Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Living in France, an Interview with gite owner Brian.

This is the first of a series of interviews that I’ll be having with foreigners living in France.  I want to give you a hint of what it is really like for a foreigner to live in France on a day to day basis.  For this purpose I have gathered a few friend writers from HubPages who have agreed to let us have an insight into their life in France.

For the first interview I invited Brian who bought a lovely former watermill in France and turned it into a gite, Le Moulin de L’Argentouire, A spacious and comfortable gite situated in the Aude region of Languedoc-Roussillon in the South of France, midway between Carcassonne and Toulouse.  The perfect destination for an action packed holiday or simply a relaxing vacation.  

How long have you been living in France Brian?
We first bought our house in the Easter of 2007 and moved into it permanently in March 2008. So doing the math it means we will have been here living for 2 years in March 2010.

What inspired you to come to France?  Why France rather than an English speaking country?
If I am honest when I first thought about coming to France it was with a view of getting a job with Airbus and living close to Toulouse. We probably first thought about doing this about seven years ago when I read an article in a magazine about Toulouse describing the industry of the area and everything else Toulouse had to offer. I worked for a technology company that had a lot of synergy with the aerospace industry and at the time there were quite a few jobs available for English speaking ex-pats. That all changed rather rapidly and the jobs available with Airbus suddenly disappeared, causing us to re-think our options. 

Both my wife and I had a long term desire to work and live abroad and my wife was very interested in running a bed & breakfast or self catering business. So that became the focus of our attention and with the property prices in France it seemed to us that we should be able to find a property that was large enough to offer part as holiday accommodation and retain part as our accommodation. It was certainly more feasible than buying a property in the UK for a similar arrangement or many other places for that matter. So adding up all that France had to offer, affordable property, Mediterranean climate, mountains, skiing, proximity to the UK for family and a potential business that could be set up to provide a basic income, the fact we didn’t really speak French seemed to be a compromise worth making. 

Add to that, many holidays spent and enjoyed in France from teenage years to the current time; then it really did become a question of ‘pourquoi pas’, why not indeed. Lets face it when you get older then you do not want to be asking yourself too many of those ‘what if’ questions. Life is about living and taking reasonable risks and yes it was and still is a risk.

Does the dream match reality?  Did you find in France what you were expecting?
Good question, honestly, no dream matches reality there are some days when I would happily go back to my mother country. But there are many more days when I have to pinch myself to remind me about what I live in and where I live. France is a truly beautiful country with a history and culture to match our own; the days I do think I would like to go back to my own country are nearly always related to the frustration of not speaking French fluently. I would just love to be able to have a proper conversation with the French people we meet, who are nearly always friendly, helpful and welcoming. I think properly integrating into the community would be much more easily achieved for French speakers.

 What is it that you like the most about living in France?
The diversity of the environment, I can be in the mountains skiing in an hour and a half, likewise I can be on the Mediterranean coastline, even closer we have amazing countryside, scenery and views. The cities are also absolutely amazing, Carcassonne, Toulouse, Montpellier, Beziers, Narbonne  all have architecture that has to be seen to be believed and a history that underpins everything that has formed the character of the places and the people.

If you want to find more reasons why living in France is a dream come true don’t forget to check Brian’s article on Moving to France

 What has been so far your worst experience living in France?
Not sure I have anything that I could report as a worst experience, I got pretty ticked off once when I bought a chainsaw that seized within a couple of months and I was told I hadn’t put oil in the fuel so the warranty would not be honored. Now I know I put oil in the fuel and argued my case vehemently, but to no avail. So having paid a small fortune for the saw in the first place I then had to pay a small fortune for the repair because apparently the damage was my fault; now there is no way a retailer in the UK would have got away with that one, I would just have blinded them with my technical knowledge (English of course). But all in all still pretty trivial and I guess I am over it now, well nearly.

What advice would you give to any foreigners who want to come and start a new life in France?
Just to be sure they want to do it really, and understand that there will be some fairly serious challenges and obstacles to overcome e.g getting a job if you don’t speak French. Learning the language is a must, just to be able to function normally, and if anyone is really not sure they want to make the move, then they would be wise to think long and hard before committing; especially if they are leaving friends and family behind. That said if you are truly committed and sure you want to do it, then you will cope with the challenges and obstacles and you will realise that the reward of a life in the France Lane was worth the effort. 

If you want to be guided by Brian in how to by a property in France, you can read his article How do you actually buy a house in France 


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Friday, July 16, 2010

La Palmyre zoo

La Palmyre zoo  A French Zoo

Looking for entertaining and educative attractions, my latest discovery has been a Zoo located in the heart of the wild Côte de Beauté and the beaches of the Charente Maritime, not far from one of my favourite holidays destinations in the Atlantic coast, Royan; it is one of the best known zoos in Europe: The Palmyre Zoo.

The Palmyre zoo houses around 1600 animals from all over the world, all living comfortably in the same environment. And to prove the success of the Palmyre zoo as a zoological park every year this zoo registers between 200 and 300 births, an astoundingly successful birth rate for a zoo.

This are some of the pictures from a fantastic day at the Palmyre zoo

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Easy and quick recipes with Roquefort cheese

About 5 years ago I would have never eaten a piece of Roquefort.  I found even the smell of such a strong cheese pungent.  Little did I know that only a few years later this blue cheese would become one of my favourite cheeses and that I wouldn’t mind travelling for hours to get to the famous Roquefort region just to buy a piece of Roquefort straight from the caves.

Considered a European luxury product in the United States, in France a piece of Roquefort along with a freshly baked bread is staple food for farmers!

What is so special about Roquefort Cheese?
The Roquefort is a blue cheese made exclusively with raw ewe’s milk and produced in the Roquefort region of the South of France.  Like many other products in France and Europe Roquefort cheese is protected by legislation to conserve the quality and uniqueness of the product.  Thus, since 1925 Roquefort cheese benefits from a protected designation of origin (AOC Appellation de Origin Controllé) which means that only the cheese aged in the natural Combalou caves of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon can be called Roquefort.  

Some Roquefort Cheese Recipes:

One of the main things I like about French cooking is that unlike what most people might think, French traditional cooking can be rather easy, relying mainly in the quality of the ingredients to achieve delicious results quickly and without too much fuss.

To be able to prepare quick, easy and delicious dishes with only a few ingredients, something I have learned from my French friends is that you need to carefully choose your ingredients. Even if sometimes carefully choosing your ingredients means travelling several kilometres to get to the source of that magic ingredient that will enhance the flavour of your dish.  You can find here some Easy and quick recipes with Roquefort cheese