairs.”

This is the third house the couple have owned in France. The first was quite remote but as Coral’s rheumatoid and osteoarthritis have worsened they have chosen to move to be closer to essential amenities.

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“Ni�vre is not as wealthy as C�ted’Or or Sa�ne-et-Loire,” says Coral. “There are lots of little villages and not many towns. We are lucky here. We have a post office, a baker, a small supermarket and a cafe. A doctor visits three times a week and we also have visits from a local physiotherapist.”

The layout of the house is such that George and Coral live independently from their daughter and her family but they are all there for one another when required.

“We needed to find somewhere practical,” Coral explains, “and this was the most practical house for us. We all share the garden but we live separately, although if anyone has a problem we all help each other out.”

For George and Coral this often means looking after their grandchildren when Amber is out at work at a nearby auberge or at the g�te she is contracted to manage.

“The children are very happy here. They are all bilingual and the older two are so French now with their mannerisms,” says Coral. “They speak French to each other.”

Coral and George have both made efforts to learn the language with Coral passing her GCSE French not long after she had the second of three strokes. George, however, is modest about his linguistic capabilities.

“If I’m forced to speak French I will,” he says. “Coral is much better at it than I am but I do understand a lot more than I speak. I can manage.”

They have been welcomed warmly into each of the three communities they’ve joined since they first came to France and have been touched by the kindness they’ve received from their French neighbours. “When my mother died, we had to go back to England for about six weeks,” says Coral.

“Our neighbour then was wonderful. She looked after the place and fed the cats. Then when George was in hospital, they looked after the house and even used their own fuel to keep the boiler running so the house would be warm when we came home. You can never repay such kindness.”

Coral puts the success of integrating into French life down to their willingness to make an effort. She has little patience for people who complain about shop opening hours or unfamiliar French food.

“We eat more in the French style now and Jean-Marie is a brilliant cook. He cooks traditional French food and everything is seasonal here which is much better for you,” says Coral.

“There’s no point people moaning about shops being shut. That’s the way it is. You just have to learn to adapt. ” Since she moved to France, Coral has been helping people make the transition to life across the Channel by writing articles on travel and tourism for disabled people and has also published advice and information for disabled people who want to make a permanent move. A founder member of a French conversation group for expats and locals in Burgundy, she recently joined a club for older people in her village.

“We meet up to play bingo and things like that,” Coral explains. “I like to do things that make my brain work. It’s all in French and I have to work very hard. They all think I’m mad as when I hear the numbers, I repeat them to myself while I work them out. Sometimes the ladies tell me, ‘It’s that one!’

“The people are wonderful but you really do get back what you put in. If you want to stay in as a family unit then that’s fine but they will include you and help you if you try. This has been a complete change of life for us. We don’t hanker after English things. If you want to carry on living as you would in England, then why move?”

Coral’s disability has given both her and George a different perspective on retirement in France. Coral can get a bit frustrated by the French interpretation of wheelchair access for example.

“They don’t look at disability in the same way here,” she says. “We have got used to it but it makes it much harder for George when we go out. In Dijon, for instance, we’ve come across pavements with a dropped kerb on one side of the road but not on the other. It makes life quite difficult but we’re used to it.

“They just sometimes don’t seem to get what disability is about. It doesn’t keep me stuck at home though. We take the children out and about. We take them to the Morvan maison du parc where they can run around and tire themselves out but there’s only so far I can go because the boardwalk just stops and we have to turn back. It’s things like that which are frustrating for me.” The French healthcare system has been a tremendous support to Coral and George and they are especially glad they are here for the short waiting times. “I am on good terms with the health service,” Coral says.

“The speed you get appointments is amazing. They will apologise if you have to wait longer than a couple of weeks. The people we see are very helpful. They do everything they can.”

For the two of them, France is now home. They love the countryside, the feeling of space and have learned to love the quirks that typify the French way of life. All in all, they firmly believe that it’s down to them to make the most of their retirement in France. “If you’re going to have a good life here, you have to make an effort,” says Coral. “You’re the one who makes it happen.”

GEORGE AND CORAL’S TIPS FOR RETIRING IN FRANCE ?

Research, research, research – you cannot do enough! ?

If you are claiming any benefits in the UK, contact the DWP and make sure that you are entitled to claim them abroad, especially if you rely on that benefit as part of your daily living. ?

Contact your pension provider to ensure they can pay you abroad. ?

Have a basic knowledge of the language and don’t expect people to speak English, it is their country after all and they will appreciate some effort. Don’t expect that even professionals speak English, our doctor can just about say hello! ?

If you know where you’d like to live, visit the area at different times of year as a lovely busy area may be fantastic in the summer but you may feel isolated in the winter when the tourists have gone. ?

When choosing your house seriously think of your needs. Can you manage stairs comfortably? Do you need level access perhaps for a wheelchair? How much would it cost to adapt the house? ? If you are already receiving medical treatment make sure you have copies of your medical treatment in the UK. ? Try and find where medical consultants are located in your area through Pages Jaunes. This should help you decide on a good location.