Saint Julien de Lampon, France. It isn’t easy to find this place on a map. It’s a village in the Dordogne area, roughly northwest of Provence and east of Bordeaux. It’s a land of manicured landscapes, picturesque ruins, chateaux, castles and ancient churches. It’s also spectacularly green, filled with dramatic escarpments, and a river runs through it. It’s a place with centuries of history, widely estimated to have reached its peak of culture and influence somewhere between the 13th and 15th centuries.
I’m here to celebrate the retirement of a younger brother from maritime service in Maine and an earlier career as a tugboat captain. We’re staying in the village home of another younger brother. He bought it for the proverbial song 24 years ago. A mathematician and university professor, he’s had a schedule that allowed him to work on the house in many of those years. Today you can look from a lovely stone patio to view a small vegetable garden, then trees that bear figs, pears and walnuts, and on to open farmland.
A stroll takes you to the local boulangerie for morning croissants, a fresh baguette or country bread. A butcher shop is next door. A small grocery store is next to that. A bar/café is cross the square, by an ancient church. At the weekly farmers market you can buy fresh sausages and vegetables. A truck displays interesting cheeses. And that’s before the foie gras vendor. This area is the global epicenter of foie gras. It is everywhere.
One could live an idyllic life here. Many do. So how about retiring?
I’m serious. Many people dream of retiring to an out-of-the-way beach in Mexico, Belize or Costa Rica. One reason is that they think it will be incredibly cheap. They will be able to live well on a limited income. That dream can be fulfilled--- but only in proportion to the expensive habits of urban living that you are willing to leave behind.
What if you want easy country living and good wine and great food?
The right mix may be here in rural France.
Shelter. This is the greatest expense for retirees, no matter where they live. Here you can buy a ruin and do a replay of Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence.” The range of shelter available runs from fifteenth century chateaus that can be had for a cool million to energy efficient new houses for $200,000, to condos in medieval cities for about $150,000, sometimes less. Taxes are miniscule, particularly on lower priced homes, and offset the higher utility costs.
One proof that it works is simple: you’ll find a fair number of British and Dutch pensioners retired here, after years of coming to a second home.
Will your home be a good investment? Probably not. The birth rate in France has been below replacement rate for decades. The young continue to leave the countryside. They move to the large cities for work. The result may be an even trade between incoming retirees and outgoing young.
The population of France is nearly as old as Florida. The countryside is probably older. While visiting Gourdon, one of the medieval cities in the area, the number of empty shops struck me. Perhaps being a tourist attraction isn’t enough to sustain the village life that’s here. The arrival of a huge E.Leclerc super-size market in the area brings worries about a European version of the Wal-Mart effect.
Food and drink. Really good food costs the same or less, sometimes dramatically less, than it does in the US. And it’s all of a quality that no self-respecting foodie could complain about. If you like wine, good regional wines can be had for less than $10 a bottle and vin ordinaire can be had for $1.50 a liter--- way cheaper than the “Two-Buck-Chuck” in Trader Joe’s.
At the upper end, the differences are stunning. Dinner for four including aperitif, sparkling water, wine, appetizer, main course and desert was less than $100 a person at Le Pont de l’Ouysse, a restaurant with a prized Michelin star.
Transportation. Cars are expensive here; so is the fuel to run them. Fortunately, they are smaller and fuel efficiency can be impressive. The Renault Kangoo that we have used has a small diesel engine. It gets over 50 miles per gallon.
Banking and Entertainment. They may seem unrelated, but they are united by their electronic universality. In St. Julien cash from my domestic bank account came from an ATM. No problem. And a good exchange rate for the Euros delivered.
Similarly, once you have Internet access, the entire universe of global streaming opens to you--- Netflix and Amazon Prime for movies, TV, Kindle books, etc. You’ll always have a deep link to home.