I have moved to La Rochelle in 2008, as an architecture student from Montreal, Canada.
Ans loved it since. Loved it before, even, when I was in Lyon in 2006-2007.
"Belle et Rebelle" the saying goes.
The buildings are beautiful, the climate is warm and rarely hot (climate change may be coming but the ocean is a great buffer, last "canicule" we were spared after 2 days of uncomfortable weather - with the option - that I took - to spend that time in the water ;)
As an architect, La Rochelle is a dream. My job experience here was great, I think my double diploma Canada/France helped, so did the kinship French people have for their Québécois cousins. I have heard that for English people intergration is more difficult. But there is an anglophone community here, in town or on the coast, on the Ile de Ré...
People buying, renovating and making themselves beautiful homes here. Just never met any of 'my kind' ;)
Not entirely fair : I have just met an English carpenter, he has been living here for 7 years, he is preparing his retirement, and working odd jobs. He installed a mirror at my new office, I lent him my electric screwdriver. Nothing more nothing less, just I thought it was cheerful to meet an anglophone after so long here.
I have heard OF English-speakers : a teacher here, a student there, a wife-of-a-coworker both teacher ans student... but I guess I navigate the french-speaking circles more. I have, though, restored (well, begun to... theses things take decades !) a castle for an English-Parisian - but he was distant, even as clients go.
The age gap might be important in the fact that I have not made a single english-speaking friend : retired or just about, English speakers come for a different life here : I am thirty-odd-years old, my crown is either picking up kids at school or -too few- romantic nights out.
Don't get me wrong, I am happy to just blend in with the French, not having a 'community', blending in and being a 'spy' just "living the life" without people knowing that inside, I am excited just to take in the sights, live an european quality of life, feeling almost on vacation, exploring, all the time !
But I do wonder why I made lots of French friends much more easily than what my husband (who is from Dordogne) describes from his home town. The English don't need or cannot blend and that is quite visible. There, there are STREETS owned only by English, lovely flowers and trinkets, collections of frogs or ornate cups, tables and chairs arranged on the sidewalks, and French streets, less ornate but owners just as neat and proud : it seems there is no mixing, no mingling, even shops have their "clientèle" : tea and perfume shops, etc.
His parents, still lining south of Bergerac, have one friendly English acquaintance. and their former gardener works for an English couple now. They say it like he goes on to a foreign embassy every week to work.
It troubles me, coming from a cosmopolitan city like Montreal.
I have often joked with my husband that with a name like mine (Emily Peterson) in his native Dordogne, I would not be able to live on the same street as him ;)
If we ever go back to live permanently there, I think I might have a hard time working. Or a great time working for the English-speaking community. who knows. Everyone likes canadians, eh ?
Last thought : the French always tell me I am so lucky to speak English... of course it is true but in 13 years in France I have only once spoken English at work : I don't work with tourists or in commerce or international businesses.
It stays my book-reading, film-watching tongue for months at a time, that I am just happy-as-a-kid to use with the odd La Rochelle or Ré tourist I meet.
After writing this I am thinking perhaps I haven't reached out myself, so I'll keep an eye out for any club or meeting or conversation meetings here or even in Bergerac, it's worth a try.
So if you do have a building project, make my day and explain it to me in English ;)