Thursday, June 4

Expats-in-Waiting: Moving Towards a Retirement Dream in France

I have always felt that I would live abroad for an extended period at some point later in my life. I didn’t have any further inklings than that. Nothing concrete. No particular location in mind. It was just a body sense, an intuition. The thought did not live in my head.

Then along comes sweet Ken, whose dreams of living the expatriate life are old and dear. Since living for several years in Cyprus, he has always known he was expat-at-heart.

Over the years, and especially during his time as a travel writer for Rick Steves, Ken developed a deep love affair with Europe... and France in particular. Ever since I have known him, he has devoured every book he could get his hands on that has to do with French culture, life as an expat, moving internationally and all things related.

Well, since Ken is a keeper-among-keepers, not to mention pretty much the easiest guy to travel with AND live with -- I mean, who’s gonna argue with France? Not me, that’s for durn sure!

So, over the last 6 weeks, our original itinerary for our Europe trip this fall has morphed into a delicious reconnaissance mission to to France to explore and investigate where we might love to move when he retires in two to four years.

Our exhaustive research (thank you, Google!) has enabled us to narrow our search to the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, specifically the department of Herault. (Translation note: “department” is roughly equivalent to an American county or parish.)

Languedoc-Roussillon_mapLanguedoc -– which, get this (!) -- translates as “the language of yes” -- is located on the Mediterranean Sea, to the west of Provence and bordering Spain and the Pyrenees Mountains to the south. It is the “other south of France” – an unspoiled, uncrowded, less expensive version of Provence. Shhh… don’t tell anyone!

I have been doing what Ken calls “a deep delve” into research on our potential retirement spot. Though, to be more accurate, HE will be retiring. I, being 19 years younger than he is, will still be creating fun ways to generate income for a number of years yet! Hmmm… I wonder what I’ll create in France!

Herault is the area we are focusing on -- specifically the Orb River Valley – the villages of Roquebrun, Cessenon-sur-Orb, and St. Chinian are on the list, with Roquebrun occupying the top spot.

Here’s Roquebrun! Called ‘La Petit Nice’, this village of approximately 650 inhabitants is nestled up against the southern boundary of a national park. This nestled position enables a desirable microclimate, fairly protected from the legendary howling winds of southern France – the Tramontane and the Mistral.

Looking northwest:roquenbrun-g

Looking north:2Roque6

The sensuous Orb River winds through the village. Here’s a shot looking south:Orb Valley

An aerial view:2Roque1

From the River Orb, looking north up into the village. Check out the restaurant with the reddish awning in the left part of the photo:R.ORB%20AT%20ROQUEBRUN

Looking south:River Orb in Roquebrun2

Tres magnifique, non?! Swoon...

Here’s Cessenon-sur-Orb, population 1800: Cessenon



Here’s St. Chinian, population 1800:



So, instead of our trip being a whirlwind of many beds, we searched for just the perfect “gite” to rent for the entire stay—actually, we found two. This appeals deeply to my Cancerian homebody nature to have only three mattresses in two neighboring villages for the entire stay!  Especially to create a feeling of a true home base as we explore, and to “try on” living in a small village.

Week 1, we’ll stay here, Les Hirondelles, (“The Swallows”), right in the village of Roquebrun, next door to the baker(!), overlooking the Orb River:


Week 2, we’ll be here, Les Palmiers, (“The Palms”), in the village of Cessenon-sur-Orb, right on the market square.


Week 3, we’ll stay here, La Rive, (“The Shore”), just outside the village of Roquebrun, 5 minutes’ walk from the bakery, right on the Orb River:


We may just send for Roxy and our stuff and call it good!

We have enrolled in French lessons already at Pima Community College for the summer.  Everyone we have talked to about this move has stated quite strongly that the French have no tolerance for foreigners who do not at least TRY to speak the language. Having gotten straight “A’s” through 2 years of high school French 25 years ago – who knows if I retained even a single bit of grammar or vocabulary. Perhaps there are some old synapses that can be re-ignited with a bit of effort and intention!

It will be an interesting journey, being an expat. I have been in heaven imagining the possibilities. And anticipating the more sublime pace and the aesthetic sensibilities I resonate with there.


  1. Oh you lucky girl!!! Bon Chance

  2. Ooh la la! You did delve deeply into all this! Thanks for sharing. I just cruised the links and it all looks magnifique!

  3. Wow! I love wondering how you're doing, clicking over to your blog to find out, and enjoying your journey right along with you.

    I know someone else who moved to France and I just know you're going to enjoy her blog:

    I'm sure Lisa would welcome the opportunity to connect with an ex-pat-to-be so reach out to her or let me know if you want me to send an email introduction.


  4. Hi Claire,
    I was very interested to come across your page. My husband and I stayed in Les Palmiers in Cessenon sur Orb between February and May 2007. It was a wonderful area to explore by bicycle, even though I was in the middle of a pregnancy. We loved the peacefulness and beauty of the wonderful stretch from the Espinouse down to Béziers, and everything in between. Some day we would love to go back there but notice that Les Palmiers is no longer available for rent. One of our best memories is of the two wonderful women in La Mie qui Chante, in Cessenon, who kept us fed and watered with their wonderful produce.

    We are Irish, and note your Irish surname.

  5. Hi Clare & John! So lovely to read your post here. Yes, the Orb River Valley is exquisitely beautiful -- and the people are friendly & welcoming. My husband Ken & I plan to move permanently to Roquebrun in May of 2012 as he will be retiring. We are VERY excited! If you are ever back in the area then, look us up and we'll get together for tea or lunch! Warmest regards,

  6. Wow Claire that sounds so amazing! I'm thinking about setting up a 12 month base in Roquebrun in 2011/2012. I was just wondering if you had any hints/tips for setting up a home in France. Thanks in advance for your help!

  7. OK...I keep offering to come along as your translator, but you haven't taken me up on that offer yet! I'm just LOOKING for an excuse to keep up my fluency in French. We should at least Skype in French sometime! That would be fun.