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We talk to Charlotte Field from the UK about life as an expat in charming Chinon, Loire Valley where she has lived for eight years and works as a local agent for Leggett Immobilier, the award winning French Estate Agency… Where are you from and how did you come to be living in France? I was brought up in Surrey, England and my husband in Paris, France. We met and married in London and soon after I transferred to work in Brussels where we spent six happy years. Our eldest son (now 11) was born in Brussels (and dislikes me referring to him as my Brussels Sprout) and it was whilst on holiday with him, then a baby of six months, that we came to the Loire Valley for the first time. Our three subsequent children (now three, five and seven) were born here and feel more French than British – though they do enjoy Mr Bean and Digestive biscuits dipped in tea so all is not lost! Seriously though, they have been in the school system here from the start and we have been very happy with it on lots of levels – we have the joy of small village schools (about 45 children over four years at maternelle and primaire) where they benefit from a varied programme of academic, artistic, cultural and sporting activities not forgetting the cooked-fresh-on–the-premises four course lunch every day!
What inspired you to move to the Loire Valley? We are close to Chinon – a medieval town about halfway down France, home of the Plantagenet kings, resting place of Richard the Lionheart, the start of Joan of Arc’s tragic mission, oh and did I mention home to over 300 winemakers? We didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. After years of watching other people do it on TV and thinking ‘could we do that?’ my ardent wine fan husband and I gave up our corporate careers aged 35. We packed up our small boy to live a simpler countryside life, renovate a small but beautifully formed château, set up our guesthouse and a wine exporting business. Did you need to do a lot of renovation to your French house? It was a wreck with a reasonable roof, but we had renovated houses before – albeit nothing on this scale. Everything needed doing, plumbing, heating, electricity, plastering not to mention the wild outdoors and at times it felt like it would never end, looking back at the photos now I am still surprised we made it! It wouldn’t have happened without the pragmatic approach of the husband of course, who segmented each priority area, got our accommodation ready first, and then we worked day and night over the next year to get the main house open for business. Each winter we have done some further renovation work and opened more guest accommodation and entertaining spaces while there aren’t so many tourists around. We were very lucky with some of the younger local tradesmen who were just setting up their own businesses – our site represented a lot of work for them, and we became a reference client; in return if ever we have a problem they will usually be here in a flash.
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