So as summer drew to a balmy end we considered our next move. We were now sure that we wanted to buy (and eventually live) in France and were starting to realise that the reason why we weren’t really seeing anything that came anywhere near our exacting requirements was because we had set our budget too low. Many of the properties we had seen had been “renovated” by the owners themselves rather than by professionals and it showed – think of the “feature” staircase with the newels made from small tree branches in the Dordogne – a step too far on the rustic scale! Also we were rethinking which areas to look at. The Limousin is beautiful but the winters can be quite severe with temperatures going down as low as -14°C – a fact often overlooked by French property magazines and television programmes which like to paint France as a generally warmer and drier country than the UK. Of course they are trying to sell the “dream” and not necessarily the reality!
In recent years I think that my family, friends and colleagues – and Andy of course! - would agree that one of my defining characteristics has been my love for MX-5’s. I’ve been lucky enough to own two of these little fun machines and I helped to start a very successful local MX-5 “meet” – Planet MX-5 . I hope that this will give you some idea as to the momentousness (yes it’s a real word – I looked it up!) of my next decision. My lovely blue MX-5, Storm, was about to go out of warranty, needed re-shoeing, the road tax was due, and to cut a long story short was about to cost me a lot of moolah! I had achieved my ambition of touring around the curvy D roads of France topless and the cold days of winter were fast approaching (not that ever stopped me getting my top down on a crisp blue skied winter's day – much to the amusement of some of my fellow commuters – I remember a conversation that took place in a traffic jam with a bemused crew of a white van – “Ain't you cold?!” they amusingly though not imaginatively exclaimed – “No” I answered, cosy with my heated seat and very efficient heater, not to mention my hat, gloves and scarf!
So one day when I said to Andy that I was thinking about getting a 4X4 he was stopped in his tracks for a few moments. It seemed the logical thing to do to me, he had a soft-top Saab and when we finally bought a place in France we would need a car with enough room for all of the stuff we would need to take over (we’ve found that it’s generally much cheaper to buy goods here than in France, especially at boot fairs – also we don’t want to waste too much of our actual time in France trawling around shops!) and we needed something comfortable that was comfortable for longer journeys. Of course it still had to be a car that I enjoyed driving and a “reasonable” price. Of course, reasonable it relative for us all, I know many people who avoid buying new cars because of the massive depreciation that happens as you drive off the forecourt but nowadays with the internet you can shop around. I got my first new car from “op north” over 10 years ago – it was pre-registered and had 15 miles on the dial and was £3,000 cheaper than its nearest rival. I’ve never looked back since then, trading up each time I bought a new car but I guess it’s horses for courses, neither Andy or myself could be vaguely considered mechanics and we need reliable cars. So, I did my research, as usual, and decided that a Hyundai Santa Fe was the best candidate for my needs, both in terms of size and my budget! We went for a test drive and I loved it as soon as I drove it off the forecourt, it an was engaging drive and had loads of torque – it was interesting (for interesting read “pulse raising”) when I tried to drive it like an MX-5 around a roundabout – the steering wheel was nearly ripped out of my hands! I then tried an i30 which I nearly didn’t get off the forecourt – it had a gear box that felt like I was stirring porridge, was noisy and no guts – anyway I wasn’t quite ready for a people carrier! So, I was sold on the Santa Fe but the only problem was there was a waiting list for them – not much room for negotiation you would think but when I rang another dealer he “found” me one that was in the country and for less than the other dealer wanted – deal done! La Bête duly arrived a few weeks later.
So with the new car in place it was time to decide which part of France to visit next. I admit that I had been resistant to looking in the North West of France as it seemed like the climate would be too similar to that of the South of England. Having said that, I had been in love with the idea of moving to South West England ever since I first visited the area in 1988. I love the lush green countryside and quaint villages of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall but the prices in that part of the world have risen considerably in the last 20 years as holiday home owners have moved in. So would Brittany have the same sort of appeal? It was time to find out! The prices are considerably cheaper than South West England (well inland anyway), the winters were milder than the Limousin and the summers not so hot as in the South of France, though slightly warmer that the South of England. Interestingly we have since found that a lot of people are selling up in the South of France and moving further north as the recent hot summers have become unbearable for many expats (as well as locals I am told!).
After lots of research we decided to base ourselves in the beautiful half-timbered medieval town of Vannes which is the capital of Morbihan in Southern Brittany. The area is famous for its warm and sunny micro climate, though the local property prices reflect this. We arranged viewings of a number of properties, mainly inland, some that we found privately and booked our trip with Brittany Ferries. This time we were visiting in November – they do say you should visit the areas that you are interested in different seasons to get a real feel for it. Something that looks lovely in the summer sunshine may not have the same appeal during a long dreary winter – sensible advice really! Next post I will tell you about our property viewing adventures in beautiful Brittany!
This blog is about our holiday cottages near Huelgoat in Brittany and places we have visited in Finistere, with a little bit of everyday life thrown in. We hope that you will find it useful and interesting. Comments always welcome!
A House in Brittany Blogspot
Half Term Dates Holiday Blog
Renovation of a Derelict House in Brittany
The French Village Diaries Blog
A Trifle Rushed
Life in France
John's N Gauge