With London house prices rising steeply and the pace of life frantic in the city, 2005 saw Clapham couple Phillida and Mike Cole make a life-changing decision. They bought a house in the centre of St Astier, a medieval town in the Dordogne, and moved there with daughters Imogen and Bella, then aged three and one.
The couple now also have a son, Harry, aged three, and life has been good in their spacious family home, just 25 minutes from Bergerac and 70 from Bordeaux. “Our quality of life is probably 10 times better than it would be elsewhere,” says Phillida. “I love the climate, the food, the culture and the fact that I hardly ever use the car.
“Life in the town centre has all the convenience of our flat in Clapham, but with all this space you feel like you’re living in a millionaire’s pad in Chelsea"
“I certainly wouldn’t be living in a house this beautiful in the UK and still get a kick each morning opening the big French shutters on to the terrace and hearing the birds.”
Mike’s role in the Army meant that wherever they lived he would have to commute. France, with its long, hot summers, short winters and fantastic education system had obvious appeal.
FOUR HOURS DOOR TO DOOR
The Coles selected an area with a choice of daily flights from several airports — Bergerac, Bordeaux, Brive and Limoges. In addition, the Eurostar connects directly with St Astier via a change of platform in Lille.
Over the past 11 years Mike, 48, has worked in London, Brussels and Wiltshire but his door-to-door French commute has never taken more than four hours — quicker than some of the couple’s friends’ weekly commutes within the UK.
“From Wiltshire, Mike would leave the office on Friday at 5pm by motorbike, catch the Flybe plane from Southampton still wearing his leathers, pick up his motorbike from free parking in Bordeaux and the weekend would start when he dived into the pool. If I’m honest it was a bit James Bond,” laughs Phillida.
She rents out a four-bedroom gîte beside their home, also occasionally letting their own beautiful, traditional townhouse, which has high ceilings, period features, and has been refurbished to give six bedrooms and bathrooms, a modern kitchen and that heated pool.
“The children’s school is directly across the square and after-school music, sport and ballet are in the local cultural centre,” adds Phillida.
AS CONVENIENT AS CLAPHAM
“Life in the town centre has all the convenience of the Northcote Road in Clapham where we still have our flat, but with all this space you feel like you’re living in a millionaire’s pad in Chelsea,” she says.
A typical day begins with a run in the hills, tennis or a Pilates class. For extra culture or shopping the family head to Périgueux or Bordeaux, making time for a three-course meal at about £10 a head. However, their days in France are drawing to a close. Mike has a new job with the United Nations based in the Middle East and the family’s home and gîte business is for sale at £590,000 (email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 00 33 (0) 980 79 57 09).
“The girls have loved the adventure of living somewhere different and I feel it has made them more resilient and independent, while for Harry it is just “normal” to speak French at school and English at home,” says Phillida. “Leaving will be a wrench but I would love to pass our lifestyle on to a like-minded family.”
FRENCH FANCIES ON THE MARKET