Viv and Prim Lees, Lignac, Indre

Our first year’s over and we’re still in love!

Our French story began when we had just finished renovating a house in the UK, and were both fed up with our jobs and wondering what retirement had to offer. Viv had nine years of hard labour still to look forward to and I loved my job supporting adults with learning disabilities but I was coming up 60. I had been looking at TV programmes on France and got hooked on the web sites.

After checking out our very small pension funds, we decided to sell up and have a go at renovating a gîte. We wanted to create a happy, comfortable and affordable gîte where people of all abilities could come for holidays.

We have a large extended family who all agreed that we should give it a go. It was November when we arrived – perhaps not the ideal time to start – but we thought we would find out all the problems first!

Having been brought up in the countryside definitely stood us in good stead for the next few months, because it was like stepping back 40 years – cold water, wood fires, and no central heating or hot baths for us. We laughed our way though it, and made the locals laugh too with our attempts to make ourselves understood, but we are getting there and it is worth it: I am still thrilled to see the sun rise and set, to see the stars so bright, and hear the birds and foxes calling. The most noticeable thing is the lack of traffic, which is sheer heaven – Viv reckons he can hear his own heart beat.

I wouldn’t say it is easy: we work very hard and have done virtually all the work on our house ourselves. The gîte was a complete wreck, but now it is looking good and should be ready to let in March next year. Before my last job I was a cook and this has come in handy, because building is much the same only on a bigger scale. You mix cement instead of cakes, and plastering is a bit like icing, only sideways. You need stamina and patience but most of all a good sence of humour.

Of course, we have spent twice as much as we thought, and now we just hope it all works out. One thing we do know is that we will sell up and do it again if it doesn’t, because we are here to stay. We love it!

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