Needle in a haystack

We’ve known for ages and ages that we wanted to have a place/life in rural France. For us, France is nicer/bigger/quieter/more beautiful than Britain. Britain is lovely obvs, don’t want to be disloyal and all, but IMHO, France is even lovelier. Nothing to do with all that wine or anything.

So once we made up our minds to make it actually properly happen for real, our first dilemma was ‘where do we even start to look’. France is BIG, people.

Price. That’s where, to be frank. Even though we have extravagant dreams of that perfect rural French property, we have a petite, petite budget and we aren’t selling our UK home anytime soon as we need to live in it for a while longer. So, back to price. And also creating that checklist of the 5-10 (20! 30!) key ‘must-have’s’ that most of us have in our dreamy heads. Important things like: space, rural, quiet, near village, not near big roads, <14hr journey, views, character, turrets, etc, etc. (And I’ll come onto financial things in subsequent posts, I promise).

Being a ditzy dreamer, I started internet-searching for properties well over €100k and found loads of gorgeous possibilities. Way too much choice – it seems as though rural France is awash with 1000’s of beautiful, crumbling, old stone farmhouses and barns just waiting for us to rescue them and make them gorgeous again. I’d mentally moved into half of them, imagining my idyllic life in a rural French smallholding with chickens, goats and a golden stone house with charming, rustic decor!

Searching for French properties is bewildering and can make you go a bit la-la. Keep at least one foot firmly in reality-land, otherwise you will end up being very sad looking at all the delightful properties that you cannot afford!  It’s also frustrating to see just how many lovely old properties have been abandoned to rot away. To property-challenged Brits, it seems a crying shame.

Anyway, back to searching. Husband had a quiet word with me about fiscal reality and I adjusted expectations. Which is how we ended up isolating our search to Limousin ONLY! No slipping into Midi-Pyrénées or Auvergne or wherever. Nope. Kept it focused.

Turns out, Limousin is not only lovely, but its properties are among the cheapest in France. So we thought, ‘why not here?’. We want lovely and we need cheap. Searching on loads of immobilier websites really helps identify what you want, what you don’t and what you can actually get for your budget. We soon found that there are beaucoup de fantastic properties well under €50k in Limousin. And this area has all the French lifestyle, charm and history you could ever need.

Narrow down your property shortlist (be ruthless here). If a property does not meet every major requirement on your checklist, then forget it. Otherwise you’ll end up with a shortlist of around 103 properties which just isn’t practical. And try not to sneak a peek at properties out of your selected ‘zone’ – unless you want to be totally distracted and lose focus. This is a major project, come on!

We searched online for many a month, watched every ‘Place in the Sun’ on France, and eventually narrowed things down to Limousin, then narrowed it down further to the Corrèze department. All this research really helped because when we started to visit actual properties, we agreed a sale on ‘The One’ on Day 2. Yes, Day 2. Sounds reckless, but because we’d been focused – searching and narrowing it down for so long – when we drove up the pretty rural track, pulled up next to the old barn and looked at the garden and The View, we got butterflies in our tummies. Didn’t matter that there was no water or power supply, or a fosse septique. (You can do all that as you go, right? More on this later, when we dig deep into our reserves of fortitude – and modest savings).

And in the spirit of this ‘full disclosure’ blog, here’s our list of ‘Why Corrèze?’ *Takes deep breath*… It’s far enough south for decent weather – journey from home do-able (15hrs) – it’s beautiful, rural and quiet – great scenery – forests, mountains – plenty of good value properties available – near-ish to friends in Bordeaux and Tarn-et-Garonne – a very traditional agricultural community – the protected Parc Naturel Regional (PNR) de Millevaches with amazing walking, cycling and riding trails – quite a few Plus Beaux Villages – history, chateaux, atmospheric ruins – and delicious local cuisine. And to be honest, the property we selected is cute, and seems like a right bargain.

It doesn’t have any turrets though…

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