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An American in the French Languedoc

How I found myself in the French Languedoc


Two years ago, the notion of relocating to southern France was a pleasant but irregular musing my wife Claudia and I shared over toasts of pinot noir.

We were content with a four-bedroom home featuring a picturesque view of Marin and Napa counties. We had secure careers, adequate income and schedules enabling frequent travel, dining out and pursuit of our unique interests. We had no common children, and my own two daughters from a previous marriage resided overseas.

We wedged our lifestyles into a collectively hectic pace, but we were content and intent on remaining in Northern California for an indefinite span of years.

A year later, who could have forecasted real estate values in the area, would spiral into an appreciation tailwind? Prices seemed excessive, yet the frenzy kept accelerating. A neighbor raised the stakes by marketing her house for sale at an absurdly inflated price. My wife and I cautiously decided to test the market with our property at an equally ludicrous asking price. Three months later, we had a buyer. The marketplace had spoken.

Suddenly, the south of France was as accessible as nearly any other location.

I'm cautious but likewise recognize the flirtatious and fleeting nature of opportunity. You're provided few windows of genuine chance to make major changes in your life. Turning your posterior to the known and embracing a dim reflection of radical transition is both equally exhilarating and petrifying.

With conviction and a comfortable equity profit, we pursued our muse and isolated the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France as our preferential destination. Our decision was reinforced by an agreeable climate, easy access to the Mediterranean Sea, close proximity to Spain and Italy and most importantly, extremely undervalued real estate. Internet real estate listings confirmed an abundance of ancient stone village houses (in varying states of repair) priced under $200,000 dollars. This price range was substantially lower than more celebrated but congested neighboring destinations like Provence and the French Riviera.

During a 10-day January 2005 visit, we secured a bargain aesthetic three-level house, built in 1887, needing minor structural -- but primarily cosmetic -- repair. Located in the wine growing village of Fabrezan, our purchase was wedged enviably between acres of vineyards and the historic Roman cities of Narbonne and Carcassone. We obtained financing from a French bank and found the process very accommodating. Since most French homeowners shun traditional stone houses in favor of newer brick constructions, the French government has streamlined the process. Foreign buyers have become the primary source of French rural renewal, one transaction at a time.

The sales process is similar but not identical to an American real estate transaction. Many buyer protective provisions and guarantees inherent in American contracts are non-existent in France. Buying a character house in excess of a century is a leap of faith. Our own faith thus far has been substantiated.

We moved into Fabrezan during the first week of June. The village, to an outsider, may appear slumbering and lethargic, but there are undercurrents of complexity and spontaneity in abundance. Living in a foreign culture such as France is a daily adjustment. In fact it involves thousands of adjustments, from the mundane to a preconception of societal values. I cannot minimize the extremities of beauty, frustration, contradiction and genuine kindness, we have experienced during our initial five months of residence.

My attempts to capsule and chronicle village life within the Languedoc are a process of observation, self-discovery and revelation. Serene rural villages like Fabrezan are in a state of transition at the crossroads of participating in a globalized 21st century.

The pace of life is leisurely, but as the traits of premium claret, the composition of lifestyle confirms the quality.


Marques Vickers will be contributing monthly columns sharing his experiences as an expatriate in Languedoc.

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