Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Brigitte tells us about moving to France.
1. Hi, Brigitte! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
Together with my husband Marc, originally from Tienen, I (originally from Tongeren) moved to Castellane mid-January. Castellane is located at the foot of the well-known Gorges du Verdon in les Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in France. We officially started our own chambres d’hôtes called Maison Castellane here.
2. What did you expect from Castellane and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
We decided to move to France because we wanted to start living a slower lifestyle. Marc especially was fed up with his desk job and didn’t see himself sitting in a gloomy office until his retirement. I myself was extremely attracted to life in a much sunnier environment. I need a lot of sun and warmth because it has a positive effect on my health.
Most of our expectations were met. Running a chambres d’hôtes, however, is not to be underestimated. When just recently the season was over, we were exhausted! It is a completely different way of working. Of course, since this was our first year we had a lot of stuff we still had to figure out how to do. We are convinced that next year will be easier, every startup needs two years for things to go smoothly.
Of course, in the beginning, the slowness of “the system” in France annoyed us. It can take some time to get everything in order here. However, we find it very logical that we need to adjust to the legislation of the country we chose to live in. If you adjust and respect the authenticity of the people in the region, living here is great.
Besides, we both grew up in Belgium and during our life there we learned how things work step by step. When you decide to move abroad, you’ll suddenly have to learn all those things in a matter of months. Another difference not to be underestimated.
The problems we get to deal with in France, mainly have to do with foreigners who came to live here without wanting to respect the legislation. When we’re at our wits’ end it’s mostly because we have to deal with this. That is why it doesn’t surprise us to come across a grumpy Frenchman now and then. Once they see that we do want to go by the rules and pay taxes just like every Frenchmen, there are no problems whatsoever!
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in France and life in Belgium?
The way of living here in France is the biggest difference. Recently, I was in Belgium for just a week and had to leave to go home (read: home in Castellane) early. I just couldn’t take it anymore. It’s unbelievable how stressed out people in Belgium are!
And of course, the weather. The 300 sunny days of which people here in Castellane speak are not exaggerated at all.
4. What’s the best part about living in Castellane?
The region, nature, the atmosphere, and the people. There’s always something to do here for the villagers, mainly during low season. During high season, Castellane is overrun by tourists. This means hard work for everybody. But between the villagers, there’s always a sense of belonging and understanding. During the month of September, everybody here is exhausted but we are all working together. The nagging at each other just means you fit in, even if you’re an immigrant.
I would just like to add a small remark about this. I hear a lot of people saying that one will never be accepted as an immigrant. However, there is a big difference between being accepted and being ‘one of them’. We find it normal that we will never be ‘one of them’, we are and always will be Belgians after all.
5. What do you like least about living in Castellane?
The fact that it can be extremely cold here during winter! At night, temperatures drop. During the day we do get temperatures of + 10°C, but still… I really don’t like the cold.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
My children and my friends. I miss going out with them and I miss the fun workshops I did with them and those I did without them.
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
Where do you want me to start?
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Castellane? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
Marc and I were just talking about this the other day. When we are ready to retire (around 70), we would like to move closer to the Côte d’Azur. There, it is always 5 to 10 degrees warmer and temperatures don’t fall below freezing.
We do know already that it would have to be a quiet environment, not a big city where we are back to people running around stressed out all the time. No thanks.
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to France?
We did get a lot of tips and looked a lot of stuff up on the internet. But ultimately, you’ll still have to figure most of it out on your own. You’ll have to ask certain things (like where you have to go in to get certain things in order) to the people in your region.
What we DIDN’T find on the internet nor by people telling us, is that after signing out in Belgium, you’ll have to bring certain documents to the Belgian Consulate in France in order to change your domicile.
10. What are some tips you would give to people who are traveling to your region/city? Things they should visit or eat?
People who are traveling to Castellane should certainly pay a visit to the Gorges du Verdon, while you’re there, don’t skip the Route des Crêtes. We get a lot of guests who are staying here for just one night, and who haven’t seen much of the region that way!
If you are planning on visiting Gorges du Verdon and everything around it, you’ll at least need three days. People who are staying here for two weeks and who are getting the right information will certainly come back. After two weeks, you still haven’t seen it all. We are still discovering something new every week ourselves.
Maison Castellane is the place to be for anyone who is looking for a chambres d’hôtes where they serve organic food and where you can get gluten-free and vegetarian food as well. People who are looking to have a gourmet dinner at an honest price should definitely go to restaurant Le Teillon in La Garde, a sub-municipality of Castellane.
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This interview was done by Paloma García Miranda, a talented Master’s Student of Business Communication who’s helping Sofie out here on WonderfulWanderings.com.