Having found this website incredibly useful and gained some incredibly helpful and thoughtful replies to some of my many (sometimes rather silly) queries I though I might maybe give a little back and give a few indications as to our good and bad experiences settling in here. I have to say at the outset we are not renovaters or DIY'ers. We had some initial works to do on our place but no major restructuring. We are also retired and not looking to set up in business here.
Buying: We found this a fairly stress-free process. As long as you are not in a hurry and your paperwork is in order. We remained in UK the whole time and did not even come over to sign anything at all. All done by email and post. We found in general estate agents here are really helpful (possibly because they are desperate to sell anything they can) and will assist with many things (info on the area, reading meters, contacts etc) that UK agents are not helpful with. Make sure there are no fosse septique problems - this can cost you dear later on, not to mention the dreadful odours that you may have to endure. The one thing we slightly over-looked when buying was that we had purchased what was a second home that was used only in summer. Heating is/was inadequate for winter and we are having to insulate and fit air- air heating. Unexpected painful costs. There was a massive new wood burner recently installed by the previous owners in the lounge but this will not heat the whole house in November - March. The towering, high-ceilinged gargantuan converted barn that looks so glorious in the summer sunshine may not be so glorious to heat for 5 months of the year.
Travel: We have tried it all ways - ferry, tunnel, flights, rail (not yet rowing boat) - they all work out the same financially we find in the long run and for us at least (with a house and family in Devon still) it takes a full day of your time each end. Luckier you if you live near Stanstead airport of course. The massive reductions you get off peak are amazing - this is the only way you really save on travel - if you are not bound by school holidays of course. Our local airport - Limoges - is a lovely little airport but we did find Flybe cancelled a flight last winter when we were due to come over. Apparently they will do this if they do not have a full enough plane.
Bringing a car permanently to France: This was no problem at all with help of friendly local garage - proprietor even happy to practice his English, which was a help. But beware - 500 Euros to change the headlights. Ugh! Bad news! And that was on a Peugeot that confirmed to all French standards. Carte Grise also quite pricey - just a paper trail - but monies down the line do mount up.
Medical: After all the weeping and wailing blogs I had read, I found the process of getting the Carte Vitale relatively very easy. Yes, you need birth certificates etc but so what. It does take time though, so if you want a major body part replacement or whatever immediately you get here- think again. What we really like is that you get sole practitioners here still in the villages - no massive impersonal Primary Care Trust Centres. We have a delightful doctor who always can fit us in within 48 hours and is always happy to chat and does not even have a receptionist. You simply knock on the door. We have not as yet taken out top-up insurance as we are not at all sure it is worth it - but I guess that is a very personal thing if you are a regular visitor to medical centres etc.
Internet, WIFI, phone etc. We found the easiest thing to do was to go to the Orange Shop. English phone line personally I found a dead loss. You still have to physically present your credentials. Wait 2 weeks for the apparatus and it is actually (disbelieving though we were) very easy to set up the Livebox yourself. We are in the process of purchasing and fitting a parafoudre to the our fuse box as we are told this is well worth it to guard against storm damage.
Shopping: although we live in what is very much classed as "Really Rural France" - there is a supermarket in every local town. Five minutes to anything (foodwise) that you need. The Intermarches now open on a Sunday morning also.
Speaking French: Yes, yes - it is no good shouting loudly in English. Get a basic grammar book or join the numerous classes that are on offer. It does help massively and also makes you friends.
The British things: (Things you think you won't need but probably will end up wanting) SKY TV is easy to get set up - many experts out here- all costs but if you want it.......??? At a cost, there is availability of sliced white bread, cheddar cheese, bacon and English sausages and restaurants serving fish and chips if you are desperate for a taste of home. But do you really need sliced bread when the bread here is so wonderful? I have also finally sorted out, thanks to help from this website, which is self-raising flour, granulated sugar, icing sugar etc etc.
Swimming pool: Lovely to have but in reality you have to be very far south to get much benefit form it other than in July - September. We are in the Limousin and (June now) the water is still petrifyingly cold. If you can afford to heat it great - otherwise only expect very limited use. It looks nice though!
Clubs and meeting people: We have found they are numerous (far more than in Devon) but - as anywhere- some you will like and others not. In our area there is a club for (almost) every hobby - though no paragliding for pensioners as yet. There are also French fete days, rambling groups and gatherings in the communes that are welcoming and easy to join in if you want to not just mix with Brits.
I hope these few comments might be vaguely helpful to an odd soul or two who is contemplating a move out here and not too controversial to those here already. We have been lucky time wise with the Euro rate but are mindful this can change (for the worse!). The only thing I think we do miss are really nice places to eat. The bars and numerous local restaurants are fine and very relaxing for a weekly outing but if you want an occasional slap up celebration meal we have not yet found anywhere - but still early days.....I am sure there are places are around, we just have not found them yet. Also, if you always "phone clamped to person" - be aware hardly any restaurants rurally offer Wifi and not many in the cities. In the two weeks we were without, we ended up visiting MacDonalds, many miles away, to make the few, vital communications.
Special thank you to Brian who answered all of my questions with great patience and helpful information!