You’ve heard a lot from me over the past six years about life in rural France. So let’s hear from someone else for a change. This is the first in an occasional series, Ma Vie Française, in which people tell us why they moved here and describe their experiences.
Jacqui Brown and her husband Adrian and (then) three-year old son moved from urban Reading to Deux-Sèvres in 2004. Since then, she’s made a name for herself as a popular blogger, book reviewer, local volunteer par excellence and grower of organic produce.
Life on La Lune: Thanks for joining us, Jacqui. Why did you choose your present location in France?
Jacqui: Poitou-Charentes ticked all the boxes for access to the UK for Adrian’s work, climate and house prices. We are between the airports of Poitiers, Limoges, Bordeaux and La Rochelle, and we can easily drive back to UK within a day.
Originally we were househunting in the ‘middle of nowhere’, but found a house with an orchard in a village with a boulangerie, a bar/shop/restaurant and a hairdresser, and it seemed ideal. Our village has about 400 inhabitants and is 7 km from the nearest market town.
How different is it from where you lived before?
Very! In Reading we were within walking distance of shops, facilities and entertainment, plus fast rail link to London. We now need a car to go anywhere. Our son’s after-school activities involve a 30-minute drive. Medical/dental appointments are about 45 minutes’ drive. He would have walked to school had we stayed in the UK. Here he took the bus to the local town for maternelle, primaire and collège. He’s now at lycée as a weekly boarder. He wouldn’t have had this experience or independence in Reading.
We swapped a lovely 1930’s three-bedroom, bay windowed semi with long garden, backing onto a railway line, for an older, draughtier, long four-bedroom farmhouse. We also have barns, outbuildings and an orchard with fruit and nut trees and a potager.
What do you do for a living?
Adrian is a freelance IT consultant/ITIL trainer and he travels to cities all over Europe. A simpler life in France with no mortgage means that he can now take at least two months off every summer, so we get more family time.
I have made volunteering my raison d’être. I run an English conversation club once a week at a local school, I help to run the village library, I’m on committees that organise village events and the monthly village magazine and I’m now an elected village councillor. I also write a blog about our French village life and read and review books set in France.
What did you expect of French rural life and has it turned out that way?
That is a tough one. I hoped it would be relaxed, warm, friendly and with plenty of family time enjoying the great outdoors. It’s certainly friendly. Within a few weeks we got to know more people than in five years in Reading.
I never imagined I would be asked to stand for election and be elected to the local council. Politics isn’t my thing at all, but I have a real passion for village life and doing my bit to keep the village heart beating. I really enjoy the challenge and my French has improved too.
As a family we are much more active and fitter. We have kilometres of empty roads on our doorstep, perfect for dog walking and cycling. The scenery is also more pleasing to the eye.
What are the advantages of French rural life?
Time together as a family, one of our reasons for moving. Finding my place in the community is a big advantage, especially for a stay-at-home Mum. We eat a healthier diet and I have a better relationship with food now we grow our own. I wasn’t a great cook when we moved, but having to find inventive ways with gluts from cherries to courgettes, walnuts, eggs and more has opened my eyes to food waste, commercial food production and conserving our home-grown efforts.
Adrian and I can more than get by in French and our son is bilingual. He has a lot more freedom here than in a UK or French town or city. He walked to the boulangerie from age five to get the lunchtime baguette and now aged 15 regularly walks the dog, runs and cycles the tracks around the village. Being away at lycée has increased his confidence and given him a taste of independence without actually having to move out.
And the downsides?
The main downside was leaving our families and the babysitting support they gave us when our son was younger. But we soon adapted to lunches out instead, taking advantage of the great priced menu du jour.
The other downside is the need to drive everywhere. On dark, foggy nights when Adrian is away, I don’t enjoy the drive to music lessons. There isn’t an awful lot to entertain our teenage son in the village, so this means more taxi-ing for us so he can enjoy activities with his friends.
Life on La Lune: Thanks very much, Jacqui, for sharing your experiences with us.
You might also like:
Moving to France: A Cautionary Tale
The Ups and Downs of Life in La France Profonde
Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 1 The Positives
Things I Didn’t Know When I Moved to France: Part 2 The Negatives
Copyright © 2016 Life on La Lune, Jacqui Brown, all rights reserved