Charlotte Field from the UK talks about life as an expat in charming Chinon, Loire Valley where she has lived for eight years and works as a local agent for Leggett Immobillier, the award winning French Estate Agency…
Where are you from and how did you come to be living in France?
I was brought up in Surrey, England and my husband in Paris, France. We met and married in London and soon after I transferred to work in Brussels where we spent six happy years. Our eldest son was born in Brussels (and dislikes me referring to him as my Brussels Sprout). We went on holiday to the Loire Valley and fell head over heels for the area. Our three subsequent children were born here and feel more French than British – though they do enjoy Mr Bean and Digestive biscuits dipped in tea so all is not lost! Seriously though, they have been in the school system here from the start and we have been very happy with it on lots of levels. We have the joy of small village schools (about 45 children over four years at maternelle and primaire) where they benefit from a varied programme of academic, artistic, cultural and sporting activities. And, not forgetting the cooked-fresh-on–the-premises four course lunch every day!
Where do you live in France and what inspired you to move to that particular place?
We are close to Chinon – a medieval town in the Loire Valley about halfway down France. It’s the home of the Plantagenet kings, resting place of Richard the Lionheart, the start of Joan of Arc’s tragic mission, oh and did I mention home to over 300 winemakers? We didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. We had years of watching other people do it on TV and thinking ‘could we do that’. My ardent wine fan husband and I gave up our corporate careers aged 35 and packed up our small boy to live a simpler countryside life. We wanted to renovate a small but beautifully formed château, set up a guesthouse and a wine exporting business.
Did you need to do a lot of renovation to your French house?
It was a wreck with a reasonable roof, but we had renovated houses before – albeit nothing on this scale. Everything needed doing, plumbing, heating, electricity, plastering not to mention the wild outdoors. At times it felt like it would never end. Looking back at the photos now I am still surprised we made it! It wouldn’t have happened without a pragmatic approach. We segmented each priority area, got our accommodation ready first, and then we worked day and night over the next year to get the main house open for business. Each winter we have done further renovation work and opened more guest accommodation and entertaining spaces while there aren’t so many tourists around. We were very lucky with some of the younger local tradesmen who were just setting up their own businesses. Our site represented a lot of work for them, and we became a reference client; in return if ever we have a problem they will usually be here in a flash.
What made you fall in love with your part of France?
The relaxed pace of life. It can be frustrating when you are used to a 24/7 world but here businesses close at lunchtimes and on Sundays. People work to live, they don’t live to work. And I think that’s a healthier way of viewing life.
The architecture is also gorgeous round here. Beautiful tuffeau stone, slate rooves, turrets and wrought iron twirls – just my thing!
We only visited five or six properties. In the end, and went with our instinct. This one just kept us awake at night with excitement. Although we knew it wasn’t the most logical purchase, it was the one we loved.
Do you consider yourself a member of the local community?
After London, Paris and Brussels I think one thing we were both a bit nervous about in moving to a village of 500 people (with just as many goats) was whether or not we would meet people and make new friends. We were lucky having a school aged child because I got involved with the Parents Association from the outset helping organise fundraising events. Even with my limited French back then it gave my first network of school mums and meant I didn’t stand alone at the school gate for long! It also gave me a forum to ask daft questions when I didn’t understand something having never experienced the French school system myself. My husband has developed his wine businesses, and got to know plenty of the local Vignerons. He has also been elected onto the Council which has given him a network of his own!
What would you do on a day off in your area?
With the children, our favourite day out is the Bioparc at Doué la Fontaine. Hands down the best zoo I’ve ever seen – so much so that we buy annual passes! Without the children my husband and I really enjoy a wander round Tours or Angers. Both are fantastic cities, great for shopping, great for eating out, plenty to discover among the historic buildings and galleries.
Tell us a little about your job
Every client is different and when they are looking for a home – be it a permanent move or a holiday residence. I really enjoy spending a bit of time finding out what they like doing and what is motivating their move. A recent sale I handled is a new home for a British couple who have just purchased a gorgeous gite complex close to Richelieu. That moment in the notaire’s office when everyone shakes hands and congratulates each other is always feels so full of emotion. Tthe end of a long journey and the brink of a new adventure. That for me is the satisfaction of a job well done!
3 key pieces of advice for property hunters in France?
To visit a few properties on the same day. You might love the first one but a comparison point is always useful
To do your second visit at a different time of day, when the light, the traffic etc might be different
To keep your mind open for a compromise. Sometimes people have such long lists of criteria they rule out a property that could have been (almost) perfect!
Leggett are currently looking for new agents in this area – if you fancy joining their winning team, drop them a line: www.frenchestateagents