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French Connections

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  • Discovering the Dordogne, France’s pastoral idyll

    If you love peaceful countryside and scenic views, enjoy walking and boating, appreciate good food and wine, then the Dordogne will delight.

    If you love peaceful countryside and scenic views, enjoy walking and boating, appreciate good food and wine, then the Dordogne will delight.

    Down in the gentle south west of France, inland from Bordeaux, the Dordogne river threads its meandering course through some of France’s most idyllic countryside. The first time I saw Dordogne country, I thought I’d discovered Tolkein’s arcadian Middle Earth..

    Drive along quiet, winding roads through manicured villages, past lush waterside meadows and picture book farmhouses. Turn a bend to see dramatic cliffs or a rocky outcrop topped by a mouthwatering chateau..

    The Dordogne is a great holiday area. The climate is warm and sunny and it’s reachable in a day by car from the channel ports. Main towns like Perigeux, Bergerac and Brantome are small and welcoming, with fascinating markets and museums, arts and crafts. Prehistoric painted caves deserve awed exploration. The countryside is perfect for walking or cycling and the river ideal for canoes, kayaks and slow cruises..

    Country restaurants, from simple to luxury, serve fresh local produce bursting with flavour. Duck’s a speciality, used in confit, cassoulet and foie gras, while truffles are also on the menu. The wine is from Bordeaux or Bergerac, as full-bodied or fresh as you wish..

    Holiday lets in the Dordogne range from quaint village houses and romantic rural cottages to luxury villas and easygoing family farmhouse conversions. The area is ideal for families because it’s easy to combine days by your own private swimming pool and nights around the barbecue with interesting outings and reasonable meals in a friendly auberge.

  • Dreamy holidays in the Dordogne

    dordogneboat

    If you love peaceful countryside, scenic views and picturesque market towns, enjoy walking and boating, appreciate good food and wine, then the Dordogne, our region of the month, will delight you.

    The first time I saw Dordogne country, I thought I’d discovered The Shire, Tolkein’s idyllic pastoral land that time seems to have forgotten.

    The Dordogne is a great holiday area. The climate is warm and sunny and it’s reachable in a day by car from the channel ports. Holiday lets in the Dordogne range from quaint village houses and romantic rural cottages to luxury villas and easy going family farmhouse conversions, most with their own private pool.

    Families love to combine days by the pool with nights around the barbecue, along with interesting outings and reasonable meals of fresh local produce and delicious wine in friendly auberges.

    Main towns are Perigeux, Bergerac and Brantome, all small and welcoming, with fascinating markets and museums, arts and crafts. Prehistoric painted caves and museums deserve exploration. The countryside is perfect for walking or cycling and the rivers ideal for canoes, kayaks and slow cruises.

    Find your Dordogne accommodation and check out our useful guide.

  • In the Press – two unique French holiday lets with a story

    163881 le vieux moulin

    An article in the latest issue of French Property News magazine tells the story of two really rather romantic French Connections gites with a fascinating history. Both properties have been lovingly restored and now their owners invite holidaymakers to both savour the past and enjoy modern comforts - all in the glorious countryside of France.

    A watermill in Maine-et-Loire

    163881 Carol and baby owls 

    Carolyn and Peter Johnson fell in love at first sight with Le Vieux Moulin (above), especially its tranquil location on a small island between the mill stream and the River Thouet, the fabulous views and the regular sightings of kingfishers, herons, deer and other wildlife.

    “The old mill house was re- built in 1846”, explains Carolyn. “We’ve traced it back to Napoleonic times but we know there has been a mill here since the 13th century. Now it’s our home and we’ve made a gite in the extension, which was once a restaurant and space for dances. Couples would get married at the Mairie and have their reception here.”

    Now, after major renovation work, the watermill gite offers guests an enormous lounge with conservatory and French doors to a balcony, along with modern kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

    A Perigordian farmhouse Pigeonnier

    Pigeonnier

    Jerry Shiveley

    In 1989, Jerry Shively and his wife, originally from the USA, decided to retire to France and discovered Le Tondu, a small estate near the quiet Dordogne hamlet of Naussannes.

    “The elderly couple who lived here were self-sufficient peasant farmers leading a disappearing lifestyle,” remembers Jerry. “They wore wooden shoes, there was no toilet and animals were everywhere. The Pigeonnier was full of chickens.”

    The Shiveleys used local craftsmen to restore the Pigeonnier, preserving as much as possible of the original character and materials.  Now it is a beautiful Perigordian cottage gite with its own garden, a bedroom in the tower and outdoor seating under the eaves.

    French Property News October issue is on sale now. Check out more of our Press coverage and read the full article here

  • Introducing Faith - French Connections team member - Wrapping my heart around Paris

    My love affair with France seems to have been conducted in a series of glorious and hugely varied bursts of heightened awareness – an album of snapshots that span decades and miles. At the centre of each snapshot my face smiles contentedly,...My love affair with France seems to have been conducted in a series of glorious and hugely varied bursts of heightened awareness – an album of snapshots that span decades and miles. At the centre of each snapshot my face smiles contentedly, my mind relishes the romance of the language and history, my body relaxes into the freedom of all that space and my senses savour cassoulet, tarte aux abricots and pungent vin de pays. It started long before I set foot in the country. From my first school French lesson, I was hooked. I would surely fit into a place where boys might murmur, ‘Je t’adore, mon amour, tu es si belle.’ When I spoke the language, I became Juliette Greco or a heroine of Francoise Sagan - someone as chic as Audrey Hepburn in Givenchy, sophisticated and mysterious as Paris itself. When would I get to stroll across Pont Neuf with a well groomed poodle in tow? I’ve walked beside the Seine several times now, most memorably in the summer of 1995, madly in love (with an Englishman, since you’re wondering) and blissfully happy watching ducks preen against the Gothic backdrop of Notre Dame. At the Pompidou Centre we ate crepes on the roof and lingered in the Museum of Modern Art, pondering the messages behind its installations; in Montmartre we gazed at mime artistes and invoked the spirit of Picasso; through the lanes of St Severin we found a world of restaurants and café culture; outside the glorious Gare d’Orsay gallery we spotted a flowery straw hat on the ears of a statuesque marble horse; in the Jardin des Tuileries formal pond, boys were bravely launching boats; in the Louvre glass pyramids we spotted architectural reflections of the iconic Tour d’Eiffel. Writing about France for French Connections regularly reveals delightful discoveries and prompts poignant memories. Images crowd in of Dordogne sunflowers, Honfleur sails, the Tarn gorge, Roman Arles – but they are for another time. The City of Light is my first snapshot. Paris, je t’adore encore.
  • La Roque-Gageac in the Dordogne - Photo Friday 3 December 2010

    La Roque-Gageac is one of the most scenic sites in The Dordogne. It is set in a stunning position on the banks of the river Dordogne near Sarlat.

  • New! Fly direct from London City to Brive-Dordogne Valley

    From January 2012 regular flights are in service between London City and Brive-Dordogne Valley airport, operated by City Jet. At present there are two flights a week, on Fridays and Sundays, and a more frequent service will be offered from 23rd March for the high season. The new Brive-Dordogne Valley airport was opened in June 2010 and is located between the towns of Brive, Souillac and Sarlat. London City is located in London's Docklands.

  • Our latest happy competition winners

    The two latest winners have been announced of our competitions with FrenchEntree magazine. We regularly run competitions where one of our fabulous holiday lets is featured full page and readers can win a week in France staying at the property. Watch out for a new one coming up soon!

    Mel B has won a week at Les Bonnets cottage, Domaine de Fumel, a relaxing retreat in the Dordogne. “I can't believe I have won, I am so happy!” exclaimed Mel when we told her the news. “ I haven't been to France for many years and have never visited the particular area near Bergerac, so am really looking forward to seeing the quaint villages. Our first plan is to visit the market on Sunday in the village of Issigiac. We can't wait. It will be my partner’s first holiday abroad in 25 years, and he has never been to France. Thank you so much for your amazing competition!”

    Jan Haldane and her husband will take their prize week at La Petite Maison Devine near Carcassonne. “On a touring and camping trip with teenagers recently, we got lost around Paris and were flooded out of our tent! But we spent a wonderful week in Brittany when first together 35 years ago, so I am looking forward to a more calm, relaxed and warmer trip, and to finding out what all the fuss is about. Everyone I know loves France!

    “We are Canal lovers, and the location is right on the Canal du Midi - so we shall be swimming, walking, cycling and eating some great food I expect.  Also we love to explore old medieval towns and castles, and this location looks perfect for that too. I have bought my husband some conversational French lessons, so he can update his skill!”

  • Reminders of prehistory in Les Eyzies

    Of all the attractions that the Dordogne offers, I had been drawn to this unassuming village in the Vezere Valley. Why? Because Les Eyzies de Tayac is France's centre of pre-history.

  • Romance and Valentines in France

    As Valentine’s Day approaches, our thoughts turn to hearts, flowers and spring. France is to me the ideal destination for a romantic break.

  • The Dordogne is back!

    Thirty years after the English first discovered its rolling hills and beautiful houses, the region is once again in fashion. It is hardly surprising the English love it: it looks just like home, English is spoken almost everywhere, there is more sunshine and properties are a third of the price...

    Thirty years after the English first discovered its rolling hills and beautiful houses, the region is once again in fashion. It is hardly surprising the English love it: it looks just like home, English is spoken almost everywhere, there is more sunshine and properties are a third of the price. The countryside is stunning, the houses magnificent, built in limestone that is reminiscent of the Cotswolds. And since the budget airlines started flying in four years ago, the demand for property has spiralled.

    According to Jérôme de Chabaneix, an estate agent with Orpi, France’s largest chain of agents, prices rose by 50 per cent last year alone. “This is more or less due to the English,” he says. “Seventy per cent of my clients are foreign and of them 90% are Anglo-Saxon.” In his newly refurbished office in the picturesque town of Lalinde, he explains that nowadays most buyers are cash buyers and that they’re almost all after the same thing.
    “They don’t even have to sell their houses in the UK,” he says. “They just release the equity and then come looking for old stone houses and space. Most of them have a budget of around €300,000 and are moving here permanently.”
    De Chabaneix says that only 25% of his English clients are moving to the Dordogne to retire.

    So what are they doing to make a living? Simon and Karen Colebourn, both in their 40s, moved to the medieval village of Eymet in January 2003 and now run an internet café there. They bought the whole property, including a 375 square metre ground floor space and four bedroom apartment above with two terraces for €100,000.

    “I like living here because it’s like England 50 years ago,” says Simon. “Having said that we have kept our home outside Bath just in case.” Simon and Karen had a holiday home in Brittany for 16 years before they moved to Eymet. “Then suddenly it all just came together,” says Simon. “The partners in the PR company I was working for decided they would be better off without me, I had a minor heart problem, the children were at the right age to move and the business opportunity came up.” The property they bought was an old grain store and was completely derelict downstairs, although the apartment above it was habitable.

    They spent six months and around €70,000 renovating it. “We have a good mixture of clients; French, English, Spanish and Italian,” says Simon. “A lot of them come down from the Buddhist retreat nearby where there is no internet access.”

    If you are moving to the Dordogne in search of a job and you don’t speak any French, then Emyet, or Little England as it is also known, is the place to be. It seems one can manage there without so much as a ‘parlez vous anglais?’ The local newsagent says he sells more English newspapers than he does French, Nathalie, a French girl working in a computer shop called MCD Informatique (owned by a Brit) says 80% of her clients are English. “But most of them don’t speak French,” she says.

    “It is amazing that some people have been here 35 years and still don’t speak any French, you certainly couldn’t get away with moving to England and not learning English,” says Simon. “The locals are really receptive considering it’s like a re-invasion of south west France. Having said that 15 years ago Eymet was run down and forgotten. Thanks to the influx of foreigners it’s booming.”

    Kevin Walls bought the English grocery store there and so far is doing a booming trade. “I just got fed up with the government and the rat race over in England,” he says. “It’s a great way of life here.” Walls has both English and French customers and says the most popular thing is Walker’s Crisps. “I have renamed the shop Le Magasin Anglais, it used to be The English Shop, which I think was a bit unfriendly towards the locals. All the other shop owners have welcomed me with open arms and people come from two hours away to buy their bacon and shredded wheat.”

    His house in Norfolk is stuck in a chain but once it is sold his wife will join him. “We’re looking at some places in the countryside,” he says. “We’ve found some nice ones for about €180,000 with three to four bedrooms. Basically places that if you picked up and put in Kent would cost you half a million pounds.”

    Most Brits that move to the region are not looking to set up a business but rather to do up a stone house, rent out part of it as a gîté and live in the other part. It’s a formula that has worked for years.

    Jane bought her nine-bedroom farmhouse in 1989 for £175,000. She has since spent thousands of pounds doing it up. “One thing people don’t realise is that the cost of renovating here is much more than in other parts of France,” she says. “And that is because the demand is so huge.” For example, the cost of renovating a classic Dordogne stone roof is around £300 per square metre. Builders working for cash charge between €150 and €200 a day. “That can quickly add up to €1,000 a week,” says Hamish Eadie. “Not an easy amount of money to find if you’re not working.”

    Hamish Eadie was made redundant from the city in 2000 and moved to the medieval village of Beynac on the Dordogne River with his wife Xanthe and two sons Gus and Rory. They bought a restaurant business and have spent the last four years serving the French and English that live in the region with vegetarian alternatives to the local fare of meat and garlicky potatoes. The business was a huge success, but Hamish warns those thinking of moving here to start a business not to underestimate the difficulties setting up in France. “The French do love a tax,” he says. “And you end up paying 60% social charges on anyone you employ. Having said all that, we love it here and are looking for our next big project.”

    Stephen and Carelle Sherwood moved out just over four years ago. They sold their house in the New Forest in 2000 and bought a 16th century manor house built by King Henry IV. They decided to leave England mainly due to the ban on hunting that they saw the government pushing through. “I have been hunting since the age of four,” says Stephen, a former master of the New Forest Foxhounds. “It was the Bournemouth protest that made me realise it was time to leave. We had a pilot arranged to fly with a protest banner in front of the hotel where the Labour Party Conference was taking place. The police said if he came within a mile of the hotel he would never fly again. It was this heavy handed approach that made us decide to get out.”

    Stephen and Carelle got out a map of France and the French hunting yearbook. They pinpointed the greenest areas of the country and those with most hunt kennels. They settled on the region around the Forêt de la Double close to Périgaux and paid £230,000 for their house along with 100 acres of commercial woodland. “We moved out with our hounds, horses and peacocks,” says Stephen who is now running an equestrian property consultancy while doing up the house. “I was going to start fox hunting but the hounds have started hunting wild boar and are enjoying it enormously.”

    Carelle loves the way of life in France. “We lived in the New Forest for 27 years,” she says. “But towards the end all you could hear were the lorries changing gear as they went up the hills. Here I wake up every morning to the sound of bird song. It really is totally stress free.” Stephen agrees. “I have no regrets. My French is coming along, although I must admit getting the permis de chasse (hunting permit) was a bit of a challenge. I have only been back to England twice in four years, once for the Countryside Alliance March and once for my son’s wedding.” 

    The relentless stream of newcomers does not seem to be slowing down. But one downside with the influx of Brits is that there are now almost no classic old stone houses to be had. “Stone and space is all the English ask for,” says de Chabaneix. “They are going to have to start looking at alternatives soon.”

    One couple that has done so is Nina and John Parr who moved to Villefranche de Lonchat three years ago. Villefranche is a bastide founded by Edward I around 1280 situated between the Isle and Dordogne Rivers, 38 kilometres from Bergerac. John is a builder and Nina runs a property business. “We have bought a plot and are going to build our own home,” says Nina. “In fact we’re going to build three and sell two. It seemed the best option for us, especially as we can do most of the work ourselves.”

    Another option is to try the neighbouring region of the Lot. There are plenty of stone houses, even more rolling countryside and prices are much lower. But there you’ll have to learn to speak French.

    Ten things you (perhaps) didn’t know about the Dordogne

    It is the third largest département in France
    It is the second most visited region in France (after Paris) with more than two million visitors a year
    It is the wettest region in France
    It is made up of the Perigord Blanc, Noir, Rouge and Vert. The four represent limestone, black forests, wine and greenery respectively
    It is part of the Aquitaine region of France
    It has a population of 400,000
    Ryanair and Flybe fly from Stanstead, Bristol and Southampton to Bergerac. In 2001 16,000 passengers flew into Bergerac. In 2004 this figure increased to 200,000
    It has 1001 castles
    The two most popular town with the Brits are Riberat and Eymet. British population estimates range from 20% to 50% in each.
    It is extremely hilly. Make sure the property you’re looking at gets the sun all year round. A lot of them are shielded by hills or castles.

    Integration, integration, integration

    Your life in France will be much easier and more fun if you integrate. The first thing to do is to learn the language. Obviously courses are useful, but you should try to immerse yourself in French whenever you can. Listen to the radio when driving around, not the pop channels but France Culture, France Inter or France Info. Watch French television. Remember that the French sometimes come across as arrogant and unfriendly, most of the time they really don’t mean to.

    Be patient, even when they are being unfriendly you can get round them. When I first moved to our village, there was an old lady who used to glare at me every time I drove past her. I decided to ignore her unfriendly attitude and smile and wave. After about a month she started waving back and is now always delighted to see me.

    The one thing you should remember is that the French, particularly in rural areas,
    are often friendly and approachable. They warm towards people who make the
    effort to integrate and get involved in local activities. Shopping at local shops - rather than at Supermarkets – not only gives you a chance to get to know people and practise your French, but scores big Brownie points for supporting the local tradespeople.