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Return of the killer accordion

By and large avoiding the commercial frenzy of Christmas – excepting the odd unseemly tustle over the last battery powered quad in Leclerc – most folk here save their energy for New Years Eve. Blindfolded, this is the one night you could guess where in France you are by the sound of the entertainment on offer. Because once you’re in the sticks, it’s guaranteed to be some rosy nosed bugger looking like he’s repeatedly trying to stuff a jack in the box back from whence it came. Monsieur l’Accordion is in the house.

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Stuff the Turkey

From Dover to the Hebridies, try as you may, it’s hard to escape the traditional British Christmas. If steroid raised fowl, gaudy hand knitted jumpers and cremated pudding are your bag, then great. But make a move to the Southern Dordogne and, although you’ll miss out on the xmas morning trip to the pub, you can at least make the day your own.

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Imagine all the people

It’s the end of the Autumn term at our primary school and, as usual, the kids have gone to defcon 1  in anticipation of Père Noel’s largesse. And at lunchtime he’ll arrive astride a quad, 1000cc BMW bike, sit- on lawnmower or in the cab of the Pompiers wagon. Or on a horse.

Given that behind the beard, Santa can be a pimply trainee fireman or a rather more rotund (& realistic) dad, the mode of transport is always a lottery.

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La Porte Property goes to a Natural Horsemanship Clinic

It is time for the baby of the family to go out and experience something different - Ras La Lizonne is a 3 year old pure bred Arab and as yet, unbroken.

Not far from Monpazier - at a yard near to Monflanquin, there is a natural horsemanship 3 day clinic run by an extremely talented horsewoman, "Helen", who I’ve known for many years.

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Say quatre vingts dix neuf

Like most small towns in France, Monpazier has its resident doctor. Three in fact – all friendly, efficient, bright, hard working and housed in a carefully adapted surgery set above a pretty valley at the edge of the bastide. Which means that whilst being examined, you can at least enjoy the view and wonder if the cattle on the hill opposite can see that far too.

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Heating God

Late on a Winter’s evening, you decide to venture outside to the woodstore. In the corner, in the dark, your central heating oil supply gurgles and spits as the boiler runs. Following the torch beam, you stumble over the cat then bump against the tank to be greeted by a depressingly hollow ‘boom’. Brush away the dust from your last measured level and you find another 100 litres of fioul has magically evaporated - which is curious as your house still feels like an industrial fridge.

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Moussaka hitting the fan

As our friends in the Aegean threaten to exercise a rare show of people power or, depending on your view, hold a gun to our heads, the future of the euro seems unsure – and without the benefit of a crystal ball, it’s impossible to know how this spat will end. Following a 25 year gestation, the birth of the Euro made life for most European house buyers far simpler, but Brits have always had to keep a close eye on FX rates. A small shift in value of Sterling can make a big difference to what you end up paying for your new French home – not least since between acceptance of your offer and having the keys in your hand, the process rarely takes less than 3 months. And, on occasion, you can have a 2 cent movement in one day – that’s about 1.8% at today’s rate.

 

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Moving the goalposts

Taxes - a tedious but unavoidable part of modern life - unless you’re Greek. And the French authorities, like most, have a passion for bucket loads of them. So far, so ‘tant pis’, it’s the same for everyone – deal with it.

Until, that is, it comes to the recent change in plus value (capital gains tax) on second homes for both French nationals and overseas owners. Ok, it has no bearing on your situation if the house is your main residence, but it’s effectively a retrospective, morally bankrupt and grubby political move that will result in unexpected bills for some sellers.

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Trick or treat

Like Mc Donalds and hard core rap, French kids love Halloween. Not because it evokes some kind of transatlantic bond, it’s just the sweets, stupid. From sugar laden birthday parties with full fat Coke to pain au lait & a slab of chocolate for breakfast, it’s a nation with a sweet tooth. It’s a nightmare for our dentists, but a good swop for the booze binge culture North of the Channel. So, back to business - if you’ve an office or shop in town, make sure that you have a kilo or two of Chewits in stock – as close to the door as possible is best, as otherwise hordes of goblins, ghosts and the occasional (mis dressed) Spiderman  will trash the place before you can say Freddy Kruger.

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La Porte Property goes Show Jumping

Shows aren't held as often in France as in the UK, so when you hear of one you have to go for it. Don't miss the chance – the effort is always worth it.

It’s an FFE run show at Sarlat, so both you and your horse need to be "official". Sunny was up to date - or so I thought - just me to get registered with the FFE then.  The closing date was Monday midnight and it was only 2pm Monday so loads of time ...... 2 hours later trying to work out the FFE website I "emailed a friend" for help – luckily she was at hand and I got a reply straight away with clear instructions how to find the right page.

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

With all the tact and customer service sensitivity of a Parisian waiter, the powers that be at Bergerac airport have decided to close it for over two months early next year. Seriously. Between the 9th of January and 23rd of March, they’ll be resurfacing the runways.  Up to a point, fair enough. I don’t want my ‘plane hitting a pot hole on landing and I guess there are bits of the runway that need patching, but even so…

72 days. 1728 hours.

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La Porte Property goes to a TREC competition.....

After a few months during a summer of hibernation, riding at 6 am, days spent relaxing by the pool while the horses chill out in the cool barns, I am now ready to see what horsey things are out there. And there are competitions or events - you just need to look and have good contacts.

Through an Anglo forum I found out there was a TREC competition not far from Monpazier at Beaumont du Perigord, so off I went to see what TREC was....

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One careful lady owner from new

Or not. If you are a glutton for mental (& fiscal) punishment and a fan of challenges without reward, then invest some time in trying to find a good value second hand car in France. For reasons that entirely escape me, and despite having had to go through the tin jungle several times over the years, everything from nearly new mid price saloons to bangers are stupidly expensive. It’s not that most brand new cars cost more than in the UK (some Japanese imports excepted), nor that cars are so rare here that there’s a man in front of each with a red flag, the locals gawping in wonder.

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Buy land son – they’re not making it anymore

One of the first things you’ll notice when you start looking for a house in our part of France is space – lots of it.  In a country three times the size of the UK but with a similar population, you might have expected a bit more elbow room . But as most jobs are in the big metropolitan areas - and that’s where folk go – there’s even bigger lumps of unspoilt countyside left behind. And after a couple of generations of flight from traditional agricultural employment, there’s now more woodland in the Dordogne than in the Middle Ages.

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Toyotaville

Once a year, Monpazier hosts the National Equine Endurance Championships, and massed ranks of horse trailers and Land Cruisers fill the racecourse to bursting point. Once they’ve each unloaded their super trim Arab cargo, the mud splattered 4X4’s gravitate towards town to empty the tabac and stock up on essentials.

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Clouds, silver linings etc

Like most of the rest of Europe, the French property market has had a torrid time over the last couple of years. ‘Lies, damn lies & statistics’ just about sums up the supposed property inflation figures thrown around in the media.

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Back to school

After a long hot Summer, it’s time to reinvest in oversize packs of felt tipped pens, Harry Potter ring binders, wonderfully non smelly trainers and whatever else you need to deck out your little darlings for the new school year. So far, so pretty similar to the UK.

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Good golfing in the Dordogne and Lot-et-Garonne, France

The southwest of France is famous for its great wine and good food, and for its rivers and beautiful countryside. It has always been popular as a holiday destination for international visitors and the French alike, and they have enjoyed the climate and outdoor activities like cycling, canoeing, walking and  horse riding. But, did you know that you can also enjoy some very good golfing?

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Unexpurgated FM

Don’t touch that dial – not because you like what’s on, it’s just that it’s the same on every other French commercial radio station. Ok – that’s not entirely true. There are some good news based stations and if accordion hits and obscure classical music - interspersed with monotone chat - is your thing, then happy listening awaits;

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Rolling up your sleeves 4: Pools

If you’ve got the room for one and your wallet can stand the strain, a swimming pool makes a fantastic addition to your French home. But there’s a lot involved in the construction and it’s easy to overspend if the installation is down to you. Remember, for most buyers any ‘in ground’ pool is just a pool – regardless of what it costs, it’ll only add a finite amount to the value of your home.

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Rolling up your sleeves 3: Major stuff

Even if your new French home is habitable – a concept that covers a multitude of sins – it’s likely that when funds allow, there will be changes you’d like to make to it. As the world over, there’s a huge choice of builders here – excellent, good, indifferent and downright awful. Having had experience of using French, Dutch and English artisans, the golden rule is recommendation not nationality. Don’t be put off using someone who doesn’t share your first language – if they are any good, they’ll be hugely helpful, prompt, competent and tidy. Equally, don’t assume that just because they’re local the foregoing is a given.

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Rolling up your sleeves 2: Makeovers

Not so many years ago, you could turn on the tele almost any night and watch hordes of stupidly dressed ‘designers’ mincing  through other peoples’ houses, dispensing pearls of wisdom on how they should be decorated (the houses that is, not the unsuspecting owners).

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Rolling up your sleeves 1: Ruins

Stumbling through yet another patch of head high nettles, you arrive at the ruin. It’s roofless, borderline dangerous and no one in their right mind would buy it. And it’s love at first sight.

The idea of creating a home from a romantic ruin is ever popular, but the supply of suitable properties can make the search very frustrating. It’s worth remembering that the dream is not yours alone – it’s been shared by others looking to live here ever since the last war - and they’ve scoured every inch of the countryside.

So take a deep breath, open your wallet and picture it empty. For years.

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National Sports

Long before their football squad imploded at the last World Cup, the French developed a healthy disinterest in team sports. This means that in the event of the boys playing badly, losing or having a collective strop, Jean Pierre can pretend that he didn’t care about the result anyway.  It also helps him persuade his tiny village to splash out on a brand new, synthetic surface tennis court, despite the average age of the neighbours being 70+ and the Mairie having an annual tax income of 50p. These courts seem to be everywhere, are well cared for and cheap to use. Like golf in Scotland, it’s a peoples sport, but without the loud trousers and incessant rain.

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Le Conducteur – Things Best Avoided

Empty roads are great, but they do bring their own (sometimes unwelcome) surprises. Deer, for instance – beautiful but stupid. There are thousands of them and, being French, they have zero road sense and delight in blasting out from cover directly into your path. Fortunately, most of the time they breeze by, leaving no sign of their passing - other than the residual adrenaline pumping through your system.

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A business other than gites

There are certainly alot of people who have small gite businesses here in southwest France. It is easy to do on a small scale and it is not heavily regulated or taxed, and can provide you with some top up income. (contact the local Chambre de Commerce for more information on www.dordogne.cci.fr).

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An Opportunity for a Really Professional Equestrian Business

As La Porte’s Equestrian property advisor I try to view the properties as a prospective purchaser would.  I’ve the descriptive and a brief outline of it, but the initial impression is important; it’s how the client will see it.

I know this property has fantastic equestrian facilities and is currently run as a very successful Arab endurance stud.

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Le Conducteur - Little white vans

So, you’ve bought your first French country home and need a car. Perhaps you’ve dreamt of a soft top – the shade of the Plane trees dappling the bonnet as you whisk along empty country roads. Maybe even and old DS Citroen, lovingly cared for and whisper quiet. But no – what you really need is a little white van. Ideally, it’ll be a second or third hand Peugeot or Renault with a few dents and an interstellar kilometrage on the clock. A cage for your dogs in the back is an optional extra.

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Summer riding

Summer riding in the Dordogne countryside is a constant pleasure; no more worrying about cars dashing to work or parents racing to do the school run.  Sometimes I realise I am taking it for granted.  I can ride for miles and never see a car and there’s no need to ride along roads or cross motorway and railway bridges.  All this I have had to do in the past, holding my breath as another lorry rattles by.  Here I enjoy the true experience of hacking out; even a quick “round the block” is peaceful and relaxing.

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A large piece of building land for a prestige house

For those who are looking for a really nice piece of land to build their dream house – its difficult. Most of the plots with a CU(outline planning permission) all seem to be next to other houses, roads, or worse, lotissements (small developments of sometimes low cost housing).  If you’re hoping to build a really nice house, you’re looking for an attractive location, without immediate neighbours and a view, and they are like gold dust.

So here’s one!

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Still acres of blue sky and still no rain

So, still acres of blue sky and still no rain.  We missed out on the usually reliable early Spring showers in February and March and have had little or nothing since. With March temperatures in the mid twenties and now into the thirties, it’s been great swimming pool weather for months already, but now everything’s looking a bit burnt.

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A truly quiet location

Everyone is looking for a quiet location for their house in France, particularly if they come from the crowded south of England or Holland and Belgium. You would think it would be easy, but actually it’s not. There are not many houses which are truly private, without neighbours, or away from roads.

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