Living the dream en France

Living the dream en France.

I hope these interviews are not reaching too many of the same people! This one is targeted at a rural audience. I will move on to new pastures soon, I promise!

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Newstalk radio interview about life in France and A French Renaissance?

Nice to speak to Shane Coleman on the Sunday Show (Newstalk, 1 Feb 2015) about life in France and A French Renaissance? The interview is available here.  

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Dreaming of a move to France? Here’s your wake-up call

Published in the Irish Times, 29 January 2015

Dreaming of a move to France? Here’s your wake-up call.

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Interview with Eamon O’Hara, best selling author of A French Renaissance?

Sarah Paddle Swim

By @SimonCocking


Well done on writing and getting the book out. Was it a labour of love or a more tricky proposition along with kids, work, and house refurbishments.

It was a labour of love in that I always wanted to have a go at writing a book but it was also a tricky proposition in lots of ways. I really enjoyed the writing process. I’m happy to be alone with my thoughts and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to get a story into print, but finding the time to write was a major challenge. I was still working full-time, we also had to contend with the maintenance of a large property and property renovations, and we had two young children, so I didn’t have a lot of spare time.

I tried to keep Saturday mornings free for writing but this didn’t always work out either, and then…

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The community café

France Sept 2014 008

Anyone who has read A French Renaissance? will be aware that in early 2014 we were involved in the setting up a community café in the village where we live here in France. Well, I’m delighted to report that so far this little venture has been a roaring success. The reaction locally has been amazing and everyone has really got behind it. Lots of people have told me of how they had been waiting for something like this for many years. In a village where there are no shops, bars, restaurants or other services, there is a real appreciation of this, albeit modest, effort to bring some life back into the heart of the village.

For the moment the café, called La Gariotte, is open on the first and third Friday of each month (run exclusively by volunteers). During our most recent opening (Sept 5th), two local residents, Jérôme and Estelle, came long to play some music. La Gariotte abu!

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My top 5 tips on moving to France

Every day this week I will post one of my top five tips on moving to France. This is based on my own experience of moving to France with my family in 2010, as documented in more detail in A French Renaissance?

Tîp 1. Think carefully about where you want to live

If you want to live by the coast then you should not be property hunting in the Dordogne or the Auvergne. Choose your region carefully, taking account of your budget, interests, goals and expectations, especially in terms of climate, but also  in terms of other factors such as accessibility, amenities, and employment or income prospects. We decided on a region that is far enough south to have a good climate (in theory!), where property prices were not exorbitant, but access is definitely a weakness and something we did not give enough consideration to.Once you have decided on a region or regions, then you also need to think about the kind of locality you are looking for. Many people are looking for something within walking distance of a village (but not in the village) where there is a bakery and a café, and near enough to a larger town or city, with supermarkets and other services. If this is what you’re looking for, remember, there are only so many such places in France and you may not find something that meets all of your other criteria in such a location. We found a nice house, within walking distance of a village, near a big town with supermarkets and all other essential services, but there is no bakery or café in our village. It was a compromise we would have preferred not to have had to make, but still necessary, so you have to be prepared, and know your limits.

Tip 2: Rent before you buy

It is very difficult to property search when you live far away from the area you plan to move to. Mostly, you’re restricted to looking at websites, which often only advertise the properties that are more difficult to shift. The real gems are snapped up quickly and often never make it to these websites, so it is important to be on the ground and available to view properties at short notice and maybe even to hear about properties before they come on the market.

Probably the best time to view properties in France is outside the main tourist season and in general tourist accommodation (especially gites) can be rented at very reasonable prices in this period. Rent on other types of long term rentals can also be good value, especially in the more rural areas, so take advantage of this to spend time in the area and explore the property market up close before taking the plunge!  

Tip 3: Think long and hard about what kind of property you want/need 

 You will obviously have some essential requirements, but also certain desirable but non-essential criteria. Identify these and be sure you know the difference between the two, as it is almost impossible to find the absolute dream property, so you will need some inbuilt flexibility. If the property that catches your eye includes some of your non-essential features, or if, as is often the case, it includes features that you hadn’t even considered, be careful – additional land or a bigger house than you expected seems great in principle, but in practice you need to think through the implications of this. What will it mean in terms of the additional workload to maintain the land or the additional rooms, or what additional costs will you incur for heating, fencing and other ongoing costs, and how much more property tax will you have to pay? You may find that these additional features are more trouble than they’re worth. 

Tip 4: Learn the language

This might seem obvious but I am continually amazed at the amount of people I meet who are living in France and barely speak a word of French. If you want a reasonable chance of integrating and managing your day to day life without the constant need for someone to speak on your behalf then you need to speak French. Even if you don’t attain fluency, try to have a reasonable grasp of the language before you move. By this I mean you should be able to understand people who make an effort to speak to you slowly and clearly, and be able to hold a basic conversation. This will help you to integrate, to negotiate officialdom and, importantly, will provide a basis to further improve your language skills once you are in-situ.

Tip 5: Don’t underestimate the financial requirements

Be sure you have enough money for the move and for any renovations or other work you need to undertake. Get quotes from local people and allow for unpleasant surprises, as they always materialize. On top of this, you need to know where your ongoing income is going to come from, and be realistic, not only in terms of your income estimates, but also in calculating what you will need to live on. France is more expensive that you might imagine! So, once you have identified where the initial investment is going to come from, and your source or sources of ongoing income, you’re pretty much sorted, right? Wrong, chances are you have still underestimated the investment needed and overestimated your earning capacity, so you need a contingency – a back-up plan in case, as is likely, things don’t materialize as you expect.

Our contingency was the possibility of me being able to work from home, so at least we had a fall-back position when the renovations costs escalated and when it took longer than expected to get our gite business up and running. But this was not part of the master plan. I was supposed to scale back my work. Looking back now I can see that we probably overinvested in living space and underinvested in income-generating space and because of this, attaining our financial or income goals was set back by at least three to four years. If I hadn’t had a job I could carry-on from home, then our plans would have been in disarray. 

One last work, and maybe this should be treated as a separate tip, but I’ll include it here anyway – don’t lose sight of the important things in life, like relationships. Since we moved to France I have been stunned by the amount of people I have met who are separated or divorced and who put their relationship problems down to the stress of the move. Moving to another country puts enormous strain on any relationship so try to minimize this by taking heed of these five tips and also by making time for family and relationships. 

Otherwise, don’t go! 

If you haven’t adequately addressed each of these five issues, my advice would be, don’t move to France. The highways and byways of rural France are littered with the shattered dreams of overzealous expats who misjudged, miscalculated or never really considered the complexities of living in a foreign country.

If the fundamentals are right: if your relationship is strong, if you have enough money, and decent language skills, you have a good chance of succeeding. If not, well, don’t give up on the dream but maybe think about how to you can sort these things out before you cut loose. 

Bon chance!




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Gentle and amusing memoir

I’m really delighted with the reviews I’ve seen so far for A French renaissance? This is a particularly insightful one from the popular French Village Diaries blog:

I especially like the line: “I can honestly say I have never read such an emotional chapter about tractors. Ever!” I guess in some way we’re all just boys, trying to be men!

But I’m also glad that Jacqueline, the reviewer, finds that, “The Lot region really shines from his descriptions, so much so it made me want to plan a visit.” It really is a fantastic and largely undiscovered region of France that deserves more plaudits.

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Local (anti) hero!

Not sure how my reveal-all book is going down with the locals, but the regional newspaper, La Depeche, seems happy enough, for now at least… But I really need to get some more photos taken..

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Radio what’s new….

This is an interview about A French Renaissance?, life in France, and some other dark secrets that I reveal for the first time, with Noreen Donovan at RadioX (a station targeting the international community in Belgium). Not sure I’ve nailed radio interviews just yet, but I think it’s ok for an amateur. You can listen to the full interview here:

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Following a romantic notion to France

(Published on the Irish Times website on 23 June 2014)
A question people often ask me when they hear we moved to the south of France is: are you glad you moved, and did it work out as you expected? My answer is basically yes, we’re glad we moved, but no, it didn’t work out anything like we expected. In fact, in many ways it has been the polar opposite.

Looking back now I think our expectations were too high. We had a romantic vision of how our new life would be, which was a great motivator, but the reality is very different. I’m not saying it’s all bad, just different.

The catalyst for out move was the birth of our children, Ned and Astrid. My wife Tanya and I were living in Brussels at the time, having moved there from Dublin in 2001. When you have kids everything changes. You start to reassess things and you find yourself moving into a new phase of your life where your needs and outlook are different.

We had often dreamed about moving to France but it never really felt like the right time until the kids came along. Then it almost seemed like the obvious thing to do. We wanted them to grow up somewhere they could feel part of a community, which wasn’t possible in Brussels. But we also wanted to have time to spend with them, and to pursue some of our own interests; things that had gone on the long finger for far too long.

At the time, we also thought about going back to Ireland but it just didn’t seem like the right thing for us. We love Ireland. Tanya and I both come from Bagenalstown in Co Carlow and in many ways we still consider Ireland to be our true home, but France had that romantic allure, the promise of the idyllic lifestyle that we often dreamt about. We had to give it a go.

And so in early 2010, we took a deep intake of breath, resigned from our jobs, sold our house and set off to start a new life in the Lot valley, an incredibly beautiful, but also very rural and sparsely populated part of south west France. It was a risk, but one we had to take. If we hadn’t, we knew it would be something we’d regret for the rest of our lives.

Interestingly, from the moment we announced our intention to move to France I could sense there was a real curiosity among our families and friends. I think many people just empathised with our situation. The kind of society we have created and that exists in most big towns and cities today is hard on people, and especially hard on families. It can become a treadmill of earning and spending, leaving many people feeling detached, stressed and unfulfilled.

This is one of the main reasons we moved and also why I decided to write a book. We were trying to get away from all of this and it seemed like it might be worthwhile to try and document our experience for the benefit of others.

The book goes behind the scenes to tell the story of our move and our first two years in France, including: our struggle to find and acquire the property of our dreams; raising the finance we needed and our ongoing financial concerns; adjusting to life in a strange land and our stand-off with a local French farmer; integrating into a new community; the joys and challenges of living in the countryside, including some strange wildlife encounters; property renovation nightmares; launching a gîtes and chambres d’hôtes (B&B) business; the strains of the move on our relationship; and the valuable life experience and lessons we learned along the way.

It has been a real roller coaster. Every day threw up new surprises, which made it exciting but also quite challenging at times. Making a new life in France took longer than expected, it was more difficult than expected and the reality is completely different to how we had envisioned it. But we have grown and matured and learned to be happy with what we have.

When I listen now to the kids speaking French, when I see Ned O’Hara lining out with the local football team or Astrid O’Hara singing (in French) with her class in the village school, or Tanya serving in the local community café we helped to establish, I realise just how far we’ve come in a few years.

Would I do it again? Yes. Would I do it again if I knew what I know now? Yes, but differently.

Eamon O’Hara is a writer and consultant on European affairs. A French Renaissance? has just been published by Orpen Press, and is available to buy in Irish bookshops and online on Amazon (worldwide) and the Orpen Press website

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