Where has the time gone, my last blog post was October 2022 and now we are in March 2023!
So, just a short update. From the photo above, you can see we finally moved into our own house, just over five months after arriving in France. back in June 2022. A hectic time and moving in at the end of November meant it was best to unpack the Christmas decorations first! That helped take the pain away of yet more French admin, setting up utility accounts etc…. As I type this, we have just had our health cards come through (Carte Vitale). All that is left on the French admin list is to change our driving licences and then start the application for the residency visa.
But back to Loubillé, where we now live. Unlike our house in Spain, we have quite a few houses around us and we are a less than a mile away from the the centre of the village. Our nearest town is Chef-Boutonne, a ten minute drive and where the supermarkets, vets, banks etc are located. We have beautiful countryside everywhere, even in the winter months, so lots of lovely walks for Charlie.
We have started French language lessons but Loubillé life has been some what ‘on hold’ as sadly my mum has been very poorly and I’ve had to travel back to the UK a few times. I’m very pleased to say that she is now recovering very well.
At the moment, we are waiting on a start date from our builder to get some works done on our home. Mainly cosmetic as the house is in good order. But we do need more insulation as it is a cold house despite the huge wood burner. Plus we are getting a quote for a heat pump, ‘pompe à chaleur’.
We have a large south facing garden that needs tidying and then we will wait a year to see what plants appear. I have so many ideas for a typical French garden! I already know we have many roses, honeysuckle, lavender and peonies plus right now a few daffodils. Also, plans for a kitchen garden at the side of the house. Steve is waiting to play with his ride on lawnmower!
A few jobs started in the garden including clearing tons of ivy!
Slowly we are getting a social life, meeting some lovely people. Everyone is so helpful. And with spring almost here, I cannot wait to be out and about discovering the area we now call home. And writing more interesting blogs, I promise!!
Every year, on the first weekend of October, the town of Chabanais celebrates La Quintinie.
Why? Well, here’s the history bit in brief!
Jean-Baptisite de La Quintinie was born in 1626 here in Chabanais, Charente. Initially, he went to Paris as a lawyer at the Parliament, as he was known for his exceptional writing skills. The president of the general accounting office requested that La Quintinie teach his son whilst on a trip to Italy. During the trip La Quintinie was impressed with the Italian gardens and became fascinated with horticulture. On their return from Italy, La Quintinie decided to give up his legal career and started studying and practicing in the gardens at an hotel. He visited England twice and King James II offered him a job managing his gardens, but La Quintinie declined preferring to be in France.
La Quintinie’s excellent reputation as a soil expert and gardener saw him work for many dignitaries. Then in 1661, Louis XIV gave him a job in the vegetable garden at Versailles. In 1670 the King created the role of ‘director of the royal fruit and vegetable gardens’ for La Quintinie who went on to design the ‘potager du roi’, the King’s vegetable garden between 1678 and 1683. This was a nine-hectare area. The objective being to provide fresh produce for the royal court and also becoming a horticultural experimental garden to cultivate out of season fruits and vegetables. When La Quintinie died in 1688 at Versailles, Louis XIV said to his wife ‘madame, we have suffered a great loss that we can never repair’.
So here in Chabanais they are very proud of this history. Many exhibitors participate selling their local produce of fruits, vegetables plants and flowers over the weekend, plus their arts and crafts, wine, cheese, honey, nougat, fresh bread and freshly prepared crepes. Indoors, there is a selection of handmade jewellery, soft toys and more.
The theme for the celebrations this year is ‘l’eau au jardin’ and unfortunately Saturday saw continual heavy rain all day, so quite apt! However, Sunday was better and the market nice and busy.
The event was organised in association with the Friends of Quintinie who also ran gardening workshops on the two days.
I just love the charm of these local events. I was so tempted to buy a plant or two, but we are still about seven weeks away to moving into our house in Loubillé.
Last Saturday, Chabanais was busy and buzzing with competing cars from the Angoulême ‘Circuit des Ramparts’ having a lunchtime ‘pit stop’.
The Angoulême Circuit des Remparts weekend is an event where classic cars ‘race’ around the twisting roads of Angoulême. It is a key event for car enthusiasts!
The first race was held in 1939 and the circuit of 1,279 meters has not changed since. Relaunched in 1947 but abandoned in 1955, this race saw the greatest drivers of the time. Although the circuit is often referred to as the slowest in the world, this didn’t stop Juan Manuel Fangio leaving his mark in 1950 with three hours and twenty-four minutes for the 80 laps.
In 1983 Circuit des Ramparts was revived. Today, only three French city circuits are active, the others being Pau and Monaco. This year is special, as it is the 50th edition of Circuit des Ramparts.
So, it is historic but also a celebration with concours competitions. A beautiful road trip through the Charente countryside!
In the park, along the river, on side roads, all the cars looked so colourful and really great in the autumn sunshine and Steve was in his element. Seeing an Alfa Romeo Alfasud, the first car he owned!
Then possibly his favourite car? Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider.
So, next year why not bring your classic car and come and tour the beautiful Charente region.
We are two months into our French adventure and funny really, as this move just doesn’t feel as daunting as when we moved to Spain. I guess we know the sort of things we have to do and organise although this time after Brexit, it is an eye opener to say the least or maybe that should be a ‘wallet opener’!
We were introduced to Beatrice (Anglo French Solutions) who has outlined a schedule for us to work through. She is ‘holding our hand’ through the complication of French paperwork. I hate filling forms in at the best of times and that’s in English! She also arranged for us to have a letter signed by the mayor here in Chabanais, confirming we are living here, as we are renting and don’t have utility bills as proof of address which is needed for almost everything we have to do. She said it would be very useful. I’ll call it our ‘golden letter.’
So, step one was the validation of our French Visas here in France, not explained to us in the UK. Back online to our application account and “Darling where is the bank card?” That will be €200.00 each! And, no, I don’t know what the fee we paid in the UK was for either. A little Brexit gem?
Onto the car and first to declare it to French customs. We had driven over after our belongings had been shipped and declared. So, armed with our volumes of paperwork and our golden letter in hand, we drove to Angouleme, the capital of this region (Poitou Charentes) to the customs office. The French customs officer inspected our papers and also smiled at our golden letter and muttered ‘parfait’. The process was quick and easy and we even had the certificate issued while we waited which was free!
To matriculate the car onto French plates it is necessary to change our headlamps back to our Spanish ones as we are driving on the right hand side of the road once more. That done, next the French MOT, time for the wallet again! Since Brexit the UK MOT is not recognised. €80.00 later, our paperwork has been sent off to hopefully complete the process. Just the final fee outstanding which is one we know about just not how much!
Next, on our list, open a French bank account. Again copies of all our paperwork and our golden letter, which you guessed, was met with a smile by the bank assistant and a muttered ‘parfait’. Two and a half hours later, we had completed the bank’s paperwork and I think two hours of that was completing their security checks. However, we were dealt with by a person face to face who really made us feel welcome, the way UK banks used to be years and years ago. In fact, he was keen to give us information on good restaurants rather than sell bank products! Refreshing after an exhausting week of transferring money daily from our UK bank account to our existing Euro bank account. With every transfer having to be authorised with the bank customer services team (minimum 30 minute phone call), who are based in countries where scams and fraud are prolific. It makes you wonder how safe our customer data really is, as on one call, we could hear a voice in the background coaching the agent with the security questions, frightening! How do banks check on their employees?
Yesterday, a visit to the vets. Charlie needed checking for a skin problem and we also decided to get his microchip details updated to the address here. Another ‘to do’ ticked off our list. As mentioned in the previous post, Charlie has his Pet Health Certificate (PHC) which is valid for 4 months to re enter UK. Therefore, when the vet explained Charlie should have had his microchip updated in the first 8 days of arriving here, it was a surprise, as nothing is mentioned on the PHC. This means France will not let our dear Charlie out of the country for 6 months, which is OK of course, but what does the PHC ‘valid for 4 months’ mean then?
It does feel, and Beatrice also mentioned, that people and businesses are still working out what Brexit really means in day to day life? Anyway, we carry on ‘being processed’ into the French system and really look forward to our future here in France, where to date, everyone has been so friendly and helpful!
Of course, our main focus and most of our time has been to spent finding our new home. We’ve been busy travelling around the region viewing properties. Aigre, below, one of the places we viewed houses and added a nice lunch stop at Le Square.
So many beautiful hamlets and towns …..
And driving through the countryside full of fields of sunflowers, just stunning!
Charlie went to several viewings when they were over an hour away. He’s tested out quite a few gardens and was seriously not impressed when put back in the car and driven away, bless. But fantastic news, two weeks ago, we had our offer accepted on a house!
Here the process takes at least three months and I fear three long months as we are so excited! We’ve already decided where the Christmas tree will go! But, so I don’t jinx the sale, no more details for now as the paperwork is being prepared for stage one and yes, our golden letter was needed again!
As the sun sets on the river Thames, we now find ourselves on a new dawn on the river Vienne. We’ve arrived in Chabanais!
And now let us go back ten days when we still didn’t have our French visas, therefore we couldn’t book a definite day to travel and Charlie, our lovely dog was too ill to have his travel Pet Health certificate issued. The sale of our apartment was due to complete on 20th June which would mean we would soon be homeless.
We set off for our long awaited visa appointment on 8th June, armed with reams of paper, enough to wallpaper our lounge! So much photocopying that our old printer almost died of exhaustion, so our neighbour took it off our hands. Our second printer was already packed! Our 10.30am visa appointment seemed to be shared with at least 50 other people, still it was a day out!
Meanwhile, back at our our apartment, the hot water pump had packed up and finding a plumber that could replace it within a few days was a challenge. While Steve organised a plumber and two new front tyres for our car, I was back and forth to the vets to to get blood and poo tests done for Charlie. His symptoms pointed to a nasty parasite, so the vet started treatment while still waiting on the results. Thank goodness Charlie got better and his certificate was issued on Tuesday 14th. The very day the removal company and the plumber descended on our home.
Later that day, we received the e mail from the visa centre saying our passports were back from the French Embassy and ready for collection. But no actual confirmation of the visas being approved. Even on the French Embassy website, there was no confirmation. We had to wait anxiously until 8.30am Wednesday 15th when I collected them and nervously opened the envelopes and looked inside the passports and we’d been approved! Bienvenue en France! Couldn’t quite believe it and I admit I shed a tear. When I arrived home, Steve dashed off to get a new front tyre fitted and yes, if you’re keeping up, I got a puncture in one of the brand new tyres on Tuesday night!
We were now booked on Eurotunnel 07.50 Thursday 16th with a nice 5am start! After such an exhausting week, with not much sleep, we decided to take up our friends Lucie and Tom’s kind offer to stay overnight at their place in France.
But there was still time for a little more stress on our way to Folkestone with an accident closing the M25 resulting in us missing the train, along with many other passengers. But the staff met us with a smile, no fuss and booked us on a later train. The friendliness, facilities and efficiency at the terminal were a very welcome surprise. Charlie was happy as he had longer to play on the agility course set up in the dog area! We drank a bucket of coffee!
Were these signs for us not to go? ….. were they heck, nothing was going to stop our “aventure français”.
We arrived early evening in pretty Chitenay, (pronounced as you may think!) in Loir-et-Cher.
We were given a lovely French welcome and met Lucie and Tom’s young children for the first time, so did Charlie and he finally relaxed enough to receive a lot of fuss and cuddles from them! Lucie and Tom moved to their beautiful house in March. It will be their long term family renovation project, along with the gardens and woods. An idyllic location for their children to grow up in.
And potentially, only a few hours from where we may find our new home? Next morning, fresh croissants and coffee for breakfast and dear Lucie sent us on our way feeling refreshed for the first time in weeks.
Finally, I now feel we can get really excited as we are here. Our little rental house is right in the village centre and 2 minutes walk from the river, the local café and local shops.
Finally, I’m writing a blog post, well just a short catch up really, as the gap has been much longer than intended!
I can’t believe its 19 months since we arrived back in England from Spain. In fact, I think we’re all wondering how the last two years or so have vanished so quickly when we’ve been locked up, quarantined, socially distanced, masked, you name it, we’ve all been through it, haven’t we?
Back in October 2020, our plan was to return from Spain, decorate our apartment ready to sell and move on. But like the best laid plans things took longer than expected. Two buyers later and our sale is completing next month. Life also got busy, back to ‘normal’ spending time with family and friends. I became a volunteer at the vaccine centre in Chertsey Hall and felt a part of a real community sprit. It was very hectic and I have sanitized hundreds of chairs and had some great laughs!
We also joined the `’Big German Shepherd Club’ walks on many Sunday mornings.
Then, there was my lovely part-time job at Mercedes-Benz World at Brooklands which ended up lasting a year but I have made some truly special friends there.
We imagined moving to the English countryside for a while but our hearts weren’t quite there. Our budget was being pushed more and more with the ever increasing property prices, also there are lifestyle choices to consider, especially at our age! After many months of Steve showing me beautiful country houses online, we took a short trip to South West France and viewed some properties. Decision finalized, France would be our next adventure! Right now I’m thinking, goodness another language to try and learn!
Moving to the EU after Brexit certainly throws up challenges, a lot of research, visa issues, shipping belongings etc etc…. Now we cross our fingers that our visa appointment, early June, (after two month wait) will result in a huge ‘Oui’! Then, we will be on our way, first stop Chabanais, Charente where we have booked a rental property and storage for three months.
So, I must get back to packing and say goodbye for now or ‘au revoir pour l’instant?