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Exploring Mercantour National Park

It’s true, that since the days of M. Mayle’s “Year in Provence” – if not before – that the very mention of Provence seems to manage to make, even the most stalwart and practical among us, swoon.

Venanson Mercantour National Park #Provence

We, at Space Between are semi usurpers – clinging on to the boundaries of Provence in the splendours of the Alpes-Maritimes. (“Provence” is in the mind of the holiday maker cum visitor and a large area which encompasses – of course – the honey pots of the Rhône Valley and the Luberon, but also threatens to creep further east to the Riviera and hence the French departments – 13, 83, 06, stretching up into the hills of 04 and 05).

We are very lucky to be living here in the South of France. Luck may not necessarily come into it really, as after many years of corporate life in the UK, we rather stumbled upon the area.

Me? – Well I was “forced” to accompany two natural body builder types (tough work but someone has to do it!) to the annual Tax Free World Exhibition in Cannes, with a new fitness product, way back in 2001. My dear outdoorsy type (said Mel Jones and yes a bloke), eschewing the Cointreau bar and all the said (or sad) glamour in Cannes, headed for the hills and arrived back among the glitz, at the end of the week, well dirty, but very very excited indeed.

The rest is history – and we find ourselves here now in the Mercantour – a fantastic National Park that straddles the Italian border and as far removed from the Riviera as you might wish for – but only an hour North. Wonderful walking – and horse riding.

Vermato and Horse Mercantour National Park #Provenc

Despite our 10 years plus of marketing effort, we are grateful to live in a quiet zone, with outstanding natural beauty, where people do still greet each other in the street and there is certainly no need to lock (or even close) your doors.

This is, however, no “la la” land; we are practical professional people, who have both worked in normal corporate life for many years before deciding to come out here to live in France. It is lovely here and one of the benefits of not being a “retiree” (apart from the stress of having to earn a buck or two) is that you are obliged to go out there and get amongst it, rather than turning in to yourselves once you realise that making the effort to break through the glass ceiling is actually pretty hard work. Moving anywhere different is, of course, very energy sapping; it did take us more than five years to be accepted in Norfolk – even as – a Suffolk girl!

My other half went through years of long dinners, and half understood conversations and has now finally got there, able to understand most of what is going on without even having to concentrate anymore.   Anyone living in a foreign country will remember the joys of painstakingly preparing something to say in your head and then – Yes you’re ready – and the conversation has moved on apace.

For people who are nesting the French dream – do think about what you want from life, very carefully, research your areas, do not fall in love with that ruin (it WILL be a Money Pit <a good film for a rainy afternoon, by the way>) and have enough money to live on for at least five years.

The battle with French bureaucracy will get you down – and having had a great evening here yesterday – we are triply advised that it is not just ex-pat paranoia – the system likes to vex the French too!

There is some mastery in taming the dust in a big house, and the weeds in six acres, to be able to present the accommodation with some sort of rigour if not yourselves!! It is flattering I suppose that people regard your life as an idyll, in which you get up at 10, read War and Peace, before floating off – David Hamilton style – to quaff a glass of rosé on the terrace…..the day to day rigours of course are rather less glamourous and much more muddy.

Whatever your motivation, however, to be bored with “Provence”, you would have to be bored with life (thanks to London for that “borrow”).

Low Cloud Mercantour National Park #Provence

Exquisite mountains on the doorstep, just an hour from the culture of Monaco and the Côte d’Azur, and just a further short drive to the rolling vineyards of the Var to the West, and fine fun in Liguria in Italy to the East….what’s not to like? And what is more – on a fine day – even the rugged terrain of Corsica tempts you!

Image credits:

Denis Longfellow – Horse and Ventures
Ian Bateman


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Liz Lord

Liz Lord and her husband Mel Jones have been living in the Mercantour National Park for the past 15 years.

Most people would already be saying “where?”, but in fact the Mercantour remains a delightfully unknown area straddling the Franco-Italian border, in the Alpes-Maritimes. Liz and Mel live just an hour North of Nice – so can enjoy the best of best worlds, their life concentrated in their home in Berthemont les Bains, yet being able to enjoy the hubbub on the coast when the need for culture arises.

Choosing to decamp from the UK (and their “normal” corporate lives!) after a chance encounter with their current home in 2001, they now earn their living by renting out their two gites and offering walking and adventure holidays at Space Between.

With the experience of ex-pat life, setting up a small business in France, house renovation, and land and horse management!, with a keen interest in food and wine and travel, Liz has much to contribute for those interested in a new life in France or with a zest to dip their toe in the water on holiday.

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