About Provence

Written by admin on May 30, 2009 – 11:57 am -

Each year, emails flow into the Bonjour Paris mailbox with questions from people thinking of moving to Provence and setting up permanent housekeeping there. Even with the dollar-euro fluctuations, life can cost less in the French countryside, especially if you’re into food and wine. For people who are retiring (and can get medical insurance), France’s quality of life can be lovely. I know because I did it but was far from stopping to exclusively smell the roses.

My husband and I went for it full-tilt and fulfilled the dream so many people share. It was the perfect run-down mas (farmhouse) in the midst of the vines. All it would require was a little work—hah. After two years of more workmen than I could imagine and getting to know all of them in the area, the house was finally a home rather than a construction site. After spending fifteen years commuting between Paris and Provence, selling the house was bittersweet.

There had been so many wonderful events, birthdays, a wedding and memories I’ll always cherish. But for many reasons, most especially the death of my husband Victor, its time had come and gone. I considered trying to keep the house so my grandchildren could spend summers there. But it was a different era and the time had come to move on.

As I drove out of the driveway for the final time, I realized the tiny trees we’d planted when we’d first moved there had quadrupled in height. The fig trees we’d nurtured from slightly larger than twigs were bearing fruit. We’d lived through different weather systems, all too many mistrals and managed to become cat owners.

I don’t (rather didn’t) like cats. But Kitty has become a pivotal part of my life and even has a EU passport. Thank goodness, she has been insinuated her claws and ways into the hearts of others who give her incredible TLC when I’m traveling.

The house and the property were a lot of work and what we spent on upkeep… it’s vulgar to talk about money, but it was a hell of a lot. All I wanted was a staff only to find out we’d be dependent on very part-time help.

My husband was passionate about the garden. I love flowers and immediately planted peonies. Somehow, I always seemed to be somewhere else when they were in full bloom and would have to be content looking at photos of them in their glory.

We had a potager (vegetable garden) that cost a fortune to plant and to maintain. But Victor loved it and I learned to make every recipe that contained zucchini. I would literally stand in the garden and watch it grow. Our guests could hear me cursing. Neighbors knew to lock their doors and close all shutters pretending to be away in the event I came calling with three kilos of what became known as the vegetable from hell.

Naturally, the items I had hoped would grow didn’t. They were planted. But the mole population of the region knew what was good and they weren’t going to bother themselves with the zucchini that would explode a minimum of six inches if I turned my back. These devious animals aren’t stupid and were fully aware flowers are tasty. I thought about buying a shotgun or maybe dynamite, but I don’t think the neighbors would have liked that—or liked the idea that I’d drive the critters into their gardens.

Unless you’re committed to living in the country and becoming a part of the community, Americans shouldn’t strike out and buy property just because they’ve read one of Peter Mayle’s books. Or, our neighbors’ book, We’ve Always Had Paris and Provence by Patricia and Walter Wells.

It’s one thing for people who live in the EU and the UK to have second homes in Provence that they can reach easily on weekends or for a vacation. It’s quite something else when Americans take the plunge and opt to take up permanent residence on the other side of the Atlantic. Even if you shuttle between the two continents, you can’t help but lose contact with family members, old friends and professional colleagues unless you don’t mind running a hotel. And even then…

Before taking the plunge, rent houses in different parts of France where there are huge differentials in costs of buying your dream house. Let the owners do the work as well as absorb the cost of the upkeep. In addition, you become familiar with different regions of the country and where you’d be the most comfortable. Some parts of France are extremely remote and don’t open their arms to newcomers unless your French is flawless.

Other areas of the country are filled with expats, which may be precisely why you opt to move there. It’s easier to acclimate if you already have a nucleus of acquaintances. But try not to fall in the same rut that some do by not even making an effort to learn anything other than the most rudimentary French and residing in colonies.

It’s never too late to learn a language even if your accent is terrible and you use incorrect tenses. The secret is to take lessons, studying, listening to language tapes or jumping in and speaking even if you sound foolish. Children have no shame when speaking a new language and adults should adopt the same attitude.

The cost of real estate in France with the exception of Paris has taken an approximate 10% dip according to Karen Tait, the editor of French Property News.

Buying into a “fractional ownership” of a property tempts some people. There are certainly advantages. But don’t consider buying into one without legal counsel. The developer is the main person who comes out ahead financially. Remember, whatever it’s called, it’s still a time-share.

Consult a lawyer who knows the laws and tax regulations of France and your home country. It’s money well spent since the Napoleonic Code is like none other unless you’re from Louisiana.

There are a lot of pitfalls that can be avoided by not relying on the local real estate agent and his or her chosen notaire who will be responsible for recording the purchase and sale of the house or apartment. If only we had taken this advice and sought out expert advice. But we were too busy smelling the lavender and contemplating the sunsets, which was the point after all.


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