In 2005, my parents decided to move to the “Other South of France,” that is the Languedoc region in the southeast of the country (now part of the newly formed and much bigger Occitanie region). It sits on the border with Spain, with the Mediterranean Sea to the east and the Haut-Languedoc National Park to the north and west.
After an amazing 13 years, they’ve just sold their house in France and are moving “back home.” Not because they don’t love la vie française… but, because, sometimes that’s how this international living adventure goes…
Mum and Dad were 69 and 72, respectively, when they decided to move from England to France. Both had traveled and vacationed overseas before, but settling for the long term in a foreign country was a new experience.
Dad spoke no French at all; Mum’s was simple schoolgirl français. However, they were both determined to make a big change in their lives—to shake things up a little. They knew they wanted to live in a country that respected their generation… and to be part of a culture that was thriving and rich. “France” was an easy choice… from there, they searched and searched till they eventually found a property in Cessenon-sur-Orb—a tiny rural village dependent on wine production… where they didn’t know a soul.
While they lived in France, I lived in Spain (three hours away), then western France (also three hours away), and finally England. But wherever I was, every summer I would transplant my office and two children to my parent’s French country house.
It seems only yesterday that my extended family thought mes parents had lost their marbles when, out of the blue, they announced they had bought a five-bedroom vigneron‘s house. (A vigneron is a grape grower; the style of house is marked by huge double-doors that open into a cool cavern where grapes were temporarily stored.)
This area of France offers up an impressive array of property—from ancient stone houses in need of renovation to entirely new villas on substantial plots. My parents fell for 30, rue de Cavillé the moment they saw it. They could move in straightaway—and deal with its “potential” later. Over the years that followed, they added a bathroom and updated the others, redecorated throughout, totally remodeled the garden, and installed a seawater swimming pool.
The fragrances from my mother’s Mediterranean garden as they wafted in with the heat—a delicious mix of rosemary, thyme, and lavender—will always be in my memory… along with the sound of cicadas clicking from the moment the sun fell on the trees up behind the pool until the sun set in the evening.
Before moving to France, both Mum and Dad had lots of friends and a busy social life. They enjoyed their garden, spent time with their grandchildren, and my Dad was a university governor and local councilor. Yet, just a few years into living in France they seemed to be even busier… with a far more diverse social network than they’d had in the U.K.
My father became the solo baritone singer of a local but international choir and an active member of a debating club. My mother started playing the piano again, so that she could accompany my father as he practiced. She also served as president of the local branch of the Women’s International Club (WIC) for three years, which kept her busy organizing trips, charity events, and support for elderly expats.
For several years my mother also had weekly French lessons with lots of homework… both parents were part of a walking group (or, more accurately, “a wine tasting group that likes to walk through vineyards”)… and they played pétanque. On top of all that, they seemed to have at least one lunch or dinner date every week. Not bad for two people who thought they might become isolated.
However, by 2014, Mum was beginning to find the house too hard to manage and Dad’s knees were “playing up.” Too many steps for ailing knees, too many nooks and crannies to clean, a massive cellar down a long flight of steps, and a path that winds its way up the hillside to a viewing platform. It was all becoming a burden rather than a pleasure.
So, with some prodding from me and my siblings, they started to mull over different living options, starting with something smaller in the same village. Unfortunately, nothing clicked—except Dad’s knees. We looked farther afield, but they couldn’t find another village they liked that had everything within walking distance of the house. What my sisters and I wanted was for them to move back to England, as we felt they were starting to lose the love of living in France and the challenges were coming along too often. Eventually, they came around to this way of thinking, too.
Last summer, they put the house on the market. Then, on a gray winter day—after months of (mostly Northern European) viewers passing through—a British couple visited and fell in love with number 30. They came back, they made an offer, my parents turned it down, the interested party counter-offered, and my parents accepted.
A state of panic ebbs and flows at the moment as my parents get to grips with the end of their time in France and all that an international move entails.
They will return to England in their 80s, both remarkably well and looking forward to the next stage of their lives; seeing more of their grandchildren and great grandchildren to come, going to the theater more often, and playing bridge.
I know, when all settles down, they’ll look back on the last 13 years with great happiness, affection, and pride at having accomplished what they set out to do: enjoy a certain joie de vivre in a beautiful part of France.