By Michele Reed
Photos by Bill Reed
With a month or so of 2020 behind us, many people are looking back and reevaluating their New Year’s resolutions. Or, if you’re a procrastinator like me, maybe just now making up your list of annual goals.
In addition to the usual promises to exercise more, eat healthier, lose weight, reduce stress, learn a new language, read more or even write a novel, many of us — especially those of retirement age — may have made a resolution to travel more, or to explore part- or full-time retirement abroad.
We encourage you to go for it! It’s surprisingly easy and affordable, and a wonderful adventure to boot. We’ve been living part-time in France since we retired in 2013, spending three months every winter and three months in the summer in a small village of 1,500 people near Beziers, about 20 minutes away from the Mediterranean Sea.
We started off easy, renting in the off-season and spending January, February and March exploring the region, but even a couple of weeks would be a start.
After three winters in France, we bought a tiny stone house in the medieval heart of a winemaking village.
Our village is so small, we walk everywhere — the butcher, épicerie or tiny grocery store, the greengrocer selling local produce, post office and church. The bus stop is at the foot of our street, and the bus to Beziers is a 10-minute, 50-cent ride. There we walk all over town, running errands or seeing the sights.
All that walking keeps us fit. Each three-month sojourn, we lose about 10 pounds each and come back stronger and healthier. All without having to pay a gym fee or build exercise time into our daily routine.
‘Living in France, we consistently save between $1,200 and $1,500 per month compared to our American budget.’
The food is healthier, too. By law there are no GMOs in France, and many pesticides prevalent in the U.S. are banned in Europe. The meat is raised more humanely with most chickens and cattle grazing en plein aire, or free-range. Our eggs come from chickens that live in our village — the rooster wakes us up each morning. Bread has purity laws and my daily baguette has four ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt.
Losing weight doesn’t mean we deny ourselves the pleasures of dining in France. We eat rich cheese from one of the 100 best fromagers or cheese mongers in France, fresh meat from an artisan butcher and baked goods from a boulangerie whose specialty, la coque, or shell, of St. Aphrodise (the patron saint of Beziers), scored a 10 out of 10 on the national TV competition, “The Best Bakery in France.”
About once a week we indulge in a three-course restaurant lunch, with appetizer, entrée, desert, wine and coffee for about $40.
All this good living costs less than our routine life at home. At the village winemakers’ cooperative, we buy wine for about $10 a 5-liter box or the equivalent of $1.50 a bottle. Our cable, internet, landline and cellphone combined cost $80, and the electricity bill is $60. The biggest savings is from not driving. Our monthly investment of about $20 in bus passes wouldn’t even pay for one week’s gas back home.
We consistently save between $1,200 and $1,500 per month compared to our American budget, while still paying our rent in Oswego along with all utilities on our apartment there. That pays for our flights over and we end each journey with extra money in our savings account as well.
Our location gives us the opportunity for the occasional travel adventure. We’ve visited Nice, Lyon, Marseille and Monaco, with many more adventures planned.
When we began our retirement, we couldn’t speak French, but talking with our neighbors, interacting with merchants and watching TV has given us a good foundation and we’re getting better every day.
The pace of daily life is slower and less stressful in Europe, and people are more focused on home and family life. Every day we visit with our neighbors around the village. After running our errands, we have plenty of time for pursuing our interests. Bill follows his passions for history and photography, and I’ve taken up watercolor painting and launched a “second act” writing mystery fiction. I even finished the first draft of a novel.
Our evenings are often spent sipping a glass of the local wine on the rooftop terrace, looking over at the landscape of vineyards as far as the eye can see, eating cheese, baguette and olives, and contemplating our new life abroad.
Sometimes, when we do, we realize that we’ve fulfilled all our New Year’s resolutions — eat healthier, exercise more, lose weight, reduce stress, save money, learn a new language, see the world and pursue our passions. All by saying “Yes!” to the urge to retire abroad.