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

French Property News - - Contents -

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

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