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Moving to France – How NOT to do it.

Moving to France – How NOT to do it.

| On 05, Jan 2008


The following day we set off on the remaining 5 hour drive to our new home. When we stopped to get fuel my mobile phone rang, it was the removal company, they told me that they would not transport our furniture (which was due to leave on the ferry that night), until I paid for the excess load, not just a couple of hundred pounds as I had been told, but a whopping £1,100 – I was astounded, but they had me completely over a barrel, either I paid them or they wouldn’t deliver our furniture.

This took the total cost for the removal to well over £5,000.

So beware, make sure you get a firm quotation from your removal company, that is not changeable and take note, it is probably better to go with a slightly higher quote from a large well known company, rather that choose a less well known seemingly cheaper one!

We arranged to meet the estate agents, two Dutch women, at 4.00pm inside the hotel. It was now the 8th of March. We were using a Tom-Tom satellite navigation system which was great, but as time was getting short, I decided to try and find a shorter route, this took us into the mountains and onto some tiny windy mountain roads, there was thick fog and snow piled up high on the verges, so our short cut became a rather traumatic adventure into the unknown. We finally made it half an hour late and it was now pouring with rain and blowing a gale. Welcome to the sunny South of France I thought!

To our surprise we arrived at the hotel to find a large group of people standing outside in the wind and rain. My immediate feeling was one of dread; why on earth would they all be standing outside in this weather? We went to find out what was going on, to discover that the owner’s daughter in law (we will call her “˜Gill’), who had been running the hotel for the past eight years, had changed the locks and was refusing to move out.

The owner of the hotel, a Belgian who we will call Ned (not his real name), had given the hotel to his stepson and daughter in law (Gill), to run when he had moved away to run a holistic retreat in the Garonne.

His stepson had then returned to Belgium leaving Gill running the hotel on her own ever since. The group of people who were stood outside included among others, our estate agents, Ned and his wife, an avocat (lawyer) and a magistrate. We were told by them that what Gill had done was illegal and that she would have to move out or be forcibly evicted.

Ned offered to put us up in a hotel in Carcassonne for the night, so we had a further two-hour drive to Carcassonne to spend the night at his expense. The following day after many phone calls by Ned we were told that it could take a little longer than he had expected to get Gill out and us in to the hotel. He suggested we went to stay at his home, a three and a half hour journey from the property we were buying, until something else could be sorted out.


By now, we were panicking about the 90 cubic meters of furniture which was due to arrive imminently. After spending two nights at Ned’s home we suggested it would be a good idea to go up to the village close to the hotel, and look for somewhere we could store the furniture when it arrived in two days time, and at the same time find somewhere we could stay until we could move it into the hotel.

We drove to a town situated half way up the mountain, where we were stopped by a police roadblock.

They were preventing traffic from going further up the mountain, due to very heavy snowfall; however because Ned’s car was a four wheel drive, they let us go up. It was snowing very heavily and was scary navigating the hair pin bends on the mountain road, knowing there were drops of hundreds of feet and no crash barrier, but the scene on top of the mountain was quite beautiful, like something from a Christmas card. The pine forests’ snow laden branches looked simply amazing. When we finally arrived in the village we spent the day visiting various people to ask if they could help us. Finally the Mayor of the village said we could use the villages summer fete house to store the furniture, as long as we removed it by the end of May. No problem, we told him, we will be out long before then!

I let the removal company know the address to take the furniture to and told them that the village was currently cut off by snow. It was late and getting dark, the snow was turning to ice. I thought Ned was driving too fast for the conditions, but my brother assured me Ned was used driving on these sorts of roads.

But on our drive down the mountain Ned lost control of the car, it was sent into a terrifying spin, I thought, “˜this is it, now we are going to fall off the side of this mountain into oblivion’. But luckily a huge snow bank that had been made by the snow ploughs continual efforts to keep the roads clear throughout the day, trapped the car in its icy grip before it could plummet over the edge. After getting the car out of the snow bank the rest of the drive back was thankfully uneventful – if still rather hair raising. But driving in the mountains during the winter is NOT for the faint hearted.

The following day we drove back to the village, this time to look for accommodation to stay in temporarily until the problems at the hotel could be sorted. It took us the entire day to find somewhere that was suitable for five adults (one of whom was in a wheelchair), three dogs and a small boy.

In the end we found a tiny two bedroom holiday chalet, located in a tiny hamlet some 15 minute drive from the hotel. We moved in the following day. Our furniture was arriving that afternoon, but luckily it had stopped snowing and the snow ploughs had cleared the roads, so the lorry was able to get to the village. Craig and Martin worked with the removal men to move all the furniture into the salle de fete, we were heartbroken when we discovered that many of the boxes near the front of the lorry were sodden and falling apart, there was a large hole in the lorry roof and many of our things were ringing wet.

We knew that because there was no heating where the things were being stored, that it was unlikely they would dry out, but would just go mouldy.

Alex was probably the only one of us who enjoyed his stay in the holiday chalet, as he could go sledging and build snowmen! After a week of sitting in pained silence, because we were now all so depressed at the situation and couldn’t think of anything more to say, my brother suggested we go and see Ned’s daughter in law Gill at the hotel and get her side of the story. We all agreed that as nothing seemed to be happening it was a good idea. So off we went.

We were quite surprised to find that “˜Gill’ welcomed us in a friendly way and explained that she had been trying to find us to explain things. She told us we had been lied to and that in fact the hotel had been provisionally sold to other people before us, but that as now, she had refused to move out and the sale had fallen through.

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