Chilling out in the Vosges
In search of a colder climate – and two winters! – Donna Newby moved from Australia to the mountains of France. She explains why the Vosges were the perfect location
An Australian couple move to France in search of a cooler climate
Who says you have to be young to start a new adventure? I am on the wrong side of 60 and my husband John is 71. We have always had a love affair with France and have spent many enjoyable holidays in various regions. We have found French people to be very friendly, the scenery is spectacular and the proximity to the rest of Europe is ideal for us. We regretted having to return home to Australia after every visit.
We often thought about buying a holiday home in France but the timing was never right. We lived on a small farm in the hills halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, running a successful B&B for over 10 years, but decided if we didn’t make the move now we never would because of our ages.
Initially, we were looking for a holiday home so that we could spend winters in both Australia and France to escape the relentless heat. However, somewhere in the mix, the holiday home became a permanent one.
Our farm was put up for sale and I hit the internet looking at French real estate. Our main criteria was a village house in need of renovation and upgrading, priced reasonably due to the low exchange rate between the euro and the Australian dollar. We wanted to put our own stamp on a property and didn’t feel that traditional French interiors were for us.
Baby, it’s cold outside…
It was also important to us to choose somewhere we could expect snow every winter. Australia has a very short temperate winter and snow is only seen in a handful of areas. Even when it does snow, it basically melts on contact with the ground. From November to June, the Australian weather is mild to extremely hot.
The Alps appealed to us but it was far too expensive, so we looked towards the Vosges instead. Although we had never been there, the numerous ski resorts in the area indicated regular winter snowfall. Its proximity to other European countries also appealed, as we intended to do a lot of travelling.
I looked at a number of properties on the internet but kept coming back to one. It seemed basically sound, with a good roof that needed no attention, and the layout suited our plans for the renovation. We decided that the only thing to do was to travel over to check them all out and, as John was busy with our B&B then, I was accompanied by our son Luke and his partner Faye.
Our son and other children and grandchildren have been very supportive throughout the process as they are used to us being adventurous. In the 1990s we moved to China for a year or so – after that experience, moving to France was a breeze!
It turned out to be an interesting viewing trip as we speak no French and English is not even a second language in the Vosges although you couldn’t ask for friendlier people; thank goodness for Google Translate.
After inspecting numerous properties, we settled on the first one that had taken our fancy on the internet. The other ones were on a busy road or right in the middle of a village and, having lived on a farm for so many years, we were looking for a house that was some distance from the village centre. As the house we bought is surrounded by farmland, it was our number one choice.
Although structurally sound, the house, which had three levels and a cave (cellar), had no heating whatsoever, a burst waterpipe in the sad excuse for a bathroom, original old wooden windows (some missing altogether), and a kitchen that comprised a wood-burning stove and an old concrete sink. The whole house was in need of a total electrical rewire.
Even with its faults I could see great potential though and it just felt right so, with encouragement from Luke and Faye, I went for it. I took lots of photos so John could see what we had bought; he was more than happy for me to make the final decision and didn’t get to see our purchase until we came back over to settle in France in January 2016.
A new start Our Australian passport only allowed us to stay in France for three months so we rented a nearby gîte and started to get the house into a liveable condition. After successfully gaining our long-stay visa, we packed what was left of our belongings in a shipping container bound for France and boarded a plane with our two small dogs, Ruby and Reggie, to start our new life abroad.
Our biggest hurdle was the language barrier but with the help of one or two Englishspeaking friends we made in the village, we have been able to organise materials for our renovation. As well as almost completing the work, we have managed to explore more than 20,000km of Europe so we have already achieved our aim.
We have been accepted into the local community as we attend as many local events as we possibly can. As John is a Vietnam war veteran, we attended a local ceremony celebrating the end of World War II where we met the mayor and other dignitaries. They were very pleased that we had chosen their village as our new home. Since then we have received invitations to every official event. The mayor was surprised to learn of Australia’s commitment to France in the first and second world wars, as our troops did not fight in this region. Now at ceremonies, both the French and Australian national anthems are played.
Without exception everyone has been friendly and helpful, and the language barrier has been our only obstacle. We are endeavouring to remedy this by having French lessons with our good friend Anna, who we met when we first arrived here. One thing we have noticed is that the people we see regularly now speak English better than they did!
It has now been two years since we first arrived here and we have not regretted a single day of our life in France.
Now at ceremonies in our village, both the French and Australian national anthems are played!
Donna immediately saw potential despite the house’s faults The property was structurally sound and its layout fitted John and Donna’s plans
John takes part in the village’s Remembrance ceremonies Fun in the snow
The couple keep in touch with family via the internet