Here at The Good Life France we love to hear about readers’ stories of determination and grit and when we met 25 year old Louise Elsom from Yorkshire in the UK who is living in Carcassonne in the Languedoc Rousillon region of France, we knew we had to share her story.
Louise says “I moved here with my Mum, Hilary, after I finished University in the UK. We holidayed in Southern France throughout my childhood. My late Dad had always dreamed of retiring here and sadly he never got to live out that wish, but we decided to grab the bull by the horns and move out here”.
Louise says that village life in Carcassonne is not that different from Yorkshire “There is always much more of a community spirit in a village, although that does seem to mean that people gossip a lot more too. Our village shop is the place to go if you want to know what is happening with your neighbours!”
Louise and her mum live next door to each other in a “typical” French village complete with a tiny boulangerie for the obligatory daily fresh baguette. She says that the neighbours have been incredibly welcoming “even though our French isn’t perfect, we made the effort to speak as much as possible when we first moved here and the locals have really appreciated that”.
They have both renovated their homes and it has taken about three years for each of them to complete. Louise’s house is almost 300 years old and when she bought it, animals lived on the ground floor and it was totally uninhabitable. She says that the walls are so thick that there is no need for central heating even in the depth of winter. Hilary’s house is by contrast modern and light with high ceilings and the two homes are joined by a conservatory which makes popping in and out of each other’s houses easy. Louise laughs when she says “I do seem to find that my Mum always comes into my house each evening for a glass of wine and to watch a bit of TV. I doubt she’d appear if there wasn’t the offer of wine!”
When they first arrived in in France five years ago, Louise bought an English shop in the centre of Carcassonne which sold British groceries and books. It flourished as the locals loved to try British goods “particularly mince pies at Christmas” and the thriving expat community in the area thronged to get their home comforts and something to read. Louise says that after a couple of years of success the recession started to impact and she sold the shop and moved on to a new challenge.
She worked as a waitress and pet sitter before deciding to renovate properties with her mum and rent them out as gites. She also made a lot of friends and contacts from working in the shop – particularly in the British community and decided to set up a website to provide information about the area and enable people to meet. Since then it’s become a social meeting place with a Mums and Toddler group, walking group and a regular coffee morning and Louise has advertising for local businesses – and it’s not just expats – the French in the area seem to love it too. On the whole Louise says “It is definitely difficult to find work here and I found it much easier to make use of the Auto Entrepreneur scheme and start up my own business.”
When I ask Louise what she likes about living in France she doesn’t hesitate “There are so many things. I think I love the stunning countryside the most. I can get up in the mornings, head out with the dogs and there is open countryside just two minutes from my house. It’s amazing to stand up in the hills and watch the sunrise or look at the Pyrenees in the distance.
I also love how “French” my life has become. I love going to get a fresh baguette or a Pain au Chocolat from our local Boulangerie each day… Carcassonne is lovely; when the sun is out we sit in Place Carnot, the main square in the town, buy a glass of wine and watch the world go by. I love to people watch so it’s a great way to spend a morning, especially when the weekly market is on.”
She adds that an added bonus is that the beach is just a 45 minute drive away with Narbonne, Sete and Leucate being some of the nicest places to go for a morning on the beach and then lunch in one of their lovely fish restaurants.
One of her favourite places to go for a meal is the village of Trebes just 10 minutes from Carcassonne where you can be sitting in a restaurant right next to the Canal du Midi ” during the Summer you can sit and watch all the canal boats go by. Plus they do amazing sea food. I love their tuna steaks!”
In terms of attractions, her favourite place even after several years in the area is La Cite, Carcassonne (the medieval city): “ Every time a new friend from the UK comes to visit I take them there and people ask if I don’t find it boring but I love to walk around the medieval walls and the view of La Cite as you walk from town across the old bridge is simply stunning. I have to take a photograph every time!”
I asked Louise how she has found it making a new life in France and she tells me that the French are incredibly welcoming and “don’t mind the number of English here” but that is on the condition that you at least attempt to speak French!” If not, you will find they are not at all friendly”. She admit she’s not fluent in French and struggles with grammar but she always tried whether she’s sorting something out in the Tax Office or to getting her car fixed ”as long as I try my best, they are happy to help and I muddle my way through so that they understand.”
Louise tells me “Some expats seem to think that they don’t need to bother and I watch them in horror as they approach a local speaking in loud and slow English assuming that they would understand”.
Louise and Hilary are now looking to move to the Charente region where they hope to buy gites and find a home with a bigger garden than they have now – essential as they have managed to acquire four dogs and three cats since moving to France.
Louise hopes that the closer proximity to Paris and Bordeaux will also help her with her work for fashion websites as well as offer opportunities for some fun nights out. She tells me she is single and enjoying it and has dated a couple of French men but found them “both to be very moody and they seemed to expect me to wait on them hand and foot. Sadly they chose the wrong girl!” – I don’t doubt that for one minute.