Graeme and Graziella Swan run gîtes in the Deux-Sèvres in the Potoiu-Charentes – and are now offering ways for holidaymakers to reduce their carbon footprint. Here they describe how they found their French home.
Your name, age family, and where you are from in the UK
Graeme (47) and Graziella Swan (43), we lived in London prior to coming to France and I (Graeme) am originally from Scotland.
When did you buy move to France, and where?
We bought our house on 2/10/03 and I moved in March 2004, Graz stayed in London for 6 months to work and pay for Graeme to be here and start renovations. The house is in the South east of the Deux-Sèvres
What made you decide to move to in France?
We had decided to move out of London several years ago and were looking in Suffolk/N Essex and we depressed by the fact that it wasn’t any cheaper than London and the further away you got the harder it was to commute. So one Saturday at breakfast I said “why not really move and go abroad?” So we sold up and traveled around Northern Spain and through to Penzenas where Graz has family.
One the way back we stayed in Poitou-Charentes and loved it and gave us the excuse to live in the countryside.
There was also that old chestnut for a better standard of life, but it’s true we have that here; also it crystallized a few things about how we live our lives. We realized as we went on that here we could also create a lifestyle which impacted less on our environment (in a bad way) we are actively looking at ways of being as energy self sufficient as possible and also looking at ways of reducing our carbon impact. One of the ways we are doing this asking our guests to plant trees here, or donate to carbon footprint charities to offset their travel emissions getting here and going back home.
What made you choose this particular area to buy?
Nice area, easy journey back to the UK, Ryanair can be as low as £35 from Poitiers, and property prices are a little lower than many other places.
Why did you choose this particular property?
We decided to try to go for a mix of income opportunities including having some holiday homes and the property fitted the bill in most respects. The major one was that we could build the properties away from the main house.
How much did it cost?
What kind of work do you do in France?
Gite marketing (a nearly fulltime job in the first year or two), website design, a little consultancy online. The gîte business takes most of our time, but it is really worthwhile and rewarding.
Was the process of buying the house better or worse than you expected, or about the same, and why?
The system in France is I think a lot better than the one in England – you know where you are at any point in time
How much work did it need doing on it?
Where do I start?! We converted a 200 year old barn into 2 gîtes and a games room, a pigsty into a cottage, a field into a garden…. I have over 500 photographs of the work – when we look back at them I’m surprised we were so calm at the time – but we also had great team of French workers. I haven’t even scratched the surface in our house.
If you had the chance, would you do it all again?
I would in a heartbeat – Graz would have second thoughts, she hates the mess involved in renovation. But having said that we love being here and Graz is always dying to get home whenever she is in the UK. I don’t go to the UK often as I love it here
What’s the best/worst features of your property
The best feature is the peace and quiet and the size we have over 5.5 acres and meeting lots of different people when they come on holiday. The worst is the size; it’s Catch 22, there’s always too much to do in the garden or house maintenance.
What piece of advice would you offer to anyone thinking of buying in or moving to France?
Don’t rush into buying – have good look around. Always have a list of criteria and if you can fulfill about 70% of them, it’s worth having a look at.
If you have to renovate use French builders if you need to – their families have been working on stone houses for generations and know better than us, also they have to be registered. I have no problems with using British builders but this is France and I didn’t come here to take jobs from the French – quite the opposite.
Learn French – it may sound basic but so important, too many Brits here still think it’s OK to shout loudly in English and expect the French to understand.
Get involved in the community – we are Treasurers of an association to help preserve the history and beauty of our village.
If you think that you can come here and immediately make a living don’t come, wages are low, jobs are scarce – be realistic. The life style can be great but so many people come here and leave quickly because their expectations were too high.
Graeme and Graziella can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or via Les Cygnes
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