In early 2014, we decided to start looking in earnest at France as the destination for the next chapter in our lives.

We instantly found Leggett Immobilier, award winning estate agents specialising in UK buyers looking to re-locate to France.

Astounded by what is available within the budget we had in mind, we frantically started to add properties to our ‘wish list’ and the bookmarks folder filled up on our iPads. Through the winter months of 2014, the Sunday morning ritual became an hour of coffee drinking in bed with iPads focussed fully on Leggett and mortgage calculator sites.

This then lead us to discovering the publication Living France Magazine Between browsing Leggett, reading Living France magazine and their sister publication French Property News, we became almost instantly obsessed with the dream of relocating and setting up our new business in South West France.

Colin & julia Douglas Usher with Becca & DougieWe have and do live a very nice wee life in the countryside of East Lothian in Scotland, but we have recently felt the need to move on, have an adventure, meet new people, see new sights, experience new tastes and of course, engage in new challenges.

Relocating to France and setting up a new venture holds all the necessary prerequisites for my idea of a wholesome and fulfilling life; learning the language, driving on the right, having to slow the pace of life down, discovering exciting new opportunities and recharging our general joie de vivre.

The first scouting trip, 24th to 28th Sept 2014

We had seen a marvellous property in Saint Maurice pres Pionsat, a lovely village near Pionsat in the department of Puy-de-Dôme of the French region Auvergne.

The property was a 3 bedroom house with adjacent 2 bed gite with a huge barn ripe for studio space. This place encompassed all we dreamed of for our new home and business in France. The space, location, atmosphere, climate and feel seemed, from the website, to fit.

We decided to go look at this property and a few others so jumped onto Ryanair’s website and started to plan our first trip.

A good friend of ours, Sue, has lived in the south of France for many years buying, renovating and selling properties and she kindly offered to put us up for the first night of our 4 day whistle-stop tour and impart as much useful information as she could with us regarding our plans.

This lead us to flying to Bezier and planning one night in a quaint wee hamlet near Villespy, not to far along the A61 from Carcassonne.

Our first day was a bit stress-led relating to the unfamiliarity of driving on the right hand side of the road and the grapple with the car’s unreliable SatNav.

We did however, get there without a scratch on either of us or the hire car.

Needless to say, a wine fuelled catch up ensued over hearty homemade meal and some very pidgeon French spoken with her boyfriend made our first night in France rather appropriate in theme.

We discussed vehicle registration, home renovation, integrating into local communities and many other aspects of becoming a proper Francophile and truly expatriating with style and respect.

Julia Douglas Birthday GirlThe next morning saw us set off to drive to Toulouse then head north towards the dream home for a nosey. The drive was to take us most of the day and we’d booked into the Hotel Combrailles in Saint Maurice pret Pionsat.

Just before we left our wee cottage one very dark September morning bound for Edinburgh airport, we’d learned that the status of the house we’d been coveting (and were about to visit) had been changed to ‘Under Offer’.

After the initial sinking feeling faded, we decided to stick to the plans we’d put in place. This way, we could test whether our instincts were right from what we’d researched and seen online.

We made it to Saint Maurice Pret Pionsat after a very long drive up the country on the toll roads, the scenery was great of course but a slight panic on the distance and lack of time made for a pretty intense day. Lesson learned – don’t try to pack too much into a day in France… slow down… take your time… lentement, messieurs, dames!

It was, however, Julia’s birthday so we managed a 4 course meal, a few beers and some local wine with our lovely hosts Pat and Nath.

Julia and massive dogHere’s a shot of Julia with their awesome massive dog! (Didn’t quite catch his name).

Next came Sleep!

The next morning, Day 3, we decided it would become Julia’s belated birthday due to the previous day having been rather fractious at times stuck in a wee car for 8 hours or so.

We awoke, showered, dressed and went downstairs for le petit dejouner. before embarking on a walk around the village which took us toward the outskirts of town to see the aforementioned dream property…

Before reaching our destination, we were met on the road by the most quintessentially French French Man we could ever have wished to meet. (see pic). We chatted for what seemed like 15 minutes. He knew no English, we spoke very little French but there was a lot of laughing, hand shaking and we discovered that there were 5 UK families living in the village, 2 of which were Scottish. Apparently the kids had picked up French very easily. I’m really not sure how we managed to get all of this info from the conversation but it gave us hope and encouragement that the language barrier was not going to be as much of an obstacle as we’d previously presumed.

One more handshake and we were walking backwards waving to this lovely wee man knowing fine well we’d have to come back down the same road so would probably engage in ‘le conversation douzième’ in a wee while.

The one that got away with Colin UsherWe turned a shallow corner, past the quaint road sign and there it was, in the bright morning sunshine… the one that got away.

We were nosey, nobody had moved in yet so it was fine… after 10 mins of breathing in the situation, we looked at each other with ‘damn, it would have been perfect’ faces, had a wee cuddle and walked back down the road chatting about how we could, at least, trust our instincts on this sort of thing (and with relief that we really do have very similar tastes).

‘le conversation douzième’ did of course happen as ‘wee Tam’ (again, I can’t remember his name so Wee Tam seemed appropriate or Two Cows Tam as he soon became known) approached us on the road as we passed his farmhouse. He’d seen us from a distance and I can swear he pretended to tend to some flower boxes on the road-side of his house so that he would be poised right there for the second round with us.

Two Cows Tam in Saint MauriceAs you’ll see from the photo, the result was amazing… he insisted that we take his photo with his cow. This adorable wee man made us feel so welcome that we were now also convinced that the French are an accommodating, friendly and curious bunch. A final handshake, a bonne journee and we were on our way.

That day we viewed another property locally with a very charming and helpful Leggett agent, Alison Brettell, before driving across to Clermont Ferrand. A welcome night in a city with good food and a bustling atmosphere was had and the next day we set off for the longer journey south to Pezenas for a final evening before our flight back to Edinburgh.

PezenasOur night in Pezenas brought our fact-finding trip to a close in an appropriately chilled fashion. A lovely walk around the ancient town followed by a few beers and a luscious meal in Restaurant Le Saint Roch. We were pleasantly surprised at the savings we made on fuel costs so splashed out for this final extravagance in style (Julia’s birthday was stretched out for yet another day!).

On arrival home, I sat and uploaded some images from our trip to Facebook. I posted the following message which I think sums the trip up nicely:

 “Merci, France, we are still in love with you”

Bientot plus… More soon…