Cloudless Blue Skies
French estate agents, like any other, are skilled at marketing the properties on their books. They aim to seduce prospective purchasers by displaying photographs taken in full summer of picturesque country houses nestling in sleepy hamlets beneath cloudless blue skies. Judging by the thousands of expat Brits now living in France, this strategy has been highly successful.
It’s true that the summers, particularly in the South of France, can be truly wonderful, and every bit as glorious as the estate agents’ photos suggest, but if you were just judging by the photos, you would be surprised to learn that it does actually rain sometimes in France, and when it rains, it rains! And when you get a thunderstorm, it can be truly spectacular. The trouble is it frequently knocks out the electricity and the broadband!
The winters in France can be bitterly cold, as my husband and I discovered when we arrived in the North Dordogne in February 2001. Looking back now, we were terribly naive. Leaving a cosy centrally-heated British home for a 300 year old converted barn was quite an education, to say the least. In fact, it was quite a shock to the system.
We knew that the house didn’t have central heating, but it had been lovely and warm both times we’d viewed it before buying it. The previous owners had kindly left us one old log burner and a small supply of wood, otherwise I don’t know how we would have managed. We simply hadn’t imagined how cold it could be.
Not Up to the Job
Unfortunately for us, the poor old log burner wasn’t up to the job of heating such a large property. Since the house had been empty for a month prior to us arriving, it was like living inside a giant freezer. No matter how much wood we piled on to the fire, it made very little impact. In their chilly state, the 3 foot thick walls of the old barn acted as highly efficient heat storage units, sucking in the meagre warmth from the fire, while our teeth continued to chatter. It would be a good week or so before they were sufficiently saturated with heat and prepared to spare any excess for us.
No Home Comforts
Add to all this the fact that our furniture and belongings had yet to arrive from the UK, it was a pretty miserable initiation into French life. There were no little comforts like a hot water bottle or electric blanket to take the edge off our misery; not even a rug to protect our extremities from the icy chilblain-inducing tiled floors.
We’re Still Here
Being eternal optimists, this experience didn’t get the better of us. We were determined to embark on a new life, and it would take more than a bit of cold to deter us from our ambition.
We now have healthy respect for the seasons. There is a clear delineation between each one here in France, and each has its own charm, even the bitter cold winter. The secret of being able to appreciate that lies in being prepared.
I suppose the moral of this story is that you shouldn’t imagine that just because the summers in France are warmer than the UK, the winters will be as well. Southern France is not protected by the Gulf Stream.