Moving to Brittany sounded a terrible idea when I first considered moving to France. “Why would you want to move to a country that is similar to the UK?” I had originally thought.
How wrong I was…
The South of France had seemed more appealing initially with its beaches, weather and lifestyle, but when we looked at all factors, our minds were changed…
This had all started shortly after my partner and I had got together as a couple, and were visiting friends in Bergerac in France. We were stood in their swimming pool discussing our plans for the future.
“Where do you see yourself settling down in your later years?” My partner had asked.
It was a fair enough question, we were both in our fifties and because of the newness of the relationship, neither of us would presume that we would grow old together (although we heavily suspected we would!)
“Spain” I said. I had been there many times and had found all of my sunshine holidays there very relaxing and pleasant.
“What about you?” I enquired of her.
“Here, in France” she replied, “what’s not to like?”
I had never considered living in France before, my head had always been filled with the idea that the French didn’t like the Brits much and vice versa. But each time I had been to France I had nearly always found the French people to be courteous, sincere and helpful. Ok, I had experienced some surly behaviour from a couple of individuals in some major cities and towns such as Paris and Toulouse, but there again I have experienced plenty of rudeness in Britain.
As I looked around the terrain beyond the pool, I took in the greenery of the distant hills, the wall to wall blue sky, and the incredible peace and quiet, and thought “She might have a point”
That was the early summer of 2013 and the subsequent months were filled with all kind of business ideas that we could take to France. We were looking at French property on the Internet all the time, relying on websites such as Leggetts, Sextant, Green-acres and dozens of others to help fulfil our dream. We even watched the TV program “A Place in the Sun” to give us an insight to the French lifestyle.
We toured around Castres, Figeac, Rodez, Lautrec and Carcasson hoping to find the right property at the right price. We ventured into the Midi-Pyrenees and around the Toulouse area, but couldn’t find the right property for us.
But as we became aquainted with the middle South of France, it became apparent. that whilst the summers were hot, the winters were not necessarily as mild as we had first thought. There are such conditions known as Micro-Climates, and just a few short miles can dictate whether sub-zero temperatures will be experienced, depending on the proximity of mountains etc.
Now I don’t like the cold, and my partner does not enjoy extreme heat, so it was clear that a slight re-think would have to take place, and that we would have to search for an area that suited both of our needs.
A few weeks later found me motoring around the Dordogne area, with a flight case stuffed full of estate agents property details.
I saw dozens of houses, some good and others in various states of disrepair, unfortunately none near what we were looking for.
Each time that I set foot in the local “Agent Immobillier” I was given yet more properties to visit, all with the same end result. I visited places like Riberac, Perigueux, Thiviers (I liked Thiviers, lovely little town) and many, many more.
We were looking for somewhere with some land, such an old farm building surrounded by peace and quiet, but at the right price. It sounds simple enough, but each of the estate agents in the Dordogne area and beyond seemed to be under the impression that I wanted to see everything on their books in my short time with each one.
I returned to the UK thoroughly frustrated but still hopeful. I had also learned that the Dordogne has its own share of extreme weather conditions with regular minus days during the winter.
It was then that I turned my attention to Brittany. Whilst Brittany didn’t have the extreme hot weather, it seemed to be pleasant enough with quite mild temperatures in the winter. Certainly nicer than Britain!
I booked some properties to visit in Brittany, this time careful not to book too many, given my experience in the Dordogne. I flew to Dinard having booked a hotel room at nearby St. Malo.
When arriving at the airport, I discovered that I had made a serious schoolboy error; the map I had used when booking the hotel room was not to scale, so I was quite shocked to be told that it was about 20 kilometres away, not the 2 kilometres I was expecting!
“It is impossible to walk there, there are motorways, you cannot walk on them” this big man said, “but I will give you a lift when I finish work at nine-o-clock this evening.
Feeling very stupid, I thanked the man, who turned out to be one of the customs officers, and said that I would try to hire my car a day earlier than booked, but would take him up on his offer if things got sticky.
When I went to the hire car window, the young lady said that the car hire wouldn’t be a problem and also because of the timing of the booking, there would be no charge!
“What a brilliant welcome to Brittany,” I thought, “I hope everyone else is as friendly!”
I drove to Pontivy and booked into my hotel, The Hotel Robic, where once again the customer care and service were excellent.
I had chosen Pontivy because it appeared to be one of the most central towns in Brittany, but based upon my previous disastrous map reading exercise, I couldn’t be totally sure.
Pontivy is a large town, I hesitate to use the term large because in my limited experience thus far, what is considered large in France always seems to be smaller than expected.
Pontivy has a river flowing through the town with quaint bridges decorated with pots of flowers. You get this quite a lot in Brittany; because of the mild climate throughout the year, plant life tends to flourish without the threat of being either scorched or frozen
I only had a few properties to look at in various places around Brittany, but all of these turned out to be non starters.
There was this large 4 bedroom house at Ploemel, with masses of land. The man had bought it as a holiday home and used to come out once a year accompanied by his girlfriend. He said he always spent the two weeks of his holiday just cutting the 6 acres of grass with a sit- down mower, so he didn’t have any time to actually enjoy his holiday.
When I asked him where his girlfriend was, he admitted she had left him. There’s a lesson there somewhere..
I had with me details of a property that my partner liked the look of, which I had saved for the last day of my time in Brittany to visit.
When I went to meet the estate agent at her offices in Plouaret, I asked her if she had other properties that we could also look at.
She said that the criteria I had given her was so specific it was difficult, but in order to appease me she pulled a sheet containing details of another possibility out of her filing cabinet.
We went to my partners choice of house which was in Plufur in Cote d’Armor which was a lovely property, but it turned out that various other people had access rights over the accompanying land, including the local farmer who had the legal right to use the house’s exterior tap to water his field. So there he was, trundling in and out of the property all day long with his tractor! So that was a no go.
We left the house in Plufur with me in deep disappointment, already rehearsing what I was going to tell my better half later, and then remembered that there was one more house to see. I looked at the tatty paper containing the house details and didn’t hold much hope.
However, when we arrived at the lovely stone farm house with various outbuildings, my attitude changed. This was what we were looking for, here in Brittany!
The house was fairly roomy with a very large front garden and disused cattle sheds and a barn to the rear, plus plenty of land. As it turned out it was only a few minutes from the glorious beaches of Plestin-les-Greves in Cotes d’Armor, which is roughly situated between Lannion and Morlaix.
To be so near to the sea was an added and very attractive bonus, so I almost immediately put an offer in.
After a tiny bit of haggling an offer was accepted, and we were on our way! If you are intending to make a property purchase in France, please bear in mind that the French enjoy a good haggle, so set yourself up accordingly.
We had never purchased a property abroad before, and expected it to be a daunting experience,The process of buying a house is somewhat different in France than England, the Agent Immobilier (Estate Agent) does the majority of the work, they get the dozens of forms ready, and ensures that all legal aspects and due diligence are covered.
Once all forms have been signed by all relevant parties, they are sent to the local Notaire, whose job it is is to ensure that all documents have been dealt with correctly, and to host the final signing meeting at their offices.
The only other person involved was the translator, whose role was to make sure that we, the British buyers, understood exactly what was going on.
Despite the fact that the majority of the process was carried out by email, because we were still living in England, all in all it was a painless experience, probably due to the fact that our estate agent was excellent, and went beyond the call of duty, even visiting the property in our absence to meet electricians and so forth.and all this was well after the completion was done!
So a huge thank you to Valerie Le Bricquer at Difference Immo at Plouaret.
From here-on we will be developing the property using local architects and builders and enjoying the Brittany lifestyle. During this time we will keep you informed of our experiences as we go along, so that if you are planning on doing something similar to us, then we can be of help. This blog is here for you, so please feel free to interact.
Brittany is wonderful. Just enjoying a holiday or a few days in Brittany, is heartily recommended. Many coastal towns survive on tourist trade and are therefore very welcoming, however you won’t find any amusement arcades and fish and chip shops on the sea front, thankfully, and certainly in the Cotes d’Armor you will find plenty of unspoilt beaches, wonderful long walks along pink granite cliffs, some great food and a huge welcome from everyone!