Nancy, it has been lovely connecting with you. Thanks for participating in my occasional series, ‘Australians in France.'
Can you tell us about yourself and your French connection?
I spent most of my life until now living in Australia but took a big mid-life leap last year to come and live permanently in France. In my own defence, there was some logic to the decision. For the previous few years, I had been working for the Alliance Française (a French language and culture centre) and my husband is French. But the real decider was that I fell utterly in love with a crumbling farmhouse in Provence. It was La Santonne that signed the deal for me.
You have bought and are renovating a property (La Santonne) in France:
· Do you live in France or spend some of the year there?
I live there…or to be more exact, right now I live in a mobile home in front of our house La Santonne.
· For many, choosing to buy in Provence would need no explanation, but why did you choose Revest-du-Bion?
If you are someone who believes in the power of the stars, then I would answer that I was led there by them. But the more rational answer is that a real estate ad landed in my inbox, I took one look at the photo of the property, was lovestruck and found myself on a plane three days later headed for France. In the meantime, I had discovered that La Santonne is actually in the town where my father-in-law was born. Some would say it “was meant to be.” My husband calls it “la Providence.” It does read like a fairy tale and I’ve written the whole story in my blog that I’ve just launched.
· What advice would you give to other families who dream of buying their own special place in France? Do you have any practical tips regarding the purchase process? What do you wish you had known before you signed for your French home?
It’s really important to be in contact with a notaire – a French conveyancing lawyer – before starting the purchase process. There are English speaking notaires in Australia who specialise in helping Australians buy in France. So I highly recommend tracking one down in Australia and making contact before going to look at property in France. I also organised a surveyor to check the structural integrity of the building before I made an offer. He was quite some guy … I’ve written about Monsieur Pierre in my blog.
· Was your intention always to renovate in France?
Kind of…but not to this scale! The house hasn’t been lived in for 26 years. It is officially uninhabitable and we are undergoing a huge renovation to bring La Santonne back to life again. Frankly, it’s much more than I expected to take on. But I fell in love at first sight and threw caution to the wind! That said, we had always intended to buy a property large enough for us and to set up an AirBnB to welcome guests to the region, so we had known there would be some renovation required…just not this much! It is quite a project and you can follow the unfolding renovation on the La Santonne Instagram account.
· You plan to welcome guests to enjoy your French life. Can you tell us what they can expect?The motto of La Santonne’s logo is “Discover the good life in Provence!” and that is exactly what we offer. We can show you where to go for good food, good wine and good company as you relax in the stunning surroundings of La Santonne. Guests will be staying in the old Shepherds House, which is at the West end of the La Santonne looking out to the Mont Ventoux, often with our ponies grazing in the foreground. This fully self-contained space will have a woodburning stove to cuddle up in front of in the winter months and a fully equipped kitchen so you can cook with the regional organic produce we can arrange to be delivered to your door.
Our part of Provence – high on the Plateau d’Albion and in the midst of lavender fields – is off the beaten tourist track. We offer a more authentic experience of Provence life where farming is still the predominant activity and tourism hasn’t overtaken the landscape. The local markets are a riot of colourful produce and the surrounding countryside is incredibly diverse – everything from rocky mountain ranges to gorges with aqua blue rivers running through. My husband Patrice grew up in Provence and knows all the hidden spots only the locals know. We can share these with guests through our bespoke itinerary service where I put together a program based on clients’ interests. These can either be self-drive itineraries or guests can take advantage of the fully guided service. This is where I act as chauffeur and interpreter meaning that guests experience the real Provence by being able to chat with the locals and truly relax by not having to drive on the winding roads of the region. An extra glass of wine at lunch won’t be a problem! This is the real way to safely get off the beaten track and discover the real Provence.
To give you an idea of what the experience is like, here is a testimonial from one of my recent full-service tours:
“The beauty and history of Sisteron, the majesty of the Gorges de la Méouge, the richness of Valley de Touleronc, markets in Banon, a picnic, morning tea in an organic bakery known only to the locals (I can’t give it away), exploring perched villages and walking in the shadow of Mont Ventoux are what I chose and only some of what Nancy’s tours offer. It was an unforgettable day and I would never have discovered half of these perfect places without Nancy’s guidance. A magical experience!”
Do you speak French? I talk frequently with families who feel that their French would not be sufficient for either living in or buying in France. What are your thoughts about the level of language required?
Yes, I speak French close to fluently…although the gender of all the nouns is still a weak point! It has definitely helped having a level of French enabling me to talk easily with the locals and make friends. That said, I don’t think my level is necessary for people not living permanently in France. For those intending to buy a holiday house and spend chunks of time there, basic French is enough to get by, especially if you are in areas where many people speak English (not mine!). But for a truly authentic experience, I do feel the more French you have, the more you can engage with the world around you and truly connect with the culture and people. And as someone who used to run a French language school, you can’t expect me not to encourage people to learn the beautiful language of French!
I love to hear of different village traditions and stories. How have you adapted to life in your village and your village to you?
I live opposite a tiny village of just 400 people and have become known as the Australienne with the huge black dog. Standard poodles are surprisingly uncommon in France and so the pair of us make quite an impression apparently! At the same time, given my father-in-law was born in the village, I often get told by locals “I knew your father-in-law”…even the mayor mentioned this to me when I went in for the official visit that is customary when one moves into a village. He then added that they used to hunt regularly together and gave me a big smile. So it’s like I’m half an alien and half a local.
One little thing that I love in village life is the clock bell that rings at every hour and half hour from 5am to 11pm. I feel it accompanies me throughout the day. It’s a steady presence that reassures by its regularity and tradition. It’s probably been ringing for centuries.
If you can’t live in France, what do you think is the best time of year to visit? Apart from your wonderful place in France, do you have any favourite French villages or towns that you would recommend to other families?
I would definitely say May and June are my favourite months where I live. The beginning of spring sees the wild flowers blooming all through the fields and the previously bare tree trunks and branches push forth an amazingly rich array of shades of green. Everything seems to glow. The word stunning seems hardly to suffice.
Although Provence is home, there is another region of France that remains close to my heart: Alsace. In the north east and on the border with Germany, this area has a very different architecture and culture to the rest of France. It’s famous for its Christmas markets resplendent with colourful decorations, mixed spice Christmas treats and little wooden cabins selling all things perfect for the festive season. I spent 3 months living there with my children and we all have such happy memories of our winter in Alsace.
Can you tell us just one thing that makes your life in France special?
The feeling that life is beautiful here. When I wake up to the pink glow behind the Mont Ventoux, or sit with a coffee in the bustling market at my local town, banter with a stall-holder, or put the world to rights with the farmer I buy my hay from, then at the end of the day gaze out across the lavender fields with a glass of wine in hand …I feel there could be no more beautiful way to live than here.
Thanks so much, Nancy. Your comment "the feeling that life is beautiful here" resonates completely with me and I'm sure it does too with my readers.
If you would like to follow Nancy's journey, discuss a tour or enquire about one of her two apartments for rental (beginning in 2024) Nancy can be found on Instagram. Her blog, more photos and details can be found here
I look forward to staying in touch and thanks again for sharing your French life with us.
Catherine's books (including her books celebrating her French-Australian life) below.
The links should take you to where you need to go, wherever you are in the world, to make a purchase.
Merci mille fois