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  • Jo de Magneval

Big life moves

Updated: Jan 9

Let me take you back to our French summer holiday, August 2016 when it was only day two of four in the small but beautiful town of Salies de Béarn (https://www.salies-de-bearn.fr/fr/), South West France, yet we found ourselves visiting a house that was for sale.


We are gut following, instinct driven and some might say crazy spontaneous kind of people and we just fell in love with the house, the town, the region and the French dream!


Salies de Béarn is a thermal spa town in South West France, around 40 minute drive from the ocean town of Biarritz and just over an hours drive from the Pyrenees, it charms you with it’s cobbled winding streets, beautiful character buildings, historic salt story and unique independent boutiques and restaurants.


On day three we put an offer in and on day four, as we headed north towards our next destination of Lyon we found out our offer had been accepted! I mean, seriously, who does that?!

Our plan was to move into what would become our new holiday home for one year, to enable our girls (who were at the time 7 & 5) to become fully bilingual (my husband is French but the language was just not working for us in the UK), to allow us a gap year from our business and enjoy discovering this gorgeous but probably lesser known region of France. However, another surprise was in store and we discovered I was pregnant just before completing on the house!


Everyone thought that perhaps our plans would have changed then… but no! Surely the easiest time to move is a with 4 week old baby!


We found a school for the girls, visited our new house during school holidays and put into motion an extension on the house before the big move came in summer 2017.

We were greeted with a new lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle that many of us imagine the French life to be! The town was alive with locals and tourists alike, there were fetes happening in what felt like every corner of this region and we knew immediately that we had made the right choice.

We basked in the simple joy of walking to our nearest boulangerie for bread in the morning, wandered the local weekly market and indulged in the local cuisine and wines.

That first gap year soon passed into two, we were settled, happy and decided to I embark upon starting my own photography business (a long held dream with a few stop start attempts due to babies!). However, we had to make the difficult decision to return back to our business in the UK.

We thought it would be ok, we can come back for holidays just as we had originally planned. Then Covid hit the world.


Like many people, it made us think about where we wanted to live our lives, what we wanted to do, what was important.

I continued my photography throughout the lockdowns, finding solace in creativity documenting not only our lives but also a window portrait series of other families ‘Stay Home Superheroes’ (https://www.jodemagneval.com/stay-home-superheroes) and a short film looking at the pandemic through the eyes of children ‘When The World Paused’ (https://www.jodemagneval.com/when-the-world-paused-film) but we thought often of our lovely home in France and knew we needed to return.

Fast forward to NYE 2021 and we arrived in Bordeaux airport, ready to pick up our new camper van to drive us home. We were back and beyond excited to restart the French life we left behind.

As I write this, in December 2022, I cannot believe we are coming up to our one year anniversary. The year has flown by in a haze of settling in, garden renovations, kids clubs, beach days, river swims, local fetes, mountain walking and camper van adventures.


The local landscape is just stunning. From the ever changing Atlantic Ocean, endless sandy beaches and palm filled coastal towns, to the snow capped mountains and the humbling calm energy they offer and beautiful villages bursting with character to wander in between, there really is something for everyone here.


Throughout the summer there is always something happening here, there seems to be a fete in every town, each unique and traditional with Salies boasting at least 5 during the summer months… everything is celebrated here from the salt that made the town historically rich, to a local pepper sauce called Piperade, artists come from all over to create paintings of the town during the ‘Salies a Peindre' and street theatre takes over for a weekend as well. The local people of Béarn take such pride in their history and their joy for life is intoxicating.


I’ve discovered that there is a huge sense of community locally, people support and purchase from the small independent shops and boutiques in the towns and the weekly markets are always busy. There is a real sense of buy local and the added joy of France is that it is very rare to see big commercial chains in the town centres.



I have been documenting in photographs the life in this town since arriving and will continue to do so, connecting with local artisans and showcasing what a wonderful area this is to visit is easy because there is an abundance of content! It is such a great place to be a photographer!


Like with any big move, it takes time integrate and connect but I love how photography is a genuine and authentic way to do this. My style of photography (lifestyle and documentary) means that I do not have a studio so am reliant on getting out and meeting people to help spread the world that I am here and available for businesses and their branding photography needs, family photography and life events including but not exclusively wedding photography.

Plus, it pushes me with my French language as well! I am so grateful to have already had some family, branding and wedding clients.


I am very much looking forward to next year, building on these new relationships and creating more opportunities to connect and capture the community here… and if you are ever looking for a new place to visit in France, I cannot recommend this area highly enough!


Please head over to my IG or FB accounts to follow my life over here or contact me if you would like me to capture you in your life!

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