We have a dream…
Bonjour, je m’appelle Lisa. I’m two days shy of my 33rd birthday and I am starting to worry about my future! And it’s not even my future that worries me, but that of my children…and my children’s children. Right now, I want what every parent wants…to create the best life possible for my family. 11 years ago, and without even knowing it at the time, I took the first step to “la belle vie” when I moved to France.
So why France ?
I was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire and was lucky enough to go on family camping holidays as a child on the west coast of France. Ok, so we were staying in a tent, but to me, it was the “good life”, which did not even compare with life back in UK. It was outdoor living at its best, sitting around a large table on a warm, Spring Bank evening, enjoying the sunset and swatting mosquitoes. I can still smell the citronella candles! It brought a whole new social aspect to mealtimes which we just didn’t get back home, and it made me suddenly aware of the importance of family values, which we try to pass on to our children today. We now insist that mealtimes are enjoyed at the table, all together, and we try to eat outside as much as possible, to take in the very essence of French living.
I studied French at Leeds University, which meant I got to spend 7 months in my third year teaching English in France. I was placed at a lycée in Moûtiers, on the doorstep to the 3 valleys in the French alps, and although I didn’t ski at the time, I found that living in a small alpine village definitely had its advantages when trying to grasp the French language. I decided to stay in France as a holiday rep for the summer season, before returning to the UK for my final year of studies. It was during this summer season of 2002 on a large campsite near Antibes, on the French Riviera, that I met my future husband, Pete.
People are always asking me if I am married to a Frenchman, and although it would have been the easiest way of getting on to the ‘French system’, I enjoy telling them I married a man from Manchester, as English as they come, and that we spent a good few years integrating ourselves into French society with many struggles and paperwork along the way. French admin and bureaucracy are undoubtedly the biggest obstacles to deal with when moving to France. In the beginning, we kept asking ourselves, is living in France really worth all the hassle? We spent hours and hours filling out forms, photocopying passports and various other documents and that was just to open a phone line! You just have to learn to accept that this is how it is in France, and once you grasp this mentality, you can take it all in your stride.
Having had absolutely no training in any Hotellerie school, we started off working on a campsite and then went on to work in hotels in Savoie, Haute Savoie and Haute Loire, starting with 2-star and working our way up to 5-star. We now both work in the hotel and tourism industry, on full time contracts for French companies in the resort of Chamonix, in the French alps. We pay French tax and a considerable proportion of our wages go towards social security contributions and the like. We have a 3 year old daughter who goes to nursery and an 18-month old son who goes to creche.
We rent a beautiful 3-bedroom apartment in a large chalet, with a private garden facing the astounding Mont Blanc range. By now you must surely be wondering why on earth, we would want to give all this up and move somewhere else …
Like all other things, it comes down to the money issue. We’re both working long shifts and hardly get to see each other or spend time as a family. So why is this different from any of the other families out there with two working parents ? With the cost of living so expensive in Chamonix, and accommodation rental costs being through the roof (pardon the pun), we just can’t put any money away for our future and it has come to the point where we have had to make the ‘now or never’ decision. We can continue working hard to live this comfortable lifestyle in a truly beautiful area for the next thirty years, but have nothing to show at the end of it… or we can move to an affordable area of France, where we can buy our own property with a bit of land to grow some fruit and veg and a little herb garden, and generally get back to basics.
So, we’ve decided to go with the second option, but when we move, we want to make a life-style change at the same time. We don’t want our children to be caught up in the modern technological age as it is going, we want them to understand and enjoy nature and their environment; to chase chickens around the garden and help their papa dig up potatoes from the allotment, as opposed to whinging that the Ipad is flat or heaven-forbid, broken! It will be our approach to a somewhat substainable life, but in the modern world. We don’t want to be cut off from society, this is not our objective. Ideally we want to live close to a village or town, where we can still both work full time, where the kids can go to school and where the climate will be kind to us, especially in our old age. And so, our adventure begins…