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
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