Starting a new life in France on your own can seem daunting, but for Ali Wright who moved to Lot-et-Garonne 16 years ago, it was the best decision she could have made. Carolyn Reynier tells her story
Carolyn has lived in Nice since 2006. This month she tells the story of Ali Wright who moved to south-west France on her own in the 1990s. “I think Ali’s determination to up sticks and move to France on her own and in her forties, with no half measures, is an inspiring story”, says Carolyn.
It was during a holiday with friends in Lot in the mid-1990s, when Ali Wright was inspired to make a life-changing decision. The 48-year-old was living in Glasgow and enjoyed her job in marketing which enabled her to travel the world, but felt a deep desire to do something different with her life. “I was sitting by the pool one morning and thought, ‘I’ve got to change my life and I think I’m going to move to France’,” she remembers.
After completing a TEFL qualification in Glasgow, with the aim of it being a potential way of making a living in France, Ali put all of her belongings into storage in Bergerac before making the move. “I was so certain that what I was doing was the right thing to do, so no half-way house was ever considered,” reveals the 65-year-old.
FOLLOW YOUR HEART
“When you first come to France, you don’t realise how big a country it is compared to the size of the UK,” says Ali. “But I think I had my heart set on the south-west.” She decided initially to rent a gîte east of Bergerac from January to May to give her time to find the right property.
The right property came along, and in May 2000, Ali moved into an 18th-century farmhouse in the small commune of LoubèsBernac in the north of the department of Lot-et-Garonne, where she continues to live with her golden retriever Charlie and her two cats, Sable and Ginger.
The house is a long building, typical of the area, attached to a barn and has a large garden and two pools. One end of the property had already been converted into a gîte. The barn, at the other end, was used by the previous owners as a games room for their rental guests. The following year, with the help of a local builder, Ali converted this end into a second gîte, leaving the middle section of the house to live in.
At the time of moving in, there were no advance bookings for the original gîte. “The previous owners had given up,” says Ali, who decided to advertise the gîte on a couple of websites, resulting in enough bookings for the first summer. Now that Ali is drawing her UK state pension, she no longer needs to earn income from the gîte accommodation. She also has a second string to her bow; working as an estate agent.
Ali found running the gîte business hard work. “Let’s be honest, I’m going to be in my mid-sixties this year and what I don’t want to do is spend the whole of a Saturday, sometimes every Saturday, making up six bedrooms and cleaning five bathrooms,” she admits. “It is pretty back-breaking work and sometimes, of course, it’s very hot,” she adds.
Ali managed to achieve a comfortable number of weeks’ rental with people coming from all over the world. However, in 2008 she noticed a definite shift and it became more difficult to attract guests for the duration of the two main summer months. “If you can’t fill the whole of July and August when it’s peak season, just a couple of thousand euros can make a difference between being able to pay your bills and not,” reveals Ali.
Ali was unable to accommodate guests out-of-season because the two gîtes are not centrally heated. “The capital investment is considerable and one has to work out how long it’ll take to get that investment back,” she says. “I did a few sums and decided it wasn’t worth it.”
Having come to the conclusion that the income from the gîtes was not sufficient, Ali started working as an agent commercial with Leggett Immobilier and now works with Beaux Villages Immobilier started in 2008 by an English couple. “They work in teams showing and selling each other’s