I won’t pretend that this will be an exhaustive – or even at all useful – list of things to think about if you, like us, are dreaming the big French B&B dream. You’ll have gathered by now that I tend to charge at things somewhat arse about face (business plan? What business plan?!) and am reliant on what I’ve learned in my previous life in la france profonde. But someone asked me on twitter today how I was searching for the ‘dream B&B’ and I realised it wouldn’t be daft to blog about some of our thought processes in finding the region that’s right for us.
Clearly I’m all excited about having an area to concentrate our search and it undeniably offers a great deal to potential guests. I know enough of the Vienne, if not Montmorillon itself, to know what’s on offer and that it fits really well with what we envisage developing (the ‘Big Idea‘). But I lived just up the road for 7 years – what if you have the idea but not the detailed local knowledge? I can’t promise that the following is in any way exhaustive but hopefully will offer some pointers for the start of your search:
- What’s your USP? What do you want to offer and what market are you appealing to? If, like us, you want to appeal to a specific target audience (cyclists and their families) you need to think about the areas that are attractive. I know most hard core cyclists will focus on the Alps and the Pyrenees, but those markets are also well served. Appealing to families too – and persuading cyclists to try different trails and terrain – is part of our reason for looking at areas that offer a wider range of activities. We’re even thinking about keeping chickens just so we can offer fresh laid eggs for breakfast 😉
- How are your language skills? A surprisingly large number of French people require overnight accommodation – only about 1/3 of b&b users are English tourists. If you don’t feel comfortable then think about running a gite instead, or focus on the traditional tourist areas – Brittany, Charentes, Dordogne, Provence.
- Is having access to an ex-pat community important? Kind of relates to the above. For me, there are pluses and minuses – I’m comfortable enough in my language skills that I’m happy to be in an area where English isn’t widely spoken. But I also remember what a godsend knowing fellow Brits was in the weeks and months after my dad died. If you’re planning on doing renovation work you may feel happier dealing with English builders (and they’re everywhere) but check they have a SIRET number – you can be heavily fined if they don’t (and the locals may really resent you using non-French tradesmen)
- Are you easily accessible? We’ve looked at Champagne as it’s close to the Rhone corridor for tourists heading to the sun and it’s easy to get back to the UK. The area we’re focusing on currently is close to 2 airports, the TGV and a major autoroute but it’s more of a destination than a stopping point en route to somewhere else. We’re hoping that what we’ll offer will mean that we won’t be dependent on passing trade but it’s another calculation that you need to make. Likewise if you feel you’ll need to be able to get back to the UK easily/cheaply.
- What’s your budget? I know this is a really obvious one but We have a really limited budget (talking tiny, teeny, not really quite enough). If we didn’t the search would be a doddle and France would be our oyster. But we don’t so we’re looking at areas where the property is cheaper like Deux-Sevres/Champagne/Limousin/Berry. There are bargains to be had everywhere if you’re prepared to look hard and get your hands dirty. If money’s no object, then it’s really a case of what takes your fancy taking into account accessibility, language skills and your ‘big idea’
My advice? Think hard about your project, grab a map and some marker pens and a big roll of paper and start mapping out the areas that match your criteria. I like the following sites for browsing property porn as they have a good range of properties at all price points and, in the case of French Connections, useful property guides to each area: