Our story: retirement in Brittany
Mark Bennett from the Morbihan department tells us how retirement in Britanny brought lots of pleasure but difficult challenges
When did you move to France?
Melanie, my late wife (pictured, left), and I moved to Billio in the Morbihan (56) in January 2010.
Why did you make the move?
We were both retired, we had had a sailing boat nearby in Vannes for three years. Mel had lived in France for five years in the early 80s, both her children were born in France. She was a francophone
What did you do before moving to France?
I was a partner in a large veterinary practice in East Dorset.
What research did you do prior to the move?
Our research was based on existing knowledge of France and Brittany in particular having visited both in our boat and on car based holidays.
We found Vannes particularity attractive although I now live in rural central Brittany. Melanie’s past experience of the country was obviously very useful.
Were you a regular visitor to France before your move?
Yes, as above.
How did you find a place to live?
Mainly by searching on the internet and visiting houses in person.
What attracted you to the region?
We were attracted by the rural charm of Billio, the proximity of our boat in Vannes and the ambience of the village.
How have you settled in?
We settled in well, mainly I think because we could communicate well.
Have you made friends easily?
We have made a few French friends, mainly close neighbours and many acquaintances. I have a season ticket for Vannes Rugby Club and I have a group of French friends from the region who I meet for matches.
What has been the most enjoyable aspect of your new life in France?
Living in a very pleasant and accommodating house with a (too) large garden in a small and friendly rural community.
And the toughest?
As you can probably imagine the most difficult thing I have had to deal with and to talk about was my wife’s death in February 2016 of a grade 4 brain tumour. Once diagnosed, the medical support was marvellous, she had surgery followed by radiotherapy and mild chemotherapy. Her stay in hospital was, under the circumstances, well managed and as pleasant as possible. Her frequent trips to Rennes for treatment were stress-free.
How have you managed with the language?
Very well I hope. Mel was fluent, I developed my O Level French initially with evening classes in the UK for three years before leaving and, since arriving, with a couple of one-on-one courses.
What do you miss most about where you lived previously?
My extended family, bitter beer and English pubs in Dorset and my local rugby club.
I am sure that if I were to return to the UK there would be many things about la vie française that I would yearn for as well.
I am just about to submit my dossier for my application for French nationality to the Préfecture in Rennes – this is a belt and braces move to mitigate the effects of the disastrous decision taken by the UK electorate in June 2016. I can’t bring myself to say the word Brexit, oops I just have.
What three tips would you give to anyone planning on moving to France?
1. Do it!
2. Don’t just learn a smattering of French, learn to talk to people and once you find that you can manage to make people laugh, not necessarily with crudely translated English jokes that never work, you will begin to feel at home.
3. Integrate, integrate and, what’s more, integrate. If you don’t, I can see from looking around me that life becomes difficult and the urge to return home becomes overwhelming.
This article is an extract of our 2018 Guide: Moving to and Living in France