Leaving the good life in rural France

An historic property in the Armagnac region and a Napoleonic-era home in Luxé have been lovingly cherished – and enjoyed – by two Irish owners now returning home

Thu, May 1, 2014, 00:00

When they moved in a neighbour arrived at their front door. She handed over a flower with the words: “La vie en rose.”

“The neighbours made it for us,” says Jane. “My adorable neighbour would come in each year on May 1st with lily of the valley which is a sign of friendship; a custom in France. You could hear her laughing in her garden. I didn’t think the French actually said ‘ooh la la’ but she did: she had a way of saying it to suit the occasion.”

To make a successful move to France, says O’Hara, it is best if you speak French, are computer proficient, get involved with local life and are happy to drive on French roads. Otherwise you can easily feel isolated, especially if you are single.

The house needed no work, so the couple spent their time immersing themselves in local life. Jane’s task was to look after the village well.

“I planted it with flowers. We went on walks – randonnees – with the locals and had a stall at the annual brocante sale. Every village has a bric a brac – or brocante – sale and I once got a beautiful Art Nouveau lamp.”

As well as helping the locals tend plants in the village, O’Hara also created a vegetable garden – her potager – planting pumpkins, peas, beans and potatoes. “I just did the Good Life thing.”

Communal activities included collecting walnuts with the locals in the autumn. “We went down in the morning with hammers and cracked open shells. The nuts were then taken away and pressed. It was a great opportunity to meet, chat and gossip: I would struggle along with my French. We would have a simple country lunch of pumpkin soup, pate and cheese.

Now the couple are moving back to Ireland to be closer to family. They will miss France – its wildlife, including buzzards and a golden oriole, five-course lunches in the village for €21, the mild winters, the standard of healthcare (a GP costs €23, a consultant neurologist is €38 and a nurse will come to the house to do a health check for under €8; and you claim 65 per cent back on it all, she says).

“It was a lovely life although I think eight years is the optimum length of time people should stay. We both enjoyed it immensely. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a bit of an adventure before they settle down.”

Le Bourg, Route Fontenille, Luxé, 16230, Charente
The 170sq m (1,830sq ft) house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was built in the 1870s and retains original features. A courtyard to the rear is bound by the house and barns. There is also a garden with fruit trees. A neighbouring field is for sale at €16,000.
Price: €120,000
Details: daft.ie