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A view from Normandy.....

....not only is it definitely foreign, our village contains aboulangerie (of course), 2 epiceries, a boucherie and 7 or 8 restaurants.  And all in a place of 600 souls....

I have spent most of my life avoiding buying a holiday home. I have always thought them to be a tie, an expense and a worry.  I have also balked at the complexity of getting there. I know a number of people who bought somewhere on the end of a cheap RyanAir destination only to find that the local airport closed and their journey to their holiday home then took 24 hours.

So, after my wife and I went on a wonderful cycling holiday to Normandy in 2009 it was with some trepidation that I agreed with her to buy something there. We decided that we would be no further than about 2 hours drive from Calais (this was to allow us to drive there on a Friday night – there are ferries to Normandy but they are interminably slow). This gave us Picardy and Upper Normandy to look at.  The terrain is much more interesting by the coast in Normandy so we ended up looking there. We registered online and at a number of estate agents and looked at around 50 houses. We made an offer on one, and it was accepted. A huge house with about 5 acres of unkempt grounds and outhouses, and for under €200k! However, bizarrely it fell through because the owner died and the heirs accepted a different offer.

In hindsight, this was very lucky. The house was lovely, but it would have been a full time occupation restoring and maintaining it. In the end, we went for a more modest home on the cliff side near to a lovely little coastal town 20 km to the west of Dieppe. 

Normandy is not the most obvious destination for a holiday home – the proximity to the UK means the weather is similar, but it's also on the North Coast so the sea breezes tend to make the place colder.  However, it certainly has its charms. The first is that it is definitely foreign. The charms of a cottage on the coast of England are many, but you still have a local Tesco nearby and Boots in the town.  Although things have converged over the last 50 years, France is still very different from England.  In our village there is a boulangerie (of course), 2 épiceries and a boucherie. Added to those are some 7-8 restaurants or eating places, including one Michelin mentioned.  And all in a place of 600 souls.  This is because we are pretty well the nearest seaside to Paris, and the Parisians flock there at weekends and holiday seasons. 

Which brings me to the second charm of Normandy – we are actually liked there.  Unlike in the rest of France, the Normans see the Brits as part of the family (remember 1066 and all that) – and best of all we are not Parisian!  I am fortunate to have lived and worked in France, so I can manage in French, but they are kind and generous on the whole to those who can’t as well.

The other wonderful thing is that we aren’t dependent on the one RyanAir flight a week to get there. There are ferries, trains, tunnels and all are accessible from London in a maximum of 8 hours and usually nearer 5, although recent border controls are lengthening this. [Note to someone somewhere:  Here is a real process improvement opportunity, border controls!]

There are some downsides of being in a foreign country though – understanding the tax rules, currency exposure, the need for local mobile phones etc. Also just understanding things like house prices. In general, in France, the price of the house is dependent on its floor area (surface habitable).  This has the unforeseen consequence that nobody much invests in bathrooms or kitchens as they do not get reflected in the value of the house. For those of you who have read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” you will already be prepared for the fun in dealing with the local tradesmen.  Whilst we didn’t have a lot to do on the house, we had to (inevitably) put in a couple of modern bathrooms and do some outside works. I think we are on our 4th year of works now – for something that could normally be completed in a few months. Now some of that is definitely our fault, because we are not always on hand to push or to answer questions. However, some of it is the joy of French tradesmen.

Overall though I have to say, despite early trepidations, the house has brought us and the family much joy, and I recommend the enterprise to anyone. Do ask me about it when we meet, and I will regale you with the latest maintenance stories or dealing with family guests. But don’t be put off.  I am so glad I wasn’t.




Liveryman Andrew Miskin