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Why you really should think about moving to northern France

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Why you really should think about moving to northern France
Cap Blanc Nez on the nothern coast of France. Photo: Maelick/Flickr
14:09 CEST+02:00
The unglamorous and often overcast far north of France is never high on the list of French regions foreigners dream of moving to, but author Janine Marsh explains why people need to give it more thought.

At this year's France Show in London an estate agent gave a presentation about the best places in France to move to in front of dozens who are mulling over the move.

From Dordogne to the Charente and from Brittany to Normandy the agent covered all the popular places expats tend to head to.

But the far north of the country, the region now known as Hauts-de-France and in particular the most northerly departments of Pas-de-Calais and Nord did not get a mention.

Perhaps it's not surprising. Maybe it's considered too close to Britain, not just geographically but when it comes to the industrial landscape in parts of the north as well as the weather.

(Janine Marsh with her rooster. Photo: Janine Marsh)

But author Janine Marsh who has a house in the Seven Valleys area of Pas-de-Calais says more people should consider the north.

"It's only 35 minutes from the UK but it's a different world," she says. "I don't know why more people don't think about this area."

Marsh is the author of "My Good Life in France: In pursuit of the rural dream" and decided to buy her house on a whim during a short trip across the Channel back in 2004.

She did the exact opposite to what most people looking to buy a house in France are advised to do.

"We did no research at all. We didn't know the village or the area. We didn't really know what we doing, but life is short," Marsh says.

Her house cost just €60,000. Even though it was in desperate need of a sprucing up the price just seemed too good to walk away from. 

"The mortgage cost about as much as my gym membership in London," she says.

(Photo:Pierre Andre Leclerq/Flickr)

Commuting to London

One of the real advantages of northern France compared to the sunnier parts of the country that draw in many expats is its proximity to the UK and to Eurostar terminals in Lille and Calais.

That means people could still keep the jobs in the south east of England but live in France.

"I can be in London in 58 minutes. In other words you can work in London and have the best of France; the lifestyle, the food," says Marsh. "There are people who spend more than two hours each day commuting to London from around the UK.

"A lot of the Brits who live in this part of France work shifts in the UK such as nurses or doctors and get three days off in a row. There are also lots of young people moving to the area who work in areas like publishing and can work from home in France for a few days a week and then pop to the office in London once a week."

The only problem that Marsh points out is that a fast internet connection is not guaranteed in all parts of the rural north. So those who need to work from home will have to do their research first.

Making friends.

If there's one thing the north of France has over the rest of the country it's the reputed friendliness of the locals, known in colloquial terms as "Les Ch'tis".

"It's easy to make friends with the French in the north," says Marsh. "They are very interested in what you do. People used to just come and knock on my door or wander into the garden to introduce themselves.

"After being in London I wasn't used to people coming up to me and shaking my hand or even kissing me. But now I love it.

"Now everyone knows my business, even if I don't know theirs. It's a bit like going back in time 50 years, people leave their doors open and neighbours don't turn you away.

People who move to France to start a new life often tend to fall into two categories, those who like to be around other expats and those who like to avoid them completely.

Marsh says northern France offers the best of both worlds.

"There are expat clubs around here with hundreds of members, so if people want them they are there and if they want to avoid them then they can."

What about the weather?

One of the reasons the estate agent at the France Show in London ignored the north of France is that many who move from the UK head for the sunny south or south west.

When it comes to the weather, northern France has the same reputation as northern England, eternally drizzly and overcast.

( Mont de Kersuin at Bouin Plumoison in the Seven Valleys. Photo: Steve C/Flickr))

But it's not that bad, says Marsh.

"I've been down to the south of France and it rained non-stop for three days. I got back home and the sun was shining."

Nevertheless if you want sun the north of France is not for you. The departments of Nord and Pas de Calais get just over 1,500 hours of sunshine each year - which ranks them among the six least sunny departments in all of France.

Compare that to the Riviera where the Alpes-Maritmes department gets over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year.

"The sun is overrated," says Marsh."It never gets too hot here. I have friends in the south who tell me the only way they can sleep in the summer is by putting their pyjamas in the fridge."

(Stella beach, Pas-de-Calais - Vincent Desjardins)

Picturesque Pas-de-Calais

While other parts of France are better known for their spectacular scenery such as the Dordogne or the former Languedoc region in the south west, the far Pas-de-Calais and the surrounding areas do have plenty going for them.

Not least the opal coast and the stunning cliffs at Cap-Blanc-Nez and Cap-Blanc-Gris. There is also the chic beach resort of Le Touquet where the French president Emmanuel Macron has a house in the centre of town and a little further down the coast is Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, which in 2017 was voted France's most beautiful village.

The region is also home to historic towns like Arras (see pic below) and if you looking for big urban centre Lille is close and Paris is of course not too far away.

Photo: OliBac/Flickr

And you have the peace and tranquility that makes rural France so attractive.

"I drive to the shop and pass three cars on the way," says Marsh. "I never sit in traffic apart from when you meet a herd of cows crossing the road.

"It's only 35 minutes from the UK but it's a different world. I don't know why more people don't think about this area."

The far north of France has probably suffered a little from bad publicity in recent years due to the migrant crisis in and around Calais which has given the whole area an unfair reputation. 

"When people think of Pas-de-Calais they just think of Calais," says Marsh. "But that's just one town. There are picturesque villages and medieval towns, hills and valleys. Every town has a market and it's great to go to the local café for a coffee or an aperitif.

"The sandy beaches and the cliffs along the coast are stunning. You'll see fishermen selling fish out of their garages," says Marsh.

"If you want that kind of life you read about in Peter Mayle books you can have it in northern France."

(Equihen plage. Photo: Guillaume Baviere.)

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