A leap of faith nearly 20 years ago has led to a happy, suc­cess­ful life in Gers for Amanda Garn­ham and her fam­ily, as dis­cov­ers

Carolyn Reynier

Living France - - LIFESTYLE -

When Amanda Garn­ham moved to France 18 years ago, she had four small chil­dren, no firm plans about where to set­tle, lim­ited French and no job. To­day, her chil­dren are grown up, she has a beau­ti­ful home, her French is flu­ent and she runs a suc­cess­ful PR com­pany, which takes her to places all over the world.

For Amanda and her then hus­band, it had al­ways been a dream to live in France, and one day when life in the south-east of Eng­land just got too much, they de­cided to make the leap. They moved in Oc­to­ber 1997, in two cars with three dogs and four young chil­dren. Ge­orgina was seven; Hen­ri­etta, five; Giles, three; and Vic­to­ria just five months.

“With four chil­dren un­der the age of seven, it was quite a hand­ful,” Amanda re­mem­bers. “Not to men­tion be­ing sep­a­rated from friends and fam­ily and try­ing to find some­where to live!”

They had of­ten hol­i­dayed in France, and were orig­i­nally think­ing of set­tling in Char­ente. “I just kept push­ing for a lit­tle bit fur­ther south, be­cause I had a feel­ing we were go­ing to like it down there,” says Amanda. And they did. “We came and in­ves­ti­gated and fell in love with it – a coup de foudre as they say here.” It was not so much a ques­tion of weather, she says, but rather the qual­ity of life.

They rented a house, and her hus­band, a miller, trav­elled back and forth to the UK, to bring in some money while Amanda or­gan­ised school­ing for the chil­dren and looked for a house to buy.

They wanted an old stone house in Gers, but had no par­tic­u­lar area in mind, so they reg­is­tered with an es­tate agent, and Amanda also scoured the coun­try­side with baby Vic­to­ria in the car look­ing for a suit­able property.

And that was how she found their home, in a vil­lage not far from Con­dom – and just five min­utes from their rented house. It was a square Gascon mai­son de maître, which hadn’t been lived in for 40 years. “It was very sad and ne­glected,” says Amanda. “It wasn’t a ruin but you couldn’t get to the front door be­cause of the bram­bles.” Builders en­sured they had the ba­sics: a bath­room, kitchen and two bed­rooms, and lit­tle by lit­tle they made it into a fam­ily home.

She re­calls feel­ing pretty lonely in those early days, try­ing to learn the lan­guage, and set­tling her el­dest, Ge­orgina, into school. “We’d have all the dra­mas that go with that,” says Amanda. “She’d say: ‘Oh Mummy! Please don’t leave me here, I don’t understand any­thing.’ And I’d drive home in floods of tears hav­ing dropped her off think­ing I was a dread­ful mother.”

In 2000, the couple parted com­pany; he has since re­mar­ried, lives lo­cally, and sees the chil­dren reg­u­larly. Amanda earned money from jour­nal­ism, sea­sonal work pick­ing straw­ber­ries and grapes, and com­mis­sions for her hand-painted plates, which she also sold in mar­kets. Fi­nan­cially, life was not easy. “It was very tight,” she says, “to the point of squeez­ing chick­ens and say­ing: ‘Please lay an egg, I’ve got to give ev­ery­body sup­per.’” When she was work­ing, she had to find some­one to pick up the chil­dren. “I was just per­ma­nently jug­gling ev­ery­thing.”

She got as in­volved as she could in vil­lage life. She re­calls be­ing quite de­spon­dent at times be­cause al­though the chil­dren were pick­ing up French very quickly – they are, of course, all bilin­gual now – it was more dif­fi­cult for her. Then sud­denly it clicked.

Amanda had run her own PR firm in the UK prior to start­ing a fam­ily. Be­fore set­tling in Gers she knew noth­ing about ar­magnac, the re­gion­ally pro­duced brandy. How­ever, Fac­ing page clock­wise from top:

Amanda with daugh­ters Hen­ri­etta and Vic­to­ria; Flaran Abbey in Gers; Amanda teach­ing an ar­magnac mas­ter­class; pi­geon­niers can be seen through­out the depart­ment

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