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Expat guide to the good life in Dordogne

View of the town of Montignac in Dordogne from the river which runs through it

The Dordogne area is one of the most popular with expats seeking a dream home in France. We talk to expat Brit, now local, Angela Martyn from London about what it is about Dordogne that’s so alluring…

What inspired you to move to Dordogne

Aerial view of Dordogne, covered in forests and fields with the River Dordogne running through

I came on holiday to France with my architect husband and my 7 month old baby boy in 1988 when I was 25 years old. During the holiday we did the usual browsing in Estate Agency windows. In those days there were a few faded, curling edged photos in the window of an agency in Perigueux. We both picked the same house from the photos and decided to go and view it. Neither of us spoke French. And neither of us had any knowledge of where we were or what the Dordogne was or had to offer. We had never once considered a move to a foreign country, far less actually buying a property. It was holiday folly and we were, in short, an Estate Agent’s nightmare!

However, we went into the office and asked in our sketchy French if we could go and view this house. Just the one.

The result. We went, we viewed, we conquered! Three months later we arrived in France with a removal van, all our worldly goods, a baby, no money and no income.

At this point, and as I am now an agent with Leggett Immobillier, I would say that this is the reason that I reject no-one when they arrive unannounced and naïve. We had the worst client profile ever. And yet we bought with no trouble whatsoever.

Tell us about your new life in Dordogne

View over the rolling hills of Dordogne, peppered with trees and foliage

Our plan was to stay for two years, renovate an old farmhouse and learn French. But the UK market took a down-turn and we had no capital left from the sale of our London house. We had to earn a living. We built up a primarily anglophone client base doing surveys, plans and finally building projects and the two years turned to three, four, ten, twenty…

French was quickly learned (we were young and there were NO English in the area in the 80s), and the house got renovated (by us). Another baby was born and life moved on.

Somewhere along the line I got divorced (nothing to do with being in France, just one of those life events) and have now been with a lovely French partner for nearly 15 years. My boys grew up through the French education system. One chose to go to England to University, the other to University in France – followed by a masters in England. They are now 32 and 27 living in London and Brussels. I have absolutely no regrets at the amazing childhood they had in the French countryside and they each come here regularly with their partners, and often with friends too, and consider that they had a ‘blessed’ childhood. They are both fully bi-lingual and bi-cultural and find this background a tremendous advantage in their adult lives and careers.

I now live in an ex-hotel in a small but well populated village near Montignac, home of the famous Lascaux caves. It pretty much had to be renovated from top to bottom, and, like the Forth Bridge, it never stops! The house sits in the village but to the rear we are in the countryside with an amazing view. We have many local friends and a busy year round social life.

What do you love about living in Dordogne?

Chateau Puymartin in Dordogne, tall towers and turrets in mellow stone

We enjoy country walks, concerts and exhibitions and an endless round of gourmet evening markets in the summer… There’s Sarlat, the Dordogne river – so much to do and see.

If we want to go elsewhere, access to travel and airports is so easy with Bergerac, Brive and Limoges airports locally. Bordeaux and Toulouse are slightly further afield but still only a couple of hours drive plus excellent motorways.

There is so much to do and visit around here. Caves and grottoes, chateaux and gardens, historic towns and villages, wineries and breweries.

I was president of an Anglophone women’s association, the North Eastern Dordogne Women’s Association’ for some six years, having helped create and set up the group. I am now treasurer which is slightly less time consuming but still allows me to mingle in this milieu where I have made some close friends and helped several of them in their property purchases and sales.

Expert Guide to buying property in Dordogne

The profile of expat purchasers has changed over the years. Once everyone wanted old stone ‘doer uppers’. Now there are more buyers wanting to move into a perfectly presented home. The old stone and beams are still popular, but clients can also see the advantage of a modern, well insulated and ‘greener’ property. As a result, my clientele is as diverse as the selection of properties in my portfolio. Leggett Immobilier have an office in Montignac which is a great source of client introduction for both buyers and sellers.

If you like rolling landscape, hills and valleys, rivers, history, pre-history, stone houses and chateaux as well as the best gourmet delights of France, then the Perigord Noir is the place to be. For those buying for rental potential and a commercial life, the area around Montignac is ideal, It offers attractions and activities that are too numerous to mention here.  Move slightly off the beaten track (you only need to go a few miles out of town) and you find blissfully quiet countryside where you can integrate into the life of a typical French village.

Restoration projects are becoming more difficult to find these days. But there are still a few gems tucked away that you will need the help of a Leggett agent to find!

See Angela’s portfolio of property in Dordogne here: www.frenchestateagents.com

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