Sandy Harris booked a holiday in the French Alps and fell in love with a house she and her partner saw whilst driving to their hotel. A short while later the couple moved lock, stock and barrel to the beautiful, off the beaten track Massif des Bauges in Savoie.
We talked to Sandy about expat life in the French Alps…
How did you find your dream home in France?
We booked a late season ski holiday and as we drove up to our hotel we spotted a house stood on a large parcel of land. It had an old and faded for sale sign. We noted the number of the agent and headed into the town where we were staying. We went into a bar and the locals were amazed to hear our English accents, they had never had anyone from England visit and made us feel like celebrities. The hospitality they showed us was wonderful and friendly and from that moment we knew that we would be happy here. We were right. We have been fully accepted by all the local farmers, families, postal drivers, restaurant, bar, gite owners in the commune and I think we have amused many people with our ‘differences’.
The Massif des Bauges is a place of outstanding natural beauty. My partner Mike and I loved it here from day 1. We visited the local SPA Chambéry and there we found an elderly but beautiful cross breed Leonberger /German Shepherd. He is slightly blind in one eye and was very smelly, matted and overweight. He’s part of our family now and loves the snow!
What’s your home like?
Our property is a traditional two-storey Savoie farmhouse and has a large balcony with far reaching mountain views. The houses in our area all have huge pitched roofs with overhangs on one side only which protect the walls like a giant umbrella.
Almost all the houses around us are built of stone and wood. In years gone by, half of the house was used by the family whilst the other half was lived in by their animals. One of the things we loved when we found our house was that unlike many others we had seen on the internet it was at least habitable! We knew that some renovation work would be needed but we didn’t want to rush.
After our first winter here, we sprang into action and created a ground floor self-contained apartment. The news spread fast and suddenly all our UK friends and families wanted to book it for summer and winter. The attraction for us and our UK visitors is the diversity of lakes, mountains, waterfalls, caves, meadows and the vast amount of outdoor activities to enjoy all year round at an affordable price.
What do you love about the Massif des Bauges?
The magic of our area is the softness compared to other ski and mountain areas. To be able to see the beautiful Lac du Bourget when skiing and Mont Blanc in the distance is simply breath-taking. The convenience to get here is also a big plus too, close to both Genéva and Chambéry International airports.
What’s a typical day like for you ?
In the winter a day off for us means either ski mountaineering with our dog Chopin or driving up to the slopes to ski at the local resorts which are really friendly, never too busy and have ample ski runs for all levels. We enjoy spending time in the welcoming bars and restaurants on and off piste.
A typical day off in the summer means getting up early, packing a picnic lunch and heading down the mountain to the beautiful Lac du Bourget. Here we hire a boat and travel down the canal which leads into the lake. Water sports are another of our passions so we’ll take our stand up paddle board and enjoy using it on the lake. Our dog Chopin loves swimming and keeping cool while we moor up along the shore for a lazy lunch gazing at the snow-capped mountains. These hot summer days with atmospheric hazes endorse why we love are area so much – it truly is a place of tremendous natural beauty.
I work as an agent for Leggett Immobilier which means I can choose my hours of work to nicely fit in around my life style. I meet so many interesting people who are either selling their homes or looking to buy a holiday or permanent home. It’s wonderful to see the excitement of people and be part of their dream to relocate. It makes me smile as I remember feeling exactly the same way. I share my experiences as best I can to keep their dream alive but at the same time honestly guide them towards the right home to help them with this big transition.
Top Tips for house hunters in the French Alps
The three key pieces of advice I give to clients looking in my area are:
- You must be happy to drive to the shops because there is no local store to walk to in the area.
- You will need to try and speak French because this is an area undiscovered by English speaking visitors at the moment.
- I also explain that electricity if used in the same way as UK is very expensive in France. When helping them choose a property I encourage them to look at what type of heating systems are in place explaining that using wood or fuel to keep warm and heat the water is a better option especially if they have a young family.