Starting over in Aix en Provence

Starting over in Aix en Provence

Starting over in Aix en Provence

When Carolyn Tate realised her life needed a radical transformation, she decided to take the plunge and move to France for five months. But, with a 12-yr-old son in tow, how did she manage to make it work? We spoke to Carolyn to find out it’s like to start a new chapter (and write a whole book) in Aix en Provence.

On the morning of 17 May, 2010, at the age of 46, Sydney resident and single mum Carolyn Tate woke up and decided that her life (and that of her 12-year-old son Billy) needed a radical overhaul.

Within three months she’d sold the family home, put her flagging business on hold, ended a destructive love affair and fled with Billy to France.

Once there, she decided to stay for a five month sabbatical in Aix en Provence where she wrote her recently released book, Unstuck in Provence: The courage to start over. It’s a real and raw account of her journey, from the day she made her fateful decision to the day she and Billy left Aix, transformed.

In this frank interview with French Provincial, Carolyn tells us why she recommends starting over (particularly in the south of France) to anyone wanting to change their life and give their kids a new experience.


French Provincial: Your decision to give up everything and start over so abruptly was pretty radical. What was the catalyst?

Carolyn Tate: It seemed like everything in life was just weighing me down – my financial situation, my business, my unhealthy love affair, the loneliness of single-motherhood – everything. But, beyond all that, I wanted to do something radical for my son and give him a gift that would change his perspective on life. It was a snap decision, but when I make a decision, I’m a woman on a mission. There’s no stopping me.

So, within three months, you’d left your old life completely behind and were in France. Tell me about your first days on arrival.

I recall it distinctly. It wasn’t all “bicycles and baguettes”, that’s for sure. Billy was pretty reluctant (if not resentful) about being there, which is understandable for a kid on the cusp of his teenage years who’s just left his dad and step-mum, his friends, school and dog behind. The first few weeks in Paris and Aix, I could’ve sent him home on a plane and I know that he would have gladly gone. It was also tough because we didn’t know a soul in France and we couldn’t speak the language. Many, many times I wondered if I’d been an impetuous fool.

So what happened next? You clearly stayed, so it can’t have been too bad.

There was one night in Aix where [Billy] cried his heart out and actually did ask to go home. That was the lowest point. Thank goodness for Skype! We spent lots of time connecting with friends and family back home. I know it sounds silly and self-indulgent, because we were on a long holiday in France – the most stunning country in the world; why wouldn’t be having the time of our lives? The reality is that starting over completely, is really scary…We were starting anew on all fronts.


Tell me about Aix. Why did you choose to spend your time there? Is it a great spot for a long-term stay?

Absolutely! I was really glad that I’d chosen Aix. I knew that Billy needed to go to school [while we were in France] so I got on the Internet and looked up “International Schools France”. Up came IBS of Provence, a school located about 10km’s outside of Aix in the countryside in a village called Luynes. I’d been to Aix some years before and had loved it and I wanted somewhere warmer down south that wasn’t in a large city like Paris or Marseille, so Aix [pronounced “X”] literally marked the spot. It’s a smallish city of about 130,000 people with the best variety of farmers and vintage markets, restaurants, arts, theatre, shops and with a university-vibe. It’s also the home of Cezanne and has a beautiful sense of joie de vivre about it. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s not seeking the typical French countryside cottage-type of sabbatical and who wants to be close to the liveliness of a provincial city every day.


So, while Billy was busy at school, how did you occupy your time?

I spent a lot of time tapping into my spirituality and creativity and recovering my health. I journalled every morning, went on creative and artistic “dates” with myself, took up photography, did yoga, running and swimming and had lunch most days with friends I made through French School and Billy’s school. I’m very social, so I would follow people up after I met them and invite them to lunch or whatever. It didn’t take us long at all to create our own little local community. It also helped that we were Australian – people instantly took us under their wing when they found out we were Aussies. Oh and, of course, I wrote Unstuck in Provence while there…I ended up writing nearly 70,000 words (the whole manuscript) in just over 100 days. It was the most stunningly beautiful time of my life.


What were some of the highlights of your time in France? What did you love the most?

On our return, so many people asked me if we’d gone to this or that castle, town, winery or region. In reality, we saw and did very little of the touristy things. I really took Billy to Aix to just…live as best we could like locals, not to see and do everything. It was a chance to immerse ourselves in the day-to-day life of France. The most memorable times are the little things, like going to parties and everyone laughing at our pathetic French but embracing us all the same, or attempting to master the art of shopping at the markets every day…writing my book at my little red desk and looking up to see snow flakes falling outside the window…I felt so free…All I needed was my son, my health, my MAC to write on, my music and books and some yummy food…It’s ultimately led me to a far simpler, happier life.


So, what’s your advice to readers thinking about taking a sabbatical in France?

Do it. I promise you will never regret it. For most people, it’s financial fear that prevents us from doing such things. That was a big fear for me, but in the end recovering my health and my purpose in life…went way beyond money. Never die wondering!


Unstuck in Provence can be purchased via or at



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