Lovely while it lasted…

What is it that per­suades half of all UK ex­pats to pack up and re­turn to Bri­tain? Andrew Eames re­ports

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - HOME&AWAY -

Four years ago Steve and An­gela Hall sold their home in Ch­ester and went house­hunt­ing. “We have al­ways loved France and had spent many hol­i­days there,” says An­gela. “We wanted a large prop­erty next to wa­ter and close to a vil­lage that we could ren­o­vate and build up to be a bed &break­fast busi­ness.”

What they found could have sprung from a fairy­tale: a sump­tu­ous six-bed­room château by the river Lot in south-west France, com­plete with swim­ming pool and four acres of gar­den.

“As soon as we drove up the drive to Château Cail­lac, ev­ery­thing felt right,” she says. “The orig­i­nal fea­tures along with mod­ern plumb­ing and electrics were ideal. We fell in love with it there and then.”

The plan was to live there af­ter their two chil­dren had fin­ished univer­sity. So they moved into rented ac­com­mo­da­tion in Cheshire – where they run an en­gi­neer­ing com­pany – and em­barked on bring­ing the 19th-cen­tury château up to date.

But then they were dealt a shat­ter­ing blow. An­gela, 43, was di­ag­nosed with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, and ev­ery­thing changed. “It is not that we had any doubt about the French health­care sys­tem,” she says. “It was sim­ply that, as and when my health started to de­te­ri­o­rate, I wanted to be with fam­ily and friends. I had to pri­ori­tise what is im­por­tant to me.”

So now the château is on the mar­ket for €1.6mil­lion (£1.26mil­lion), and the Halls are rent­ing a farm­house in Cheshire. “We’ll stay close to our busi­ness for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” says An­gela. “Maybe one day we’ll be able to buy our­selves a small place in France.”

The phrase ‘‘liv­ing the dream’’ con­jures up images of an over­seas idyll with a balmy cli­mate, a ter­race with a view and a bot­tle of some­thing bub­bly, but it doesn’t al­ways work out. In fact, half of all Bri­tons who live abroad will even­tu­ally come back. Nearly 400,000 of us em­i­grated in 2006, but at the same time 177,000 oth­ers re­turned.

Yet emi­grants’ at­ti­tude to those who re­turn is strangely un­for­giv­ing. When con­tacted by The Daily Tele­graph, the typ­i­cal view from ex­pats in France was ‘‘Wild horses couldn’t drag me back’’, and that those re­turn­ing “must have failed to in­te­grate’’. In other words, they didn’t try hard enough.

“We have had a mixed re­ac­tion from the lo­cal com­mu­nity,” ad­mits Si­mon Phillpotts, 61, who is shep­herd­ing his fam­ily back to Wales af­ter five years in the Midi-Pyrénées, in south-west France. “I sup­pose you could de­tect some Heart and home: An­gela and Steve Hall and the French château they are leav­ing be­hind. Be­low, for Jenny and Colin Outh­waite, at their con­verted 17th-cen­tury mill­house in the Vendée, fam­ily comes first feel­ing of be­trayal. But I don’t feel that we’ve failed. There’s an el­e­ment of mis­cal­cu­la­tion, maybe, in that I thought it would be eas­ier to work from here than it turned out to be. Per­haps that was naive.”

But the real rea­son that Si­mon and his wife Emma have de­cided to give up their sixbed­room manor house with swim­ming pool, ponies and 17 acres is not work. It is sim­ply that life moves on: “Our chil­dren and our el­derly par­ents come be­fore any­thing.”

Si­mon and Emma’s par­ents are no long phys­i­cally ro­bust, and their two teenage chil­dren, Archie and Lara, are at board­ing schools in the UK. “The chil­dren are flu­ent French-speak­ers,” says Si­mon, “but Archie didn’t get the most out of the vil­lage school and we felt that the private sec­tor in the UK had a more rounded ed­u­ca­tion.”

It is not as if the Phillpotts had been un­pre­pared for life over­seas. The son of a diplo­mat, Si­mon grew up liv­ing out of a suit­case, and the fam­ily moved to France di­rect from sev­eral years in In­dia, where he had been a con­sul­tant to the tex­tile in­dus­try. But now they are trad­ing in their en­vi­able lifestyle, and have had to ac­cept that any prop­erty they buy in the UK will be a con­sid­er­able step down.

‘We’ll miss the peace, the beauty and the se­cu­rity,” ad­mits Si­mon, who sells mind, body and spirit books on­line (sphillpott­[email protected]). “In Tarn we could go out and leave the front doors open. But it isn’t all lovely. It can be very bleak and cold dur­ing the win­ter, and the whole re­gion seems to go into hi­ber­na­tion.”

Jenny and Colin Outh­waite are an­other cou­ple on the move. Both in their late fifties, they have been run­ning a gîte busi­ness at their con­verted 17th-cen­tury mill­house in the Vendée, in west­ern France, for six years. It has been prof­itable and en­joy­able, but – like the Phillpotts – their pri­or­i­ties have be­gun to change.

“When we left the UK, our four chil­dren were sin­gle and work­ing in the Lon­don area,” says Jenny. “They would come out for hol­i­days and we would have qual­ity time to­gether.” But two are now mar­ried. “I want to be there when my grand­chil­dren are born. I feel I am too far away here.”

The Outh­waites are sell­ing Les Jincheres, for

€540,000 (£430,000). The prop­erty, which con­sists of a four-bed­room mill­house and two three-bed­room gîtes has a swim­ming pool, a half-acre lake and Jenny and Colin plan to re­tire and are braced for a down­size — prob­a­bly to a two-up two-down close to Lon­don. “It has been a very hard de­ci­sion,” Jenny says. “We’ve been very happy here.”

Steve and An­gela Hall feel much the same. “We have thor­oughly en­joyed our time at Château Cail­lac, and we will be very sad to say good­bye,” says An­gela. “The lo­cal peo­ple of Fon­grave have been kind and wel­com­ing, even though at times our French has been less than per­fect.

“There are many things we will miss: eat­ing out­side with friends and fam­ily over­look­ing the river, re­lax­ing by our pool, walk­ing down to the vil­lage to get the bread each morn­ing and stop­ping for a cof­fee and a chat with the lo­cals; sum­mer evenings at the farm­ers’ mar­kets tast­ing the de­li­cious lo­cal pro­duce, swap­ping homemade yo­gurt for fresh fruit at the farm shop, walk­ing our dogs around our lovely grounds…”

Cheshire’s nice, but it just hasn’t got the same je ne sais quoi.

An­gela Hall: www.chateau­cail­; Jenny Outh­waite: 00 33 549 95 05 40 or through www.lesjincher­

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