This morning, a memory from five years ago came up on the phone. A photo of the car, packed to the gunnels with our belongings, ahead of our long drive with the animals through France, to sign the final papers and take possession of our, long-dreamed of, little place in Provence.
We always knew it would be one of life’s big adventures, but five years on, has it actually turned out to be what we had imagined, or did we leap into something that we have regretted ever since.
The simple answer, if I’m honest, is that it has been everything we had hoped for, and more. So much has happened in the last five years, since we set off from Devon, in the early hours of the morning, with the cat giving us death-looks from her cage, perched high above our seats.
Our journey down was filled with excited chat, tinged with the constant query of whether we had done the right thing, and falling into companiable silences as we mulled it all over, watching the miles tick by and passing landmarks on the way that are so familiar to us now.
It was, as we had hoped, the start of what has been a wonderful adventure, despite having to manage life between two countries, which was never going to be easy, or guilt-free either. But even with all the stresses and worries, we have never regretted the decision to bite the bullet, buy a place and ‘scratch the itch’ that had been gradually getting worse.
Even when we bought the house, we weren’t certain that we would ever make the transition from it being a ‘second-home’ to simply home, there was so much to think about.
Would we feel comfortable living full-time here, or would we be happier keeping it as a special place to come on holiday?
Would the language barrier prove to be a block to us feeling able to fully settle into life and everything that comes with it?
Would the draw of being back in the UK with the boys prove too strong for us to feel that we could live so far away?
Of course there were other factors too, and they always threw that element of doubt into our minds as to whether France could or would become our permanent home.
Slowly, but surely though the years have ticked by and as each trip here has ended, we have found it more and more difficult to leave and head back to the UK. The ties here have grown stronger and the anchors that were holding us back to the UK have, one by one, become looser, to the point that we naturally started calling France home.
Over the last year we have settled here permanently, deciding that this is where we need to be, this is where we feel at our most comfortable, and this is where we feel at home. We have ploughed our way through the piles of paperwork that everyone talks about, but now have our Carte Vitales, have registered the car and animals and two weeks ago, Andy had his fingerprints and photo taken for the Carte De Sejour (my application went in slightly later, so I’m still waiting).
We’ve registered with the Doctor, and Andy has had his first Covid vaccine. We have had our first dental treatments, including a detartrage, the likes of which we have never experienced before (imagine a power-washer filled with salt-concentrated water and that should help) and have got everything ready for our first tax return.
I have bitten the bullet too and transferred my business here, establishing myself as a Micro-Entrepreneur and registering as a silversmith, something I never imagined that I would do, the next step (post pandemic) will be to have a stall at some of the local events, which will be another new experience for me. But isn’t that what life is about?
The house too has changed and now looks like the home that it has become. Since last Autumn, Andy has worked so hard to change the utility into a new kitchen, and to transform the old concrete terraces into elegant and comfortable spaces that we just want to sit on.
Our dream of being able to walk out of a kitchen, straight onto the terrace, with a coffee has become a reality, and we start our days, sitting at the table that Andy managed to haul up from below, just enjoying the early-morning peace, only broken with birdsong and the occasional distant sheep-bell.
I cant really explain how satisfying this is, and although it has only recently been finished, it feels as if it has always been like this, which I suppose is what we had hoped for.
Until now, whilst we have been here in the summer, we have had plants growing in tubs, to give us some colour, knowing that they will sadly not survive the winter. This year however, we have managed to save the geraniums, which are now starting to flower again on the steps up to the new kitchen door. We have also created a small garden and have planted jasmines and roses against the new fences to provide cover as they grow.
It’s the little things like this, that are embedding us here, we are creating our own space, settling into life and watching things that we have planted grow, and thrive, and I know it sounds corny, so apologies, but it feels as if we are putting down our own roots too.
Five years on, we love our little life here and we are still enjoying making new discoveries, in an area that we felt we knew so well. The confinements have made us explore the walks closer to home, and it has opened our eyes even more to the beauty of the area that we live in. We now walk to Saignon for breakfast, enjoying the climb up along trails that go through the old stone terraces, before sitting on the bench overlooking the fontaine, with a pain au chocolat and a takeaway coffee.
We have explored the ridge between us and Rustrel, finding beautiful views, where we can just sit and watch the cloud shadows on Lagarde opposite. And if it was possible, we love the area even more now than we did when we started our little adventure.
The photo that sparked this blog, sparked so many memories too and all our worries and concerns that we had as we closed the boot and headed off into the night have been unfounded. In fact we have now owned this house longer than we have had most of our houses in the UK, which must say something!
For now though we’ll celebrate our 5 years here with a takeaway meal from the rather wonderful new restaurant at Valsaintes Abbey, with a bottle of local wine, and look forward to the next 5 years and what adventures they may bring our way.
We may even resurrect our elegant wine cooler for old-times sake