On one especially hot summer day in July 2020, Louis arrived in our lives and his story is pretty special!
Whilst waiting for the purchase of the house to finalise the previous owners gave us the go-ahead to start work on the gardens. The property had laid vacant for around 3 years and nature had reclaimed its territory. The ‘lawns’ were jungles with grasses to your waist and brambles had created fortresses 10 meters deep in places. It had all but been abandoned save for a small path the width of a lawnmower that snaked around the perimeter. Tallgrass in France is asking for trouble of the snake variety too!
A long time ago some serious money had been spent on some beautiful plants and trees which were in danger of extinction from the onslaught of creepers. Some serious hacking was needed so we were grateful to be able to make a head start before we officially got the keys.
Not all sellers are open to this sort of thing and most of the time the Notiares will advise against it so everyone just kept it on the down-low which suited us fine.
Another handy use of our Motorhome when she became our mobile base. All our amenities in one mobile machine meant that we could spend a couple of days at a time working in the garden when the weather allowed. I kid you not, we had to plan our time around which days were cooler! At one point it got to 43 degrees which is not sensible for manual work. I spent one such day weeding a section of the driveway in the shade of the motorhome very appreciative of the rest bit from the sun.
Not long after we had arrived our presence was spotted by the locals! Shortly after Louis arrived.
I don’t have a picture to share here so I will need to paint you a verbal picture.
Knarley hands of a grafter and twinkly eyes of a grandad. More agility than a mountain goat but a slight limp and unsteadiness on foot (the balance between the two remains a struggle he won’t be beaten on). A kind smile and genuine attention is given. Knowledge and experience that only the gift of age can bestow. Happiness to help others. The font of all local information. Everyone knows Louis! A small man in stature but a large man in heart.
The first visit was a little bemusing, trying to explain that we don’t own it yet but we will soon.
I should also say that Louis speaks absolutely no English! (After a few visits we did receive a ‘very good’ with thumbs-up gesture when I feed him custard cream biscuits and baileys coffee).
His reason for stopping seemed to just be to check us out. Make sure that we were not up to no good! We were thrilled to have met a local!
The visits continued twice a week in the warmer months and once a week in winter. We talk about everything from the local births, deaths and marriages to the weather and planting tips for the garden. He even happened to be here during a wood delivery and gave the driver a hard time when he wanted to drop the wood anywhere other than right next to our wood store! He is fascinated with what we are doing here and always wants a tour and an update.
We genuinely look forward to his visits. We get to practice our French and he is incredibly understanding and helpful with the language he uses and the speed he talks. Never hesitating to explain further (talk slower and use simpler words!) when our faces cloud with confusion.
He is a thoroughly nice guy and we are seriously lucky to have a Louis in our lives.
An aspiration for Dan and I when we decided to move to France was to try and assimilate with the French population. Living close to lots of other ex-pats has its perks for sure (being able to speak English to the Gynaecologist is a serious bonus!) but we want to speak French, we want to live ‘French’ and finding Louis is a real blessing for us. Our English world is accessible if we need it but it’s nice to be able to choose – almost like a comfort blanket – security if we need it but trying to live without.
Within a few weeks of meeting Louis, he had taken us under his wing and ensured that we knew about all the social things happening locally. We were so lucky that in August and September the Covid restrictions permitted some gatherings and Louis made sure we were there. On his table no less!
It quickly became apparent that Louis table was the largest at each event and filled mostly with non-French people. Belgians, English and French all introduced by Louis. It’s almost like he made a conscious effort to try and give us our own group and was happily sat in the middle of it with a content smile on his face.
Without Louis, we would have already missed out on so much here. He is a gem!
The reason that I wanted to tell you about our Louis (aside from how ace he is) is that he has an incredible story to tell.
I confess that my knowledge of his story is 2nd hand and I have yet to have the full conversation with him about it but little things he tells me 1st hand ring true and it’s fascinating.
To digress slightly and so to explain my particular fascination – With extra special thanks to my Grandad Lawson. My Mums Dad sadly passed a very long time ago when I was only 18 years old and yet in my relatively short life with his influence, I became fascinated with all things World War 2. He made sure I fully understood what happened and talked openly with me about it. I wanted to learn more and studied history through to A Levels.
Louis was a small child and living in Normandy during the war. After the War, his family moved south to the Lot & Garonne in the 1950s to take over a local farm. There was a shortage of hands to work the land and Normandy had suffered so badly during the liberation it was a path many families took.
As a child, Louis used to cycle his bike from one village to the next to visit his Uncle. A small boy could bend the rules a little more than an adult in Nazi-occupied France. He was oblivious in his childish innocence.
What’s interesting here is that this Uncle he visited was no blood relative. And Louis little bike was not so harmless!
The story goes, Louis father was a member of the French resistance and each day would secrete messages into the handlebars of Louis bike and send him off the see his ‘Uncle’ in the next village.
One day I hope Louis will share his story with me himself but for now, this tale gives me goosebumps and I hope it rings true. I am confident his tale is mirrored throughout France and its rich military history is yet another reason my heart belongs here.
The story ends with a small explanation as to why Louis befriended us (and not the French family that moved in next door a few months before us!). We are English and we speak English – ‘we’ liberated him from the German occupation. ‘We’ set his family free. The more people we met here to more often we hear about Louis love of anyone that’s English (this also applies to Americans and Canadians incidentally). He goes out of his way to help us, to engage us and to share with us.
What a guy!
I am humbled by this one-man welcome wagon and feel exceptionally lucky to call him a friend.
Turns out Spring hadn’t arrived! In the past couple of weeks we have seen more rain than the region has experienced for a generation. Flooding records suggest that the level of the river Lot has only been higher twice before on record – since 1900
I have been reliably informed that if ‘the French’ are talking about how bad it is then it MUST be bad! The below photo is from the Police at Marmande – the flood alert is now at Red and many roads are impassable. Its currently flowing 10 meters higher than normal!
We have been quite lucky so far with our property sitting on higher ground but the water table is so high and the ground so waterlogged that our gardens and drive are very swampy. More rain is forecast so we shall see what happens next!
Still, on the upside is means there is plenty of time for inside work (of which there is LOTS still to do!) and Dan’s business is really getting going now which is ace!
We knew from the very start that our life in France would only be possible if we both earned an income in addition to the potential earnings from the Gite. During our research we had heard terrible stories of folks moving out here planning for the income from one gite to enable them to survive for it all to go very wrong!
Lucky for me – I married a wonderfully gifted engineer!
Dan’s experience and education does not allow him to work in France as an ‘Engineer’ (yet another peculiarity of the French system) but he is permitted to operate as a fixer of all domestic appliances. This could be anything from fridges and washing machines to lawnmowers, hedge trimmers, power tools and bikes.
We suspected that this may be a gap in the market over here especially now that people are more aware of their environmental impact and preferring to repair than buy new.
Turns out Dan has found his ‘calling’! He has always been intrigued with how things work and has been known to buy broken stuff just to try and fix it. The challenge! The constant learning is something he thrives from. Since December we have been advertising once a week in local Facebook groups and through that and word of mouth (with some amazing supporters locally) he is receiving a steady stream of enquiries and jobs. L’Atelier de Coulx was born! The workshop of Coulx.
Its quite lovely to hear the customers positivity about my wonderful Dan! He is a bit of a star really but I am biased! ?
The Gite renovations continue and I am almost done with decorating the whole of the upstairs! A bit of a mammoth task with double height ceilings and beams everywhere! We have always tried to be hands on with any property development we have done and it’s serving us well now! There is always something new though and this week I used the power of Youtube to teach myself how to lay a new floor in the family bathroom of the Gite! The only slight issue we have is getting the new bathroom suite up the stairs. I thought I was being clever by getting a thick reinforced shower screen for the sexy new walk in shower. FAIL! It weighs 80kg!
The good news (according to local folk law) is that Spring won’t be much longer to arrive as the Crane’s are migrating north again. We are on the migration route as they go South to winter in Northern Africa and apparently when they head north again it’s a sign that the season is about to change. I have to say that their migration is magnificent. If you don’t expect it though it can be quite a shock! Flocks 100’s of birds strong flying very low and making a real racket! Like honking horns! Not nearly as noisy as the sonic boom last week but still impressive!
As we are not far from the coast and the military training grounds, we quite often see fast jets fly past. We think they may be using the windmill as a locator which is pretty cool!
Our importing activities for the Hymer continue…the admin is endless it seems! We didn’t pass our test last week with flying colours but the issues that need to be fixed are totally manageable which is ace! We have one last hurdle to pass.
Enquiries are coming in for the Gite which is hugely gratifying to know that folks are genuinely interested in renting our product. Until now it has been a huge gamble really. There is only so much research you can do for something like this before you just have to wait and see. We have so many plans for this place that it should only get better!
We met a financial advisor last week to just make sure that we had everything in order and are as tax efficient as we can be. She asked – what’s your retirement plans? It’s an important question to ask and actually this is our retirement of sorts. We will probably never be able to afford to stop working completely but that’s ok for us (all physical constraints of older age to one side which need some future proofing to protect for). Our mental and physical health is better than it has been for years. If we need to continue to do this until we die that’s ok for us because its infinitely better then the path’s we were on 5 years ago. Its early days for sure and I am absolutely sure we will have to adapt on this journey as we grow and learn. Here’s to making every day count! Happy Wednesday folks!
The week where we fell in love with a view, became confused by a bathroom suite and I fell off my bike! At least our weeks are never dull!
It’s May 25th and this week for the briefest of moments I met a lovely lady who was celebrating the start of the next chapter of her life. Having just blown out some 60+ candles on a recent birthday cake she had decided the time had come to move back to ‘Blighty’.
As ever on this journey its the people we meet along the way that provides us with the priceless experience. It’s a gift that Dan and I didn’t anticipate that fills a hole we didn’t realise existed!
The passing comment she made “I don’t want to grow old here” firmly lodging itself in my brain. A thought for my future consideration perhaps as I reflect how fortunate we are to be free to live in the moment we are creating. Covid restrictions permitting obviously!
I wondered seriously for the first time what our ‘old age’ might look like. If perhaps in 20 years time we might also be looking to return to England?
Some folks come to France for a pre-defined number of years, some move to scratch an itch or experience a different way of life. Some come for a while and stay forever while others arrive and leave in the blink of an eye.
I know which one I hope we will be!
It feels like there is an equal number of people leaving France right now as there are those trying to get here. I imagine it’s always quite transient with ex-pats but perhaps the political and world health situation is focusing minds more?
I heard this week that there is a spike in Parisians and those in major cities buying property in the countryside. People want a back garden if the next Covid arrives! Historically old country houses have been the prey of the international arrivals with ‘locals’ preferring new builds within easy reach of amenities. Maybe times are changing?
As Macron announces more de-restrictions to Covid lockdown starting on June 2nd there is a real feeling of life starting the return to the new ‘normal’.
The housing market is also waking up. One agent told us that this week alone they have sold 5 houses! Foreign buyers are starting to arrive for viewings and if I am frank there is a little worry bead starting to form that our unique opportunity may be starting to wane.
We are under no illusion how fortunate we are to be able to view property when the majority of the ex-pat buying population is stuck on the other side of the borders. Until now it felt like a blessing! The de-restriction whilst encouraging, has also started a countdown in our brains. We must see as much as possible before our ‘competition’ arrives! It’s an odd kind of self-applied pressure!
It goes without saying that the effects on the property market are significant but seem minor when compared to those of the holiday industry.
We have so many friends now that own Gites or B&Bs that are seeing huge losses with cancellation upon cancellation. Its hoped that Macrons encouragement for the French to plan to holiday at home this year will help but it certainly focuses the mind!
A great many of those who are now seeking to book holidays in France are favouring private access and private facilities to limit their exposure to others. The talk of cleaning requirements has gone through the roof on social media as rental owners try to keep up with expectation and demand.
It’s partly due to this situation that we started to see if there could be a mutually beneficial arrangement to be made. A few gite owners preferring to secure a long term rental and a set income over the uncertainty of the holiday market.
I need to just point out here that there are legal & tax ramifications to a Gite owner changing the use of their accommodation to long term rental so please be aware that it is not a simple swap.
Interestingly this avenue also identified for us that there are a lot of property owners that can’t currently maintain their homes and gardens do to the closed borders. A business idea is forming…watch this space!
We need to rent in France to help our case to remain at the end of the year. Being a motorhome dwelling nomad is great but without an address in France that we can call our own, we would struggle to tackle some big steps required to reside here permanently.
Just the little things like opening a bank account or buying a car need an address. We also need to register our business asap so we can start to make some money and replenish our savings.
Renting (either furnished or unfurnished) in France is a bit of a minefield and many of the major agents won’t even consider you if you don’t have a job contract and a bunch of french paperwork to prove who you are.
We fell into a category of not being legitimate enough to easily rent via normal means but wanting more independence to support our right to remain (bills in our name ) than most holiday rentals could offer us.
Just to clarify – the ‘bills in our name’ comment. Ultimately most things can be done in France if you have a utility bill in your name. An EDF electricity contract is a great one and can be used to prove your address. Another option is the Tax Foncere in your name although EDF is slightly easier.
After a lot of searching, we found a great place near Duras that ticked all the boxes. As it happened we found a solution that met all our needs and helped another person out! Win/ Win! We pick up the keys this week and can move in at the start of June!
A huge plus point of viewing houses in our motorhome is that we carry around our conveniences! If we need to wash our hands after a particularly grubby explore of the loft space or put the kettle on to wait for a late agent we can!
I mentioned above about reality and the adverts not always being aligned. The pattern continues this week…
We have reached the stage now where we fully expect the property to not really match the advert. The bones marry up but the detail is often different. Its a huge realisation and actually changes the way you house shop virtually.
Its not a very easy thing to account for when trying to narrow down the properties that you want to visit so you avoid wasting everyone’s time. You do, however, become familiar with your market and price point after a while so we have gotten quite good at predicting if there is going to be anything wrong before we arrive.
If its too good to be true then it probably is! Simples!
We have modified our search approach this week to try and take into consideration the ‘description effect’ where the faults are rebranded as ‘features’. Aka the airy ambience is code for drafty!
The development tax concern remains for us and its also partly due to its potential impact that we have also made some adjustments to the sort of property we are looking at.
Its been a useful chance to re-evaluate what we are searching for now that we are a couple of weeks into the physical search and we are armed with more information than when we started.
Our ‘shopping list’ is pretty well defined now. As is our focus/ priorities in terms of where we feel comfortable spending money materially e.g we understand building costs better now and are confident that we could estimate a realistic refurbishment cost should we need to.
As I sign off for this week I want to leave you with the bathroom…and me falling off a bike…
Until next week! A special thanks to our wonderful group on Facebook that despite our recent absence have been checking in with us regularly to make sure we are doing ok!
Find out what happened last week here
Apparently it’s not at all normal for someone to consider the Zombie proof defences of a property as a selling point?!? Who knew!
A standard conversation that Dan and I have is about the concept of ‘prepping’. Prepping is a lifestyle approach that’s pretty big business in the USA but in short its the process of future-proofing yourself for a whole host of possible eventualities.
These future scenarios can range from one extreme to another. Apocalypse and total loss of world order at one end of the spectrum and failed harvests/ contaminated water supply at the other.
As with anything some folks take this to a whole other level and build bunkers in their gardens with air filtration systems and stockpile years worth of food – ‘just in case’
Dan and I are not quite that extreme but I won’t lie…I would love my own bunker! I mean, why not?!? How cool would it be!! Also just to clarify, Dan is mostly just entertaining my occasionally ‘out there’ brain thoughts and we are NOT buying a bunker!
Our level of prepping is more about food stocks but I fear that may be less to do with self-preservation and more to do with my general love of food and fear about where my next creme egg might come from!
Anyhow – Today we went to see a property that would a be perfect ‘end of the world’ house! Should we need to hunker down and defend ourselves…big electric gates/ high walls/ middle of nowhere/ own water source… Its ideal!
I feel the need to add here…we didn’t go and see this property as a result of its potential zombie defences! It was just a happy coincidence!
Note to self: this intro may be exposing our readers to a few too many of my inside thoughts…lets test it and see what happens! 🙂
It did, however, get me thinking more about self-sufficiency generally and a huge part of our new lifestyle choice is to afford ourselves the time and freedom to become more self-sufficient. High on our wish list for the perfect home is its own water source and fruit trees.
Sadly the Zombie house (all houses now have nicknames so that we can differentiate) is not quite what we are looking for. Perfect is so many ways (we are only joking around about the zombie thing just in case you hadn’t picked that up yet…) but not quite right in so many others.
Such a shame really because it happens to be the same house that is indelibly marked on my heart as the place I rescued an owl!
The little fella was not happy about being locked in the house so I scooped him up and took him into the barn on the property where he flew happily back to his perch.
I could have quite easily gotten carried away with this house (I love Owls and who wouldn’t want their own resident owl!) but Dan and I have worked out quite a good system of talking through each property sensibly. Dan does still need to peel me off the ceiling every now and then when I get a little too excited about a property before fully understanding it.
Although I am sure most people can relate to that!
Seeing your future self living the dream life before fully embracing the cold hard facts like the entire house needs to be rewired which will cost more than we can afford IF we also want to remove the terrible peach bathroom suits! These are the new kind of life choices I need to make!
This week sees the house shopping continue as we pursue the elusive ‘dream house’ but our list of what we don’t want/ need grows daily which is helping to focus our minds and search.
Another useful thing we have been doing of late is leaving the motorhome at the house we are viewing for a few hours (subject to agreement from the agent) and exploring the immediate area on bike/ foot. It can be eye-opening what you find! It may even explain the price of some properties!
One such exploring session saw us put a note in the next-door neighbours letterbox to see if we could have a general chat about the area. Within 24 hours we had been invited around for a socially distant cup of tea and a good catch up!
Apart from being a lovely experience to hear about their lives and the local community the conversation also identified a current water issue in the area which required some further investigation!
It seems that a house on our shortlist does not currently have drinkable water and the utility company provides bottled water (sporadically) to the houses impacted!
Incidentally, the agent and the local Mairie profess to know nothing of the contaminated water issue! Our investigation continues…
We are getting to know this local Mairie quite well actually as they are also helping us with some queries we have regarding something called a development tax.
The French Development Tax – requires some further investigations which are ongoing but the concept was identified to me on a French forum as something to be aware of. In short, the government can charge you a tax to develop.
We will report again on this at a later date once we understand things a bit better (hopefully) but it could be as much as €750 per square meter and would potentially be applicable to a big barn we are looking at which is next to a lovely old house.
Given the barn is over 100 square meters that COULD be a lot of tax! Preliminary investigations seem to suggest that the local Mairie could potentially void the liability? Its another foray into the world of French bureaucracy but may be a deal-breaker!
Still at least we are aware of it before we buy and not afterwards!
The discovery of the possible tax impact got us thinking again about our property search strategy and pointed us in the direction of sales which require renovation instead of development to try and bypass the possible issue.
Obviously we may well get a lovely email from the Mairie shortly that tells us we won’t be liable at all! We shall keep you posted!
On the off chance, our budget won’t need to fund both the actual development and a hefty tax bill we have pulled together a business plan and mocked up some drawings to see what it might be like!
The benefit of being a buyer (in a past life) and having a father in law thats an architect! Between us, we can measure/ draw and cost the project. Dan does a superb job of quantity surveyor!
We think its quite a healthy approach to make some broad assumptions about costs (assuming the worst!) and length of time until we start to see some income from the development to be able to make some sound judgements about overall feasibility.
The little excel tool (yes! I do love a bit of excel!) I have created means we can modify the inputs and exchange rate and it will tell us how much money we should have left at the end. It’s a sort of affordability checker for us! It’s also quite useful to use when we are considering how much to offer on a property!
We are told that we are a little unique in our buying approach in France. We only have a certain amount of money to play with. No obvious guaranteed income to depend on (inc pensions) and a strict life plan to avoid borrowing any finance. As such we are having to be quite calculated in our shopping approach.
Its a learning curve for sure but having some clear boundaries is really helping us to think clearly and plan for our best possible future here.
Its now May 18th (ish) and since May 11th France has been gradually removing the lock down restrictions. You can certainly tell! The aires becoming busier and the roads are almost back to pre Covid levels of vehicles.
We revisited one of our very 1st stopovers for the evening. Biron Castle (pictured above) is a stunning place and the views from its little perch are glorious.
Having been used to the quiet life our bubble was well and truly burst when we were joined by another 7 French vans over the course of the evening! One trio in convoy set up a little awning party right beside us which was a little annoying to say the least!
It seems the recent rule relaxation about travel is having an effect. Here’s hoping that the number of infections continue to reduce and the situation remains managable!
In terms of our winter lives – Some exciting news came our way this week from the mountains! Not only are we fully planning to return to the same jobs later this year but the company is growing! If you are new to this then you can read all about our winter exploits here.
Effective December 2020 we will have 5 chalets to look after which is an increase of 2! We got some sneak peeks this week of the new accommodations and facilities and we can’t wait to get back over there to check them out!
Drop us a note if you fancy coming to stay in one of the Chalets we look after next winter! I will leave a little photo of one of the new Chalets below as a teaser!
Until next week stay safe and well!
Much love Katie & Dan
France entered lockdown on March 17th at 11:00, 56 days later our restrictions started to ease.
Throughout this unprecedented time, Dan and I referred to our lives in France as being on hold. We embraced the opportunity to pause and reflect. Learning some new skills and dedicating time and attention to the neglected elements of our lives.Continue reading
Week 12 actually started on for us February 29th. Time is speeding by and I am going to have to start to put actual dates to weeks as they blur into one!Continue reading
It’s hard to know precisely how to begin this story.
A good place to start is to just reemphasise that Dan and I are safe and well.
Frankly, it’s taken a couple of weeks to digest what actually happened and even now it feels a little dreamlike.Continue reading
Welcome to pandemonium!
‘Half term’ – The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as '(in British schools) a short holiday in the middle of each term’. It’s typically a time when lots of families take breaks and do things together. February ‘Half Term’ has traditionally been a busy time in the mountains with families doing exactly that, taking holidays in the snow.
Dan and I don’t have kids and it’s been a very long time since we were of school age! Half term as an event therefore has not had much of an impact on either of us. The only obvious thing we have noted in the past is the roads are a little quieter during the morning commute and it was easier to find a space in the car park at work in our old life.
WOW! Things change! Half term in the tourist industry is huge! It’s quite obvious when you think about it but given this is our first real foray into the tourist industry and a seasonal one at that its quite astounding to see the impact on a ski resort when UK schools take a holiday. The links and reliance on each other is almost symbiotic.
Obviously we therefore choose half term week to try and complete on our house sale. Thinking, how bad can it be?!? All the while not really appreciating back in January when we set the completion date that half term week might be a little more demanding than normal. Silly us!
The build up to the masses arriving was quite spectacular. The buzz around the resort was palpable and ‘horror’ stories were being banded around between chalet companies and seasonaires alike about the invasion of the ‘children’ (like they are something out of a low budget horror movie) and super demanding parents.
How the pistes would be so full that venturing out during time off this week would be pointless. Lift queues in the 1000’s. Suspicions that the roads would be blocked for miles due to the volume of traffic and there would be cars and people everywhere. That literally everything would be harder during half term.
To top it all off the French unions chose this Saturday change over day to strike and close off the main route into and out of the mountain. Consequently all our current guests transfer companies have been in touch to pull forward any outgoing departures to avoid the expected traffic jams. I talked a little about the strike action a couple of weeks ago – see here
Arguably the busiest changeover day of the season. The unions chose well in terms of absolute potential impact!
In reality the worst bit about this week was actually the fuss and hype leading up to it!
The guests and the children were ace and it made a lovely change to have some little people floating around the chalets. The joy of a kids face bobbing around in the hot tub with their armbands on is just amazing!
What I failed to appreciate is that while there are a lot of small people out on the slopes the majority of them this week seem to be in organised lessons. The consequence of this is that they are everywhere but all in well ordered (normally) little lines following their instructors like baby chicks paddling behind the momma duck! So cute!!
The other awesome thing about there being so many children around is that the baby ski school that is specially designed ski creche was full to capacity. It takes kids from around 2 years old and honestly I could watch them for hours! With their little legs that don’t bend due to the ski boots reaching above their knees and zero coordination or control -they amaze me!
They also quite often make me chuckle with their absolutely fearless approach. Watch long enough and you will see at least one domino effect as a tiny tot at the front of the line falls down and takes each of the others in the line down with them.
The parents all stand around watching and taking photos and videos of their babies and the ESF staff work so hard to keep picking each of the children up every time they fall down and trying to work out why at least one kid is screaming for no obvious reason.
You will also find a handful of kids that just look totally oblivious to whats going on around them…they get on a magic carpet (a moving walk way that takes them to the top of the slope)…they fall off at the top and get picked up then they point downhill, crash into a barrier at the bottom and get picked up then do it all over again.
I would love to share some photos so you can truly appreciate the cuteness overload but as it’s kids and they are not mine I cant. I will however share this photo and say when ever I see some seriously tiny tots skiing it makes me smile all the way to my ears. Such joy! I love it!
Whilst the kids are safely in lessons the parents certainly make the most of the freedom and I can safely say that this week has been the most worrying on the mountain as so many holiday makers who’s ability level is far less than they believe take long boozy lunches and then try to ski home in one piece. I had to spend far more time on the piste this week looking over my shoulder for threats coming towards me in the form of out of control adults!
Some days it’s just not practical to get out on the mountain to board. On average we can normally get some piste time on about 4 days a week but on the days where we can’t then quite often Dan and I go for a walk.
This week we ventured up to a little nearby village that literally sits at the end of the road. Hauteville has some truly spectacular scenery and no through traffic which makes it super quiet. A little collection of non uniform properties almost all of which are lived in all year round so its got a lovely sense of community about it.
We are no longer home owners in the UK and we now have the capital to purchase in France!
I have to confess I teared up a bit when it actually happened! So surreal to know that we wont ever return to that house again! Its been almost 4 years in the making. Renovating the house and getting it ready to sell then going through viewing after viewing until we found our buyers.
We actually got the phone call while we were in the middle of the weekly Chalet shop at a big supermarket down the mountain so you can imagine the odd looks I was getting pushing a trolly around filled with enough toilet roll, bin bags, hand soap and beer for 32 people whilst crying!
Each chalet does their own food related shop each week and I pick up all the booze, soft drinks, toilet roll and cleaning products. The end result is typically a really eclectic collection of just a few items but significant quantities of each!
This week was 10 cases of beer, 6 bottle of coke, 72 rolls of toilet paper, 60 bin bags, 9 packs of kitchen sponges, 18 litres of washing detergent and a tub of bees wax. The looks I get are priceless and then they see my chalet uniform and just shrug like shopping in this way is totally normal in the mountains!
Our great news deserved a little celebration so that evening we broke out our little raclette grill that I had given Dan for valentines and had a wonderful grilled cheese filled evening just the two of us 🙂
There is no earthly way that I can seamlessly segway from raclette celebrations and the house sale to this wonderful sight but I felt I just needed to share with you all.
What else should you expect to see this week when getting off a chair lift at 2400m?
So we survived half term and it wasn’t nearly as terrible as we were expecting. We sold our house and managed to put the money into a locked savings account before I could get over excited and spend it on random crap. I saw a kilted man ski and we found an assorted collection of post boxes. We ate raclette and we managed to not have any accidents with the alcohol infused parents on the pistes. Pretty good week all round!
To sign off this week I shall leave you with this image. Taken by my wonderful Dan. A glorious evening sky over Les Allues. This week has been good to us and we are forever grateful to those around us whos ongoing support continue to make this adventure possible.
You can find out what we got up to last week by clicking here
Its the end of February! How is this even possible! The season is literally speeding along and we are now in our 3rd month in the mountains and I feel like I blinked and missed it! The more time that goes by the more I feel thankful for writing the blog to remember all that’s been happening!
Its quite interesting to see how life and its priorities change in the mountain seasonaire bubble. How a simple guest arrival time on changeover day can make or break the team.
On Sunday each week I have a meeting with the owner to run through the next guest arrivals. We talk about everything from dietary requirements, ski passes and equipment hire, special requests, bed set ups (singles/ doubles), transfer information and expected arrival time!
I also get to hear a little about the guests themselves. Have they stayed with us before, where they are from and if the groups are mixed friends or small families. Its a great way to get a bit of a head start in terms of what to expect.
Sundays are an admin heavy day as its also the time to balance all the accounts ready for filing – for those that know me well you will remember how much I love a good spreadsheet! 🙂 We track weekly and season spend for each chalet – I find all the data analysis stuff super interesting and consequently create lots of visuals to monitor trends.
Once I have the information for the next check ins I can then break it down and provide each chalet team with the data they need to plan their menus and the working week to best support the guests.
Its also the point at which I get asked the ‘make or break’ question…what time are the new guests arriving?!?
Now. I had no idea previously but my answer to that question and how I present the information can have such an impact on the team moral!
You see, changeover days are notoriously long and physically taxing. The team gets very little down time on Saturdays. If guests are scheduled to arrive early (pre 1pm) or late (post 5pm) the news is typically met with enthusiasm. If however the guests arrive between 1 and 5 then the response is not so enthusiastic…
It basically means that the teams need to hang around in the chalet once the change over is complete and wait for the guests to arrive which reduces their down time and break in between shifts.
This week though I came up with a cunning plan!
It involved me locking myself in a chalet with a good book and a brew.
One chalet this week had a 3pm arrival so to give the teams a little downtime between guests one chalet I swapped with them and took my book and brew and chilled in 5* luxury for a few hours while I waiting for the guests to show up. Its a hard life on occasion! 😛 I am always happy to ‘take one for the team’ and relax on a comfy sofa with a trashy novel…and English TV!
My favourite dietary request so far this season has to be the vegan that would like some turkey on Christmas day! A super chilled guest who turned vegan out of a moral obligation to help save the planet but who’s Christmas Day would not be complete without a slice of Turkey…
Two new things happened this week!
Our new Chalet Host arrived and so I have been re-promoted once again and I got some new snowboard boots after my old ones started to cut off my circulation!
I am fairly confident that no money ever leaves the mountains.
As soon as pay day arrives most of the seasonaires that I know go out and buy new shiny things almost immediately. Thus far I have resisted the urge but alas I could hold out no longer…I am telling myself its an investment!
In all seriousness, I am managing to save quite a lot of what I am earning over here. Aside from hot chocolate, beer and shiny equipment there is not a whole lot to spend your money on. Its still quiet an odd feeling however to be earning about the same amount of money each month as I did in my fist ever job out of university as an inexperienced filing clerk some 15 years ago…
A great addition to the team! It amazed me how many applications we got for the role. What surprised me even more was the significantly higher number of guys applying than girls and how few applicants actually read the job description…
What potential recruits don’t fully appreciate is the time it takes to actually recruit. Reading every CV, interviewing, references…admin generally. Its exhausting and time consuming. Therefore, if you are reading this blog with a view to perhaps doing a season…please for the love of all that is important in the world….read the job description!
You mind find the following tips helpful in your job search:
Its not rocket science but I am learning that job applications are a big thing. An entire industry exists solely to help you get the job you already found and want to apply for.
Something slightly unexpected also happened this week and a Cadbury Creme Egg from the foreign food counter came to the rescue!
Not once since we started this big adventure have I felt ‘home’ sick. We brought our ‘home’ with us when we hit the road in our motorhome in May 2019 and its all been very exciting and hectic since we left. Almost not enough time to even think about what we might be missing.
This week I had a bit of a personal low. Nothing in particular bringing me down really but I was just momentarily overcome with a lack of familiarity. France is our home and where my heart belongs but on a seriously dull day in the mountains where the drizzle blocked the view I got a feeling that I needed something ‘familiar’.
One of my regular tasks is shopping for last minute things that the team needs, normally due to dietary changes (see above Pollo-pesc!). This specific demand resulted in a trip down the mountain to the local supermarket…wandering aimlessly, feeling a bit sorry for myself with no real justification and collecting the bits I needed I found myself in the ‘foreign food’ aisle.
There, like a beacon of light was a wealth of familiar UK food stuffs. Not least of which some Cadbury’s Creme Eggs! Two creme eggs later and a quiet moment in the car park surrounded by no one but radio playing the song Fast Cars (a personal favourite tune of mine) and the cloud lifted and so did my spirits! Folk-law suggests that an apple/ glass of wine (fill in your own here) a day keeps the doctor away…for me it was a creme egg! Its the small things!
That time is now! My Photography was always going to come with us to France but perhaps not in the same vein as was previously. A booking for a wedding in the summer kick started a revamp of my website and bringing back online all the things I loved about my company.
Its so lovely to be visually creative again so watch this space as the website is progressing nicely. Photography is not only my true passion but also a big part of our long term plans over here.
House update…waiting for exchange…its a lot like waiting for paint to dry… we have now been waiting for over a week. Each day the very well paid solicitors and estate agents tell us – “today’s the day”
We continue to wait…but we are very quickly running out of time to make it all work. The delays are unbelievably stressful and having almost no control over the situation is a really uncomfortable feeling. Our families are all lined up in the UK to move us out of our house and into storage, everything is in place and ready to go but we are in limbo.
The past few days have been filled with ‘what if’ conversations. What if we move out before exchange and it all falls through..what if we wait until exchange happens before we move out but then we wont have the resource in place to actually do it and we will have to fly back to the UK. So many what-ifs! It felt a bit like the ultimate gamble with no obvious winning bet.
Whatever option we choose to go with there are financial implications. In the end it came down to a leap of faith that the sale would happen and we set the move out plan in motion incurring all sorts of costs but keeping everything crossed that our leap would not result in failure.
Sometimes you can’t control everything and you just have to go with the flow…many sleepless nights of going with the flow!
Its actually quite odd selling a house and not purchasing another immediately! The chain is broken! The excitement of the next chapter will continue for a good while yet which is ace!
The house hunting in France has ramped up now. We have a spreadsheet of all the properties we have found that we are interested in and they have been ranked against various criteria. I love a spot of analysis! It feels like the number of people searching for property in France has significantly increased recently. All the forums are buzzing with folks that want to move before the end of the year. I am hoping he additional competition does not make our lives harder!
Part of the analysis is all about business potential. We can’t afford to retire yet so whatever we buy will need to sustain us financially.
A huge perk of the winter jobs we are doing is the level of exposure that we are getting to the business side of things. Its a massive learning curve but invaluable. For example the cost of laundry is astronomical! But on the flip side we now know the average catering costs for guests and the sort of food they would expect should we provide catered accommodation in the future.
When we were initially job hunting for the winter season we got talking to a lady with a property in Morzine. She offered us exclusive use of the 10 bed chalet in exchange for a fixed price for 6 months. We would be responsible for selling the beds and providing any services to the guests but we would keep any profit left after she had been paid.
At the time we felt it was a bit beyond us given our level of experience and didn’t want to wipe out a large percentage of our savings on something totally unknown so we opted out. Turns out that this is quite standard practice in the mountains. Not many chalet companies actually own their accommodation – they lease it from the owners for a fixed term/ price contract.
Also turns out that this way of doing business is on decline due to an over saturation of properties in the mountains and a reduction in independent chalet companies. The new offering is a profit share scheme where the financial liability is shared between the property owner and the business owner. All quite fascinating and yet another insight that would not be possible without working in the industry.
We still have so much to learn but each step brings us closer to our forever dream and we hope you stick with us on the journey!
Much love Katie & Dan
You can find out what we did last week here