700 years ago armed with an array of battle swords and fast horses, the army of Edward III invaded France. Today, with visions of lazy sunny days relaxing with glasses of Bordeaux, hordes of us do it with a passport and a ferry ticket! If time’s not on your side however, and you prefer a faster horse, well there’s the Channel Tunnel. Dover to Calais in just 30 minutes. How times have changed!
Packing up our lives, our children and our retirement funds the Brits are moving to the sunnier and more pleasant climes of France. Far from being caught up in the motorway traffic and carbon monoxide of the M25 and such-like, the auto-routes here are spacious, well planned and fast moving. Property prices are less for considerably more brick and in general, utility bills and taxes are lower.
The Poitou-Charente to which many people head in the south-west of France is famed for its weather, benefitting from a micro-climate that makes it the second sunniest region in France, being beaten only by the Riviera!
Well coined as the bread basket of France, amongst other things this area produces are sunflowers. Swaythes of which cover the fields, gracefully reaching for the sun with their large heads surrounded with brilliant yellow petals. Vineyards produce grapes not only for Cognac and the world renowned houses of Hennessy, Remy Martin and Corvoisier but also for the local brew, Pineau. A fortified wine that is still produced in many a french household.
The biggest challenge the Brits face moving here is the adoption of a second language. Never an easy thing for us as we prided ourselves mistakenly it now seems, on the fact that the world had indeed adopted our language. Here in the Poitou that fact seems to have eluded them and life here can be made more difficult without even a smattering of the local tongue. However, the French are very patient and if we can make the initial stumblings of an effort and are understood, the sense of achievement is overwhelming and there is much cause for celebration. Dare I say it, normally with a glass of the ubiquitous Pineau!
As we get older it gets more difficult, the ones we left behind in high spirits have now enlarged their own families and we find that we now have grandchildren. A fact that many of us find hard to bear and not content with the occasional visits by our descendants and the pull of the heartstrings when they leave, choose to up sticks and return to the homeland.
Many of us remain though, still content with the pace of life, the chance to talk and to get to know your neighbours, to be able to leave your doors unlocked and to sit in the sun with a glass of Bordeaux.
Over the coming weeks we’ll find out just what makes the majority of us decide to move here, what makes us stay and at the end of days, what makes us return. Just what has France to offer us, and is it sustainable?
Avril Charlton has followed a career in Event & Conference Management that’s taken her from London to the Middle East, Bermuda, Ireland and back. Now living in the Poitou-Charente region of France with her husband, she is French speaking and works as an estate agent in the region.