At the end of our third winter since moving to France from the UK, I was reflecting on how it compares with our first two here and those before making the move.
In 2021 we completed the purchase of our house mid-December, so the run up to that was weird with nothing much to do but enjoy pre-Christmas in Eymet and worry about what might go wrong. Once in the house the project plan showed ‘B&B open to guests’ 1st May 2022, so we were full-on ‘bricolage’ for the rest of winter. This was great timing because the village was very quiet (we were still in the shadow of COVID and pre-Christmas parties in the bars and restaurants had resulted in most places having to closed down for a few weeks of social isolation) and the weather during January and February was COLD.
We did have a ‘what the f*** have we done?’ wobble at one point after a couple of weeks of freezing fog, unreliable heating in the house, up to our eyes in decorating, pouring €€ into the house and virtually no social contact beyond the people at the check-outs of the local DIY stores and supermarkets. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for the blue skies and warm sunshine to return. Our running group social runs in the beautiful countryside were fantastic for getting everything back in perspective and the bars and restaurants started to open again, but it was a tough winter.
The project plan for winter 2022 included decorating the non-guest areas of the house. We had been living in rather grim rooms at the back of the house whilst our guests enjoyed the results of our hard work the previous winter. So there was plenty to keep us busy, but learning from our first winter we had also arranged to spend a couple of weeks visiting family in the UK and a couple of weeks of winter sunshine in the Canaries. We also had a wider social network by this time and enjoyed some lovely festive gatherings and of course being able to go out with the running group whenever we could.
Thinking back to winter 2021/2 now I most remember the cold, the seemingly endless hard work and the social isolation. Thinking back to winter 2022/3 now I remember reflecting on our achievements in the B&B during our first year, having family to stay, lovely warm sunshine in February and March, meeting up with friends in the village or at our houses and taking time out for holidays while we were closed.
This winter 2023/4 we knew we would inevitably have a long to-do list as we always will in this house, but with all the major jobs done for now, it was a ‘to-do list’ not a ‘project plan’. Spotting a week with no bookings in late October ‘23 we headed to Tenerife for a week of doing nothing before getting on with the jobs at home. On the run up to Christmas we had a couple of weeks of doing almost nothing other than taking advantage of local events, having friends and family over and spending evenings in front of the fire relaxing with good wine and terrible Netflix Christmas films.
To dodge the coldest part of winter, we spent most of January along the Costas in Spain plus a couple more weeks in the Canaries late February. Adding it up now, we spent almost ~7 weeks in Spain over the winter. The resorts and beaches of mainland Spain were beautifully deserted and while much of northern Europe was posting pictures of snow, ice and floods, we were enjoying the warm sunshine and a lovely quiet local Spanish café culture. I can certainly see the attraction of Spain for ‘a life in the sun’, but my heart still lies in France.
Winters before moving to France from England? Well, it’s hard to compare. We were both working full time, so we had at best a couple of weeks off over Christmas and New Year and we were normally exhausted. The cold weather started earlier and dragged on longer, we were earning a lot more money so could push the boat out for celebrations and winter-sun holidays, plus it was easier to spend time with family. Swings and roundabouts but I certainly have no regrets especially looking at this winter.
Looking ahead to next winter, I feel confident about being able to embrace the change of pace and climate to enjoy our quiet time here in South West France…but I do need to order more logs, start my ‘to-do while we’re closed’ list and book up some winter-sun breaks.