I just finished my second trip to the Nice, France area (ever) with the task of finding a place to live. In case you missed it, my family and I are moving to the area around Sophia Antipolis on a work assignment in early 2012. The exact moving date is yet to be decide until we have finalized a work visa, moving contract, and a lease on a home.
The scene this time was quite a bit different than the first time I visited this summer in June. The biggest difference besides the temperature (much cooler this time around) was the lack of people (probably tourists) at the airport and in the surrounding towns. Traffic was minimal in most places we visited, even along the coast, which made getting around much easier and quicker. We also never waited for a table at any of the restaurants we visited and eating took an hour instead of 3 hours.
We were very fortunate to have a relocation company assist us in finding a home and they presented us with 14 options to view over a 3 day period. With my office being located in Sophia Antipolis, most of the houses we visited were in surrounding villages within a 20 km radius- Valbonne, Chateauneuf, Opio, Biot, Le Rouret, Roquefort les Pins, Mougins, Antibes, etc. Before arriving in Nice, we had looked at homes online (seloger.com and open media.fr), but honestly we had no idea what to expect since we have never lived in France before. Looking online can help prepare you, but most of the time you can’t find enough photos to really tell a true story. During our first visit we spent most of our time along the coast in Cannes, Juan les Pins, and Nice, which is also quite a bit different than the hills to the north where we are going to live.
During 3 days of looking at houses, we saw the full spectrum of options. From a beautiful sea view home in Antibes to an updated 70′s modern home in Biot to a lovely hill side Provencal style villa in the countryside outside of Valbonne. On the negative side, there were homes that were scarily old and run down, those that smelled like a cross between a smoky pub and dog urine, and those that were impossible to get too without damaging your car. After two days of looking we quickly narrowed it down to 4 houses in 2 different villages: 2 homes in Chateauneuf and 2 homes in Biot.
Both Chateauneuf and Biot are charming villages perched on hills above the Mediterranean Sea, but Biot is closer to the coast and the village is much more touristy with many commercial shops, galleries, and restaurants, where as the village of Chateauneuf seams to be a quiet place where locals mostly live, work, and go to school within the village. After spending time in both areas over the past week, we felt like Chateauneuf was a better match for our family even though we really liked a few of the homes in Biot.
We are hoping this week to secure our selected home as soon as possible, but due to the Christmas holidays not much is going to happen with contracts or official processing. Unlike the United States, people take off on longer holidays and unfortunately for us, this week is a big holiday period in France and very few people are working. That means, no contracts on renting a home until probably January 2nd.
I’ll keep you posted on which house we end up with, but we feel pretty good about our options and are even more excited about the move to France now that we have looked at homes and found several that we like. As soon as we finalize a move in date on a home lease, we can begin to plan for the rest of our move: scheduling movers, buying plane tickets, reserving a rental car, etc.
Some observations/learnings from this trip:
-It seems like most people in a service industry in France speak at least some English, yet they are resistant to engage in an English conversation. Only after failing to speak French effectively do they volunteer a few English words to help you out. This was particularly true of the real estate agents showing us properties. Since our relocation specialist spoke French and English, owners and agents would engage directly with her in French, even though they spoke English and knew I couldn’t understand French very well.
-We found out that we can’t apply for a Visa until I have worked for the company assigning me to Sophia Antipolis, France for at least 3 months. Then after the 3 months, we can apply for the Visa, but it takes 4 to 6 weeks for it be processed. In addition, we can’t get the Visa by mail, we have to pick it up at a French Consulate for Colorado, which is in Los Angeles. This is a slight set back for us to move to France by February and will delay our move by 4 to 6 weeks.
-The villages seem to all be decorated nicely for Christmas. Most have up holiday lights and Christmas trees and have Christmas markets scheduled during the holiday season.