When Janine Wood was made redundant from her job as a director of a London planning consultancy in a career where she had spent 25 years of her working life she decided a change was in order. Having moved home a grand total of 27 times in the UK, her dream of settling in France was reignited and in 2012 Janine, husband Tony and their dog Junior finally moved into Le Chateau De La Riviere in Salles in the Tarn region.
We talked to Janine about life in France…
What inspired you to move to France and why Salles in particular?
We decided we wanted to buy gites as well a holiday home for ourselves and spent three years researching places in Spain and France. France won! We narrowed it down to seven potential properties from Dordogne to the Lot. We even stayed in the one we thought might be our number one choice. However, seven viewings and 2,000 miles later, we were disappointed with all of them for one reason or another. As the mortgage was in place and we were ready to go we called our agent a final time and he lined up five more properties for us to view. The first one he showed us was called Le Chateau De La Riviere in Salles in the heart of Cerou valley next to the River Cerou. Just the property details sent shivers down our spines, and we both fell in love with the place within the first 5 minutes of arrival.
What is your home like?
Our home is made up of three different properties, including a large barn conversion which we live in and the other two we rent out to guests. They are both renovated to a high standard, and each one is different in character. One of the homes, Maison De Tourelle, has a fabulous tower which is said to date to the 13th Century and stone spiral staircase, leading to all the rooms across 3 storeys plus an attic. They are set in an acre of park like gardens, with lots of fruit trees and a gorgeous pool.
What planning did you do to start living the life you want in France?
The initial plan was to clear all mortgages and be debt free, however, that didn’t happen. I was made redundant and the cost of running three homes remotely, paying managers, and with several major issues including an internal flood from burst pipes made us consider selling our French dream home to make life a little more comfortable financially. However, the market was quite depressed, and after a couple of price drops to a long way below what we paid for it, we became a bit disheartened. I was training to be a life coach and this led me to realise that we had let financial constraints get in the way of our dream. We reignited that fire, and put our English home on the market instead!
Have you had to do a lot of work on the house?
The houses are typically French, with no double glazing, or insulation in the loft, the roof tiles are not lined either, which is all well and good in the summer for holiday lets, but at -15°C in winter, quite a different story. Old stone houses are quite something to heat. Over the years we have done a lot to improve the heating but there is always more to do.
What do you like best about where you live?
We love the fact that we are part of a beautiful historic village in the Cerou Valley. The fronts of the houses face onto the street and the village square, and yet when you are at the back of the houses, on the terraces or by the pool, you genuinely feel like you are in the middle of the countryside. I could sit and soak up the view of the hills and the River forever. You can hear the birds, the frogs, the donkeys in the distance and the village church bell which rings at 5 minutes past the hours of 7am, 12 noon and 6pm. I really must find out why it rings at 5 minutes past! We have the beautiful medieval Cordes sur Ciel on our doorstep, and the Gorges du Tarn and Averyon
6. What business are you running and how did you find dealing with French bureaucracy – any tips for others in the same boat?
We’re developing our holiday home rental business French Escapes, and look forward to being here to welcome all our guests in person this year. We have also just taken on an exciting Franchise Opportunity which is Cordes Owners Club, part of the Midi Pyrenees Owners Club. We aim to assist people wishing to rent a holiday home here and help holiday home owners in and around this area. We know from our own experience the benefit of having exceptional managers in place to look after your home as if it was their own, and equally to make sure your guests have everything they need.
French Bureaucracy seems a lot less scary when you seek out advice, both before you travel, and when you get here. We found out just what we had to do to register the car, and file our S1 forms with CPAM to ensure we had access to medical services. Even then things are never quite as easy as you assume, but do you know what, it doesn’t matter, it is so worth it just to be here.
We registered our holiday home business when we bought here and have filed French tax returns on our rental income annually, in theory it will get easier as we no longer have to file an English tax return as well. We have an accountant to help us and I don’t think we would be in such a comfortable position without the professional advice we’ve had.
My recommendation is to seek advice from someone who has already done what you are hoping to do, and do whatever you can beforehand. Even when things don’t go entirely to plan, don’t give up on your dream, find a way around, over, under or through whatever it is that is temporarily getting in the way. There is always a solution.
Top three pros and cons to running a gite in France
Pros - As a remote owner, it provides a valuable income source to help support the costs of both owning and managing a second home in France.
As an on-site owner, you get to share what you love with others.
Earning an income while living the dream in what can only be described as our very own bit of paradise in France.
Cons - As a remote owner, having to rely on managers or neighbours to deal with everything on your behalf, can be really frustrating.
Disappointment sometimes when holiday guests have not looked after the place as you might have hoped. On a fast turnaround, in the height of the season, this can be tricky to deal with.
Temperatures of 40 degrees are great while you’re lying by the pool with a nice cool beer, but can be more challenging when you’re changing beds, washing and ironing sheets, and cleaning the bathrooms and kitchens ready for the next arrivals!
Anything else you would like to share?
We are so excited to be here in France, and are looking forward to a fabulous season, meeting great people, and continuing to develop the services we offer in both of our businesses. As a qualified Life Coach I’ll be running retreats here at Le Chateau de La Riviere and our first one is scheduled for 24th Mary 2013. We’ll be running other courses too like photography and we have great catering on site – my husband Tony is a fabulous chef.
This place is just magical and I want to share it with as many people as we can, in whatever ways come up over the next few months and years. We are here to stay, and loving it.