Creating a new life in the South of France
“We’re natural outsiders…”
I caught up with Twitter buddy The Pink Agendist about life in the South of France.
How long have you lived in the South of France?
We moved to France in December of 2014. We rented a little cottage smack in the centre of the country, outside of Bourges, and used that as our base for house-hounting. As we work from home, there was nothing tying us to any particular area, so we were open to moving anywhere in France that met our needs.
What took you to the South of France?
We had some very particular criteria. We’d been talking about leaving Spain for quite a while. Sotogrande, where we lived, went from being a small charming community of a few hundred homes to a place where 40,000 tourists come through every year. That wasn’t the sort of lifestyle we were into at all, as both of us had chosen that region of Spain when it was still off the beaten path.
At the beginning of our search I was inclined to more dramatic change. I pushed for somewhere on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. At first Mike, my partner, indulged me but ultimately he didn’t want to leave Europe — because of the conveniences, the health services and all that. Also, he wanted to live somewhere where we already spoke the language, and that narrowed the choices down to five countries in Europe.
Why did you choose Mazamet as your home?
I did a very, very nerdy comparative study of towns and villages in France. We wanted to find a balance between a reasonably peaceful country life but where we still had access to every service we might want or need. We’d both lived in isolated places before so the idea of one little shop in a village which sells bread, chicken and also rat poison was not something we wanted at this stage of our lives. The hustle and bustle of a city was also not on our list.
Mazamet combines being in the Haute Languedoc Natural Park with having a population of around 18,000 people in the Canton — the town and surrounding areas. That means we’re in a gorgeous valley with green landscapes and mountains everywhere you look, but we’re also a small market town with every type of service one could want. Supermarkets, shops, open markets on Saturday morning, and very charming farmers’ markets through summer and winter. There are restaurants, a cultural centre with a cinema, a museum — we don’t feel isolated or left out in any way.
Was it easy enough to settle into a small village?
When I started researching Mazamet, one of the first things that came up was a beautiful bijoux hotel called La Villa de Mazamet — it happened to be owned by a British gay couple, Mark and Peter. I emailed them before we arrived and they were just fabulous. They helped us with everything — gave us the rundown of where to get what and how, and even put us in touch with the people we’ve used to do up the house.
Mike and I are natural outsiders, so I don’t think we’ve ever felt like locals anywhere, but Mazamet is certainly our home. I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else. I love everything about it.
What makes the South of France a great place to live?
We’re in a very special part of the Southwest. One that’s still very much the ‘real’ thing. We’re also an hour-and-a-half away from the nearest major airport — in Toulouse — that means we’re insulated from mass tourism. We only get visitors who are interested in the bucolic lifestyle a place like Mazamet has to offer. There are beautiful pink and orange sunsets, some of the most beautiful clear starry skies I’ve ever seen, and wonderfully clean air.
The weather is also fantastic. We do get all four seasons, and our autumns are more often than not Indian Summers, which is lovely and my favorite time of year. Between January and March it can get very cold and there can be snow, that’s when we enjoy a nice big brandy by the fire.
What are some of the down-sides of living in the South of France?
The good points are double edged swords. Having to pick someone up at the airport in Toulouse can be a nightmare. There’s often horrendous traffic. We were once stuck in a bumper-to-bumper jam for over three hours.
The winters are colder, longer, and wetter than people imagine. No sitting outside with a gin and tonic in late January. You might get concussion from hail the size of cricket balls.
What hints or tips would you give to someone visiting the South of France?
Avoid the usual tourist traps as they tend to be crowded and overpriced. There are extraordinary gems to be discovered. The brick cathedral in Albi is glorious. The Goya museum in Castres is as small as it is wonderful. The Montagne Noir — the Black Mountain — which I see from my bedroom window is an exceptional bit of entirely un-spoilt nature.
What are some of the things that you’re currently getting excited about?
I’m very excited about finishing the major renovations in our house! If all goes to plan, we’ll be back to having a completely functional house in the next few months.
What are some of the things that you’re currently getting angry about?
Like many, I find the current political climate in the world profoundly depressing.
What are some of your priorities for the remainder of 2018?
After finishing the house, there’ll still be some important landscaping work that needs to be done in the garden, and then I’m going to take a few months off to just relax and enjoy this new life we’ve been trying to put together.