The French connection
VIDA Egan, from Ballinfull in Sligo, moved to France (via London) with her husband, Michael, in 2005. They run a charming chambre d'hote in Bordeaux. They have two children living in Britain.
"I lived and worked in London for many years. Ireland had changed so much during that time. People weren't as friendly as when I lived there. They seem to have made money their god. Living here in the countryside in France is like living in Ireland in the '60s. When you go out on your bike or for a walk, everyone you meet or see greets you, neighbours are always giving you things, such as fruit or vegetables, and have always got time for a chat. And the crime rate here in the countryside is very low. Over the years we visited many parts of France, and Bordeaux had just what we were looking for.
"We are about 10 minutes' drive from St Emilion, which is a beautiful medieval town, and exactly half way between Bordeaux and Bergerac airports. There are three Irish pubs in the city of Bordeaux, an Irish restaurant and I know lots of Irish people living near us. The French love traditional Irish music and most of them have a similar sense of humour to the Irish.
"We set up the chambres d'hotes to supplement our pensions and it is also a way to meet people. My advice to anyone considering moving here is: make sure you do all your homework and whatever your estimated cost, double it, as there are many unforeseen problems here, especially if you buy an old house."
After completing her degree in communications in 1995, Natalie Gleeson, originally from Nenagh in Co Tipperary, left Dublin for France to live with her now-husband, Stephane. They own Grow Your Wine, a vine row rental company which allows members to enjoy wine harvested from their very own vineyard. They have two girls: Jess, 6, and Ella, 3. Jess is in a French-speaking school and Ella is in a bilingual nursery school. They live in Paris with regular visits to Vendee where their wine growers are based.
"I've been in France so long now that I've gotten used to all the things I may have found strange initially. I suppose the greatest culture shock was over silly things such as queuing up: the French are very undisciplined and will often try to skip a queue. Also, the amount of time French people spend on meals: it's not uncommon to spend three or four hours on a meal at the weekend with friends. When I first came over this was a big shock and now I do the very same myself!
"We set up Grow Your Wine in July. We choose Vendee because it's an area that we know and love. Laurent and Samuel (vine growers and wine-makers) are people we have confidence in as wine-makers. They are eco-friendly, they love their land and their vines. I was a bit afraid that being Irish I wouldn't be taken seriously as we don't have a reputation for knowing a lot about wine and also the fact that I'm a woman and the world of winemakers is predominantly male.
"But I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. The wine-makers are delighted to work with a woman and to have a new channel of distribution for their wine. And they are really pleased with all the positive feedback we've been getting in Ireland."
Fed up with her high-powered job in HR, Jane Keenan, born in Dublin and raised in Monaghan, and her Scottish husband, Mike, moved to St Emilion, where they run a luxury chateau rental and chambre d'hotes.
"My husband and I spent many holidays in France and it was the only country we ever wanted to live in -- only we didn't know where exactly when we left. It took almost a year to find this location. We fell in love with Bordeaux and its spectacular countryside and found the home that only dreams are made of. When we bought our house the previous owners told us how they accommodated people for the Vinexpo, so we thought, 'well, why not?' and we went down the route of offering chambre d'hote accommodation.
"This meant gutting the entire upstairs of the property to provide all en-suite bathrooms and putting in a salt-water swimming pool. At the beginning, business was fairly quiet, so we had to watch our monthly budget carefully. Last year, a top Bordeaux wine buyer stayed with us and gave us the idea of weekly chateau rental for the summer months.
"Today, we have filled nearly every possible week for the summer months and just waved goodbye to one of Ireland's leading wine buyers, who was with us for the En Primeur tasting. They were totally at home with Irish radio, Barry's tea and Irish bacon and sausages. Apparently, I do 'the best Irish breakfast in Bordeaux!'
"The hardest things are getting on the medical scheme -- it takes forever. The other nightmare was getting to grips with tax returns: none of the forms are in English and they are impossible to follow.
"Dealing with tradesmen was another problem. I thought I had good French but had to very quickly learn how to chat about the installation of septic tanks and the likes. Not one of them spoke one word of English apart from, 'Madame, we have a "surprise" for you', which always meant that there was another bill on its way! It was here that we learnt to negotiate on the price for everything. Initial problems aside, our lifestyle has changed 100pc for the better and we don't have any regrets. We are so happy in a climate where we wear T-shirts and shorts from early April until virtually the end of October."
www.chateaularoque.fr. Weekly chateau rental is available in the summer months. From October to mid-May, they offer chambre d'hote accommodation (B&B).