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Our story: Living the Dordogne dream

Vanessa Howard and William McDonald moved to France in 2017 and talk about life in Dordogne

When did you move to France?

June 8 2017

Where do you live and work?

In the Dordogne. Currently developing two gîtes and Vanessa plans to run a vintage fashion business.

What did you do before moving to France?

Vanessa was Head of Marketing at the Coop and William developed properties and ran a vintage fashion boutique in Clare, Suffolk.

Where did you do research for the move?

Vanessa: We visited a French property exhibition in London in September 2016 with a view to making a permanent move in the New Year. As we were not yet retired we wanted to find a property in the bottom third of France which would help provide an income.

We met Calum Harkiss at Currencies Direct and he suggested someone he knew who was selling a B&B between Bordeaux and Bergerac. We bought an open ferry ticket and drove to the Dordogne, spending four weeks in Sarlat, Eymet and Grand Brassac.

We viewed various types of property, from the shell of a water mill and a haunted chateau to bat-filled farmhouses, ensuring we found time for plenty of sightseeing too!

The B&B didn’t work out but after seeing about 30 properties a wishlist was drawn up, which we took to an estate agent based in the beautiful village of St Jean de Côle  – we met an agent who had worked there for over 15 years. She showed us three properties – the first two were great but the final property, an old stone coach house in the lovely village of Miallet, was just perfect. After much deliberation and another visit in November, an offer was agreed.

Were you a regular visitor to France before your move?

I had visited many areas of France and each year stayed in Nice, but cost-wise it was not a practical place to live.

What attracted you to the region?

The Dordogne has great weather, a huge selection of stunning places to visit and is a food lover’s paradise. A lot of people speak English, which helps in the early days to set things up, including the local DIY shop!

How have you settled in?

We have three lovely neighbours, two of which are French families. Before long, one was leaving us home-grown veg and the other invited us over for an aperitif. The village has lots of events which we support and everyone is so friendly.

Have you made friends easily?

There are probably about six British couples in the village and 650 French, everyone is very friendly and I am brushing up my French daily, speaking to the local shopkeepers about everything from jam making to what do I think of the local bourru [young fermented wine]?

What has been the most enjoyable aspect of your new life in France?

Stress-free, little traffic, lack of crime and polite people who bid you good day. 

And the toughest?

The language. French is fine when you are in charge of what you are saying, it’s not so easy when dealing with insurance and the utilities when you don’t know what on earth they are saying and they don’t have any patience. Setting up a business and sorting out health insurance hasn’t been easy, as information is conflicting even from two people from the same source.

How have you coped with this?

I have brushed up on A level French using Mondly, an app for tablet and phone; William is picking up the odd phrase as he goes along with a view to trying much harder after the house renovations are finished.

What do you miss most about where you lived previously?

TK Maxx, Indian food in supermarkets and local buses.

What three tips would you give to anyone planning on moving to France?

1. Unemployment is over 9% so if you need to work, you are served better if you are fluent in French or can set up your own business.

2. To use the health system you either have to be retired, working and paying into the national stamp (both these also need a 30% insurance top up) or you will have to pay for a 100% insurance cover.

3. Try joining Facebook groups such as Gardeners in France, Living and renovating in France, Gîte Owners, etc – they are invaluable for knowledge and help. 


This article is an extract of our 2018 Guide: Moving to and Living in France

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