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Property in France: What's it like to live in Brittany?

We find out why author Maggie Campbell-Culver chose to live in France.

Brittany in France
The beautiful Brittany, where Maggie Campbell-Culver and her husband moved from Cornwall

Why France?

We enjoy the whole philosophy of French life, and it's the continental country we knew most about. The travel links with the UK are good, so it's quite easy to keep up with friends and family.

What made you leave England?

Michael had just retired from his solicitor's practice and we both wanted an "adventure" with a small "a". We had friends already living in Brittany who enthused about the good life.

Have you had problems adjusting?

We found it fairly easy to settle in, as Brittany and Cornwall, where we made our home 30 years ago, are very alike.

Read our guide to French etiquette.

Do you miss your garden?

We are creating one from a rough field. In England our domestic gardens are generally designed rather loosely, while here they are much more regimented. In France it is a question of keeping the untidy and unpredictable countryside at bay.

What did the children think?

Our children and our grandchildren were all enthusiastic. When we were in Cornwall both our daughter and our son lived and worked in the South East of England so now we are still almost the same distance apart.

Did the French welcome you?

French officialdom in the form of our local Mairie, the bank and Sécurité Sociale (health) have been most helpful, as have all the shops and businesses. There is no doubt that the huge number of Brits now living in France (not all of them of retirement age) are having an impact on the French way of life.

How do you find the cost of living?

It's cheaper for us here as we don't have to pay the heavy social insurance and tax which the French do.

Our local rates and water rates are considerably less than in the UK. Food is roughly the same.

Really excellent wine is so much cheaper than in the UK which is a great bonus.

Tips for buying property abroad. 

What's the biggest difference between us and them?

The most constant and fundamental must be the way we shop for food. Bacon can now be bought, and tomato ketchup, but not Parmesan cheese, or, strangely, white wine vinegar, though every other sort of vinegar seems to be available.

French flour is different to English because the type of pastry cooking is different. Double cream and clotted cream seems to be unheard of in Brittany.

We find the French much more courteous in an old-fashioned way, which is really rather civilised. We enjoy all that "Bonjour, Madame; Bonjour Monsieur" stuff.

How's your French?

Michael's communication in French has certainly improved, while mine continues on a schoolgirl level. Our doctor very helpfully speaks very good English, as do some of the staff in our local bank. We are both slowly gaining confidence, having just joined two local societies.

How does the French system compare with the National Health?

Health care here is excellent. Getting an appointment can usually be made for the same day. All costs for treatment are recovered, 70% from Sécurité Sociale and the balance from insurance which we took out at a very moderate cost.

Do you keep in touch with Britain?

We are able to listen to and watch the BBC and all the commercial channels. English newspapers may be bought but they always arrive a day late.

Starting a new life in France.

What do you miss?

We both miss being able to have a browse round an English bookshop. I especially miss the English landscape with its clumps of mature trees and hedges.

Is your exile permanent?

We are not planning to return to England. We enjoy living in Brittany and particularly being part of a wider Europe.

When we first came here it felt strange trying to understand the bigness of France, and not having the sea as our "boundary". Now we can drive all the way to the Pacific Ocean without once having to get on a ferry. That takes some getting used to!

Interview by Tim Heald


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.