Many Britons live in France and work in the UK. For Catherine Turner who runs a bicycle business, a move to Paris seemed like a daunting prospect, but she has quickly settled in to the City of Light, says Fiona Webster.
If you happen to be in Paris and see a family of four on the most British-looking bicycles – that will probably be Catherine Turner and her brood. Catherine seems to have the best of both worlds. She lives in the French capital yet has cornered the market in beautiful bikes with a company based in Cambridge. Sounds complicated, but Catherine says it works like a dream.
“When I moved to Paris, I noticed how many French women cycled and looked very elegant doing it,” says Catherine.
“There was no bright pink Lycra or helmets, they simply hopped on their bikes in their beautiful clothes and looked great. Paris also has the V�lib’ public bicycle sharing system where you can hire cycles for the hour or day.
“We realised what was lacking in Britain and elsewhere was an elegant but practical bike. I’d previously worked in marketing and branding in London so I was interested in that side of things too. Inspired by all that and with the help of some British friends, BEG Bicycles was born last year.”
Catherine moved to Paris four years ago when her husband Jonathan, 42, who works in marketing, was transferred there from Britain.
“We were living in Maida Vale in London which we liked and had a good life, so I must admit, I was a bit reluctant at first,” she says.“Our son William was three and daughter Emilia was just 10 months, so uprooting was quite a challenge for us. But we began looking at different areas of Paris; mainly online at first. We found an apartment in the 7th arrondissement, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. We decided to rent rather than buy at first because we weren’t certain at the time how long we would be staying in Paris and we still have a home in London. We found the prices here quite similar to where we lived in London.”
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It seems an increasing number of British people are having the same idea as Catherine and are moving to French cities, either renting or buying. French property expert Mark Harvey, of Knight Frank, says: “Despite the economic turbulence of the past few years, interest for certain parts of France and French property has continued unabated. Buyers have continued to focus on the more established locations, which have historically shown the greatest support and liquidity in times of uncertainty.
“Areas such as Les Alpilles, the C�te d’Azur, Courchevel and Paris are perhaps the best examples of this out-performance which is fuelled in part by continued international demand, a resurfacing domestic market and tight supply constraints.
“The British still form a healthy proportion of these buyers, particularly in Paris. Pricewise, 100m� in the 7th arrondissement of Paris would start at €1,500,000 rising rapidly to €20,000/m� and beyond to buy.”
Catherine chose her district because it had character: “We chose this area of Paris because it has the same quirky village feel as our part of London had. There is a mix of businesses, shops and residential, a school on every street and a real sense of community, which I love. You soon get to know the people on your street.”
The couple found a bilingual school for the children, which meant they met British, French and other nationalities.
“We also made friends locally via the expat network Message, which puts you in touch with English-speaking parents in your neighbourhood and holds events where you can get to know other families,” says Catherine. They also joined the Standard Athletics Club in Meudon, just 15 minutes from the centre of Paris.
“It has an English country club feel and caters for expats, holding events such as family barbecues and has lovely tennis courts and cricket pitches. It’s a family place where you can relax and meet new like-minded people too.
“I did A-level French which I have tried to improve on and the language hasn’t really been a problem, especially for the children.”
Catherine’s day is now a mix of British business and a traditional French lifestyle.
“I can walk the children to school, which I really enjoy, and leave the house after breakfast at about 8.30am,” she says. “Emilia, who is now four, goes to school in Rue de Greville and William, six, goes to school just a few blocks away.”
Catherine shops more regularly than she did in Britain. “There’s no big hike to the supermarket anymore, and the food here is always lovely and fresh. I might stroll to Avenue Wilson, where there is a great street market with bakers, fishmongers and sellers who come from outside Paris, so you’ll get apples from Normandy and a real variety of cheeses.”
Once the shopping is finished, she heads home to work: dealing with customers, checking orders, planning marketing and so on. The internet and a good phone set-up means she can work wherever she is and the time difference between France and the UK hasn’t been an issue.
“Growing the business hasn’t been a problem, even from here,” she says. “When we first had the idea for the bikes, we searched the world for a suitable supplier.
“We didn’t want anything garish, plastic, mass-produced or too bike shop. We found a family-run firm in nearby Belgium, who make our bikes exactly as we like them and who take pride in their work.
“We developed a range of glamorous retro colours for our bikes like Persephone pink, toad grey and flirty 30s green and a range of accessories such as satchels, rugs, cool boxes and crates.” Catherine decided on Cambridge as the ideal place to launch the company because of its well-known cycling connections.
“It has always been one of Britain’s most cycled cities, with 21% of the city’s population riding bikes,” she says. As the end of the school day approaches, Catherine stops work for a while and turns her attention once more to the family. “I pick up the children at 3.30pm and try to switch off till they go to bed at 8.30pm. Then I will do a little more work and, of course, spend time with Jonathan.”
The family live in a classically French, three-bedroom Haussmann-style apartment, with high ceilings, white moldings and big windows framing views of the city. And Catherine praises the range of activities on offer for families in Paris – from walks along the river to galleries, museums, exhibitions, markets, and shops.
“We sometimes have friends round and know a mix of nationalities,” she says.
And being so close to the UK means that the family don’t feel cut off. “I don’t really miss home,” Catherine says. “Communicating with family and friends back in the UK is easy thanks to the internet and, of course, friends love to come to Paris and stay with us! “I’m very happy because I am doing something I enjoy based in the UK and love where I live in France, and so far – it works!”LF