Have you ever wanted to escape or at least dreamt of escaping your hum-drum life? Every woman I know has wanted to at some point in their lives. For most it has been just a dream while others have tried and failed. Still, a few lucky others have escaped and lived to tell about it, their lives intact.
I escaped first to Paris and then later to a small village near Bordeaux. There is something about living in a foreign country that allows you to see the world anew and from a different perspective. Living overseas rejuvenates the soul and arouses a child-like curiosity as you delight in all that is fresh to your eye. I don’t know exactly why this happens but maybe it’s because fewer people know you in your new location, the phone doesn’t ring as much and you can’t fully understand the TV, which encourages you to spend more time outside. There are new discoveries and adventures to be had each day even if you are just going to the market.
My adventure started back in 1989 on a trip to France with my husband. We’d only been married two years, but we took a grand tour of France, starting at my sister’s house in Aveyron, then on to Bordeaux, Cognac, the Loire and Paris.
Of all the cities we visited, it was Paris that captured my heart. I had been there once before when I was 17 years old but my memories of the city had fused with Florence, Venice and Dijon, among others. This time it was different. Paris was the place I wanted to be.
Ten years and 2 children later we found ourselves in a strong financial position to the extent where we could actually think about buying an apartment in Paris. In the year 2000 I began the search. After a week, I had seen so many beautiful places and I had trouble making a decision. My wonderful husband coached me over the phone and with his blessing I made my choice and bought an apartment that he hadn’t even seen! It was a glorious feeling to be a homeowner in France and I thanked my lucky stars for my good fortune and for my husband’s trust and faith in my dream and his encouragement to allow it to unfold.
Each time I went to Paris, whether alone or with my children it felt like an exciting escape. No longer was I just another boring New York suburban housewife. I had a place in Paris. I was lucky enough to have jobs that allowed me to travel for weeks at a time. I was also blessed with flexible work arrangements and in the company of those who understood and respected my passion for France. So escape it was, and even as I came to know the city more and more, it was still always my escape.
Back in 2006 we made the decision to sell the apartment. My heart was crushed, but it was the right financial move at that time. The real estate market had gone up as it usually does in Paris, and we had two kids about to go off to college. I consoled myself and started my business, a travel website about Paris called Girls’ Guide to Paris. We have more than 10 writers in the City of Light, and we relish hunting down those out-of-the-ordinary places to visit, and to sip and savor and shop at, that are off the beaten path. We offer visitors a selection of walking tours that gently stroll you through the charming cobblestone streets in the most elegant arrondissements. Some of the tours are for foodies, some are for shoppers and all are for those who delight in the beautiful.
After three years without a place in France, I launched another expedition for an escape and found the Entre deuxMers area, just east of Bordeaux, in southwestern France. In December 2009, on a cold, misty day, I moved in and claimed our 230-year-old stone farmhouse with blue shutters on the Dordogne River. After several trips to the marché aux puces in Bordeaux, I was able to acquire a dining-room table and chairs and several armoires in which to store our clothes. With our furniture left over from Paris, we spent a wonderful first Christmas there with our two kids, who were then aged 19 and 16. My husband was again delighted to see another escape that I had found on my own without consulting him too much. Now that’s love—in fact, it’s trust, big time.
I’ve already figured out that retirement here would be more affordable than nearly anywhere we could go in the United States, and it would be far more beautiful—the food and wine are plentiful and cheap. At the farmer’s markets, I find wonderful, fresh, local and often organic produce. Bread is less than 1 Euro for a baguette; local Bordeaux wine is an unbelievable 2 Euros a bottle at our local co-op; and health insurance even for those who aren’t in the French system is only about $1,500 a year instead of per month as it is in New York. The World Health Organization consistently names France’s health care the best in the world, so it really is the ideal place to retire.
My real estate taxes here are only 1,500 Euros a year as opposed to unspeakable tens of thousands in New York. And the Atlantic Ocean is only 1 hour 15 minutes away, and Spain is an easy car ride, as are the Pyrenees and skiing. Now I just have to convince my husband to move here! For now, with the kids both off in college, I am in heaven, dividing my time between Paris, Bordeaux and our house in New York.
Escape is sweet.