Renovation of a derelict house in Brittany, Expat Interview With Jenny

Published: 4 Jun at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,France
Jenny and John recently sold up in the UK and moved to a little town in France where they bought a semi derelict house which they plan to convert into a small B&B. With a background in building they intend to complete all the work themselves and live on site.

With little knowledge of the language and a headful of ideas, they have kept a daily blog of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of life as expats as they steadily build a dream home. Jenny and John's expat blog is called Renovation of a derelict house in Brittany, France (see listing here)

Meet Jenny - British expats in France
Meet Jenny - British expats in France

Here's the interview with Jenny...

Where are you originally from?
We are originally from Stockport, Manchester UK

In which country and city are you living now?
We currently live in Huelgoat, Finistere, Brittany, France

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have lived in Huelgoat for approx 9 months, and we certainly plan on being here for a few years. At this point we are not sure how long we will stay as once we are finished with the renovation we would like to complete another before we get too old.

Huelgoat town centre
Huelgoat town centre
Why did you move and what do you do?
We had travelled around Europe for the past 3 years, the trips getting longer and longer before we realised we did not want to stay in England. We really enjoy traveling, mostly around mainland Europe and want to do a lot more before we get too old. By living in mainland Europe the travelling is so much easier.

In the UK work was also becoming scarcer I was a freelance Quality Management Consultant working in Adult Social Care and John had been a self employed builder for over thirty years. Eighteen months before we made the decision to move to France, I had started to work with john on site and had become aware of what was required to assist with renovations, and just how much hard work was involved. (John did not make allowances and I was treated as any other labourer).

We had considered renovating in the UK but this was not feasible due to the high cost of property and we were able to pick up a bargain renovation in Brittany, we are lucky that we can live off savings until the house is finished and then we hope to open as a small luxury B&B or Chambres d’hôte!

Did you bring family with you?
We did not come with our family and this was one of the most difficult aspects of the move, my daughter was expecting her first child when we left the UK, but SKYPE is a wonderful tool and we are close enough to be able to visit regularly

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The transition was at times strange, not necessarily in a bad way but the pace of life in this part of France is so much slower and laid back, we had lived on the edge of Manchester in the UK so was used to a fast pace of life with everything available 24 hours a day, here the shops close on Sundays, close for 2 hour lunches and delivery of materials can take much longer. Once you accept this, life does become easier, after all it is one of the main reasons we moved to a village rather than a city.

The other major change was the language, when we moved to France we had very limited spoken French and the language was a major barrier initially. I have picked it up much more quickly than John has, but we are learning more every day, by immersing ourselves in the local community we are able to learn the language, we did have one of the CD audio courses but felt frustrated with it many times. But we have found that as long as you make an effort most French people are very helpful when living in Brittany, it also helps that we are in a tourist area so most shops and many locals know some English

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Meeting people was very easy, and the locals are very accepting of us, we think this is because we are integrating and people know we are here to live. We have taken a prominent house that was derelict and are restoring it to its former glory; it was only one of two derelict houses on the main road into the village centre.

As we began renovating the house during the summer and autumn we often had the door open and every person passing, French and other nationalities, would pop their head in and say hello and have a look at what we were doing, I think we became known as the mad English couple on the hill!

We have been out to dinner on many occasions with people we have met, as this area seems to attract more retired people (young and old) there is time for people to get to know each other. The restaurant and bars are also very friendly and it is easy to meet people in them, we met and spoke to more people in this village in the first 2 months than John had living in his house in the UK for 15 years!

One of the nicest things about living here is when you walk past somebody they will always say bonjour or bonsoir, people take the time to speak to each other.

There are a lot of expats in the general area, but all mix well with the locals, there is no them and us culture here as far as we are aware.

Walk through the enchanted forest of Huelgoat
Walk through the enchanted forest of Huelgoat
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Huelgoat is a beautiful small town in the centre of the Monts D’Aree, there are numerous walks and tourist attractions. The town has a large lake and in summer there are small boats, at the edge of the lake is an enchanted forest which abounds with myths and legends of King Arthur.

There are also many boulder formations with their own legends as to how they were formed such as the Grotte du Diable, the Roche Tremblante that is a giant granite boulder weighing over 100 tonnes but can be made to wobble by a slight touch (we have yet to do this) and the chaos formation at the lake entrance to the forest.

Throughout the year there are many events at the open air amphitheatre and there are numerous cycling events.

In addition to what is on in the immediate area, travelling approx 45 minutes by car will take you to many picturesque beaches, mediaeval towns and some big cities for shopping.

The food in the area is amazing with restaurants specialising in freshly made crepes, two patisseries with a spectacular array of cakes and pastries and shops specialising in local Bretagne food, drink and delicacies.

Family visiting the Roche Tremblante in Huelgoat forest
Family visiting the Roche Tremblante in Huelgoat forest
Some of our most memorable moments so far
We have had many memorable moments since moving to France, below you will find 3 of the most memorable.

1. Stranger in the house
We have an early night and are in bed by 11pm, at 4am we are awoken by footsteps and a deep French voice at the top of the stairs..............
Fire pit and stranger in the house!

2. The first time I get to take a bath, ooohhh the memory.............
I think I have died and gone to heaven

3. Meeting the feral cat, or more the feral cat desperately trying to escape from our newly sealed house....
More shopping and crazy cats

What do you enjoy most about living here?
We live in a village and the quality of life is so much better. We left a city behind and within a few weeks had met so many new people; life is so much friendlier in a village. We are not stressed with work and have time to sit back and get to enjoy the simple things in life. We have just acquired two sheep for our garden, not something you can do in a city!!!

We can leave our house and in 5 minutes we can be having a picnic by a fairy pool or overlooking the Devils grotto. And in summer there are concerts in the amphitheatre in the forest, as much as we loved music concerts in Manchester nothing compares to the acoustics and surroundings of an amphitheatre in an enchanted forest

Huelgoat entrance to the forest by the lake
Huelgoat entrance to the forest by the lake
How does the cost of living compare to home?
We have generally found the cost of living to be less, but we have spent time looking around for food, clothes and building materials, if you do not shop around you can spend a lot of money and if you want to eat British products these are much more expensive, many supermarkets have a Brit aisle, but if you are living in France why would you want to spend more money on British goods rather than buy the French versions?

The telephone and internet is also much cheaper in France, as all local and international calls are free with the package that we have, this has meant that our telephone and internet bill is a third of what we paid in the UK.

Diesel and petrol is cheaper than in the UK.

Water is on a metre and we are awaiting our first bill, but this does make you more aware and you tend to waste a lot less water when you know you are paying for it.

So far the cost of living is less in France and the cost of buying a house is much cheaper than in the UK. But as we are retired and renovating a house this may not be a fair comparison to those who would need to work and require a house ready to move into.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
We have not yet found anything we dislike about our new life, we are still struggling at times with not seeing our families and I am missing my daughter and new baby granddaughter, but Skype is a wonderful thing and we are able to visit, it is making the adjustment from quantity to quality time spent with each other.

And although it is one of the things we enjoy about our new life, it would be nice once in a while to be able to ring a take away and have food delivered to us!

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
The main advice is to integrate as much as possible and to try to learn the language. You are moving to France your French neighbours are not moving to England.

Also be wary of some of the advice given by people who have not integrated, you do not need to buy everything from the UK and have it shipped over, things maybe different but isn’t that why you chose to move?

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
As we are living in a renovation project the hardest aspect was living in a property that had no electricity, hot water or plumbing

If you have the necessary skills this is an excellent way of life, but it is not all roses though and there have been some very tough times, we are also aware that there will be tough times ahead, when you are living in each other’s pockets and spend all of your time working, you can get on each other’s nerves and tempers can fray, but if you have a strong relationship and can both see the light at the end of the tunnel, you do get through it.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
1. Our advice would be to not spend years thinking about making the move but to go for it, if you don’t like it you can always go back.
2. Be flexible in your plans as they may change
3. If you are planning on doing a renovation like we have, then read my blog as it is not like the TV programs
4. Integrate and learn the language
5. Install the internet as soon as possible (you will miss friends and family)

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
Since moving to Huelgoat we have kept a blog of our trials, tribulations and triumphs. It is a no holds barred account of moving to a new country and renovating a house, almost a realistic version of Living in the Sun!

The blog details our daily life, the work we have completed and gives tips on doing something similar, it could be considered as the blue print for the mistakes to avoid, it also gives an honest version of leaving family and friends behind, the emotions involved in undertaking such a big project and what life is really like living in a house with feral cats as squatters, no plumbing or electricity (how quickly the romantic notion wears off!)

But it is certainly not all doom and gloom as you will see from the triumph of having the first electric light (we really did feel like great inventors!) having an indoor toilet and the humorous antics with neighbours and the language.

I really enjoy writing the blog I hope you enjoy reading it

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
If you have any questions about Huelgoat or renovating a derelict house or just want to say hi, I will respond J please leave a comment on the blog. I look forward to hearing from you! Also contact us via Twitter: @jennyandjohn101 and FaceBook

Thanks for reading our interview about Jenny and John in France, Renovation of a derelict house in Brittany

Jenny blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Renovation of a derelict house in Brittany, France has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Jenny, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Neil Baker wrote 10 years ago:

Read with much interest, we are seriously considering m moving to the area, not a re novation but local 3/4 bedroom with decent garden trying to find and are planning visit August/Sept. If all works out OK will keep in touch Pauline/Neil 01873 858935

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