A lo­cal's view

Clare El­iz­a­beth Knott and her hus­band Leigh moved to Al­lier in 2008 where they are rais­ing their three daugh­ters. Clare ex­plains why she loves this tran­quil part of ru­ral France

Living France - - Where To Live - clare­liz­a­beth.com

What brought you to France?

The ad­ven­ture be­gan in Nor­wich in 2001 when I met Leigh. We both had a de­sire to do some­thing out of the or­di­nary, so de­cided to buy a cheap van and drive south. That was as much plan­ning as we did! We trav­elled around Europe for two years, re­turn­ing to Nor­folk where we bought a car­a­van and towed it to Corn­wall (why not?), but we soon re­alised our hearts were still lost in our trav­els. We knew that France was where we wanted to be. Soon af­ter our first daugh­ter was born in 2004 we bought a large, very cheap run-down prop­erty in a sleepy vil­lage in Cor­rèze. Four years later and two more chil­dren in tow, we moved to Al­lier.

What at­tracted you to Au­vergne?

We just loved the ragged moun­tains of the Puy de Dôme and the pretty vil­lages of Can­tal. Al­lier was new to us when we moved here. Big skies, agri­cul­tural land and rolling hills scat­tered with creamy white cat­tle dom­i­nate the land­scape, dot­ted with quiet vil­lages and the odd château.

Tell us about the ren­o­va­tion work.

It is still go­ing! Leigh and I are op­ti­mists (although some would say over­am­bi­tious). With three young chil­dren, and the need to earn a liv­ing, our ren­o­va­tion timescale has changed some­what over time. We have done ev­ery­thing our­selves, in­clud­ing con­vert­ing the loft space and build­ing a stair­case from scratch (not quite fin­ished). We’ve fit­ted a kitchen, a pantry and util­ity room (to be fin­ished), hacked through walls half a me­tre thick and in­stalled two wood-burn­ing stoves (one not quite fin­ished). A sec­ond ‘grown-ups’ sit­ting room is al­most fin­ished and the gar­den will never be fin­ished!

What do you most en­joy about liv­ing in Au­vergne?

Au­vergne, and Al­lier in par­tic­u­lar, is so peace­ful. On long sul­try sum­mer evenings I of­ten find my­self sit­ting on ‘the stone of con­tem­pla­tion’ next to our pond, and all I can hear are the frogs and grasshop­pers, with the oc­ca­sional hoot of an owl or song of a nightin­gale. I never tire of the tran­quil­lity of this place lost in the mid­dle of nowhere. Hav­ing said that, I love vis­it­ing the di­verse towns and cities of Al­lier. Vichy has to be my favourite, boast­ing a re­laxed yet cos­mopoli­tan at­mos­phere. Au­vergne also has many fab­u­lous cheeses. Sweet and salty Can­tal En­tre-deux, creamy St-Nec­taire, gor­geous Bleu

d’Au­vergne and a sharp lo­cal goat’s cheese makes for the per­fect cheese­board.

What is it like through­out the sea­sons?

Spring is my favourite time of year, when the leaves are fresh and green and ev­ery­thing wakes up. Sum­mer can be fiercely hot and dry. The best way to cool down is a dip in the river and an ice-cold glass of rosé. The warm evenings are bliss­ful: long lazy din­ners and walks down the lane sur­rounded by but­ter­flies, wild fox­gloves and the sound of crick­ets. Au­tumn is beau­ti­ful, when the many forests take on a stunning colour pal­ette of reds, yel­lows and ev­ery colour in be­tween. Win­ter can be very cold and pipes are prone to freez­ing. Once even the toi­let waste pipe froze which had us re­sort­ing to a bucket! To take our minds off events like these, we like to take our­selves off to the Monts de la Madeleine or the Puy de Dôme with sledges and flasks of hot choco­late.

What are some of the best things about rais­ing a fam­ily in Au­vergne?

Fam­ily life in ru­ral France is re­spected, and is put first. For Nikita (12), Maya (10) and Amélie (nine), grow­ing up bilin­gual and be­ing in a class of 12 stu­dents are things they’ve never ques­tioned.

Clare El­iz­a­beth is a jazz singer who runs work­shops and team-build­ing events through­out cen­tral France. Clare also runs an on­line shop selling French vin­tage home­ware and ac­ces­sories.

Clare El­iz­a­beth and her fam­ily at home in Al­lier

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