Warning! Buying a house just because you fall in love with it and changing countries without a second glance, or buying a gorgeous 2cv van without seeing it in the tin, and/or buying and importing a classic VW campervan from the USA without inspecting it carefully and at least knowing the seller can seriously affect your life… Well, Chris and Jane have done all three, but fortunately the one good thing they DID do was to take sound financial advice before they threw caution to the wind.
Chris and Jane now live in a beautiful but tiny beach-side house in Port-Bail, Normandy. For those who don’t know the location of this charming village, it is on the west coast of the Cherbourg peninsula, directly opposite Jersey. It has annual inhabitants of about 1400, which swell to almost 12,000 in the Summer season. Chris and Jane bought the house 8 years ago on a coup de coeur, saw it advertised in a local estate agents, Chris thought he knew where it was so they went and had a sneaky look around as it had been vacant almost 18 months, then went home. They couldn’t forget the house and managed to locate the estate agent via Internet, went over to see inside, and that was that. It was meant to be a holiday home but always on the ferry home diaries were consulted to work out the earliest they could return and so 4 years ago, they decided to leave England and live there permanently, “Not that difficult a decision to make” they explained.
They did their own removals “Couldn’t take that much as it’s only got 4 rooms”, but did find time to see a financial consultant to work out how their new life was going to be financed until Chris became eligible to receive a pension. “With hindsight, that time was crucial because left to our own devices, we would have done exactly the wrong things. Our financial consultant advised us to put our savings into Euro investments but retain a small amount of money in England for visits to friends/family and of course, in the recent financial crisis, the strength of the Euro has meant we have not suffered as so many others have done”.
Once installed, Chris and Jane then set about fitting into the local community. Their house overlooks a beautiful dune area which enjoys National level environmental protection, so they have joined a couple of environmental groups to learn more about its treasures. In addition, they attend a local French language course, go to Council meetings “We both have a background in local government so are interested in how things are dealt with at a village level”, and are members of a local VW club. In addition, they also help organise an annual classic car show and have recently been asked by the Council to help with English translations of local tourist signs. “Since we bought the house, we have received nothing but kindness from French people, who have opened their homes to us. However, it soon became obvious that an invitation to an apperitif meant an evening with lots of food and even more drink, so we realised early on we should walk to those, rather than take Bertie, Benny or Bob!”
Who? Chris explains, “Bertie is our 1970 VW Beetle that came over to France with us. He is the reason we got into the car club scene over here. When the house was our holiday home, one day we noticed a handwritten sign saying “VW” so we followed it, and found ourselves in an informal VW meeting – we ended up joining the club! Benny (Benoit, to give him his full name) is our 1974 AK250 Citroen fourgonnette. We decided a small van would be useful and why not buy a classic one? We found Benny advertised on the website of a garage at Limoges, asked for photos, did the deal and the garage kindly trailered Benny to us (the trip by road would have taken quite a time for a 2cv…..). Bob, our 1967 split-screen VW campervan was virtually as easy. Going to many VW meetings (usually €10 for the whole weekend – admission, breakfasts, apperitifs and camping included – honest!) we decided we needed a campervan. Again, using the Internet, we found Bob in California, USA, got photos, phoned the seller and agreed the price, and 3 months later Bob arrived in a container at Le Havre. Bertie took us to pick him up and Bob started first time obviously keen to start his new life in Normandy too! In addition to them being usually normally (we don’t have a modern car and don’t molly-coddle our vehicles, although we do take care of them), we take all 3 to car shows as we want people to share these lovely historic vehicles. It’s got to the point now where recently a local garage phoned us to borrow Benny for a weekend display of historic vehicles, so we have been demoted to booking agents for our fleet!”
Jane says “We feel so privileged to live here, it’s a beautiful area, the people are so friendly and the sunrises and sunsets have to be seen to be believed. We can now get by in French and even though we will probably never be fluent, we will continue with lessons to improve. We will probably also never finish all we want to do to our little house as time seems to evaporate over here! You only get one life so why not take time to enjoy it”.
Chris nods in agreement, “Yes, we’re very happy. We love the Normandy people, countryside, our little house, and our fleet of vehicles. However, I have always had a sneaky admiration for a VW Kubelwagen – who knows, there could soon be the patter of all terrain tyres…”
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