Print Posted By Lost in France on 15 Feb 2013 in Real France - Expat Interviews

Walking in the Rhone Alps

William Armstrong moved to France with his family in 2003 and now runs his own business specialising in guided walking holidays.

Rhone AlpsWhat made you move to France and how long have you lived here?
If someone had said to me back in May 1995 that in 2013 I would be living in France and running my own business, I would have thought they were mad. At that time I had no particular affinity towards France, was struggling to create a career for myself as a town planner and had great difficulty in stringing together a sentence in French (well maybe I could have ordered a beer and a baguette). Later that month, however, everything had changed.

The turning point was meeting my future wife, Marie-Christine, who was studying in Northampton. My love affair with France had begun. Following the birth of our first child in 2002, my wife decided she would like to raise the kids in France, so by 2003 we were on a ferry across the channel with our belongings in the back of a large van.

Which part of France do you live in, and what's it like to live there?
We live in a village called Gleizé on the outskirts of Villefranche-sur-Saône, the capital of the Beaujolais, about 40 km north of Lyon. The balcony of our bedroom looks out over the Beaujolais hills.

It is a great place to live with everything you could want within half an hour's drive, but in less than five minutes on my bike I can be in the beautiful Beaujolais countryside. It's also just two hours by car from the Alps and Auvergne for walking and skiing so it really is an ideal location for us.

Do you have children, if so how easy was it for them to adjust to a French school?
We have two children, one born in the UK, the other in France. Leo, who was born in England, had the advantage that I spoke little French when I moved to France so at ten year's old he is now fluent in English. Our second child, however, despite regular trips to the UK has difficulty with her English. This is in part because I now find it difficult to speak only English to her when everyone around me is speaking French!

Open quote. Interviewee gives their moving to France tips learn French before you go... Close quote

What is your age?
I'm 42.

Where were you born?
I was born in Shaftesbury.

Do you work, if so what do you do and how difficult was it to find work or start a business in France?
I now run my own business called High Point Holidays. It specialises in activity holidays, (mainly guided and independent walking, and cycling breaks) in quiet, unspoilt areas, for Francophiles wishing to have an authentic French experience. I had already spent a lot of my spare time since our move using my extensive walking and mountaineering experience to explore the hills and mountains of France, and it seemed a logical step to create High Point Holidays and share with others my passion and knowledge for France's magical landscapes. The company is based in the UK, partly because my clients are English speaking and partly because of the French bureaucracy, which I had already encountered with my first business.

When I first moved to France I looked after our son for 6 months before taking French courses. After 18 months I enrolled to do a Masters in Environmental Risk and Management, which really did get my French up to scratch. Following my course I set up a business to do consultancy work in environmental matters, mainly helping Parish Councils to put in place their emergency plans. I am now going to close the company to concentrate on my tourist business, but having looked at the procedures it's seems even more complicated to end the business than it was to create it!

What was the worst mistake you made when buying in France?
None. It took a total of about 6 days to look for our house! Having decided that the situation at the in-laws was becoming untenable, I set about looking on the outskirts of Villefranche-sur-Saône. After I'd looked at a few properties, I soon discovered that there was a shortage in our price range (partly due to the migration of people out from Lyon) and to make matters worse, the better value houses went within a few days. On the fifth day, I visited our present home. It was in a poor state but much bigger than the other houses in the area for the same price. I decided there and then that it was an opportunity not to be missed.

Your best tip or advice to other people considering moving to France?
Make sure you do as much as possible to learn French before you go.

Did you find it hard to integrate or adjust to your new life in France and do you have any tips to help others?
he fact that my wife is French has definitely helped with regards to friends and family. Having said that, I have not faced any prejudices or difficulties other than those that you might expect when you don't master the language. If you make an effort to speak French (no matter what your level) and remain friendly and positive, then generally you will get a helpful response.

What's the best thing about living in France?
The French way of life.

And the worst?
Living a long way from the rest of my family.

What do you think?

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