Life in the slow lane
Readers who have given up busy and stressful lifestyles explain why rural France is an ideal destination for people who prefer to their lives the slow lane
Paul Tennant-Moore left London three years ago to escape the pressure of his high-powered job as head of maintenance for Pret A Manger, organising contracts from window cleaning to designing new equipment.
He said: "It was a great job, I loved it, with fantastic pay, but I had no life to speak of, and was buying things I really didn't need in order to justify the ridiculous hours I worked. I just knew things had to change."
He had bought a ruin in Ille-et-Vilaine with a barn attached in 2004, and converted the barn into a holiday home. He later decided to leave his job to re-build the ruin and turn it into a gîte. "Work began in January 2013, and I moved out here lock, stock and barrel in February 2014. I didn't have any real plan, but fortunately the gîte took off almost straight away, and I got loads of bookings."
Paul says he's very happy with his new life, despite earning around 60% less than he did in London. "I have a new career cleaning bathrooms, and ironing pillow cases, which gives me freedom to potter in the garden and do DIY projects." He also adopted a rescue dog, Harvey, as soon as he arrived in France.
"Every day, walking Harvey, I am grateful for the changing views as seasons and crops change, noticing the different animals that have been out at night and saying hello to my neighbours.
"I have overcome their initial shyness and now we're good friends. I cut my older neighbour's lawn, she makes me crêpes. Another neighbour brings me vegetables from her garden, and I give her soup made from them. I've also found I have knack for making jam. I talk to Harvey on our walks, I talk to myself, and I sing to myself."
Paul says that life in France is everything he could have hoped for and more. Even the occasionally unexpected tax bill does not dampen his pleasure in living a simple country life, shopping at the local weekly market and buying clothes from Lidl. "I used to work for Gap many years ago, so buying non-branded or even supermarket clothes was unthinkable back then."
Paul says he enjoys great food, excellent wine, log fires every night, and the array of stars in the sky. He has enough money to pay his bills, plus time for a cheeky snooze on the sofa in front of the fire on a winter afternoon.
"I'm never moving back."
Kendall Fabre moved to France to marry her fiancé, Julien, just over 18 months ago and says life in Lyon is much slower than back in the United States.
She and her husband met three years ago when they were both working on the French part of the Caribbean island St Martin. She said: "I was bartending and Julien was one of the French gendarmes there. His tour of duty was just three months, so for a while we continued a long-distance relationship but finally I moved to France."
She had to jump through various hoops to get her visa and paperwork organised so that the pair could be married in France and now plans to apply for French nationality as soon as possible.
She says she enjoys the slower pace of life in France. "They live life more slowly here, it's more family-orientated. On Sundays everything is closed and people just wander about in the parks, that's really new for me."
She likes the way French people take holidays and spend more time with their families. She also says healthcare is superior here than in the States. "Most of my friends in the US don't even have healthcare and here I know I can go see my doctor anytime."
Originally from Portland, Oregon, she says that Americans have to work 50 hours a week with no holidays just to live. "We don't choose to live like that, we just have to.
"In the US everything is open all the time. But here in France, they live by a regular timetable. You can't go get lunch at 3pm because it's too late, but they eat dinner really late, like 7-8pm. Back in the States dinner is at like 5-6pm so I'm always snacking, but French people don't snack!"
She is amazed at how much time French people take over meals. "My first Christmas dinner in France was five hours long and it's all-in courses! In America they just pile everything on the plate and eat it.
"And I'm a vegan as well as being covered in tattoos, which does make French people look at me like I'm unicorn, but that's cool. And being vegan is becoming more accepted in France."
Last time Kendall was back in the States she was surprised to find she was homesick for France. "I used to be homesick for my friends back in the States, but France is home now."
Lesley and Rob Kirton
Lesley and Rob Kirton bought their house in Ariège nine years ago as a holiday home and moved in full time in 2013.
Lesley said: "Back in Leeds both Rob and I had very stressful, high-powered jobs. As an independent consultant, advising people on setting up social enterprises, I was driving all over North Yorkshire and Rob, working for the local authority, was constantly in high-level meetings, managing budgets running into millions. So when we got the chance to take early retirement we didn't hesitate."
They have now slowed down the pace, and just do what they feel like. They are converting the attic into a spare bedroom, but say they also spend time simply sitting in the garden and relaxing. "We also grow vegetables and cook them; we make jam," said Lesley. "I've learned loads about cooking, we have people for dinner and we just enjoy living."
They joined the village comité des fêtes, and help out with everything. "We just generally help out with everything, and feel welcomed and valued.
"As second-homers we knew some people in the village, but since we've been here full-time we've met loads more. Joining in means we've really integrated and learned French."
They have also adopted an American Cocker Spaniel called Cachou, who Lesley says is bilingual, but only if French is spoken to him in a Parisian accent. "He doesn't really respond to French commands given to him in a local accent," she said.
They live high in the mountains, 700m above sea level, and have both snow-capped mountains, lush mountain pastures, lots of wildlife, mountain streams and clean air. They are only 30 minutes away from the nearest ski slopes although they say neither of them ski.
"It's gorgeous here," said Lesley. "We live a lovely, calm life here and we have no intention of leaving. We love it, we really do."
She says they have no desire whatsoever to go back to the UK. "Over our dead bodies, in fact!" So next March they intend to apply for French nationality, just to be sure they can never be forced to leave. "And I'll tell you something else," said Lesley. "Once I get my French passport, I'll be happy to rip my UK one to bits!"