When Dutch couple Theo and Ellen wanted a lifestyle change for their family, they found their perfect new home in the Lot. Justin Postlethwaite finds out more
For anyone considering a move to France, the relaxed way of life is always a high priority. Theo and Ellen Drummen-Nijssen found their dream spot in Dégagnac and built themselves a wonderful new life, as Ellen reveals…
FM: What first attracted you to life in France?
We already “had” it all in The Netherlands: a beautiful house, good jobs, but was that It? France for us was a change from “having” to “being”: away from status and going back to the things in life that really matter: time for yourself and your children, making your own choices, nature, etc.
What preparations did you make before you went out?
We looked for a suitable domaine for about 4 or 5 years and talked with a lot of people that already had made the move. When we thought we would not find our “ideal home” worth moving for, Domaine de Montsalvy appeared. There were many preparations, from writing a business plan to finance, insurance and arranging schools.
What do you do?
We run a gîte business of five gîtes and a farmhouse and out of season we do Life Coaching as well as organising courses (such as languages and tennis). We also offer domaine products, such as confi ture, walnut liquor and domaine wines. In season we do BBQs, tapas and pizza nights and out of season we also do Chambre and Table d’hôtes.
How have you found setting up a business in France?
In the beginning it’s difficult finding your way in the big administrative world. It took us a year to really understand what is expected from you and where
exactly you have to go and whom you have to see if you have specific questions.
Where do you live? Describe your property.
Domaine de Montsalvy is located in Dégagnac, between the famous Dordogne and Lot rivers. It has an 18th-century farmhouse, 5 gîtes, with 10 acres of flower gardens, walnut trees and woods. It has a swimming pool, a tennis court, a BBQ terrace and children’s play area. It is very peacefully situated, but close to many touristic attractions.
How did you go about finding your home? Was it a long search?
We visited many properties on sale in the Dordogne, Lot and the Languedoc during about 4 or 5 years. None of them was what we were looking for, until Theo spotted Domaine de Montsalvy on the Internet. Looking back, the long search was very helpful for refining our plans.
Did you have to do much work on your property?
With such a big domaine you will always be busy. To avoid high costs, it is very important that you like to do a lot of things yourself and Theo really does: it is one of his passions!
Could you speak the language? How have you improved your language skills?
Ellen could already speak the language, Theo had a limited knowledge of French, Julie had already had 2 years of French at her school. Wouter and Daan had no knowledge of the language, but were taught by Ellen. Once in France, the children picked up the language very fast.
What have been the main challenges about the move? In hindsight would you have done anything differently?
The main challenges were building up a business, getting used to your new way of life, finding a new working rhythm, finding your way (where can you buy what, administrative things) and building up a new social network. We think our preparation was quite intensive and good; so we do not think we would have done anything differently.
How have you benefited from the move? What do you like about the French lifestyle?
We think we have become even closer as a family and the whole ‘project’ is really a joint effort of all 5 of us. The children can walk through the woods with our dog, can swim and play tennis whenever they like and because we have so many different guests the children develop their social skills well and learn to speak several languages fluently. And it is all very safe here in the Lot and the French lifestyle is more relaxed than the Dutch one.
Have you found it easy to integrate into French life?
Speaking the language, or at least trying, helps an awful lot. We did not find it hard to integrate, although you have to admit you will never be French. People are very friendly and helpful – we have even made some very dear French friends!
What are the differences between life in France and life in the Netherlands?
The weather is a lot better here so we live outside much more. Here people still seem to have more time to enjoy the good things of life.
Do you go back to the Netherlands regularly?
We go back to The Netherlands twice a year to see our family and friends. For the children it is nice to see their friends again. Some of their and our friends have already visited us in Dégagnac.
What do you miss about the Netherlands?
Maastricht the town, and to be able to speak your own language where ever you go; the familiarity of things you have known all your life, dear friends.
What is your favourite time of the year?
Spring and Autumn, when the weather is sunny, but it is not as hot as in Summer and when we still have guests but not as many as in high season, so we can spend more time with them.
Describe a typical day.
There is no really typical day, which is also the charm of what we do. It depends on the season: working in the garden, doing the washing, preparing dinner for Table d’hôtes, renovating work, etc. The administration has to be done every day: checking e-mails for enquiries, answering them, marketing…
What have been the reactions of your friends and family to your move?
Most of them could not believe their ears! But many of them admitted to secretly wanting to do a similar thing (one of the reasons for developing Life Coaching activities in mid and low season).
Is your move permanent or do you plan to return to the Netherlands?
Whether we stay here will depend on 4 things: income – if not, “Joie de vivre” will soon be over; if no one gets homesick; good health for the physical work; where the children will go in 5 to 10 years.
Do you have any amusing anecdotes of your time in France?
Furnishing the house was something that really amazed us: several pieces of furniture we had brought from our ‘old house’ fitted perfectly. Finally, one of the last pieces seemed not to fit between a cupboard and an old wooden beam. Trying it, it did fit with no more space left than one hundredth of an inch! So in a way Domaine de Montsalvy seemed to be our destiny, even the furniture we had brought from The Netherlands seemed to be meant for it.
Theo and Ellen Drummen-Nijssen run Domaine de Montsalvy (a gîtes business) in Dégagnac, in the Lot, and also offer Life Coaching and organise courses : www.domaine-de-montsalvy.com;
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