I am often asked that question. My husband Henry and I have spent countless holidays in France over the last 20 years. Like many, we loved the lifestyle, the culture, learning the language, and of course the wine! At some point, there was a subtle shift in thinking, and we began to talk about “living the dream”. It was a topic that often came up, usually after a few glasses of wine. Peter Mayle has a lot to answer for, and I think it was watching the TV version of “A year in Provence” one evening that tipped me over the edge. Henry sort of got swept along in my headlong rush to get to Provence. Some weeks later, we left Dublin for a week’s French language tuition in Aix-en-Provence, a holiday we repeated twice more. That last trip, we stayed for a month in a little apartment and at that point, both of us were agreed – we want to live in France – and left for Dublin on a high, determined to be back. My balloon was burst when I realised the cost of renting/buying property in Provence.
Our next trip was not to Provence, but to the Languedoc in October 2010, where we spent a magical week on a narrow-boat on the Canal due Midi. Slowly but surely, the Languedoc weaved its charm on us, and Provence and the “search for the Holy Mayle” began to fade. We wandered up and down the Canal between Ventenac and the edge of Beziers. Not very adventurous of us, but the strikes all around France at that time meant that some of the locks might not be open. We bumped off the banks a few times, and rear-ended a bridge (don’t ask!), tasted wine in the chateau at Ventenac, walked through Argeliers, and sat up on deck most evenings for aperos, enjoying the peace and the stunning views.
Back in Dublin in November, and back to work. I was now on a short week, due to the economic crisis in Ireland. Four days a week turned into two days, and in January, full redundancy. After many years working as a Legal Executive for a law firm, I was going to join the ranks of the unemployed. Well, that did it! I was not ready to sit around and do nothing. I started researching, looking for somewhere in or near beautiful Carcassonne. At some point in my frantic “Googling”, I came across several websites and forums (should that be fora?) for ex-pats. I joined one, which was to become my “virtual” home from then on, http://www.survivefrance.com, a place where I could go each evening, chat to others who had, or were about to, make that move to France.
As I worked out the last few days in the office, I would come home each evening and log into my virtual home – Survive France Network – and have some fun with others on live chat. I put up a comment saying I was looking for a 3 month rental somewhere near Carcassonne. A member replied to say she knew of a house in a village about 45 minutes from there. A couple of weeks and many emails later, my sister and I flew into Carcassonne, picked up a rental car. Armed with sat-nav and a list of the possible houses to view, we set off from our hotel. We bowled into Lagrasse, and there was Joanne, my SFN friend – waiting for us, as arranged. If first impressions count, we didn’t do too well – as Joanne approached the car, Helen and I were engaged in a typical sibling squabble about whether or not I had parked between the lines! I ended it by stepping out of the car and saying “ah bo**ocks!”. Thankfully, this seemed to amuse Joanne no end, and herself and Peter showed us the house, and walked around the village with us, pointing out the mediaeval market place, the river and the beautiful Abbey that sits on the opposite bank of the river. That was it! Decision made. I cancelled all the other appointments and flew back to Dublin the next day. Time to pack – we are going to France!
I finished work on 28th February, and started making plans. I am a list-maker. At one point I had so many lists, I needed a Master List, containing all my lists. I was driving myself nuts! I spent a feverish couple of hours scanning stuff – passports, driving licences, marriage certs, birth certs, and on and on. Just to completely drive myself over the edge, I then decided to email them to myself, as a back up. No sooner had I uttered the words “back-up”, then I was out of the chair, scrabbling around, looking for the cable for the external hard drive.
I had made so many lists of what paperwork to bring, what to pack, etc., that two days before we were due to leave, I hadn’t actually packed anything. I packed and weighed, unpacked, packed again. The shipping company arrived and took away two large boxes of Henry’s paintings and his studio stuff, and with beating hearts, we turned the key, locked the front door, and headed for the airport to start our new life and business in France.