Life in Charente Maritime
for the Carter Family
Julie Carter March 2005
Since this article was written, Dereck Cater has very sadly died. Julie and her family continue to run the gites mentioned in this article.
The Carter Family took the courageous step of re-locating to the beautiful Poitou-Charente region of France from Jersey. Here Julie tells her story. For more information about the beautiful Gite complex, please click here.
We took the fairly big step of moving to France with our young family almost ten years ago now. We had a large and growing family of six children, the youngest at that time were our “surprise” twins of two years old and our eldest son, Daniel, who was just eight. They’re all still with us here, although our eldest is 18 this June!! – How time flies but a decision we have never regretted ..
Being a Jersey-born family and realising that property prices seemed to be forever increasing in leaps and bounds, part of our decision to move from the Island was as a result of not being able to find a larger, but still affordable house for our family in Jersey: also our fear that our children one day would not be able to afford to buy a reasonable property when they were older. Additionally we were becoming very conscious that the Island was changing with, for instance, heavy traffic jams experienced daily on the drive from our home in the West of the Island near St. Ouen’s Bay into St. Helier Most of all, the green areas were becoming less frequent and that we were feeling more and more hemmed in!
After selling our attractive barn conversion near St. Ouen's Bay very quickly – literally whilst I was in Maternity having the twins! – we managed to find a large house nearby to rent whilst we continued to search for the right house in France. This was accomplished mostly in short bouts of three to four day trips with, at the most, two children accompanying us as our eldest two sons were attending school full-time and we did not wish to disrupt their schooling. However, this also meant we had to engage the assistance of a nanny and a friend to “man” the show whilst we were away. After several trips like this over a year or two, checking out different regions of France, we felt it was becoming rather costly and also tiresome as we had the additional cost of help needed at home, and then the ferry and travelling expenses. We usually spent those short days in France tearing along behind a French Estate Agent (rather trying to keep up to his speed in his car!) and several times being taken to properties which did not remotely match the criteria we had supplied them with either!
Therefore, after some serious discussions, and because Dereck was still working in Jersey, we decided it would be best if the children and I “moved” to France thus enabling me to have a base there whilst house-hunting and, at the same time, allowing Dereck to commute for weekends, and occasionally long weekends if work permitted.
We had now decided we wanted to find a home in South-West France, particularly in the Charente Maritime as it offered a micro-climate of quite hot summers yet mild winters and also proximity to the coast. We were adamant we did not wish to be a long drive from beaches, having spent our lives in an Island just five minutes from one of the best beaches in Jersey – St. Ouen’s Bay! At the same time we wished to have a relatively short drive from St, Malo but yet be far enough away so as to feel that we had made a definite move. Brittany and Normandy had many Jersey-owned holiday homes plus the climate there was very similar to the United Kingdom, so generally colder and wetter!
After a short-term rental in the Vendee we very soon found our house – a typical Charentaise Longere – which in fact was a fortified Farm dating back to the 16th century. We were lucky in that our Agent had listened to us for once and the main house was truly habitable, even with central heating! All the vast barns which were attached were ready to be converted into gites. There was also plenty of land so we would be able to add a swimming pool too.
We lived there happily for some years and converted the barns adjoining our house into four comfortable gites and installed a swimming pool too. The business was successful and, having a family of our own of course and living there year round, we attracted a large family clientele, many of whom returned in subsequent years.
However, time had moved on and our children were growing up fast, all wanting to each have their own bedroom plus needing more living space for their different hobbies. Our eldest Daniel was now 16 and was over 6’ tall so space was becoming important!
We wished to remain in the Charente Maritime yet find a home even closer to the coast, and after a lot of searching, we found what we had been looking for in quite an idyllic location – a very large Water Mill – the Mill itself almost 500m2 on four floors and with beautiful, mostly established gardens, most of which face South-West and with a small woodland leading to the river.
The main house where we now live dates back to the 18th century but the Mill itself is much older . It had been occupied for the last twenty-five years by a two generation French family, the grandparents of whom were finding it a little tedious to maintain and garden anymore. They were delighted to find such a large family so interested in it I think, rather than a developer who might change it all as they were very fond of it ….
Well that was all back in Spring of 2003! It will be two years this September we have been living here and we still seem to find new projects to do all the time – last Winter we converted part of the Mill (in total it stretches to almost 500m2) into three gites offering four, three and two bedroom accommodation - the latter which overlooks the Millstream. Just across the way from the Mill, facing South-West over the main gardens is a large detached house built in the late 17th century which we converted into two houses, each providing two bedrooms and these are particularly popular with families with younger children as the gardens are enclosed from the small woodland leading to the River Bruant which flows gently through our gardens.
Of course, for ideal letting purposes, and for us too! we soon installed a 10m x 5m swimming pool so it would be settled and ready for the following Summer! It is in the south of the garden so is in sunshine virtually all day.
So with a total of five holiday gites we can accommodate up to twenty-eight people – and yet at no time do we ever feel surrounded as there are different areas of the gardens on all sides of the property offering quiet places, and fishing in our River too!
We are situated midway between the delightful Roman town of Saintes, on the River Charente, with its large choice of shops and boutique and cosmopolitan assortment of restaurants from traditional French cuisine, Italian, Asian, Chinese, and Indian too and not forgetting its incredibly well-reserved Roman Amphitheatre in the centre of the town, and also Rochefort, an old Naval Port. Saintes has an exit off the A.10 motorway and one is soon on the Route Nationale on their way to us, just some eighteen minutes away!
La Rochelle, the famous portside town is only thirty minutes’ drive and is proving to be a popular link now for many of our tourists as its Airport there has daily flights from Stanstead, London with Ryanair. We are hoping it won’t be long before they fly Ryanair from Jersey too!!
We are enjoying our life in France although it was a little more difficult in the beginning when my French was a little rustier and I felt I didn’t know anyone and thought I made a big mistake and wanted to return “home”! We came to France initially for more space, a better quality of life and a larger house but at a much more affordable price and we found it all here! The children quickly learned to speak French and we believe bringing them over when they were young enough and had not had too much English education was probably a lot to do with it. They are completely bi-lingual and their teachers say they cannot detect any English accent when they speak and very often a French child, on meeting them for the first time, is convinced they are French! Naturally we wanted to bring them up bi-lingually and we speak English together in the home, but sometimes between the children they revert to French!
The schooling is more academic and the hours are longer – they start Secondary school (College) at 8 a.m. and finish at 4.30 p.m. and are taken and brought home, almost to the door, by school buses. The holidays, however, are much longer than in Jersey and the U.K. with two weeks in February when many French families (and us if we can!) go ski-ing, Easter of course and then about 3 long weekends in May (called “ponts”). The French schools close every year on 28 June for the Summer and return in early September. There are many activities the children can join during this time as well as many “Summer camps” from one to three weeks, often multi-camps in the Pyrenees. My eldest daughter has joined one for 3 consecutive summers now and is looking forward to running a camp of her own when she is old enough and has completed the appropriate training!
The children and I have not returned to Jersey since we left, mostly logistics and both of coming from small families, we have little family remaining there now. Dereck’s Mother, who is now ninety-three and French herself, still lives there! She came to Jersey for a Summer season when she was eighteen and eventually married a Jerseyman so we do have a natural connection with this country too!
Our eldest son did spend his Summer holidays working in Jersey last year, his first visit to the Island since we left and, although he enjoyed his stay and was delighted to find some time to visit some of the places of interest he remembered when younger such as Hamptonne Farm and also went surfing at St. Ouen, he still loves his life here. He is hoping to return again to seek a holiday job this Summer.
Naturally, as with life in general anyway there have been a few more difficult times, most especially when Dereck was diagnosed with a serious illness some four years’ ago but the medical care in France is second to none and we know we are getting the best care here.
If you want to find out about Julie's home and gite complex - click here to go to the Moulin du Champ page