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25 July 2016

From the Alps to the Pyrenees, to the flat plains of Lower Normandy, and the Pearl of Limousin

Since arriving in France in April, we’ve morphed from Gulf expats into unpaid Trusted Housesitter nomads. And it’s been an interesting transition. We seem to have found our groove now – being on our fifth housesit appointment – and we love the fact that change is always on our horizon. It’s not for everyone, but we’re finding this lifestyle incredibly rewarding and liberating.

Every owner has seemed immensely grateful for our services and – so far – we’ve loved the process: we arrive to find that the owners have prepared a comfortable room for us, stocked the fridge and written copious notes about the pets’ needs, foibles, eating habits, dietary requirements and exercise regimes. We’re given the ‘guided tour’ of all-things-mechanical, water stop-cocks, and electrical switchery, and a quick run around all the important local places such as the vets, the nearest grocery store and the local boulangerie.

Generally, the owners seem to prefer that we arrive a day and a half before they depart, which gives them ample time to size us up, see that we can bond with the dogs/cats/horses, and allows both sides to ‘share their story’ in a convivial setting. 

This year, since leaving Doha in April, we’ve had the following experiences:

  • Morzine (Rhone-Alps): We've helped a physio and her Finance Director hubby by looking after their two Alpine holiday homes. No animals were involved, apart from ‘fostering’ the neighbours cat, and our main tasks were as security managers and caretakers of their property and gardens. This has been an excellent springboard from which to explore central Europe.

  • St. Jean d’Aulps (Rhone-Alps): 

    In August, Simon and Cassie West desperately needed a break and wanted to return to the UK for 3 weeks. To assist, we ran their Alpine Action Adventures business in a village 7km outside Morzine; we stayed in their 5-bed chalet and took care of visiting guests and two beautiful cats. Si and Cassie are people we feel we’ve known forever and – we hope – will be life-long friends (see 'This hosting life' blog for more info and images of our hosting life);

  • Bagneres de Luchon (French Pyrenees):

    In early September, we drove from the Alps down to the Pyrenees and looked after a very energetic two-year-old Vizsla while her owners – a retired vet and a gifted horsewoman – travelled to the UK for a wedding. Corin and John were such kind and interesting people and we had a few nights and days of getting to know them before we drove them to Toulouse airport. Lexi, the dog, required at least three hours of walking per day. Luckily, we got to meet Kate Potter, a dog-walking friend of Corin’s who used to be a professional mountain biker for Australia. She kept us entertained with her stories of competing all over the world while we hiked up steep mountains in the rain…a lot!;

  • Ste Margeurite de Carrouges (Lower Normandy):

    In late September, we drove north to Normandy and instantly fell in love with two golden retrievers, Tazzie and Jake. Their owners, Tina and Boe, met in Hong Kong and travelled the world with Boe’s oil drilling profession. Tina and I bonded instantly. We shared similar Hong Kong experiences and realised we had much in common from the financial services industry and partaking in the wine-drinking industry in HK’s debauched Lan Kwai Fong! These people were so generous and insisted we help ourselves to anything in their pantry and wine cellar. Le Logis is their home – a granite manor house built in 1754 with an adjoining Gite – which started life as a convent and you have to see the pictures to fully appreciate what a stylish place we got to enjoy for 3 weeks.

  • Le Moulin de la Geneste, Limousin (Central France):

    Barbara and Lawrence owned/ran farms in the north of England before deciding to ‘live the dream’ and buy property to renovate just 13km from Uzerche, known as 'The Pearl of Limousin'. Le Bradascou river runs through the farmland here, which boasts two lakes, two paddocks, stables and three additional farm buildings; one large enough to be used for the local Mayor’s daughter’s wedding reception. We’re currently taking care of 2 gentle horses, 7 cats (3 tame and indoor plus 4 ‘outdoor/wild’), numerous chickens, ducks and koi carp. There is also an extensive greenhouse filled with hanging baskets, seedlings, and tomato plants which we need to make sure thrive while the owners are travelling. We've shared some highlights of our work at this property with posted a video via YouTube).

There have been a few negatives, mostly unrelated to our lifestyle and more relevant to communications. The ongoing frustrations of a terrible service from SFR, the French mobile operator we chose to use, has meant that we’ve not been in contact or online as much as we’d have liked and we’ve had to rely on free wifi which has not been ideal. But, overall, we’ve had very little to fret about.

We feel lucky, blessed, happy, relaxed, fit and balanced. All this is a far cry from our past comfortable life in Perth, the culture of Melbourne, the restricted but inspiring life in Riyadh, and our manic and rather unhealthy existence in Doha. All those experiences have shaped us and brought us to this point in our lives where we feel at peace. The future is not clear, apart from continuing to be nomads, housesitting for as long as we feel it’s viable while I continue to write as a freelancer from wherever I happen to be. We'll see how things pan out. Until next time... bisous bisous!