After living all over the world, Our French Oasis blogger Susan Hays settled in Charente-Maritime, where she lives with her husband and their five children…
FE: Tell us about your first experience of France…
SH: It was a Pony Club trip to Normandy. I remember cantering around a sand ring with lots of French children on ponies which seemed somehow different to our English ones! I couldn’t speak a word of French, but I guess it wasn’t a problem, and I remember my mother telling some people that she was a pomme de terre (a potato) when she had actually meant to tell them she was a femme de terre – a farmer’s wife!
Why did you move to France?
For a myriad of reasons but, most importantly, because we love the French lifestyle and the people.
How and why did you end up in the Charente-Maritime département?
We had quite a long list of ‘must-haves’ – first, to be within 15 minutes of the coast and ten minutes of a reasonably sized town. My husband spent two weeks on an intense house-hunting tour and, right at the last minute, he went into a local estate agency in Rochefort and was told about the house we eventually bought.
It had only just come on the market and he put an offer in the next day, though this was quickly followed by one from another buyer. We ended up paying the full asking price. Every single time I drive through the gates, into our green oasis of lush gardens, I know it was the best decision we ever made.
Outline a typical day in your life…
My husband walks our two youngest girls to school in the village and I take the others on a ten-minute drive to their school. The route is beautiful – church steeples on the horizon lead us from one village to the next. From there, I head to the fresh produce market in Rochefort. On Fridays we always go to our local market for fish, fruit and vegetables.
I try to spend as much time as possible in the garden during the afternoon as there’s always so much to do. The village school’s day finishes at 3.30pm and I really enjoy walking through to collect the girls with our dog, chatting at the gate with other parents and greeting all of their children as they come rushing out. On our way home sometimes we stop at the boulangerie to buy a treat for afternoon goûter – the 4pm snack which, it seems, is universal for French children.
Supper is a family affair – outside in the warmer months. My husband’s a fantastic cook and we more than share the cooking with whatever is fresh and we’ve bought that day.
How easily did your children adjust to life in France?
We were truly amazed at how they adapted. They truly love their lives here in France, even when it’s raining! With ‘total immersion’ they all picked up the language quickly and soon became bilingual.
What are your favourite aspects of living in France?
The way that people live according to the seasons, and that the children are able to walk to the boulangerie and cycle to friends’ houses on their own.
Do you have a favourite spot in the Charente-Maritime?
The Île de Ré – it’s only half an hour away and yet it feels like a different world – albeit one with a very distinct French flavour! We park the car and then rent bikes, which become our mode of transport for the day. Lunch in a restaurant, a swim, a walk on the beach – it’s beautiful and oh-so chic!
Read about Susan’s French life on her blog: www.ourfrenchoasis.com