Living Off-Grid In Béarn, France

Off-Grid In Southwest France

I’ve spent the last few days visiting friends and colleagues in the Béarn area of southwest France. One of the most thought-provoking was a visit with an expat family whose aim is to go off-grid within the next few years.

They are getting close. Five years ago they bought a beautiful, though dilapidated, Béarnaise farm and outbuildings, which they have transformed into a gorgeous five-bedroom home. They have their own water well (it needed quite a bit of work to unplug years of accumulated agricultural detritus), an established 1-acre vegetable plot (we ate their potatoes, eggplant, fennel, zucchini, onions, red peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, garlic, and fresh herbs), chickens supplying big, speckled eggs, a few goats (shared with their neighbor), which provide milk and cheese, and rabbits for…well, let’s say they’re not for cuddling.

As is the norm in this part of France, they have an annual share in village-raised beef cattle and pigs. They buy a share in one animal each year; after each one is slaughtered they collect their “share” from the farmer who raised the animal. And believe me there’s plenty for the whole family for months of protein. Nothing is wasted. You only have to visit a French meat market to see what I mean; intestines, tongues, every body part including ears (pigs) and cheeks (pigs again) are available and purchased with great gusto by locals. Even my friends’ 13-year-old happily eats pigs’ ears.

This same family is preparing to install photovoltaic panels. Not exactly an “off-grid” option, but their long-term aim is to become less dependent on mains electricity. Should there be a major catastrophe, they will last far longer than the 30 days often quoted as the time that humans could survive without our usual support systems.

Properties just like my friends’ (before they renovated it) are, as I write, on the market in this area of France for very reasonable prices. For example, there’s a three-bedroom Béarnaise beauty, in need of total renovation, for sale in the village of Lucq de Bearn, close to Oloron, for 81,000 euro. The property has its own well and a half-acre of land, enough land to produce enough food for a couple or a small family. You can contact the agent here.

Lucy Culpepper

Discover The World's Most Affordable And Exotic Places