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IMG_3592Suzy Duncan moved to the Ariège with her husband and two daughters during 2012. She’s since set up her own business, Pilates in the Pyrénées, in Saint-Girons…

Why did you decide to move to France?

We’d wanted to live in France after taking many ski holidays in the Alps.
 We started looking in the French Alps but quickly realised that the property prices were too high, so researched the Pyrénées and found them to be much lower, with better value for money, skiing nearby and great cycling on the doorstep! The climate here’s warmer, too.
We already knew some people living in the Pyrénées, who allowed us to stay with them for the odd week here and there, to get a feel for the area. We loved the breathtaking views, the weather in summer is lovely and the air’s so clean.

We took the plunge before our eldest was too absorbed in GSCEs, decided on a date, booked the removal van, found a place to live and that was that! The Ariège is unspoilt, very rustic and very French.

What are the most challenging aspects of life in France?

The language and the bureaucracy are very challenging, as well as my husband’s commute to England. The French are very laid-back, so there’s no sense of urgency here, which can be great but also very frustrating. Also they’re notorious for losing paperwork! This has caused no end of headaches with the healthcare system, but we got there in the end. You have to get used to waiting over here.

How did your daughters adjust to moving to France?

The girls were our main concern. They started off in a private Catholic school here and it was the worst thing we could have done – no extra help at all and no green space, just concrete playgrounds!

We then put them in the state system and things improved from day one. Ruby, our youngest, was ten when we came over and she grasped the language much more quickly than Mia who was 14 when she arrived!

The girls are both now bilingual in French, and that’s a great asset to have, especially in the workplace. Their experiences will only strengthen them 
for later life.

Tell us about your business…

I trained with the renowned Body Control Pilates Academy in London and started Pilates in the Pyrénées when I moved to Saint-Girons. I set myself up as an ‘auto-entrepreneur’, which was fairly straightforward with the help of a
 French friend, so I pay tax and social charges. This also helped me get my ‘carte Vitale’ (health insurance card).
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My Pilates business has a largely English client base, but I’ve just started a French-only class, teaching about five ladies. It’s great and will hopefully broaden my opportunities within the French market.

I currently have five classes a week
 and three private clients. I’m in the process of setting up a small home
 studio with specialist equipment that
 will further enhance my business.

Overall it actually wasn’t too difficult setting up a business here for me and
 it’s growing all the time, albeit slowly!

Your favourite aspects of the culture?

The French are really different, especially when it comes to the English sense of humour! But the locals are really friendly and we’ve had fantastic help from them in settling down – I’m so grateful for that.

I love the long, warm summer evenings, eating outside with a good glass of wine, some yummy cheese
 and, of course, a baguette!

● Pilates in the Pyrénées: +33 (0)5 81 29 29 25, suzyduncan15@live.co.uk

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