Patrizia Karadimos visited France when she was a little girl and, for many years after, dreamed of moving there one day. In 2011, together with her husband Thomas and their two sons, she finally made her dream come true.
“We decided to be adventurous and change our life around, giving up everything we knew,” says Patrizia. “We sold our house in Warrandyte, Melbourne and bought a converted 15th-century mill on 8 acres of land in the small village of Saint-Martin-Don in Normandy. From the house, I see the countryside, river, and beautiful Vire Gorges. In winter, when it snows, it’s like living in a fairytale.”
Located in the north of France, Normandy is famous for its dramatic coastal cliffs, long stretches of beautiful beaches, historic towns with their iconic half-timbered buildings, picturesque cathedrals, abbeys, and castles.
Farms in the region make delectable butter loved by gourmands across the globe, as well as apple cider and traditional cheeses.
“People come from around the world to see this area, and we are lucky to live just 40 minutes by car from the famous island monastery of Mont Saint-Michel and the D-day beaches,” says Patrizia. “Normandy is so rich in history—anywhere you go, you see reminders of the past.”
But the region’s strong connection with the past is not the only reason why the Karadimos chose this part of France.
“Normandy has everything we like about the country: strong traditions, good food, and beautiful landscapes. It offers peaceful rural life with all modern comforts—and you’re only a short ride from big cities,” explains Patrizia.
Thanks to good roads and regular train connections, the family can easily reach bigger cities such as Caen, Le Mans, or Rennes when they miss the hustle and bustle of urban life. Paris, with its museums, theaters, and shopping is two and a half hours away—a return ticket costs just 20 euros (US$22).
The area around Saint-Martin-Don is famous for Camembert cheese, an apple brandy called Calvados, and excellent cider—and none of it costs a fortune. The couple says that life in rural France is more affordable than in Australia…
“Here you find beautiful food—and a huge variety of it. In a supermarket, you can choose from 20 types of butter. I spend 50 to 100 euros (US$55 to US$110) for a full trolley of groceries and fresh market produce for a week for the four of us,” says Patrizia. “Restaurants are quite cheap, too. We can eat a three-course lunch for 12 euros (US$13) and get a bottle of great wine for just 2 euros.”
Patrizia loves shopping at weekly local farmer’s markets with their array of fresh seasonal produce. “I have never paid more than 4 euros (US$4.40) for a kilo of mussels here. For 3 to 4 euros, you can buy delicious cheese.”
The couple runs a building renovation business specializing in the traditional stonework that Thomas learned from local artisans. Being self-employed means a lot of work, but Patrizia says their life in France can’t be more different from the life they had back in Warrandyte, Melbourne. “In Australia, we lived to work. We didn’t take time to look at the world around us, didn’t slow down, were always on the go, stressed, working long hours trying to make ends meet.”
After moving to rural France, Patrizia and her family had to adjust to a new pace of life. With 11 public holidays every year, long lunches, and a laid-back attitude typical for small villages, Patrizia admits that they have learned to enjoy the unrushed life and go with the flow, just as the locals do.
“All shops and businesses close for lunch for two hours. When you come to rural France, you have to slow down and spend more time with your family and friends. I miss Australia, of course, but what we’ve got here is special and we haven’t looked back since moving here.” Thomas now has time to pursue his passion for fishing, and Patrizia has made quiet walks in the nearby forest part of her weekly routine.
On weekends, Patrizia and Thomas hop on their Harley Davidson and ride along the coast or visit car boot sales at neighboring towns. There are no expat groups in the area, but the couple found it easy to make friends among both locals and expats. In summer, they host regular barbecue gatherings in their homes. “We love having people around for barbecue on our porch, Australian style. We invite our French and expat friends, our neighbors, and the kids invite their friends,” says Patrizia.
The town of Saint-Martin-Don has only 240 inhabitants, and the Karadimos family has become part of the local community. “The village’s mayor lives next door to us and his cows graze on our land. When we cut the wood along the river on our property, the mayor came in with his tractor to help us out.”
Patrizia says that living in a tight-knit community is certainly not for everyone—so before you buy a house in a small French village, you need to be sure it’s your cup of tea. “Everyone knows each other, which felt unusual at first, but we love it now.”