When my wife, Lorraine, and I decided to begin our retirement adventure in France, we knew the best way to find our perfect property was to take to the road and explore all the country had to offer.
We did a lot of research on the best place for us in Europe, and chose France because property prices are affordable (and can be very inexpensive if you want a renovation project), food is good quality, and low-cost and the locals are friendly. Then we spent three months caravanning around southern France checking out properties from the Charente—where we found the countryside a little flat—to the foothills of the snow-capped Pyrenees.
Ultimately, we settled on Bellac, in the Haute-Vienne department of the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. As you drive into Bellac, the tower of the Church of Notre Dame, dating from the 12th century, dominates the skyline. The church overlooks another gem of Bellac, the medieval bridge which spans the river Le Vincou. History, culture, and beautiful countryside…it’s not hard to fall for Bellac’s charms.
And, we certainly did. Which was lucky, because the moment we opened the door to the property we’d come to view, we knew it was for us. The old, three-story maison in the middle of town with its parquet flooring, wood paneling, and two acres of gardens quickly stole our hearts. With nine bedrooms and views across the Vincou valley, this kind of house would have been far beyond our reach back home—here in France, it was ours for $239,500.
Since moving into our new home, we’ve added a new kitchen and bathroom, and have been busy at work in the garden, planting fruit trees and a vegetable patch.
This is small-town, rural France, peaceful and tranquil, and just what we were looking for, but you won’t want for anything here. Bellac is home to the regional hospital and you’ll also find doctors, dentists, pharmacies, banks, restaurants, supermarkets, and of course, cafés aplenty here.
Lawns and walkways along the river bank are ideal for a stroll or picnic lunch. If you’re feeling fit, you can head up from the river along steep old pathways and roads leading back into the town proper, where you’ll find narrow cobbled streets and charming hidden squares.
Like most of regional France you can eat well for very little in Bellac. You can get a freshly baked baguette for $1.35 and a croissant for $1. A 500-gram soft cheese like brie or camembert costs as little as $2.40, while an easy drinking bottle of wine can be had for $3.60 or less if you aren’t too fussy. I drink a merlot from the low-cost Lidl supermarket for $2.40.
Every Saturday morning there’s a farmers’ market selling fresh meat, artisan bread, and cheeses. It’s pricier than the supermarkets—where we do most of our shopping, which runs to about $113 a week. There are a couple of top restaurants in town where you can get a three-course fixed menu for as little as $15, including fresh, warm bread to mop up the great sauces the French are so famous for.
Bellac train station runs a service to the city of Poitiers, from there the TGV (a high-speed train) will have you in Paris in under three hours. Or you can take the train to Limoges and head for the international airport (a short taxi ride from the train station) where you can hop on a flight to the U.K. for under $16.
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