Cow sheds and cow dung!

Apologies, it’s been 8 months since my last post. Let’s get you up to speed:
So I left you last time wondering what greeted us when we returned to the cowshed in Abondance, full of excitement and trepidation and ready to put in a final bid on the barn that was to be our new home in France. For the weeks leading up to this trip and for the past 8 hours in the car, we had talked endlessly about the potential of the building, who did we think would visit us ( well, more importantly, who did we think would come and help!), how long would it take, how much would it cost, what would our neighbors be like, should I get green or red Hunter wellies?
The weather was a bit overcast and drizzly, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. You could see the barn from the road, but had to approach it from the side along a little track. As we drove down the track we noticed rather a lot of cow dung outside the entrance. No worries, the building had been used as a cowshed until quite recently and was on the land of a working farm, we’d have to get used to it.
As I jumped out of the car I detected the distinct aroma of said cow dung. No worries, it is a farm, that’s part of the charm, surely?
Marianne, the estate agent, was waiting at the side door and I waded through the natural fertilizer to greet her. After the customary kiss on both cheeks, she announced ” the seller will only accept €105k, that is what you must pay” . We hadn’t even passed over the threshold! Our previous “final” offer had been €100k, so this was news to us. Lez and I exchanged despondent looks then followed her into the barn.
Now, was it my imagination or was it a lot darker inside than I remembered? It looked smaller, yet the amount of work overwhelmed me. I soldiered on. Upstairs, in the hayloft, I felt a little reassured. The space was as I remembered, I could imagine the kitchen, the living room, the space for the dining table. Buoyed up with returning enthusiasm, I opened the door into the makeshift balcony and cast my eyes over the road to the fields and mountains beyond. Abondance is a beautiful village: cute chalets, picturesque flower boxes adorning every balcony, pastures filled with fat healthy dairy cows, bells around their necks and wild flowers at their feet. Life here would be a far cry from our UK lives. I breathed in the fresh mountain air ( albeit tinged with the pungent aroma of cows dodos).

The pretty alpine cows, smelly vision not available!

That’s when I noticed the large sign across the road in the field opposite. It was a municipal sign, announcing something, something important looking.
I called over Marianne to ask her about the sign, and she shrugged her slim shoulders in the way that the French do. ” It is nothing, just a small local building for treating water, it will be built this year. Do you accept the price?”
Now we had been so excited about the project, so enthusiastic about this barn that I can’t say why we didn’t agree there and then to paying the extra €5k, only an additional £4K in the grand scheme of things, but something held us back.
“We’re sure that’s fine” I said, as usual unable to give a direct answer, “but we’ll have to do our sums again, we’ll get back to you”
Back in the car and on our way to Les Gets for our holiday, I realized that I had been completely underwhelmed by this visit. Quite simply, the barn had lost its appeal.
We agreed that we would make contact with a couple of other agents in the area while we were here to see what else was available.
Needless to say, over the next couple of days we talked ourselves out of buying the barn in Abondance. Looking back we had a lucky escape: that “building for treating water” turned out to be exactly that: a sewerage plant serving the whole area. The farmyard smells would have been delightful in comparison!
However, it was on that trip that we met the wonderful Nicky , estate agent for Leggetts, who was not only to find us a building that we would instantly fall in love with, but who would become a close friend and future landlord when we finally moved to France to start the renovations on our project.
The building Nicky found us was a centuries old mill in the village of Le Biot. It stole our hearts, and later our finances and sanity. But for now, and the next two years, it was definitely The One!

Le Biot, French Alps

Next post I’ll tell you about our trials and tribulations of buying a French renovation project from 12 inheritors who can’t agree on what day of the week it is, French planning restrictions and how to lose a small fortune without even trying!
Thank you for reading xx

Weathering the storm


After feasting on a breakfast of cold pizza ( due to lack of any camping gear), undeterred by the previous night’s storm and slightly hungover from a little too much vin rouge, we set off to meet the estate agent ( but not before a small struggle to pack up the pop up tent: picture small middle aged woman wrapped in smelly dog blanket attacking mad octopus with half eaten pizza crust)
Heather from estate agents Leggett greeted us like old friends and spent several hours patiently showing us renovation projects within our price range. These mainly consisted of semi or quarter houses miles up a mountain with few ( if any) amenities. All of them in stunning locations with views to die for, but none of them quite right. Although we didn’t have a clear idea of what we were looking for, we had a strange and powerful belief that we would know it when we saw it. Heather was very patient. She was also very enthusiastic and explained that she had come to the mountains for the winters, but had stayed for the summers. This immediately struck a chord with us. We too wanted to be here for the skiing, but were bowled over each day by the stunning scenery in the summer. If you’ve never visited the Alps in the summer months you are truly missing out on one of mother nature’s finest creations. Spurred on by her enthusiasm, later that evening we phoned Heather to say that we would increase our budget but wanted to look at properties closer to ski resorts.
She actually gave up her Sunday to spend the day with us exploring other areas and looking at other properties that may suit. Although we didn’t find the right place for us through Heather, looking back I’m sure that her comment about staying for the summer planted the seed that grew into our plan to live in the Alps all year round. For that I will be forever grateful.
Buoyed up by Heather’s enthusiasm, we visited the beautiful village of Abondance to view two properties with a French agent.


The first “property’ we viewed had the most glorious views I’ve ever seen, breathtaking doesn’t even cover it. However, it was not accessible by car, we had to hike for 45 minutes up a mountain and over someone else’s land and when we arrived, glorious views aside, it was literally a pile of stones and no roof in sight( with a €75k price tag). It was worth the hike for the views, but it was a project for mountain goats! The second property however, was more promising and ticked most of our wish list criteria:
Within 30 mins drive to a ski station:Tick ( but only just)
Large enough for 4 beds: Tick
Character property: Tick
Renovation project: Tick
Detached: no Tick

           image  . image

image     image
The project was half a cow shed, (the other half already converted) and located on a farm about a mile outside of Abondance. The price tag was a little over our budget, but after a night of discussions we put an offer in at the very top of our budget. (€ 90,000, when the list price was €109000) Being cash buyers the agent was certain we would have our offer accepted, but couldn’t get hold of the vendor, so we set off back to the UK excited and afraid of the outcome.
Over the next few days back in the UK, we could do nothing but talk about “our cow shed”. I started ripping pages out of magazines and clipping them together with jaunty little notes such as ” these curtains for guest bedroom 3″, ” these window boxes for balcony” and ” these Hunter wellies to wear when shovelling cows sh* out of the ground floor”.
By the end of the week I had received an email from the agent explaining that the vendor would accept €100,000. We replied that we would be coming out again in a few weeks ( for an all ready planned trip to Les Gets) and would like to revisit the property.
We hastily re did our sums and decided we would each sell a kidney and go for it. Three weeks later we set off for the Alps again, certain that our lives were about to change dramatically, and desperate for a break ( all that magazine-page-ripping-out tires you out!). We were so excited to be going back, this was definitely “The One”!
After an eight hour Calais to Abondance drive, we arrived again at “our cowshed” for a final viewing before heading to the agents.
What we discovered on our arrival was not what we were expecting!
In my next post I’ll tell you about more ups and downs on our journey to finding our new life in the Alps.
Thank you for reading xx

The cuckoos have flown the nest…..

The cuckoos have flown the nest…..

Many of you will have experienced that awful emptiness that overwhelms you when your children leave home. One minute your complaining about all the muddy rugby gear you’ve got to wash/ the middle of the night tipsy-teenager-taxi-service you provide for free/ the piles of dirty crockery found under their beds ( to name but a few, I know there are thousands more), and the next minute their gone: off to a new life in a dingy tiny room on a university campus a million miles away. You feel that heart wrenching pang of fear that they can’t possibly cope without you, they’re going to hate it, how will they manage!? Truth is they love every minute of it, it’s you that can’t cope without them ( it’s been 6 years since my second child left for Uni and I still feel the pain!)

So what to do?

Option 1: sit around staring at my phone hoping for a text message ?

Option 2: drive to said dingy halls-of-residence room and kidnap poor unable-to-cope-without-mummy child ( my actual preferred option)

Option 3: jack it all in and start a new life in France.

Now, it may not sound very motherly, leaving your two children behind to fend for themselves, but truth is hubby and I couldn’t bear being in the house without the kids, it just felt so empty.

So after watching one of those everything-turns-out-super-fabulous-for-everyone TV program’s about ex pats in France one rainy Tuesday afternoon, we were suddenly on a ferry on the Thursday, tent packed ( absolutely no other camping gear apart from a blow up bed), map in handbag and a round of ham sandwiches to keep us going through the night’s drive.

All we knew about France was that we had enjoyed several great skiing holidays in the alps, loved French wine and cheese and had never really discovered what all the fuss was about regarding French onion soup ( always found it a bit watery and lacking in any flavour)

We spoke hardly any French. Hubby could just about ask for a beer and I could ask any stranger, with great confidence, if they could direct me to the nearest station ( even though I have never had any intentions of travelling by train…)

We thought a nice little place close to a ski resort ( about 30 mins drive) that needed some work ( we had decided to take a year off, just like that!) would suit us fine.

Now we had  seen those TV programs and we had read those articles, where you can buy a renovation project in La France for next to nothing and turn it into a gloriously beautiful pad in no time at all.

We weren’t that naive (quite),  we had done some fairly large renovations already in the UK, but we did think we could pick something up for about £80K ( hahaha, I’m laughing my head off now writing that!)

So the search began: we contacted a few English speaking French estate agents en route and headed for the alps, armed with a French pocket dictionary, afore mentioned snack pack and two man tent, dizzy with excitement and hope of things to come.

After a few phone calls we had made appointments to see a selection of properties in the Three Vallees area.

Full of enthusiasm and hope, we pitched our tent, inflated the bed ( which was slightly too big for the tent, so we couldn’t do the zip up and hubby had to sleep with his feet sticking out the tent) and set off for a pizza and a few glasses of red in the town (due to the fact that we had no means of cooking, no utensils, not even a cup- actually no sleeping bags either, but we didn’t think about that until we rolled back later!)

Anyhow, we must have had more than a few, because we slept like lions all night, snuggled up under the old dog’s blanket from the boot, completely oblivious to the storm that raged all around us ( actual as well as metaphorically!) In the morning the campsite was awash with broken awnings, camp chairs and tables blown all over the place and disgruntled Frenchmen packing up there cars with their damaged camping goods. We hadn’t heard a thing.

Looking back, was it an omen?  A sign of things to come, that the road to happiness a-la-France was not going to be all sunshine and light? That we would just ignore all the advice and just carry on with our eyes tightly closed?

In my next post I’ll tell you about the hopes and disappointments, trials and tribulations and lessons learnt along the way as we searched for “the one”

Thank you for visiting my page xx






Blogging Virgin

So here we are, the very first page of my very first blog. I’ve been here, in France, for over six months now and I’ve been banging on about setting up a blog since the day I arrived. I really can’t say that I’ve been too busy, but it’s the usual fear of the unknown that has held me back. Anyway, I’ve started now, so if you’ll bear with me, over the next few months I hope to bring you tales of barn renovations, alpine explorations, French recipes and updates on how to successfully integrate yourself into a foreign country ( a lot of tongue-in-cheek there, and I mean the integration part, not the recipes, although I’m sure tongue in cheek is a local delicacy)