‘People seem intrigued by an Irish couple leaving beautiful Ireland and starting afresh in foreign climes’

Jennifer Simpson on moving to rural France later in life and opening a guest house

“So what brought you to France?” That is probably one of the most frequently asked questions from the guests of our chambre d’hôte here in the heart of rural France in Charente.

People seem genuinely intrigued by the idea of an Irish couple, who are no longer in their first flush of youth, leaving beautiful Ireland and starting afresh in foreign climes. Invariably we say it was the lure of a gentler pace of life and the hope of taking a step back in time, so to speak.

We consciously don’t mention the exorbitant cost of living, the high cost of surviving in Dublin and the high-speed rat race it has become. All of that is incredibly stressful.

We arrived in France in April 2023, having been here no less than eight times over the previous 12 months in search of our perfect house.

We had looked in various parts of the country, but we stumbled upon that perfect house almost by accident after a plethora of viewings where all the properties seemed to merge into one.

We then discovered a beautiful 15th-century house in the village of Nanteuil-en-Vallée. It is known as one of the “petites cités de caractère”, meaning a village with a variety of attractive features, and Nanteuil has many.

After several nail-biting months of back and forth with contracts on both our own Dublin property and the French house, we finally exchanged in mid-May and sailed into French life with gusto.

Life in France is quite different from life back in Dublin. The very quaint, but time-consuming, habit of writing cheques in supermarkets here and queuing patiently without losing our reason, nearly drove us to distraction. The most frequent response you get from shops and tradespeople here is: “It’s France ... It will happen!”

Living here for four months now, we have accepted it and have decided to find it charming. We now shop “mindfully”.

The two-hour lunch break favoured in France can be delightful and infuriating depending on what you’re doing

Following a very busy initial six weeks, we had our large guest room available to let and welcomed our first visitors towards the end of July. Our second bedroom was up and running two weeks later, much to the amazement of the local populace, and we have been busy with a variety of guests to date, which is incredibly satisfying, as well as lucrative. We have also discovered that the Camino runs right past, and we have welcomed quite a few pilgrims on their way to San Sebastián in northern Spain.

To get to this place so quickly was a crazy and an amazing adventure. Between trying to organise social security numbers and health insurance, we had to deal with a swarm of bees (100,000 approximately), a hornets’ nest and the HEAT! Nearly 40 degrees every day is no joke, and learning to shut ourselves away in the cool of the house and to work in the early part of the day before it gets too hot was a learning curve.

But we got there.

How do we feel after uprooting our lives, saying goodbye to our family and friends, closing our dog-minding business and starting completely from scratch in a very different environment?

Pretty good, actually.

Although both my husband and I are suburbanites, and used to the hustle, bustle and anonymity of the city, we are adapting to village life and all that it brings, with no buses and shops that seem to open randomly. The two-hour lunch break favoured in France can be delightful and infuriating depending on what you’re doing.

We were delighted to receive regular morning visits from our lovely French neighbours who presented us with baskets of home-grown produce from their gardens

We are awoken by the sound of the neighbour’s chickens, and lulled to sleep by an owl in the local woods. We also have a family of rather small bats living in the eaves above the garage door, who disappear into the dusk each evening and keep the mosquito population in check.

We miss things such as chocolate, Irish tea, crisps, the local pub and all the little things that you realise make up your everyday life. But friends have been wonderful and boxes of urgent supplies of such items arrive regularly to keep us sustained. We couldn’t live without our Barry’s master blend.

Having said that, we are very lucky that our village contains two excellent restaurants, a bar with live music and a local shop with a wide variety of local produce and everyday supplies.

Speaking of food, we were delighted to receive regular morning visits from our lovely French neighbours who presented us with baskets of home-grown produce from their gardens. Tomatoes, courgettes, figs, apples and walnuts are among the delicacies we have been given, and this is a great sign of acceptance into the community. We reciprocate in kind when we can.

It is very different here and we both felt quite homesick for a long time. Even with images of rain and wind back in Dublin, it’s still home.

But home is where the heart is, and this is truly a wonderful place, with glorious countryside, ranging from acres of sunflowers to vineyards and wineries, rolling hills and also flat plains that seem to stretch forever. There is a surprise around every corner. Literally.

We feel incredibly lucky and feel that we have achieved a lifestyle here that was beyond our reach in Ireland.

  • Jennifer and Alex Simpson, who are both from Dublin and in their early 60s, live in Charente in southwest France. They left Ireland in April 2023 and moved into their house in May. They started a chambre d’hôte business and have been accepting guests since July.
  • If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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