"There are a good number of private and public pre-school facilities such as crèches, and maternelle/kindergartens (up to 3). I have not used them but know of expats who have. There are primary schools in most villages and high schools in the big towns. I’ve yet to be convinced that French education is as good as it is sometimes made out to be! French education is very strict and conformist. Surprisingly there’s very little opportunity for a ‘free-thinking ‘child. Classes are big (30 on average) and teachers seem to make no allowances for a child who is falling behind" (LC, Nov 2010)
What is your name, age and how long have you lived in the Pyrenees-Atlantique?
Lucy Culpepper, 45. I’ve lived in the Pyrenees-Atlantique department of south west France for almost two years.
What nationality are you and your partner?
I am British and my partner is Irish-American
How many children do you have, what are their names and when were they born?
We have an 8 year old and a 12 year old
Do you work and if so what do you do?
I am a freelance travel journalist, internet researcher and website copy writer: www.culpepperink.com
What was your experience of relocating to France with children?
It was very easy. If you have children, they make some things more complicated but they also open the door to making new relationships through school and clubs.
You lived in Catalunya previous to moving to France, why did you decide to make the move and how do the two countries compare as a parent?
We decided we wanted a change and to move the children out of Catalan-based education. My parents live in south east France about three hours from us, we have always enjoyed visiting them and experiencing the ‘French-Way’ so that helped us make a choice (though we live in a very different region).
How well integrated would you say you and your children are?
We’re getting there! We have been invited to lunches, anniversaries and parties with French friends and neighbours. I think that’s a good benchmark.
What language do you speak to your children?
What is your impression of childcare and education where you live?
There are a good number of private and public pre-school facilities such as crèches, and maternelle/kindergartens (up to 3). I have not used them but know of expats who have. There are primary schools in most villages and high schools in the big towns. I’ve yet to be convinced that French education is as good as it is sometimes made out to be! French education is very strict and conformist. Surprisingly there’s very little opportunity for a ‘free-thinking ‘child. Classes are big (30 on average) and teachers seem to make no allowances for a child who is falling behind.
Are there any particular family restaurants, activities for kids or shops you can recommend?
This region boasts a huge number of outdoor activities from hiking to canoeing. Every month there are cultural activities for kids to take part in such as Vivaldi’s Three Seasons for kids, painting at the local Art museum, learning circus skills, guided country and town walks, and story telling... the list is endless. A free monthly publication is produced by the local tourist board called Zebulon. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Pau including Indian, Tex-Mex, Classic French, Moroccan and vegetarian. Here are some that a re child friendly:
Visnu (Indian), rue Henri IV, Pau
Les Amants du Marche (Bio/Veg) rue Bourbaki, Pau
Le San Francisco (Tex Mex) rue Ronsard, Pau
El Alguazil – Tapas y musica – if you are yearning for some Spanish food!
Are there any services you’d like to recommend?
There are so many! I think the best place for a reader to go to get a really good taste of this region is this website: www.tourisme64.com/
What do you think are the main advantages and disadvantages of being a parent from the International Community living in the Pyrenees-Atlantique?
The main advantages are that we feel very accepted (the British have a long history here dating back to the Napoleonic Wars. The British settlers who came after Napoleon’s defeat built beautiful villas and planted fabulous parks and gardens which remain today and are loved by the locals). I feel completely safe here; safer than I did in Spain. I don’t feel any disadvantages of being part of the international community here.
Is there anything you think would improve children´s lives where you live?
Given that there is quite a bit of rainfall here – which is why it is so beautifully green and lush – there are not many indoor parks for younger children. Once your children are older there are plenty of sports facilities to go to. Very few retail businesses are open on Sunday (hurray!), so you must be prepared to entertain yourself on that day; get out and about visiting chateaux, museums, eating out with friends etc.
What advice would you give for anyone having a baby or thinking of relocating to the Pyrenees-Atlantique with children?
Having a baby here: I haven’t done that and won’t be but I know several expats from as many countries, who have had their babies here – they have all been very impressed with the hospital care and after care. A nurse comes to your home after any major hospital stay. (After having my appendix out, a nurse visited me at home for five days to check all as well).
Relocating here - the biggest question I suppose is whether to educate in French, English or both. This region offers all choices. As in most European countries the public (free) school your child goes to is dictated by your address. The local private school is The International School of Bearn (www.isbearn.com), a small school that follows the British curriculum. The bilingual school is in Orthez, just west of Pau (http://ecolendsjorthez.pagesperso-orange.fr/pages/debut.html)
What couldn´t you live without in the Pyrenees-Atlantique?
Those fabulous mountains that change colour every day and inspire me to get out and do something energetic!
What could you live without in Pyrenees-Atlantique?
Perhaps a little less rain.